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Strange Son

by Portia Iversen


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Reviewer: Allison Martin

Strange Son is the tale of author Portia Iversen's search to understand autism and to find a cure for her son through the vehicle of a young autistic Indian boy, Tito. Although he is basically nonverbal, Tito confides his extremely intelligent self observations via the keyboard, with his mother's encouragement. Iversen brings Tito and his mother Soma to the United States, befriends them, and traipses from one major autism research facility to another, in an attempt to understand how Tito thinks and how to bring Soma's teaching abilities to other families suffering from autism, including her own.

Iversen is the founder of Cure Autism Now, which alone should make her book interesting to many people. As such she brings to her story a wealth of knowledge of autism and autism research. Her observations and theories on the ways autism might impact the brain are extremely compelling, and in many ways the best part of the book.

Iversen often uses stories to illustrate her theories of autism, and uniquely, she uses Tito's poetry to the same effect. Tito's poems are dense and full of imagery and Iversen's excellent explanations of their context and meaning unveils a unique, detailed view of life with autism that is both touching and accessible.

Iversen surely glosses over the input of other's into the growing attention paid to autism; even her family and Soma and Tito's feelings get rather sort shift. But perhaps this is to keep this lengthy and otherwise thoughtful book focused on her main story of understanding autism through studying Tito's abilities. There is plenty of detail on their rounds to many of the well known researchers in the field of autism research. And her interactions and discussions with Tito and his mother provide a fascinating view into autism.

The questions raised in the book about the authenticity of Tito's output undermine the story. However, Soma's methods of teaching and communicating with her son were very believable, and I think do work. The hopeful question remains as to whether other children can benefit.

Bottom line, this is a riveting story of a mother's obsessive attempt to understand the roots of autistic behavior and thinking. Iversen's insights into autism are thoughtful and enlightening, and are ample reward in this engrossing and rather provocative story.

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