21/05/2005

A Child Called Noah

This is a moving book by Josh Greenfield, a Jewish man married to a Japanese woman, living in America in the 1960s. Their second son, Noah, seems a little slow to develop at first but gradually starts walking and talking; however he then regresses and seems to lose all his language, indulging instead in temper tantrums and repetitive actions. The family take him to doctors, psychologists, special schools... all of whom seem to have different diagnoses and advice. Autism, schizophrenia, brain damage, emotional damage, are all proposed and considered in turn.

The book is written in journal form, taken (I assume) direction from the author's personal diary. It's the kind of book that would have made a superb blog, but was written back in the days before home computers even existed. Unfortunately it was also a time when comparatively little was known about mental illness, and strategies such as gluten-free dairy-free diets were unheard of. As I read about Noah's grabbing at bread any time he saw it, I wondered what difference it might have made to him had he been restricted from bread and other products containing gluten.

While little hope emerges from the book, it's a gripping account of the family's struggles to cope with daily life, to find out what exactly is wrong, to consider options for the future, to see how difficult it is to cope even with reasonable resources: how impossible it would have been for an impoverished family in the USA unable to pay for special schools, medical treatment and other assistance.

There are two sequels to this book written in similar style, but they're all out of print (although available second-hand). I see from the above link that Noah was eventually placed in an institution as an adult where he continues to live. Not sure I'd read this again but it very moving getting inside the head of someone who experienced all this first-hand as a father, in days when fathers were not typically so involved in the lives of their small children.

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