“Grace Under Pressure” is a memoir about Sophie Walker’s journey to help her deal with her daughter Aspergers diagnosis. It is a real gem for any parent who is dealing with the pressures and challenges of trying to navigate a child with special needs through the school system. And, while Walker’s story is taking place in London, England, she could be a parent anywhere in the Western world.
This book is different from other parent memoirs I have read because Walker uses her frustrations and pain of training to run in the London Marathon as a metaphor for both hers and her daughter’s daily struggles. I liked that technique because all parents of special needs children run their own marathon, figuratively if not in reality.
I also get the impression that Walker’s marathon training is a way for mother to indirectly communicate with daughter as in: “I understand your pain and to achieve a goal, there are challenges to complete a race.”
In a publicity package I received with this book, Walker is asked: Do you feel that Asperger’s Syndrome is a disability? She answers that she doesn’t think so because people with Aspergers simply have to learn to cope with their challenges.
The problem, however, is that if Asperger’s is not a disability, then there is no mechanism to get supports, either through a public school system or, in adulthood, in the community.
In other words, it is an example of the proverbial Catch-22 situation. If your child is diagnosed with a disability, then specific steps will be taken (often whether the parent likes it or not). However, if they are not diagnosed as disabled and can learn to cope with their challenges, then no supports are possible.
Here are a couple of selected quotes from the book that highlight that dichotomy:
On page 27: “I had thought Grace’s diagnosis would bring certainty….Sounding deeply uncomfortable, the doctor then said, ‘Yes, it’s an ASD diagnosis’….Like when people say to me they don’t think there is much wrong with Grace. ‘She’s eccentric, charming and interesting.'”
On page 138: “If someone had sat me down … and explained to me the process I would have to endure in order to finally and conclusively get Grace the help she needed at school, I would not have believed them….Our request for help from the local authority had been turned down in Year 4 ….that we had not sufficiently proved our case.”
This is a book that every parent with a child, diagnosed or suspected as having an ASD, should read. As well, every teacher and social worker should read it to understand why parents are sometimes frustrated and pushy. As a parent of an adult child with an ASD, I know only too well how it is a 24/7 lifetime job.
The stress is tremendous and know-it-all professionals often only make things worse when they condemn or minimize — as Walker continually found in her attempts to get help for Grace. For example, I once had a middle school teacher refer to my son as being “like Death Valley one day” and “Mount Everest the next.” Not very practical or helpful but an apt description nonetheless!
I would rate this book as 5 stars out of 5 because, frankly, it is a personal journey that will be recognized by any parent who has gone through a similar process.