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2/13/2013 4:55:00 AM
Memoir offers real look into hope, pain of living with autism
This is the cover of
This is the cover of "Dummy: a memoir" by David Patten.
Catholic News Service

"Dummy: a memoir" offers extraordinarily real exposure into the tumultuous life of a man with autism and severe learning disabilities. Written by David Patten, who never learned to effectively read or write, "Dummy" is poignant and at times uncomfortably devastating, but in the end a hopeful and rewarding read.

Patten describes in remarkable detail the sensory overload of his early years, when eye contact and physical touch were unbearably painful. Patten constantly was forced out of his self-imposed reclusiveness of an isolating and protective shell by his knowledgeable and devoted psychologist mother. He attributes his mother's relentless dedication to his socialization, which gave him a life that allowed for real relationships, friendships and eventually marriage.

But Patten's torrid relationships with his brother and drug-addicted girlfriend contributed to a suicide attempt, depression, violence and drugs. His teachers, who neglected his untapped abilities to solve complex mathematical problems and focused solely on his inability to learn traditional literacy-based subjects, labeled Patten as a troublesome, hopeless problem child who was passed through the system year after year.

Keenly aware of a life riddled with roadblocks but consistently motivated to earn a GED and to have a family, Patten sought help and advice that sometimes led to more despair.

He met a priest whose advice got Patten thinking but ultimately was elusive. He attended an inner-city school that sharpened his drug-dealing skills but left him illiterate and without a degree. He lived in -- and eventually escaped from -- a home for people with severe schizophrenia and worked with a psychotherapist who herself had a character disorder.

And, for many years, Patten was in and out of work, struggling to maintain an unhealthy relationship with an unstable girlfriend that fueled his need to help others while continuing to pull himself down into a dark and violent world.

Not until he explored his spiritual self and found the help he needed that treated his learning disabilities as real disabilities was Patten able to unlock his real potential and find stable and successful work.

Patten compiled his lifetime memories of pain, trauma and eventual hope with the help of author Doug Childers. The two worked through more than 200 hours of conversations in coordination with Patten's rough drafts to create this book. "Dummy" is intended for mature readers as it uses profanity and describes premarital sexual encounters, drugs and violent scenes.

Hard to put down, "Dummy" welcomes the reader into a dark, unfair world that leaves many innocent victims who are punished and blamed behind. But, because of Patten's inspirational motivation and self-awareness, the reader is left feeling not only hopeful, but hopefully more compassionate toward those of among us labeled "dummies."

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