This is the story of Dora, a mother, and her daughter Jean. Dora carried out an unfailing struggle over decades, beginning in the 1930’s, to find adequate care for Jean, who had a condition that
today would be known as autism. Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson became interested in Jean, worked with her and counseled her family. She inspired the chapter Early Ego Failure in his classic book Childhood and Society. Constantly misdiagnosed and mismanaged. her childhood was frustrating for her and for those around her.
The book chronicles Jean’s life after work with Erikson and follows her through adolescence and adulthood to the present. It is a part of the story that has never been told. Life as it happened then is taken, with permission, mostly from her mother’s diary entries. Dora a strong woman, researched ways to help Jean learn to communicate. Ultimately she became an advocate for Jean and others with mental differences, speaking up for them to be treated with empathy and respect.
At present, brought about in part by her mother’s vision, Jean lives in a community setting in a home with women her age. At the very end of the book the author comes back to visit Jean, rekindling a decades old friendship.
Autism’s Stepchild is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and important book. By relating the life story of Jean with honesty and compassion, Grilikhes reveals the fate of a generation of autistic men and women before their condition was well understood and the psychiatric establishment was still committed to blaming parents. Ending on a note of hope, Autism’s Stepchild is also a tribute to the brave mothers and fathers who never lost faith in their children’s potential.
— Steve Silberman, author, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity