Sometimes life has a moment of kismet. Just yesterday one of those moments happened. As I sat at the Reference Desk a mom walked up and asked me where “the classics” were. She wanted her child, a daughter, to only read the classics so that she would increase her vocabulary. So we talked.
I told this mom that there was value in all reading. Reading, you see, helps the reader develop their world view, it helps them learn problem solving and interpersonal relationship skills, and it helps them develop empathy. In fact, that is one of my favorite parts of reading: sometimes, you take a walk in someone else’s shoes and you understand things you never would have before. Which brings me to the book Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman.
I was a younger teen librarian when Stuck in Neutral came out, a college student myself. I didn’t have a lot of worldly experience. I didn’t know a lot of people who weren’t exactly like me. I didn’t know anyone like Shawn McDaniel. And I didn’t know that I needed to think about what it meant to be someone like Shawn.
Today, my world is very different. I am older, a mother, and an aunt. If you read here, you know that I have 3 nephews who fall on the Autism spectrum. They are high on the spectrum and have low to no communication skills, especially if you are someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with them and come to understand who they are and what they are trying to say. They, like Shawn, can’t tell you what they think and feel. They are prone to meltdowns, born out of frustration because they want so desperately for you to understand. And there are people who look at people like my nephews and shake their head in disgust, wondering why they “get away” with the behavior they see. They don’t understand that there is more going on in this situation than just a misbehaving kid. They don’t know what it is like to be a prisoner in your home, afraid of the meltdown, celebrating the smallest little victories, learning how to read the signs.
It was reading Stuck in Neutral that first made me begin to realize that there were people living lives that I couldn’t even begin to understand. You see, by all accounts, Shawn McDaniel appears to be a vegetable. He can’t move, he can’t talk, and know one knows what – if anything – is going on inside of him. And without this knowledge, Shawn’s father thinks he is going to do him a favor and end his life. Shawn McDaniel has Cerebral Palsy.