Giving smart voice to an autistic teen

autism to siri with love

 

Books on autism are increasingly common but if you want to know more about this condition which is said to affect one in 68 individuals, where do you even start?

Well, probably not here, because newcomers to the subject may be better off with a more general title, like Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin or Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm.

That said, and coming from the perspective of someone with an interest in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I found To Siri With Love an absolute gem.

Newman and her retired opera-singer husband, who do not live together, were parents late in life. They are bringing up their twin sons – Gus, who is autistic, and Henry, who is neurotypical (autism-speak for “normal”) – which Newman wryly notes at age 14 is synonymous with obnoxious.

The New Yorker wrote the book after her article with the same title four years ago, went viral.

In it, she shared how the iPhone voice assistant Siri had helped Gus communicate appropriately and the book expands on this.

“Autism does not entirely define my son, but it informs so much about him and our life together,” she writes.

“As we disappear into our phones, tablets, smartwatches, and the next smart thing, it’s all too tempting to disengage,” she writes.

However her article – and now the book – show how this could be different.

Instead of seeing technology as a wall or barrier to human interaction, Gus uses it as a bridge to the world the rest of us live in – learning social, communication and other skills.

To Siri with Love is an honest, intelligent and raw look at how the family does this and their unique way of making it work. It is also, thankfully, filled with humour and wit, and so is a breeze to read, giving it a permanent spot on the non-fiction autism bookshelf.

Although the eyes-wide-open look at city life focuses mainly on the special needs child, many of the experiences will strike a chord in the heart of any parent.

And, after all, isn’t every child, whether on the autism spectrum or not, unique and to be loved?

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