Joe: The Only Boy In The World, by Michael Blastland

Memoir of a condition through which everything is illuminated
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The Independent Culture

But this book does not tread down the sullied tabloid path of triumph over tragedy. Instead Blastland, a current affairs radio producer, explores how a deeper understanding of his son's thinking processes provides insight into how the rest of us think, feel and make decisions. "What makes him fascinating?" asks Blastland. "In part, seeing what we have in comparison to what he lacks. He makes much that we take for granted appear suddenly luminous."

There was a pivotal moment when Blastland and his ex-wife (they live in separate houses within walking distance) decided they could no longer keep Joe, aged eight, at home. He had slipped out of the house one morning wearing only his underpants, was hit by a passing car, and was found staring rapturously at a Postman Pat video in a neighbour's house.

Blastland recounts another chilling incident where Joe, annoyed at the sound of a baby's cries, raised a fist and smashed it into the pushchair. To Blastland, who quotes philosophers and psychologists in equal measure, this episode illustrated Joe's inability to read even the most basic of human emotions - to see other people as rounded beings with wants, needs or feelings distinct from his own. This lack highlights what Blastland refers to as our "rich self-consciousness", which has enabled us to develop a sophisticated moral code.

As these episodes began to accumulate, Joe's parents realised they could no longer customise a safe world for him. If the prospect of raising a child as profoundly autistic as Joe seems daunting, Blastland does offer a startling report after a year at school. Despite Joe's initial difficulties in adjusting, he makes slow but steady developmental progress. There are new words, a shedding of his old obsessions, and even the prospect of friendship.

Blastland is aware that adolescence looms, and wonders about the excellent chances for "potential disaster" this prospect raises. His honesty is in keeping with a compelling, brave and highly readable book that never verges on the sentimental.