Book review: All I Can Handle – I’m no Mother Theresa by Kim Stagliano

From the NSW Writers’ Centre Newsletter…

This bright pink, blog-style debut work by American autism activist and mum, Kim Stagliano, presents a new and somewhat refreshing take on dealing with autistic children. Kim and her husband have three daughters with autism, quite an unusual situation, given the condition is four times more likely to occur in boys.

All I Can Handle tells a disjointed story of one family’s struggle with severe autism, coupled with other difficult circumstances, such as unemployment and moving house. It’s impossible not to sympathise with Kim’s predicament, and she deserves much credit for her continued work into finding a cure for autism and bringing the condition out of obscurity.

The writing is conversational, with numerous anecdotes and references that are fairly obscure and confusing to a non-American audience. Others describe having ‘laughed and cried’ throughout this book; I can’t say that I did either, as the humour was something akin to an average sitcom and the emotion, while momentarily twinging, seemed a little blurred by the stream-of-consciousness style.

For a parent dealing with an autistic child, this book provides some interesting information, and shows an overview of the current state of play in the autism community; the various schools of thought, latest research and information, and the confronting ‘craptastic’ episodes that no doubt dominate the lives of those living with the condition.

And continuing on…

I was quite excited about being asked to review this book.  Although I hadn’t heard of it or the author, I am interested in child development and autism in particular interests me because I’ve read a lot about vaccination and its possible link with the condition.  Kim does touch on this topic and has been criticised for being ‘anti-vax’, however I don’t believe she tries to push this agenda on anyone, even in her book.  She talks about her own experience with vaccinations and their connection with autism only very briefly for someone who is supposedly so against artificial immunisation.  In fact she doesn’t try to convince anyone of a link; she just states her view, and I think she handled this part very professionally.

As for the humour in the book, I find it hard to appreciate it.  Not being American, for one, makes me unable to grasp many of the references scattered throughout, and although I was fully aware of who Howard Stern is, I didn’t find it particularly amusing, intriguing or relevant that the author enjoys his radio comedy.  I was particularly confused by the chapter beginning with a sort of foreword, showing the author’s struggle with writing about sex when her minister and mother would be reading the book.  The chapter concerned didn’t seem to mention sex at all!

This leads me to my overall impression of the book: it’s disjointed.  It’s like reading the transcript of a one-way conversation, complete with the speaker’s random thoughts interspersed throughout.  It takes no effort at all to understand the text, but to try and grasp the underlying meaning is quite tiresome and in the end, not really worth it.  I wanted some more meaning, I wanted emotion, and rarely did I get it.  There are moments in the book where Kim touches on how it really feels to hit rock bottom, what despair is like, but they are very quickly glossed over, and not often with humour.

Not having read any other books on autism, I can’t claim that this one isn’t worth reading for someone dealing with the condition.  However I think the book would really have benefited from some editing – if only to rid it of those pesky typos, of which I discovered eight throughout the book, and some of the odd syntax which makes the prose feel somewhat awkward at times.  Conversational style works really well, it’s just when it’s too colloquial that it isn’t successful. Perhaps this is the author’s intention, that the book give the reader that sense of unease, as one might have at perceiving the first sign of autism in a child.

Kim Stagliano has been successful with this book, if only in that she’s achieved her goal of bringing autism and the stories of her beautiful daughters out into the open, showing us just how challenging life can be but why it’s all worth it in the end.  If it weren’t for people like Kim, the mystery that is autism would have a smaller and less significant voice.

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Author: curiosikat

Writer, editor, linguist, social historian...

3 thoughts on “Book review: All I Can Handle – I’m no Mother Theresa by Kim Stagliano”

  1. Thanks for reviewing this book. I’m still in 2 minds whether to read it or not. I have a daughter with autism but its not severe & everything I’ve read in the past about families dealing with an autistic child have done nothing but depress me as they always seem much more severe than our daughter’s condition. However most of these books deal with autistic boys & the condition seems to manifest very differently in girls. Its good to know that this type of reader-friendly book is out there though & also good to know you can find condensed the myriad of information about autism in such an accessible book.
    Best wishes,
    Roz

  2. Thanks for your comment Roz. Yes, Kim’s girls appear to have a relatively severe form of autism, with variations between the three, but I think her philosophy around a cure versus treatment is a positive one. I think there is definitely a lot more work to be done in terms of comparing how the condition manifests between boys and girls – perhaps Kim might be interested in hearing this suggestion or she may already have done some investigation into it, given her situation.

    Personally I think Kim’s book actually skims the surface somewhat and one could write ten additional books on the numerous topics she touches on in relation to autism. The refreshing aspect is that it’s not really down in the dumps, which, from what I’ve read of the impressions of other parents of autistic children, is fairly rare in literature on the subject.

    Nick Hornby, the English writer, has an autistic son, and he expresses the same sentiment as you regarding books about autism in his book The Polysyllabic Spree, which reviews a book in this category.

  3. What a thoughtful review. As a young woman I worked briefly at a group home for severely autistic children. I’m embarrassed to say I lasted just 2 months. I applaud those who are up to the challenge.

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