My kids and I read a really interesting book from the library today by local author Robin Cruise. It’s called Bartleby Speaks, and includes lively illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Anyone who has ever read The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late by Thomas Sowell, will immediately recognize the similarities.
I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about the plot line of the book. It’s about a little boy named Bartleby who doesn’t speak at all until his third birthday, and then utters a complete phrase. It is implied that Bartleby will turn out to be neuro typical, and that in fact, his brilliant and creative family was just too noisy to really every listen to him. Both the author and the illustrator mention in the dedication and bios that they too were late talkers who turned out just fine.
I know children like Bartleby; late talkers who turned to be neuro typical. I can understand how a book like Bartleby Speaks would be really comforting to their parents. Plus, the book is well written and engaging.
My problem is, that I am also the family member of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When I read this story to my daughter, I could almost feel the blood leave my stomach and go to my hand and feet. My body was physiologically going into a “fight or flight” response, because the thought of a two and a half year old not talking one single word makes me panic. It was a conditioned, involuntary response on my part, as someone who loves many people with Autism.
But I also sincerely believe that the author and illustrator had 100% pure intentions in writing this story. I don’t think they were trying to say that a real child who may or may not have ASD isn’t talking because their family is too noisy. I would have liked to see some sort of parents note linking up to Autism Speaks at the end of it, but I am still giving this book 4 stars.