Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson

April was Autism Awareness Month so I decided to read The Horse Boy. I had first heard this story when I watched their documentary on Independent Lens on PBS. I didn't know it was also a book, but stumbled upon it in the horse section at Bookmans and felt I had to pick it up.

The Horse Boy is the story of Rupert, his wife Kristin, and their son Rowan, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 1/2 years old. They struggle with different suggested methods to help his autism, which were not only costly but seemed to make no difference with his speech delay, his inability to connect with others, and his habit of pooping his pants. In fact, his therapy seemed to be making his uncontrollable tantrums even worse.

Rupert is a journalist who, if I remember correctly when Rowan was about 4, was working on a story about Bushmen from the Kalahari Desert who were struggling with their government over land rights. Some Bushmen healers performed a healing on Rowan and he showed marked improvement for a few days after.

Rupert also noticed that his son had a strange connection to animals. Rupert was raised around horses and noticed that whenever Rowan approached a horse it immediately dropped its head in submission. Between the Bushmen healers and the horses he gets it in his head to take Rowan to Mongolia on a healing journey, because Mongolia is the birthplace of the horse and known for its powerful shamans. He even consults Temple Grandin when he comes up with the idea to see what she thinks. She basically tells him he should do it because so little is known about autism and at the very least it can be eliminated as something that doesn't help.

The bulk of the book is the family's journey (when Rowan is 7) through Mongolia on horseback and in a van as they visit various healers. The shaman are so thankful for Rupert's faith in them because when China occupied Mongolia the Mongolians could have been jailed just for having a drum. After the communist era, shamanism had died off somewhat and has only recently made a stronger comeback.

I won't tell you what happens during their quest to help Rowan but the story really struck a chord with me. It was heartbreaking to see what parents of an autistic child go through, and amazing to learn what the Shaman say and do for Rowan.

I didn't finish the book until May, but I think it's ok to be aware of autism in May also.

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