Review – A Friend Like Henry

A Friend Like Henry – Nuala Gardner

a-friend-like-henryDogs and cats are not an uncommon feature in parent biographies for autistic children. Dogs especially are cited in both anecdotal and some more academic literature as being invaluable for a range of mental health conditions and developmental disorders. That’s not to say it’s a blanket benefit – obviously, every individual is different and being autistic or having anxiety does not mean you like dogs.

This biography follows the childhood and teen years of Dale and the relationship he forms with his dog, Henry. This is the first book I have actually finished reading about the impact of animals on autism and, honestly, it was not a bad introduction. There are sections or sentences where I did not agree with Gardner’s point-of-view but there was very little in this book that made me annoyed.

To increase Dale’s sense of independence, we had bought him a Wallace and Gromit alarm clock; he was into these characters at the time because he particularly loved Gromit, the dog. With the help of the clock, he practiced getting up on time and preparing his own breakfast in readiness for when he started school.

The one consistent theme that does annoy me is this idea that special education or autism classrooms are somehow lesser or only for certain autistic students. Special education gets put down a lot in parent biographies – like the authors can’t possibly abide the idea of their children being in a classroom with other students with special educational needs. It’s always phrased in this “considerate” sort of way but that doesn’t take away the annoyance.

It also concerned us that by remaining in the unit, Dale was still picking up various autistic mannerisms and having to take part in social activities below his level. This in itself was counter-productive, and we felt that if he transferred to Glenburn, little would change. It was time for him to move on.

I agree that all students should be in their least restrictive environment, but I would like to read a biography where a student is in special education and there is actually something good said about it. There are many great special schools and they are, unfortunately, poorly portrayed in the news, media in general, and in many autism books.

Still – the parts of the book which focus on the relationship between Dale and Henry (which is admittedly the bulk of the book) are good. It was great to read how Dale developed his independence and skills with the help of his dog, and how Henry was an integral part of the family life. The other nice touch in the book was the section at the end where Dale wrote in his own words about aspects of his life described in the book – although there are a few things he wrote that suggested his parents were more concerned with him appearing normal than being happy.

Worth reading?

Largely, yes. There are some parts which aren’t quite so pleasant reading (the typicals in parent biographies really about special ed being awful and trying to stop their child “looking autistic”), but the core parts about Dale and Henry are good.

Value for money?

This can be picked up for cheap second hand. The new price of £10/$15 isn’t too excessive but if you’re happy reading an electronic copy, the Kindle price is about £3/$5 cheaper.

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