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Review of "The Boy Who Loved Windows"

By Patricia Stacey
Da Capo Press, 2004
Review by Kevin Purday on Mar 1st 2006
The Boy Who Loved Windows

This is a deeply moving book which had the reviewer in tears on several occasions. It is the true story of a young mother who has a daughter of four when she gives birth to a boy in rather traumatic circumstances. The boy very quickly shows signs of abnormal development -- lack of response to many stimuli, oversensitivity to other stimuli, being mesmerized by the light pouring through windows, inability to keep down much food, poor muscle development, etc. Even by the age of six months it was obvious that something was seriously amiss. A pediatrician warned her that the boy might be blind or deaf and hinted at the possibility of profound retardation. Luckily she was in contact with the Massachusetts early intervention program which provided support for developmentally delayed children -- reach. The director gently said that the problems seemed to add up to what she called sensory integration disorder. The wonderful people in this organization were basically one third of what turned out to be the means of supporting her to help her son to outgrow his disability.

Another third was made up of people like her nutritionist and an occupational therapist both of whom helped to put her on the right track. The last third was the famous developmental psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan at the National Institute of Mental Health. He called his therapeutic scheme for toddlers suffering from the symptoms of autism 'd.i.r.' -- the 'developmental, individual-difference, relationship-based model'. Its nickname was simply 'floor-time'. This is an intensive bout between parent and child to "entice an impaired child to perform at increasingly higher levels of attention, cognition, and motor functioning." (p.126) 'Floor-time' has to be carried out eight or more times a day and so comes to dominate the life of the mother on whom the onus mainly lies.

Between them -- the personnel from reach, the nutritionist, the occupational therapist, and Stanley Greenspan -- they gave so much support and at the same time demanded so much from the mother both in terms of her time and her energy (not including the financial costs) that there were times when her marriage was put under threat. However, the reader will be struck by the extremely fortunate coincidence of a mother determined not to let her son slip into full-blown autism on the one hand with, on the other hand, a group of highly competent, far-seeing and wise professionals. It is true that some of the doctors she saw were, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain ignorant and incompetent. However, she was extremely lucky to encounter the wonderful people who were of such great help.

The book deals with current thoughts about the causes of autism and speculates as to why it seems to be on the increase although it acknowledges that the autism spectrum has become a basket into which a wide variety of conditions is being stashed. There is also an interesting chapter on brain development which makes one wonder why more people do not suffer from problems!

The story has a happy ending. The toddler grows into a very healthy, highly intelligent and emotionally well-balanced boy thanks to an extraordinarily devoted mother, a very supportive father and a group of amazing professionals.

This book is going to be of great use to parents in the same position as the author, as well as professionals in the field. The subtitle -- 'opening the heart and mind of a child threatened with autism' -- is most apposite because part of the book's theme is that 'sensory integration disorder' is normally the prelude to autism, at least somewhere on the autism spectrum. It is not possible to diagnose autism in a baby or even in a toddler of a year to eighteen months. However, spotting 'sensory integration disorder' in time and then using the techniques described in this book can stop the slide into autism. The message is very upbeat.

The Boy Who Loved Windows does not pretend to be an academic tome so we would not expect an index or bibliographical references. It is a heart-warming autobiographical work which sends out a message of hope to everyone facing a similar problem anywhere in the world. †††

© 2006 Kevin M. Purday

Kevin Purday works at The Modern English School, Cairo, Egypt, and has a Master's degree in the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health from the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.

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