Living in the Eye: Life with Autism. J. Kevin Vasey. Guardian Books. 2016. 160 pages.
Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.
— Alan Turing, creator of first computer used to break codes during WW II
No one reading the book Living in the Eye would believe that living as a severe Autistic person, or living with such a person, is easy. Indeed, even reading this book is not easy. However, that difficulty is not due to its language or structure, but rather to the depths of emotion and thinking beyond oneself that it draws up in its readers. It is also a book that crosses boundaries in diagnosis for people who need assistance as Kevin speaks openly and honestly about his addictions, and the complications that those addictions presented to his family and himself.
This is a book written by a person ordinary people would normally never know, due to the peculiarities of his personal affliction, his severe physical compulsions, and our take on the social norms that surround us. It is a book that draws out the root of our secret knowledge about ourselves as members of society, challenging us to never look away from the trials that are faced within the family of people with severe Autism.
Many people believe that there are an increasing number of Autistic persons in North America and around the world, however, as pointed out by Arvind Suresh in a September 22, 2016 article in Genetic Literacy Project, science has simply broadened the collection of brain disorders which are collected on the Autistic spectrum. Indeed, Warren Cornwall argues in his paper in Science Magazine on Jul. 22, 2015 that the number of cases has not risen but many of the children being served as Autistic in USA schools have simply been switched to that diagnosis from other types of disorders since 2000, due to prior misinterpretations of their educational issues.
It is important to understand that there is a very broad spectrum for this disorder. Yet, I cannot emphasize enough, that Kevin Vasey is one of the most strong-willed and honest people I have ever come to know in any capacity. His writing probably gives one a clearer view of the person that Kevin is, as a thinking and feeling human being, than most people who have met him personally will ever know without reading what he communicates through assisted typing.
This book offers more than a portrait of its author because through Living in the Eye, Kevin has situated himself in the center of a very strong family who is equally willing to reveal a nightmare that many families prefer to keep a secret. The truth is that Kevin was put on this planet to deal with more than his Autism, which is so severe that he is rendered ‘voiceless’ and needs to use a computerized voice or texts to communicate with other people. What is even more amazing is the insights that Kevin has developed about what his condition meant within his family situation. Living in the Eye paints a portrait of Kevin over several decades as he struggled to deal with addiction and his disorder. It also renders his portrait of his own family through their attempts to assist him. He articulates the roller coaster of emotions and frustrations, yet, it can only be deemed as loving.
This is a book that incorporates parts of an earlier book that Kevin co-authored with his mother, the novelist Gloria Pearson-Vasey. It provides long chunks of transcripts created from his ‘conversations’ with his parents on a road trip in 2009, which are interspersed with long chunks of writing that Kevin did on a second road trip in 2014 and woven together with pieces of confessional writing from his three brothers. The fact that Kevin has invited his family to participate this much in his tell-all book, indeed, the fact that Kevin reveals and reflects upon the difficulties that he and all members of his family endured in dealing not only with his severe Autism but also his addiction to eating cigarette butts and sniffing gasoline, make this a truly amazing study.
It is exceedingly rare for any addict to reveal as much as Kevin Vasey does about his personal roller coaster with his addiction. Yet, in Kevin’s situation he has also revealed far more about what it is like to be a person with severe Autism. Anyone who reads his book will be hard put to find a way to excuse themselves for dismissing the innate intelligence and heart within a person with a disability, for he reveals both his thinking and his depth of feeling in this book. Indeed, this book is a testament not only to Kevin’s personal journey but to the journey his family was forced to undergo with him in finding a way to access the human being within Kevin Vasey. There are places where he wallows in moments of self-pity and jealousy that cause him to misread the actions of others, such as when he challenges his mother that she was ignoring him as she talked to his sister-in-law. Yet, there are other times when he shows great compassion for his parents in dealing with his Autistic traits.
This book is a testament to Kevin’s knowledge about the trials his situation set up for his family, his understanding about how deeply it has affected them, and his undying admiration and love for his parents and his brothers. He reveals that he understands they always did their best to assist him on that miraculous journey through the eye of the storm… as they sought council and healing for his addictions and learned to live with the inescapable challenge to discover their son inside the mask of Autism.
Again, this book is one that will inspire the reader to engage in deep thinking about what it is that makes us human, and why we must strive to look for the best in anyone, no matter what their diagnosis. Without his family, born at a time just before the great shift in social awareness about Autism, Kevin would likely have been institutionalised and undiscovered as the talented person that he is. He has the strength of his family bond to thank for the fact that they all worked so hard to accept and redirect him, allowing even Kevin to discover the best in himself.
That love, revealed in this book, has not erased all of Kevin’s challenges. It may even have opened the door on greater pain in reliving the many trials associated with his addictions and the social perceptions of an addict, let alone an Autistic individual. Yet, this book has delivered the opportunity for Kevin to articulate his personal understanding of his own development over the years, and allowed him to paint a portrait of deep and ever-lasting family love in words. This is a must-read book for any family dealing with an Autistic family member.