Ducks on the Moon takes the reader into a multi-media experience that is part one-woman play, part self-help book. Kelly Jo Burke is an award winning Regina playwright, poet, director, documentarian and broadcaster. She is also the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, a combination that makes for a readable, informative and emotionally engaging book.
A few pages in, we are caught by a side note: “A flavor like mustard, if tolerated, can mask many tastes and textures that are sensorially unacceptable to the child.” This captures the strange, wonderful, and demanding world that parents and others must enter if they are to live with, love, and help a child with autism.
Burke’s one woman play takes us through the emotional highs and lows of giving birth, of discovering something is different about this child, and then into the long process of getting a diagnosis. After that comes the frustration of trying to find help, and learning how to cope with a life that will never be normal. One of the parents says, “It’s got its ups and downs – lots of them. But it has tremendous, tremendous moments. Rewards. A lot of love.”
This is a book for everyone. If you are parents of a child with autism, it will make you feel less alone. If you are workers in the field, it can deepen your understanding. If you know nothing about autism, it will open your heart and hopefully, make you more aware and tolerant.
Over half of the book is taken up with the play. It’s sad, funny, and hopeful. We see the mother not only through her emotionally charged language, but also through black and white photographs from an actual performance. The child is imagined and spoken to, but unseen. However, we get a sense of how special he is through his mother’s words: “he once did “The Cat in the Hat” – on fast forward – bouncing on one foot – for an entire roomful of my guests.”
The last part of the book contains interviews from the CBC IDEAS radio documentary, as well as a glossary of terms. We hear, in detail, the voices of other parents, an autism educator, a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. Not all children with autism behave in the same way, nor is treatment necessarily the same in all cases. For parents, there is often fear and ignorance at diagnosis, ongoing stress and heartache, but also joy and success. We learn that, “It’s not about fixing the child or eliminating the autism or stomping it out. It’s about how do we, first of all, understand the way this child thinks and learns.”
The book argues persuasively for more services and early intervention for ASD. Autism behaviors can show up between twenty-four to thirty-six months of age, yet are often not diagnosed until children are four or five years old. There is a gap between what scientists are discovering and publishing, and information that gets out to family doctors.
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