Review: Autism Belongs

Autism Belongs – Sharon Mitchell


I wasn’t going to read the rest of the series after the second book, but the summary suggested this book might be about a very different autistic child who was non-verbal and with some very challenging behaviour including violence, I was hopeful that this would do some work on the area of ABC or STAR charts which were touched on in the second book but never truly developed.

The opening was good. I have to commend Mitchell for not attempting to dampen down the aggressive behaviour that she has decided to focus on in Manny – despite the fact that it could easily have led to “outraged” comments from people online. The parents are also likeable and much more well-rounded than we’ve seen from the other two books, downspirited with not being able to help their son but loving him regardless.

Unfortunately it quickly falls into inconsistency when they end up outside a bakery and are accosted by characters from the previous books. Despite the fact that it has been mentioned numerous times in the book not to overload the autistic children with too much information, we are treated to another scene where a character (Ellie) talks in full and complex sentences with nothing in the way of processing time and the autistic child understands them fully and follows their instructions to the letter. It doesn’t work like that.

There’s also the reappearance of the “magical Social Stories” which can be presented in any way, shape or form, and all the autistic children in these books will immediately respond positively to them (although Mel conceeds in this book that they only “often work” – which is still untrue). Social Stories are good, but they don’t work for all autistic children – evidence suggests they don’t even work for most. When they do work, they have to be carefully personalised to the individual to have the best impact. Scribbling some barely recognisable scrawl on a piece of paper or using a pre-established stock photo/symbol story is nowhere near as effective. Also, unless I’m misreading it – Mel takes photos of Manny to create the social story, and there doesn’t seem to be any mention of her asking permission to do so. If some random woman took photos of my child on her iPad I would not be happy about it.

I am a bit tired of this Mel and Rob “Wonder Teachers!” and Ellie’s “Magical Bakery” that can make your autistic children overcome things like their auditory sensitivities by giving them food that is so amazing that they suddenly aren’t bothered by the crowd (from an autistic person – it doesn’t work like that) and everything they try works everytime (it also doesn’t work like that either). No matter how much I try to look past it I just can’t get over the fact that this is basically a book where autism professionals are portrayed as amazing people who do no wrong – I’ve met autistic professionals who act like Mel and Rob do in these books and they were sanctimonious and smug, I couldn’t stand them.

There also isn’t much in the way of actual strategies in this book – more just judgements of the family and the fact that they haven’t got Manny diagnosed or in school. When you consider that the family are portrayed as a family struggling to get by financially and working themselves “into the ground” as they say, and combine that with their lack of autism knowledge, and then the fact that the family are the only characters so far to speak anything other than English, you end up with this uncomfortable class and race thing that I wasn’t exactly enamoured about. It just comes across as if they must educate this poor, misinformed family and it’s not pleasant reading. Even a scene later in the book where mum is seriously injured as a result of one of Manny’s meltdowns – the professionals act as if “oh well, we can solve this because we’re wonderful”. Teachers are not miracle workers (as much as the ones in this book are portrayed to be); and in a situation where a child is in so much distress and dis-regulation that he regularly attacks his mum then you need a damn sight more than a handful of wonder teachers.

So yet again I am left with another book that leaves me divided. There’s a serious lack of strategies in the book – although we do get our first mention of AAC! It is little more than a mention unfortunately. There’s also some talk about ABC charts, which is back to positive territory after some of the advice from the last book; especially good in this book because they go in depth into sensory needs as a part of challenging behaviour. On the downside though – the characters are still largely unpleasant (the new family not included), the book is full of inconsistencies (oh don’t take autistic children into new and stressful situations too quickly – except we’re going to try and pressure you to bring your child for his first visit to the school at lunchtime…in the cafeteria with all the other children), and it’s becoming obvious that the same sensory strategies are being suggested for every child… It doesn’t work like that is fast becoming my catch-phrase for this book series I think.

Worth reading?

A tentative yes, but just because the new family are positive characters.

Value for money?

Free on Kindle Unlimited, and £2.49 on Kindle regular. There is also the option to get all three first books: ‘Autism goes to School’, ‘Autism Runs Away’, and ‘Autism Belongs’ for £4.59. I think there’s enough decent information across the three books to say that it’s good value for money – just be prepared that the characters may not be very likeable or consistent.

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