Friday, July 16, 2010

Two Very Personal Stories

We have just finished reading two very different tales of young men who struggled in school and life and who built upon their experiences to find their own unique paths to adulthood. These are not books for children; the authors are now adults and both write frankly about their struggles with their sexual lives in the face of their social limitations. 

The first book is by Quinn Bradlee, son of Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post and Sally Quinn, a well-known journalist. Quinn's book, A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures, written with Jeff Himmelman, tells the story of his life with learning disabilities and physical ailments caused by a genetic syndrome called Velo-Cardi-Facial-Syndrome (VCFS). Quinn was not given a specific diagnosis until adolescence, and he and his family struggled for years to understand why he faced so many physical and cognitive challenges and how best to help him. He attended several well known schools for students with learning differences: The Washington Lab School, The Gow School, and Landmark College, but did not obtain a college degree. 

While Quinn's story is compelling, it is diminished in the telling by his frequent references to his illustrious ancestors and powerful present day contacts. His extraordinary privilege and the infrastructure available to him are not something available to other individuals who struggle with similar problems.

Atypical: Life with Asperger's in 20 1/3 Chapters  by Jesse Saperstein (a distant cousin of your blogger) is the story of a young man with "mild" Asperger's syndrome. Jesse and his family dealt with the impact of his difficulties with social interactions from the time he was a young child, but he did not receive a diagnosis of this form of high functioning autism until he was 14. His issues did not include learning challenges, but his serious lack of social cognition set him aside from his classmates and created substantial difficulties for his family. As the author warns his readers at the beginning of his book, "Please be forewarned that you are about to read the observations and life lessons of someone who entertains himself by farting in public and conversing in gibberish with his cats." 

Jesse graduated from college but after drifting in and out of a number of jobs, he decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. It was this experience, and his work at a camp for children with HIV and AIDS, that helped him move beyond his own difficulties and led him to write his book and become a motivational speaker. He's an excellent writer and we'll be looking for his next book.

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