Thanks to a recommendation by Julie from Bookworm when she popped over to my blog one Sunday Salon, I’ve been reading Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey through Autism by Dawn Prince-Hughes. An autobiography about one woman’s life with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome and how she discovered herself through her work with gorillas.
Her life pre-gorillas was in part incredibly sad, although she had a happy family life, allowed to explore her wild side out in the countryside around her home, school was difficult and when she left home she drifted from couch to couch in various acquaintances houses to sleeping in doorways. Her life started towards more positive change when she actually got a job dancing in a strip joint, it gave her the security of a constant job and allowed her to feel more settled. She then felt brave enough to go to the zoo and that’s where she met the gorillas.
Through watching the gorillas and eventually working with them, she learnt about gorilla and consequently human behaviour. In the book she describes the gorilla families at the zoo so perfectly, you feel like you know them, feel their joy and feel their pain. She goes back into education and after gaining a PhD is now an adjunct professor of anthropology (according to the back of the book). It’s an inspiring book about the willingness to continue to strive to improve yourself and the fight to appear ‘normal’. Reading Prince-Hughes describe how she has to deliberately rather than intuitively like most people remember to smile and nod in all the right places. She reminded me of a duck on a river, still on top, feet desperately paddling underneath.
I’d recommend this book to anyone with autism in their family, I often wish I could see into my son’s mind. Prince-Hughes describes her first day at kindergarten, lining up with the other children whilst the parents looked on, a lot of the other children were screaming for the parents but she stayed still, feeling like it was pointless making a fuss because her world was about to end. When I take my son to playgroup I wonder if that’s going through my son’s head, his brief hesitation as we walk over the threshold or a brief whimper when I say goodbye are the only signs he’s not totally comfortable.
It’s interesting how she talks about signs of autism in the rest of her family to and about how she only had suspicion that she could be diagnosed when a nephew was diagnosed the same. Me and Mr. Lacer talk about this quite a lot, we both show certain autistic traits, both being socially awkward, me showing certain dyspraxic traits and my uncle almost certainly has undiagnosed Asperger’s and I wonder how Boy Lacer’s process towards a firm diagnosis (currently it’s ‘just’ social communication disorder probable autistic spectrum, the ‘probable’ will almost certainly be removed after his playgroup assessment next week, personally I think it’s Asperger’s and dyspraxia, will effect my uncle and my dad’s relationship towards him, which most of the time is on the side of being annoyed).
I also enjoyed this book for the writing about the gorillas, it brought back all the books I read about gorillas when I was a teenager (I wanted to work in the field with gorillas a la Gorillas in the Mist). So a great book on two fronts with the urgent message at the end that we need to look after our cousins who are really just like us.