Bad Animals is Montreal author Joel Yanofsky’s candid, sometimes heartbreaking, often humorous account of what it is like to raise a child who has autism. Yanofsky’s son Jonah, who was ten going on eleven years old at the time this memoir was written, is not the only star of this book. Readers will also feel as if they have gotten to know Yanofsky, as well as his wife Cynthia, an art therapist. While Cynthia researches ASD and searches for appropriate treatments for her son, Joel sulks, eventually finding his own way to try to understand his son, ways that include storytelling and comedy routines. This book makes many references to other literature about autism. But most of all, Bad Animals is a book about love and acceptance.
“Last year, on the final day of school, Jonah came home with a book he’d spent all of his second term writing and illustrating in his class. It was his grade four project: ‘It’s called Bad Animals. He did it on his own,’ Jessica, his shadow at school, told us….
We had hoped that, by now, Jonah would be on his own. That while he needed a shadow in kindergarten, he would perhaps only need one part-time in grade one, and maybe only for a couple of hours in grade two. Grade three: that was going to be the limit, the year his shadow was gone for good. But he’s in grade five now and none of our predictions have turned out to be reliable. There are still times he’s lost at school. We know this from Jessica’s notes, and we don’t know what we would do without her or the other therapists who have worked with Jonah over the years. All have been reliable; all have come to care for our son…. One confessed to me, ‘Even when it was a particularly tough session, I knew I was leaving after three hours and I always reminded myself that you and Cynthia weren’t. You guys weren’t going anywhere.’”
1. When a child has autism, all of his or her family is affected – in both good and bad ways. Bad Animals: A Father’s Accidental Education in Autism is told from the father’s point of view and covers a year in his family’s life. Imagine that you have a sibling with autism. Write about a day in the life of your family. Be sure to include details that reveal how your life is affected – both positively and negatively — by having a brother or sister with autism.
2. “Shadow” is the term used for a specially-trained personal aide who accompanies an autistic child, usually at school. In the excerpt above, Jessica, the shadow, sometimes communicates with Jonah’s parents by writing notes. Pretend that you are the shadow for a child with autism. Write a series of four short notes to the child’s parents. Have the notes begin by reporting a problem the child is having in the classroom. Try to show some resolution in that problem by the time you get to the fourth note.
3. In the excerpt above, we learn that Jonah has created his own story using images and words. Consider everything you have learned about autism and how the disorder affects those who have it, their families and friends. Now create a self-portrait, but instead of using lines or curves, “draw” the portrait using words that describe who you are, what you know about autism, and what you have learned about the subject.