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.
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