I have been aware of Anna Kennedy for a few years because of her online presence. I genuinely had never looked into whether she had a book or not until someone else tweeted about it and I thought “I’ve got that book…”
I found this booked particularly interesting the more I read because I expected it to be quite a typical parent biography when actually it surprised me by being more about the battle for educational provision and how the Hillingdon Manor School was first set up. And what Kennedy and her family did after that (which was a lot). I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about setting up an entire school (setting up a provision yes) to deal with the lack of services available for autistic children, so that was certainly a new one for me.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of discussion about autism in general and, in Kennedy’s family, of course there is. She has two autistic children and is married to an autistic man so discussions around autism feature throughout the book but they definitely share page time with how the charity and provisions set up by Kennedy and her family came to be. The lack of provision for autistic people – educational and otherwise – will be familiar to many families throughout the UK (and no doubt further afield as well).
When autism is discussed, there’s sometimes a strangeness to the language that I cannot completely understand. Specifically the frequent use of the phrase “suffers from” and “sufferers of”. I am generally not bothered too much by terminology but this particular phrase is one I generally dislike (along with “Aspie”) and the use of this was unusual to read over and again. Then – part-way through the book – I was very confused to read about how the author hates the phrase? Which made me wonder, why didn’t she just use different terminology if she hated the phrase?
Discussions about the lack of flexibility of the educational provisions and the lack of support from the local authority are all topics that will have families nodding in agreement. I imagine the more personal anecdotes such as Angelo getting onto the roof of the family home and the fire brigade needing to be called will be equally familiar to many people. These are blended together in a seamless fashion throughout the book along with the slow growth of provisions that they set up and all the chaos that went along with that. The reader gets to read Anna’s eldest son, Patrick’s, points of view for one chapter and her husband, Chris’s, for another; this means we can get their opinion on events that have already been described.
I know some of the other reviews I have seen for this book mention some disappointment that the focus of the book was on the setting up of the school and business rather than specifically on raising autistic children but for me that was what made it so interesting to read. Parent biographies about the progress of their autistic children are pretty common nowadays whereas this was something quite different and all the better for it.