Reasonable People

A testament to uncommon devotion and common possibilities.

“Why would someone adopt a badly abused, nonspeaking, six-year-old from foster care?” So the author was asked at the outset of his adoption-as-a-first-resort adventure. Part love story, part political manifesto about “living with conviction in a cynical time,” the memoir traces the development of DJ, a boy written off as profoundly retarded and now, six years later, earning all “A’s” at a regular school.

Neither a typical saga of autism nor simply a challenge to expert opinion, Reasonable People illuminates the belated emergence of a self in language. And it does so using DJ’s own words, expressed through the once discredited but now resurgent technique of facilitated communication.

Encouraged by new studies showing the technique’s efficacy with at least some non-speaking people with autism and by the development of independent typing—those who have weaned themselves from their facilitators’ support—Savarese and his wife tried FC with DJ. But first they taught him how to read, painstakingly introducing him to different modes of abstraction: photographs, picture symbols, sign language, and ultimately words. The result is a book that contains much of what DJ typed from age nine to twelve—a rare archive indeed—and concludes with a chapter composed entirely by him.

Follow along as DJ makes his first sign, enrolls in his neighborhood school, reconnects with the sister from whom he was separated, and begins to explore his experience of disability, poverty, abandonment, and sexual abuse (the latter through what researchers, concerned about facilitator influence, call “multiple naïve facilitators”).

“Try to remember my life,” DJ declares on his talking computer, and remember he does in the most extraordinarily perceptive and lyrical way. Asking difficult questions about the meaning of family, the demise of social obligation, and the politics of neurological difference, Savarese argues for a reasonable commitment to human possibility and caring.