Beyond FACTS: From Here to There, LOTTERY, the AAP, AutismSpeaks.org
Perry, the main character in Lottery, is sympathetic and endearing. He reveals his deep understandings of the people and the world around him as he struggles to reconcile the demands of those related to him with the protective tendencies of those who truly know and love him. Perry has always been slow and has endured years of discrimination manifested not only in the cruelty of other children and the ignorance of school officials, but in intentional abandonment and neglect on the part of immediate family members. Raised by his beloved grandparents, Perry cherishes his memories of them and consistently listens to the echoes of his determined, outspoken Gram. One of my favorite passages opens Chapter 14, when Perry has just begun to understand that he’s suddenly become rich after winning a $12 million jackpot in the Washington State lottery. I find it intriguing that before he shifts gears to celebrate his winnings, Perry compares his ongoing struggle to keep his grandmother close at hand—despite and due to the significant challenges he faces on a daily basis—to finding the sun:
“Finding the sun in Washington state is hard, because you have to be in just the right place. The sun hides a lot of the time. I hear people from California complain…about never seeing it. But I know the sun is there. You just have to know where to look. I can sit in my room above the Everett Marina and see it in the water like a mirror. When I see extra brightness through the gray clouds, I can tell exactly where it is. It reminds me of how I have to look for Gram now. I look in those places for her.”
Gram plays a critical role in Perry’s story from beginning to end; she’s one of those “secondary” characters that loom so large you look forward to each of her memorable appearances. Lottery is populated by a full cast of unique characters as well as a few cameo appearances by the general public, represented by people who don’t know Perry, how to treat him, what to expect from him. Most of these people manage to insult Perry or embarrass themselves with very little effort. I’ll always remember the scene with a customer at the boating store where Perry works. The man grumbles to the owner in front of Perry that he’s in a hurry and that his “idiot son” did something to mess up their vacation plans. “You’d think he was retarded!” he states, adding “Oh, sorry” as he glances at Perry.
“Retarded. Idiot. These are words I know. They mean foolish or stupid. I am not retarded. I am slow. Gram says we are all idiots really, and that idiot comes from the Greek word idios. ‘It means private citizen, Perry, a loner, someone just concerned with himself!’ Gram says. ‘That pretty much sums up everybody I know.’”
I knew I’d enjoy this book and gain unique insights from it when I read Patricia Wood’s author bio on the back flap of Lottery. A Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii, she’s chosen to focus her studies on “education, disability, and diversity.” The mother of a grown son and the resident (with her husband and their two cats) of her boat Orion, Patricia offers fun and insightful insights into the boating life, the writing life, and life in general on her blog.
As does Kristen, in a sense. The boating life might not be part of her landscape, but she, too, shares Patricia’s interest in “education, disability, and diversity.” I thought of her yesterday when I read this AP article: “Pediatricians urge autism screening.” According to the article, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released two new reports in support of early screening as soon as a child begins to exhibit possible signs of autism. I’ll let the article outline what to look for; suffice to say that more parents are aware of autism than ever before and want to know what to do when they suspect their child might be challenged socially or academically. A new promising resource noted in the article is autismspeaks.org, a joint project of two nonprofit advocacy groups, Autism Speaks and First Signs, both of which “promote early diagnosis and treatment to help children with autism lead more normal lives.” PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this post I've read a bit about Autism Speaks and am now unsure of this organization's intentions and how it operates. The entire AP article I quote here and the AAP's reports have been read with some skepticism by many parents of children with autism.
I equate the desire to “lead a normal life” to “the pursuit of happiness.” Isn’t that what the world ought to want for all children, for everyone? Thanks to millions of caring, dedicated people and organizations like those noted in this post, hope remains that—overall—we’re headed in the right direction on that front.