Autism: Days in the Life of an Autistic Teen

Autism is on the rise in our society and a diagnosis can really overwhelm a family, especially if their child is the only one in class who has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Although Benjamin Ludwig’s novel, Ginny Moon is not clinical or diagnostic, it is an informative book about the characteristics of children and teens on the autism spectrum. The story is a must-read for anyone who is caring for an autistic teen or has interactions with autistic children.  Frankly, as a teacher, I thought I knew a thing or two about autism, as I had students on the spectrum in my classes, but I wish I had read this book because it captures, from an autistic child’s view, the painful daily challenges that many autistic children and teens face.

While every teen is different, and it is misguided to make generalizations about teens on the autism spectrum by reading one teen’s perspective, there are universal lessons in empathy to be learned by reading Ginny’s story. Ginny Moon, the protagonist of the story, inhabits a world where repetition, sensitivity, inability to interact in socially accepted ways, and confusion are part of everyday life. As readers are led from one agonizing plot twist to another, we cannot help but feel compassion and empathy for Ginny.  Ginny has been abused by her mother, Gloria, and taken from her at age 9. She has left behind her Baby Doll and spends all of her time thinking about how Gloria doesn’t know how to take care of her Baby Doll. By age 14, after three failed adoptions, she is eventually adopted by her Forever Parents, Maura and Brian. Trouble starts when Maura and Brian are expecting their own child and Maura becomes increasingly concerned about how Ginny will interact with the new baby. She has good reason to be concerned, as Ginny apparently put her Baby Doll in a suitcase to protect her from the police and Gloria.  To further complicate matters, Ginny finds innovative ways of reaching out to Gloria. There’s a kidnapping by Gloria’s sister and a kidnapping that doesn’t actually take place, but all of this is wreaking havoc with Maura who has instituted draconian rules to protect her biological daughter. One is that Ginny can never touch the new baby, Wendy. The plot twists are difficult to read because they are propelled by Maura’s increasingly paranoid fears about Ginny and Ginny’s feelings of abandonment, this time by her Forever mother.

While the repetitive use of terms like “Forever Parent” started to wear thin a few hundred pages into the story, the intensity of Ginny’s fixation with her Baby Doll was heartbreaking.  Equally moving was the processing sequences where Ginny would only answer if one question were posed at a time, never two. The fact that she was terrified of crossing a busy street at age 14 and not fully understanding what was expected of her in everyday interactions was troubling.  Also, it seemed that Patrice, her counselor, had to literally interpret the emotions and actions of the people in Ginny’s life. Living in such a closed world, where every move is a potential faux pas and irritant to others shows how confusing and exhausting it must be for an autistic child or teen to develop self-confidence.

Clinicians  inform us about all of the symptoms and manifestations of this increasingly common diagnosis, but if you really want to understand what daily life is like for one autistic teen, then this is the book for you.

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