and if you get quickly past the story of how the cat became a family member you will find yourself in an environment of intellectual challenge; comparisons and humorous observation that may both surprise and enlighten you.
The approach of using Dasha, the cat, as the narrative voice is useful in several ways. It enables the writer to expand our understanding of autism while allowing some interesting links and comparisons to thinking in the animal world. It also allows the reader to become involved with the cat’s viewpoint, which eases the complexity of this being a well-researched book, and the reading of it quite an intellectual exercise. Finally it allows Dasha, in the apparently superior position of being a cat, to use long words and give us definitions, so that we, as mere humans (aka pets), can more easily accept the cat’s perspective in defining and also challenging some current thinking about autism.
Throughout the book Dasha uses references to current theories on autism as well as aspects of animal behaviour taken from Animals in translation: Using the mysteries of autism to decode Animal Behaviour by Dr Temple Grandin. There are also challenges to some of the established views on the Triad of Impairment that defines the autistic continuum, in relation to social interaction, communication and rigidity of thought and behaviours. A later debate occurs about the notion that autistic language and communication is not impaired as such. Dasha considers the idea that autistics ‘just speak a different language and have their own communication systems’, so logically, if non-autistics were to understand it, it would not be considered impairment. This is one theme of the book; the idea that autistics are different rather than disordered in their method of thinking and how far non-autistics should make more of an effort to interpret other languages such as this one.
A huge range of aspects of autism is examined, from the structure of the autistic brain, to reasons for hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity and why autistics may often appear to be in their own world. There is information on how they may perceive the world using various sensory modalities that non-autistics might not use, the problems of literalness, associative thinking, the emotions that autistics feel but may not be able to understand or verbalise… to list just a few examples.
This is a very thorough book. Much of the information would usefully underpin strategies that teachers or therapists might develop to support an autistic child. At nearly 150 pages its length is not off-putting and with the additional glossary, some useful notes and references and a bibliography it provides a very solid resource.
by Sue Hickman