I have been obsessively reading (and reading about) Andrew Solomon's new book Far From the Tree. I discovered the book last week when I read a review of it in the New Yorker that rubbed me the wrong way. Solomon's book focuses on parenting and the idea of horizontal parenting, meaning parenting a child with an identity different from yours. The 900 pages of the book include chapters about Deafness, severe disability, "dwarfism", Prodigies, Trangender children, and children who turn out to be criminals.
Although the book is about parenting, it bleeds into the disability rights movement, What is disappointing about the book is that it spreads the message of Simi Lipton, Lennard Davis, Jim Ferris, Rosemarie Garland, myself, Sheila Black and many others. However, it clearly takes someone sexier with more clout to get our message across which has been largely ignored for 30 years. This is not to say that I don't love the book and am very proud of Solomon. It's only to say that we deserve air-time too! All too often is the message of disability only attended to when the more or less abled or parents are doing the speaking...and this is frustrating.
Despite this, Solomon is caring and he truly seems to get it or get most of it. He follows through on the ideas the disability is a social construction, that typical exists (but not normal). He asks the reader to look at the children as their parents do - as valid human beings, no matter how severe their impairment. He has the ideas and language down pretty well.
He does mess up (just my luck) when discussing cerebral palsy. CP is included in the "very disabled" section and he just doesn't give enough of a description for the lay reader to understand what CP is and how it varies. He follows the life of Alix, a young women with CP, but he spends most of his time describing Alix's abled helpers rather than her. He describes Alix's physical state, but says nothing about her intellectual state. To me this is scary because people with CP are so often misjudged in their brilliance. For example, all kinds of misinformation about Larry Eigner has been written so that even I was surprised at his intellectual capabilities (i.e. how many people to you know who have read Stein, Wittenstein. Pound, and pretty much everything else.) By omitting discussion of Alix's intellectual life, Solomon is doing a disservice to all people with CP who remain under judged.
He also does the disservice of quoting transgender people but not people with disabilities. This IS a book about parenting, so not as to include children's voices would be a stylistic choice, but including the voice of one group and not another reads as ableism.
The parents in this book are to be lauded the most. In a perfect world, there would be no ableism (or at least people would know what that is!!! for crying outloud!) but these are peole who were clearly ableist and through raising a child with a disability, have expanded their view of humanity and understanding. They have been brave enough to keep their children and fight for them, and what we should do for ANY child -- accept them for who they are, not who we want. And the parents, many of whom were potential uber-parenting New York rich people, openly confess to thinking they wanted a designer baby and ended up with a child with Downs or Autism and had their lives, their attitudes changed completely. Solomon doesn't dwell on parents who rejected their children, but they have had a voice for too long. It's time to have people who are disabled or raise disabled children to have a voice.