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To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic…

To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of…

by Judith Newman

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"To Siri With Love" is an expansion of Judith Newman's October 17, 2014 New York Times article (still available to read at https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/fashion/how-apples-siri-became-one-autistic-boys-bff.html).

The article becomes the basis for one chapter in the book, but the book itself covers a much wider view of a unique family situation with married parents who are separated by a 30 year age gap and who live apart while still raising one neurotypical child named Henry and another named Gus, who is on the autism spectrum. It tells its story with good-natured humour while being a strong advocate for the understanding and the future of the spectrum community, especially of the need for employment opportunities.

I read the audiobook edition and the narration performance by Cris Dukehart helps puts this in 5 out of 5 territory, it is a solid 4 in any case.

I wonder how many today even realize that the title is a variation on the 1959 novel "To Sir, With Love" which became the basis of the 1967 Sidney Poitier movie? ( )
  alanteder | Sep 18, 2017 |
This book by well-known journalist Judith Newman is about raising her now teenage autistic son Gus. His twin Henry is much taller and "normal", so she has a striking perspective on the different challenges the boys present. She's brutally honest ("Am I a bad mom"?), funny, sarcastic, and determined to do right by Gus and Henry. The title comes from Gus's affinity for the endlessly patient Siri feature on Apple phones. He's like to marry her, but after letting him know she's not really the marrying kind, she tells him that wasn't in the phone contract.

Newman and her now-elderly opera singer husband have their own sensory and spectrum-like issues. They have a happy marriage while living in different apartments. So, among other things, she's familiar with being out of what's considered mainstream normal.

Gus is exceptionally friendly - so much so that they're afraid to let him walk to school alone. But it's hilariously useful to let him answer marketing phone calls, as he proceeds to ask the telecaller more and more friendly questions about his/her life, preferences and so on. Revenge!

I learned more about parenting an autistic child from her humorous, day-to-day realizations, than I have from many highly regarded nonfiction books about autism. I find fascinating the (to us) off-kilter views and behaviors of those on the spectrum. My keen interest probably began when our son befriended a high-functioning boy, who was valiant in dealing with mainstreamers, and able to play well any instrument handed to him. Newman's book helped me much better understand, for example, the comfort of repetitive behavior ("stimmng"), which for this boy was walking in circles.

Newman is nothing but candid, which can be a bit uncomfortable. For example, should she get a medical power of attorney and have Gus get a vasectomy? You'll be privy to her thinking on it, and probably as perplexed as she is by the ethical issues that raises.

My wife, a former speech pathologist who can be highly critical of autism accounts, loved this one, too. In the end, the author is very happy to have Gus in her life, even with the difficulties, and it's clear the feeling is mutual. ( )
  jnwelch | Sep 9, 2017 |
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