The book is called "The Horse Boy" by Rupert Isaacson. The Times features the book opening with the title,
"Shamans and horses work magic on autistic Rowan"Demonic fits"...I ask you. How is this stuff cleared for publication, doesn't anyone catch themselves the hell on and think that perhaps such language might be offensive, inaccurate, discriminatory?! And given that the young son of a prominent politician died this week, a child who had epilepsy, couldn't they have thought to be a bit more sensitive in their choice of language.
Rupert Isaacson was almost at his wits’ end over his son’s demonic fits, but a riding trip in Mongolia to visit local healers brought an amazing change"
In the first paragraph of the article we learn that,
"Rowan was autistic: incontinent, uncommunicative and given to fearsome bouts of nerve-shredding screeching, even at home."But obviously, he couldn't possibly have been (for example) autistic, sweet, cheeky, athletic and into Formula 1. That wouldn't create the same levels of drama.
The article continues as these things tend to (see my post on how to write a book about your autistic child), by explaining how they came to notice the child was different and how he was diagnosed and they were devastated (can't they come up with a new word for this- I suggest dismayed, inconsolable, disconsolate...I'm sure the rest of you will have more suggestions.)
Actually, by the time I'd read that far, I was thinking that this all felt very familiar and I found an earlier Times article lauding Isaacson and his notions. Since then, someone has backed his plan to sell his Mongolian adventure book and film by pitching it as, not just another well-off westerner meeting the natives, but as a quest to cure his poor, suffering son.
Autism is so hot right now.
He tells about the day his child, aged two, ran into the middle of a group of horses and lay on the ground. Luckily he wasn't killed, and his Dad was able to read from the horses' reaction that actually, his son had inherited his "horse gene." I'll bet.
The son got on a horse and IT'S A MIRACLE!!! he said a few words. Why is this always presented as such a big deal? Something strange happened when he was on the horse.
“He began to talk meaningfully, not just babble or recite Thomas the Tank Engine train names,” says Isaacson. “For the time we were together in the saddle there were no tantrums. It became a place of respite and joy.”While it's nice that the child enjoyed horse riding, his previous speech probably wasn't just "meaningless babble" but was an important stage that all children go though as they're developing the ability to speak. Duncan's early words were almost all repeated phrases for films, and much of it still is, but his speech has real communicative intent.
The article preps us for the truly wacky stuff to come though, "what happened next has no rational explanation." Too flippin' right!
"when Rowan was three, Isaacson brought a group of bushmen from Botswana to the United Nations in New York to protest against land being lost to diamond mining. Their chief shaman, or “wise man”, performed a healing ritual on Rowan. “It was extraordinary,” says his father. “For five days or so it really was like having a normal kid. Rowan’s symptoms started to fall away. The problem was as soon as we went home he tumbled back into the autism.” "Aw, it must really gall you to see your child tumble into autism. I'm not sure how it happens, but I'll go with it for now. Not wishing to miss a chance to
Here's a but more insight into how this father thinks. He;
"believes that shamanic healing works.I'll just let the full stupid of that remark simmer, no further comment is required.
“Once you’ve seen enough people with cancer, or snake bites, or dementia or whatever, healed – and the doctors scratching their heads and saying we don’t know where the tumour’s gone, you come to realise it’s a pretty valid system.”"
So this is what they did to "help" their autistic child;
"To western eyes the ceremonies they underwent appear bizarre. One Mongolian shaman told them Rowan had been touched by “black energy” in the womb and it was necessary to draw this negative energy away. Another prescribed fermented goat’s milk. A female shaman beat on a drum while summoning spirits with a whirling, dancing prayer. They were hit with reindeer horns and spattered with vodka."I once met an old woman who called out to Duncan, and told me that he isn't disabled, he's one of the lost tribe of Atlantis and that I was trapping him in a false dimension with my greasy soul and that if I didn't let her snort snuff out of her nostrils on us both, he'd never progress.
Actually, I was lying there.
Yep, my eyes must be western all right as that shaman stuff sounds like a whole big pile of horse manure. Imagine how that child must have been feeling, dragged across the plains and subjected to all those sensory overloading, invasive, unpleasant and ridiculous interventions. He'd have been better off with a bit of The Shamen, which I think Duncan would quite like though he's big into Gwen Stefani these days.
This bit is hilarious;
"As their trek across Mongolia continued, so did Rowan’s progress, despite setbacks – intermittent tantrums that saw him refuse to go near a horse and reduced his father almost to despair. At last they reached the so-called Reindeer people, reputed to have the most powerful shamans. After a ceremony there, Rowan’s incontinence was apparently cured."So Rowan was acting as any reasonable person would expect. How is incontinence "apparently" cured? And please could someone please teach these people about conflating correlation and causation!
(Duncan only rarely wees in his sleep now, I credit oxtail soup for this breakthrough...Not really.)
I'll bet you can't guess how it ends...oh all right. They've set up a centre to help other children benefit from horses just like Rowan.
The book/film gets masses of coverage in the Daily Mail too, where they've been publishing excerpts from the book. It's toe curling, hippy bull. Here are a few choice phrases,
"my emotionally and physically incontinent son"Gack.
"the shaman's assistant passed her spiritual mistress a bottle of vodka, from which she took a hearty pull, then without warning spat the liquid all over Rowan's face and body."And instead of sweeping your son up and running as fast as possible out of there you let this continue?
"But Rowan was screaming now. Genuine distress. Too much adventure, too tired, too cold, too hungry.Had he forgotten it was he who had arranged the film crew!
The cameraman rode up to our side, filming from the saddle. 'Put the damn camera away!' I snapped."
"I'd taken the poor boy to his edge and he was now falling apart. 'Help!' he sobbed. 'Help me.' Rowan had his eyes tightly shut now, as he retreated into himself.No. This is not my worst scenario, not by a long shot. My son being really sick or in pain or suffering at the hands of another, are much worse scenarios to my mind.
This is a very bad thing for an autistic child to do - every autism parent's worst scenario, seeing his child shut down, his nervous system overloaded."
And there plenty more where that came from, as demonstrated in another piece in the Daily Mail:
"My son was diagnosed with autism in the spring of 2004, when he was two. It was like being hit across the face with a baseball bat. Grief and shame engulfed me: weird, irrational shame, as if I had somehow cursed this child by giving him faulty genes, condemned him to a lifetime of living as an alien because of me.Oh pull yourself together, this is just silly, there is no glass, no drifting. There is just your child with a brain that works in a different way who needs his parents to adapt and meet his slightly alternative needs.
And then came the pain of watching, horrified, as he began to drift away to another place, separated from me as if by thick glass. "
Now came something new: a demonic, almost possessed edge, materialising suddenly out of nowhere.Again, the demonic thing. What makes these people think it's an acceptable way to label their own children to millions of the reading public?
"Our hope that our son would share a life of adventure with us was dashed.From the earlier Times article, linked to above, he's explained what these therapies are and some are far from mainstream. Before they went gallivanting east, they were pushing chelation chemicals on the boy. This stuff is dangerous and useless in autism. There is no need to spend time and money chasing a cure. Acceptance, education of self and your child, an optimised environment and knowing what makes your child tick are far more important.
Instead, our life became a mechanical drudgery of driving from one therapy and assessment appointment to another and dealing with insurance companies, therapists and our son's ever-increasing, inexplicable tantrums"
And I can tell Rupert Isaacson, I didn't have to drag my son anywhere. Wherever we are, we're sharing this voyage as a family together, and there may be ups and downs, but I wouldn't want to be travelling with anyone else.