Review by David Cowan
It wasn't the usual crowd that filled the seats in Kepler's Bookstore on February 25, 2008. The evening's audience consisted mainly of families from all over the Bay Area for whom this was their first Author's Talk. Such standing-room-only would have been expected for a Secretary of State, an NFL quarterback, or a Nobel Laureate-not for a local teenage boy.
But Blake Taylor's recently published memoirs of growing up with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has already touched the lives of thousands of families, with the promise of reaching several million more in the US alone who strive to cope with the realities and myths of this widely misunderstood condition. So this audience came keenly interested in meeting a family role model (now a freshman at Berkeley), with written questions and no deficit of attention to his advice.
An out-of-the-box thinker, Taylor has authored a book, ADHD & Me: What I Learned From Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table, that defies typical categorizations. Really, it's three books in one:
*a heartening coming-of-age story whose hero's unique perspective shines through an authentic stream of consciousness similar to Mark Haddon's A Curious Incident in the Night-Time;
*a field journal of the first-hand scientific observations that normally elude pediatric psychiatrists who must normally speculate about the intentions and feelings locked up inside relatively un-communicative kids (e.g. "what was he thinking when he lashed out at his sibling?"); and
*a self-help book for kids and their parents who strive to understand and cope with ADHD.
But unlike the recent swarm of What-You-Need-To-Know-About-ADHD publications, this is not a science or medical book, and Blake makes no pretense otherwise. [I feel that I know him, so please excuse my unconventional use of his first name.] Readers are clearly advised to direct medical questions to their doctors, as Blake reinforced during the Q&A session at Kepler's. A clear-thinking, humble scientist at heart, Blake understands that it's okay to lack answers.
This honest self-awareness is critical to Blake's success at overcoming his disability. Among his many tips, Blake encourages open communication about ADHD among families, friends and teachers. His personal anecdotes demonstrate how such disclosures have prevented misunderstandings around his behavior, his medicines, and his tics. As he grew comfortable telling people that he has ADHD, they warmed up to him faster, and helped him solve his problems. It even tempered the bullies who prey on odd kids.
Obviously, the book itself exposes highly personal information, and in this way Blake sets an example for his reader. But by the very existence of ADHD & Me, Blake sets an even more profound example. Here's a kid whom several teachers were ready to write off as incapable of meeting normal academic expectations-with illegible penmanship and an inability to complete simple everyday tasks without the aid of psychotropic meds. And yet he authored a highly celebrated book while still in high school. This fact conveys hope, even before the reader has cracked open the cover.
to read the rest of David Cowan's review, go to his blog, http://whohastimeforthis.blogspot.com/