19 April 2011

The Anti-Romantic Child

Two brilliant scholars (one Wordsworthian, one American literature) have a child - he is precocious, reads and speaks early, shows remarkable musical ability.  But the mother has some doubts, the child is not as affectionate as she would expect, he is remarkably set in his routines....a specialist diagnoses a range of sensory-processing delays and hyperlexia...and so shatters the Romantic idyll of the perfect childhood.  This is Priscilla Gilman's story, sprinkled with Wordsworth's poems about childhood and life.

This is surprisingly engrossing - I wanted to read The Anti-Romantic Child because of the author's background in Wordsworthian poetry but never thought I would get so emotionally invested in Gilman's story (note: I don't have children). When she gets hotly irritated by the psychologist at the special needs elementary school (where her elder son is enrolled) because the psychologist complains that the child is "difficult", I got irritated, too; I couldn't help it, by that point in the book I was invested in the little boy's outcome and the psychologist was attempting to write-off a brilliant but differently-wired child when she ought to be his champion. I teared up in places because the joy Gilman expresses at the small milestones her son makes is palpable.

Gilman is an excellent writer, opening her childhood history to the reader, disclosing how much joy she has found reading Wordsworth, how his notions of Romantic children informed her view of children and child-rearing. This is not a book about why early-intervention therapy is necessary for a special-needs child or why it was impossible for Gilman to send her special-needs child to NY Public School (between the lines, you can tell that there is lingering disappointment that the mother and father had to fight so hard for the child with little or no initial help from the system). This is book written by a mother who has protected the parts of her child that give her joy - his musicality, precocity with reading and math, his thirst for knowledge - and used them to understand him and help him understand the world he lives in.

*Dear FTC: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

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