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BOOK REVIEW

How a mother came to accept her son

Finding Ben: A Mother's Journey Through the Maze of Asperger's; Barbara LaSalle; Contemporary Books: 280 pp., $19.95

May 19, 2003|Rosie Mestel | Times Staff Writer

Finding Ben: A Mother's Journey Through the Maze of Asperger's

Barbara LaSalle

Contemporary Books: 280 pp., $19.95

*

Having a child who is "different" can be hard -- especially if this difference includes traits you don't understand, don't like, refuse to accept. In "Finding Ben: A Mother's Journey Through the Maze of Asperger's," Los Angeles therapist Barbara LaSalle describes her relationship with her son, Ben Levinson, who has Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism.

The story is a familiar one for Asperger's parents. Early on, Ben displayed raw signs of genius: He taught himself to read by 18 months and memorized the baffling maze of London streets and the preamble of the U.S. Constitution by age 4.

But every day, it became clearer that Ben also was different in other ways. Equipped with poor social skills, he was friendless in school and unable to hold down a job as an adult. Ben's ordeal was especially harsh at certain times in his life. As a child, he spent nine months at a boarding school where he was sexually abused by other students. Later in his life, he was confined to locked psychiatric facilities several times.

LaSalle's search for understanding will be familiar to many parents and their children: Ben was 23 years old before his condition was finally diagnosed.

Throughout the book, Ben, now 34 and attending college, weighs in -- describing how all these events felt to him. And that, in a sense, is what the book is about.

In "Finding Ben," LaSalle outlines with honesty her strong case of "disappointed mother syndrome" -- her bitterness and frustration at Ben's weight problem, messy habits, social awkwardness and the stream of crises in his life. The book ends with her eventual revelation: that she should stop trying to change Ben but accept and admire him for who he is -- a person with warts, to be sure, but also sweet qualities, unique talents and the fortitude to survive in a decidedly hostile world.

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