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BSC #32: Kristy and the Secret of Susan
When I was a kid, I had an obsession with the Baby-Sitters Club books. I decided recently to re-visit this book to see if the ending was as much of a Wall Banger as I remembered.

Kristy's latest sitting charge is an autistic girl named Susan. Susan has spent the past few years at a boarding school and is home for one month before her parents ship her off again. While I won't claim to be an expert on autism, I have both a good friend and a younger brother with Aspergers Syndrome, and took a college course on autism. There were quite a few "facts" in the book that I disagreed with, but I'm not sure how much of it is Did Not Do The Research and how much is Science Marches On; a lot more about autism is known today than when the book was written in 1990. Here are the biggest Wall Bangers:
  • Susan is described as having "no personality" and her parents "know nothing" about her. I'm sorry, but everyone has a personality. And her parents know her likes and dislikes at the very least.
  • Susan's room has no toys, because "she wouldn't be interested in them." Autistic kids can and do play with toys, albeit not usually in the way most kids do. The stereotype is of an autistic child who takes a car and just spins the wheels around; not even that is mentioned.
  • At the end of the book, even Kristy agrees that Susan needs too much help to be able to live at home. I understand that there are kids with severe handicaps, and their Least Restrictive Environment may be a live-in school, but Susan doesn't seem to fit that profile. Also, if your child really needs that much help, you don't leave her with a 13-year-old. Especially one who's never worked with autistic children before.
  • And finally, the Family Unfriendly Aesop that left a bad taste in my mouth when I first read this book at the age of 7. It's okay that Susan is being shipped off to boarding school, because her parents are going to have another baby! Yay! Their first daughter didn't work out, so they're going to have another! Everything will be sparkly and beautiful and perfect this time around. They're even going to name her Hope. Way to show acceptance of children with disabilities. I would've liked to see Susan stick around.
Wow, even when you were 7, that moral struck you as horrible. How'd that get published?

Being autistic (diagnosed as an infant) myself, I can tell you that I did spin the wheels on cars and I do have memory of that - it was just a pleasant repetitive activity. Heck, I loved swinging on the swing, and to a lesser extent, still do. I've seen Temple Grandin (the autistic woman who invented the modern cattle corral) describe swings as "drugs for autistic people".

Before I could talk at the age of 3 (yes, 3), I built a toy dragon out of these large lego-like blocks and pulled it around on a string. I definitely had an imagination and a personality.

I think the author of this book shouldn't have wandered into totally unfamiliar territory and then attempted to portray something she clearly doesn't know.
comment #6429 BonsaiForest 15th Feb 11
Wow.

This book sounds amazing with the sheer amount of Unfortunate Implications.
comment #6440 PataHikari 16th Feb 11
Don't trust reviews so gullibly.

The ending was somewhat of a downer. Kristy was NOT happy about Susan getting sent away. Although the information about autism in this book only applies to extremely severe cases, but the book was written in the 1990's.
comment #6442 150.212.50.67 16th Feb 11
Don't trust reviews so gullibly.

? The point is that the reviewer read the work in question. Reviewers can make mistakes and miss details, like the fact that Kristy herself wasn't happy about Susan being sent away - which would indicate heavily that the author disagrees with Susan's parents, though at the same time, it's hard to tell, as main characters are flawed too and it could be hinting that Kristy is wrong to think that way, which would definitely make a Family Unfriendly Aesop - if that were either the intent, or what people thought the message was. There's implications, and there's also inferences, and if readers get the wrong inferences, the author could be said to have failed at conveying their intent.

I've made mistakes in reviews before. And people disagree with reviewers all the time.

Anyway, if the book made it clear that it was an extreme case of autism, then that might be better. But I was diagnosed in the early 1980s, and I wasn't that "extreme case" depicted there.
comment #6451 BonsaiForest 17th Feb 11 (edited by: BonsaiForest)
More severe autism is a lot different from Asperger's, please keep that in mind. I'm not sure if the whole spectrum thing had been discovered back then.

That being said, leaving a 13-year-old with a severely autistic kid probably isn't a good idea. Of course this is the series where an 11-year-old was going to be left alone for a weekend with an eight-year-old sister and a brother who wasn't yet two. And seven kids were left alone with two babysitters when a snowstorm was predicted. WITH VERY LITTLE FOOD. I'm not sure how realistic it's supposed to be.
comment #6932 boobustuber 21st Mar 11 (edited by: boobustuber)
Or maybe everyone in the babysitters club universe looks past age and noticed that these are actually some pretty responsible and mature 11-13 year olds?
comment #6933 130.49.71.60 21st Mar 11
I seem to remember Susan was not only non-verbal, but pretty much what the most severe depictions of autism in media.
comment #11245 Meiriona 5th Nov 11
"Don't trust reviews so gullibly." But why would we doubt it when we haven't seen any indication that it's wrong? It's not gullible to believe someobody who shows no signs of being factually incorrect.
comment #16973 MichaelKatsuro 25th Nov 12
Interesting. The parents having another child and naming it Hope sort of reminds me of Flowers For Algernon, where Charlie's parents literally named their second child Normal. I wonder if they were intentionally referencing FFA, or if it really was a Family Unfriendly Aesop in that manner.
comment #20829 Kif 24th Aug 13
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