by Kristina Chew

A black hole.

That is the image that Ralph Savarese opens his forthcoming book Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption with. He writes:

To many experts, the non-speaking Autist resembles the old version of a black hole: swallowing everything, emitting nothing; forever hidden, never to be revealed.

To be autistic and to be non-verbal was once, Savarese suggests, to be a kind of human black hole, a bottomless, empty, mysterious nothingness that took in information and stimuli and never did anything it. And this is, I suspect and I know, how my son, Charlie, would have been regarded had he been born fifty years ago, forty, twenty; and this is how DJ, Savarese’s adopted autistic son, might still be regarded had he not been taught to type the words inside of him.

Savarese’s book Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption tells many stories: How DJ came into his parents-to-be’s lives in Florida; how DJ suffered in the “care” of a foster parent; how Savarese becomes a father; how 9-year-old DJ, after several years of hand-over-hand typing, emerges into “full-blown communication.” DJ is now a straight-A honor roll student in middle school in a town in south-central Iowa. And DJ wrote the final chapter (”It’s My Story”) of Savarese’s book Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption. Just because a child—an autistic child—cannot speak, cannot express himself orally—-does not mean that he cannot speak, as this book by Savarese and by DJ shows. The black hole is not so bleak, not so silent, after all.

Savarese, who teaches American literature and creative writing at Grinnell College, begins Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption by describing the new version of the black hole: Rather than swallowing up all particles, all information, forever, black holes are now said to allow information to escape. Savarese quotes no less an expert on these matters than physicist Stephen Hawking—-indeed, he refers to an incident in July of 2004, in which Hawking officially conceded a bet to his Cal-Tech colleague, John Preskill. “As the headline from the Technology and Science page of the MSNBC website put it, ‘Hawking changes his mind on black holes: Galactic traps may actually allow information to escape.’ At the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in Dublin, Ireland, Hawking presented Preskill with a book: Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia. In doing so, the world’s most famous physicist mocked his own theory with an object from which, in the words of one reporter, “information is easily retrieved.”

Savarese’s Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption is a gripping narrative of how DJ came into his and his wife Emily’s life, of how autism came into his life; of how a child who many “experts” had written off, has himself learned to write and can tell his own story.