After Kate Winslet narrated a documentary about a boy with nonverbal autism, she found she couldn't stop thinking about the boy and his mother. Inspired by a poem the boy had written about a 'golden hat' that could communicate for him, Winslet devised a project to send an old trilby to her friends and acquaintances and ask them to take a self-portrait wearing it.
Because she's Kate Winslet, her list of friends includes George Clooney, Jude Law, Oprah Winfrey, and Meryl Streep. The proceeds from the resulting photo book, "The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism," will go towards living facilities for people with autism and to increase public awareness of the condition. But what is it really like to be the parent of an autistic child, or have the condition yourself? Though 67 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the condition, their abilities are often underestimated, and their experiences are only partially understood. Several writers have attempted to change that.
"Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism" by Temple Grandin
Grandin may be the world's most famous autistic, thanks to a HBO movie about her life starring Claire Danes, and Grandin's own prolific writing on the subject. An animal scientist who has worked to reform conditions for agricultural livestock, Grandin credits her autism, which causes her to think visually rather than verbally, for her innate understanding of animals. Describing one visit to a feedlot, she writes, "the first thing I did was to put myself inside the cattles' heads and look out through their eyes... I can imagine the sensations the animals would feel."
"Following Ezra" by Tom Fields-Meyer
From the start, Ezra was different than his older brother, Ami -- independent and self-sufficient, he rarely cried, and preferred looking at books or playing alone with his toys to the company of other children. But, as Fields-Meyer writes, he and his wife assumed Ezra was just his own person, an astonishingly easy baby; an aloof but content toddler. A conference with Ezra's preschool teacher challenged those assumptions, and plunged Ezra's parents on a journey of diagnosis and the search for treatment. Eventually, Fields-Meyer writes, he realized "it wasn't about finding the right expert for my child; it was about learning to be the right parent."
"Look Me In the Eye" by John Elder Robison
Growing up, Robison was constantly being chided and punished by adults for not making eye-contact when they spoke to him. So many people told him his habit of looking at the floor or out the window was a sign of a deviant, sociopathic personality, he began researching prisons, convinced he'd grow up to be a criminal. In fact, Robison had Asperger's syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum. People with Asperger's are often distracted by visual information while trying to process verbal information -- which is why Robison still finds it easier to avoid eye-contact when talking to someone. But there are gifts that go along with the condition, Robinson writes, making him proud to call himself an Aspergian.
"Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir" by Karl Taro Greenfeld
"As soon as I was aware of myself, there he was," Greenfeld writes of his brother, Noah. "How could I have seen that Noah wasn't like other boys?" As a boy, Greenfeld was often the odd man out in his family -- his father, Josh, wrote three acclaimed books about Noah's autism, and his mother, Foumi, used the subject in her novels. Karl often felt left out and neglected, as his parents' determination to make Noah the exception to the rules left them with little time for their other son.