Extraordinary Stories in an Ordinary World - Book Review

By Zara Karimi

 

Ordinary Stories in an Extraordinary World by Aqilah Teo offers a wry, thoughtful account of growing up with an autistic sibling, and shines a light on the experiences of families raising autistic children in Singapore.

In writing filled with love and humour, Teo’s refreshing take on her brother’s autism is equal parts entertaining and heartwarming. Her care for her brother shines through and is visible in her retelling of his childhood antics, and the way she poignantly addresses difficult run-ins with authority as he grows older. She offers a raw, first-hand account of challenges families face when caring for autistic children, and details the troubling paradox:

“It would be difficult for me to argue for Jan to be treated like a completely regular person, yet at the same time ask for him to be excused from National Service or search for a special school or sheltered training with room to enrol him.”

Simply, where the families of autistic children wish to advocate for better opportunities for the neurodivergent through emphasising that they are not so different from others, it is undeniable that these differences make life harder for autistic individuals—for example, for a period of two years, Jan went through a phase where he would refuse to leave the house. In a separate instance, he required a nurse and even the police to escort him to the hospital when he was ill. Jan still needs assistance when using the restroom. Teo asks whether demanding resources to close care gaps while pushing the idea that autistic people are “not that different” from anyone else is productive.

In examining this issue, Teo takes care to move beyond personal anecdotes to include perspectives from a variety of different stakeholders, reaching out to an educator, a psychologist, a Member-of-Parliament, and an autistic adult himself. The conclusion that she arrives at is one that resonated with me—perhaps we shouldn’t deny the fact that autistic individuals are different from neurotypical people, nor the challenges that come with these differences. Instead, as a society, we ought to accept and learn to appreciate what these people have to offer, just as many families do, with quiet resilience.

 

In acknowledgement of World Autism Awareness Month, this review is part of a series of reviews done on books from Ethos that feature representations of autism. Read our other reviews on a tiny space and Open: A Boy's Wayang Adventure.

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