Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Autism Goes to School by Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell

A note:  The following review comes from a neurotypical person without children of any kind.  Those on the autism spectrum or who have children with autism may feel differently about this book than I did.
Synopsis:  Ben, a business man, has his life changed by receiving surprise custody of his son, Kyle.  Kyle is in Kindergarten and has autism.  Father and son don’t understand each other but, with the help of Kyle’s pretty teacher, they just might make it work as a family.
First, I can’t review this without saying something about the title:  Autism Goes to School.  The child’s name is Kyle, not autism.  All kinds of children go to school every day.  Is there Abused Goes to School?  Cerebral Palsy Visits the Dentist?  I understand it tells readers there is a little boy with autism in this book… but, ick.

Ben, the father, is a complicated man.  He will shift moods drastically, often within one scene.  He is also excessively virtuous, dealing with Kyle’s mother’s demands on him ever since he knew of Kyle’s existence.

Kyle’s neurodivergence, I thought, was explored thoroughly while giving him space (at times) to be a little boy.  Ben has difficulty with Kyle’s differences and messes up a lot.  In fact, I would consider Ben an ableist when Kyle first comes to live with him.

For instance, he thinks: “What if there was a special school just for morons or kids who had things like autism?”
And:  “Could she tell already that he was the kind of father who would create a kid with autism?”

I almost quit reading more than once in the beginning.

The teacher is cold towards Ben at first, thinking he’s a hands-off father.  She, of course, realizes later how wrong she is and just how much Ben wants to do right by Kyle.
Another note here:  The teacher was said to have a “Master’s Degree in autism”.  I knew you could have a focus in certain areas, but I didn’t know they handed those specific degrees out.

Scene transitions are somewhat confusing, not leaving any indication of a switch within sections.  One paragraph you’re on one day, the next another.  There are a few grammatical errors, but nothing major.

The plot could be better, everything I thought would happen in the novel occurred. There were absolutely no surprises.  A couple things were foreshadowed so heavily, I felt hit in the head with them.  Some minor characters, like Ben’s sister, had awkward lines and were just thrown in to move story.

The subplot of Ben’s romance with the teacher felt awkward and went from slow burn to inferno right near the end of the book.  It never felt totally genuine and the awkward pacing didn’t help, though a couple of scenes were sort of cute.

Sometimes, tension was killed off quickly or introduced fast.  A meeting at the school about shutting down the classroom Kyle was in brought much anxiety for the teacher and Ben, but it gave Ben a heavy-handed scene to stand up for the class and show how he has changed.  It felt forced.

Every thread left near the end was hastily tied together.   The young family needed a different place to live and got it by a foreshadowed solution.  A minor character’s parents disapproving of a career choice just had to come to his place of employment a few times to change their minds.  It was like the author felt like she needed to end the story, but didn’t know how to do so gracefully.  But that could be because the novel is fairly short (and ended at around 70% on my Kindle).

It may be a decent read for parents who have kids on the autism spectrum (especially those who are having difficulty coping or have recently-diagnosed children) or those who want their “Autism 101” with a little plot.  Otherwise, I feel this wouldn’t appeal to many of you. 

But, if you still want to check it out, it’s free on Amazon. 
Author Bio:  Author Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell has worked as a teacher, counselor and consultant for thirty years. Her Master's and Doctorate degrees focused on autism. She has delivered workshops and seminars to thousands of participants including at national conferences. Her passion is helping young people who have autism to become as independent as possible.

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