Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

HarmonyHarmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting story with well written perspectives and characters. I read an advanced reader's copy so it will probably be more smooth when it comes out, but very good premise.

The book is told from different perspectives; Alexandra, a mother of two daughters. One has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS. the other is neurotypical. The main perspective is by 11 year old Iris, the NT child. Then there is Tilly, the different one. The family (including a father) sell everything to start a camp called Harmony targeting children who are different or on the autism spectrum.

I think the author does an exceptional job describing a parent's thought process and the simultaneous reactions to both protect and to punish a quirky child. To be honest, what parent hasn't watched their particularly quirky, anxious kid and questioned if he or she might be PDD? When you've seen one autistic child, you've seen one autistic child. Not otherwise specified.

As a guidance counselor in a middle school at the end of the year, I am preparing my spreadsheets for the high school counselors as I pass my students on. I stopped using boxes and check marks long ago. They are meaningless. How do I convey to the high school counseling office with simple check marks that J. has only been speaking for a year and he mostly echoes what you say but he needs the modeling to help him ask questions? Or that M. does very well in school, identifies himself as high functioning and needs his lunchtime to come to your room to decompress with a computer game. He calls it his sanctuary and does not wish to interact. That he is a deeply feeling being but unable to express it? How do you communicate that when the students call out a greeting to him, it is not collegial but mocking? Yet when he sits at the piano he communicates and expresses perfectly through his fingers? Or that when C. does not answer immediately, he is processing. His thinking skills are sharp but his processing is very slow.

These are unique students on the autism spectrum. The only thing they have in common is their extreme difficulty in interacting with others and they have all used their clothing as tissues and are unable to understand that others are repulsed by it. But they are each precious and unique.

The very best part of the book is the end where Parkhurst likens PDD as having a child with wings. If I could summarize it, I would but it beautifully illustrates how parenting a child with autism means that we have to change the rules to fit their special abilities to fly or have wings. If you read nothing else of the story, read the end.

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