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Daniel Isn't Talking
Reading Group Guide
Daniel Isnt Talking is a novel about a woman who discovers her young son is autistic. It is taken in part from my own life as I went through a similar experience five years ago when my son was diagnosed with autism. About my son: I can tell you I was certain there was something wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used to ask the doctors about these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, Id ask. Why does he grind his teeth like that? Why doesnt he sleep at night? Or eat for that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesnt he talk?
And then one day the answer came and I wished Id never asked the questions. “Because he is autistic,” I was told.
Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different. My normally wonderful husband became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what I had to say was if I texted him on his mobile. His relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history of autism in our family.” My own relatives, who are not warm and fuzzy people, werent much help either. My aunt thought it was my own fault for having a baby so late in life (I was thirty-three). My sister would say things like, “Wow, hes autistic. So I guess youre going to have to do something with him.”
Do something with him? I hate to think what she had in mind.
But, yes, I had to do something. And just like the character Melanie in Daniel Isnt Talking I found myself scrambling to figure out what.
But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie does in Daniel Isnt Talking ends up being far more entertaining than anything in my actual life. Take, for example, the rather delicious Irish guy with whom she falls in love. I can tell you no such man has ever entered my house. I guess thats just as well because my husband is in my house. Eventually he dethawed and returned to being the nice guy he usually is.
In fact, very few of the events of the novel ever happened in my life, but the great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter as difficult as that in Daniel Isnt Talking and fill it with humor, with surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through the minefield which has become these characters lives. I positively loved writing the novel and I feel a particular affinity to it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She was so much braver than I was at the time of my sons diagnosis. I fell in love with the therapist who shows her how to teach her son. And of course the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own son, Nicholas, and brought back memories of the day Nicky finally said his first word–at the age of three years and two months–and how hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children take for granted.
So, this is an important book for me. The latest statistics reveal that one in every 165 families has a child on the autistic spectrum, so I know that the book is going to touch the hearts of many people. I hope it will also touch parents who find that it is sometimes difficult to connect with their children.
For more information on Autism or to make a donation to Autism Research please contact Autism Speaks at www.autismspeaks.org.
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