An eloquent book on autism


WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. – Families who lives are touched by an individual with autism – and those who have not – may be interested in a new book, Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter’s Life with Autism, by Clara Claiborne Park.

The book follows Park’s daughter, Jessy, through 40 years of autism, chronicling both the successes and struggles that have been part of Jessy’s move from her own isolated “nirvana” to the outside world.

The book is a combination of anecdote, observation, and explanation for those readers unfamiliar with autism.

Park’s narrative is embroidered with Jessy’s own words, carefully written down by a mother attentive to her daughter’s worlds. Park meticulously categorized Jessy’s statements along her various obsessions and sensitivities, choosing for this story those most revealing of Jessy’s character.

For example, “Sometimes can tell when people are happy even if not smiling because can tell by the face,” said Jessy as she developed understanding of other’s emotions:

The memoir sets forward Jessy’s steps out of nirvana, the “classic autistic” state of total self absorption with no desire for the outside world, and into a world full of people and things.

Jessy has worked in the Williams College mailroom for 20 years, pays taxes and her share of the grocery bill, and is responsible for many of the utilitarian tasks in the Park household.

Jessy’s learning process is far from over, however, and Park underscores that her daughter is still learning to understand the nuances that make up social interaction.

Jessy is an accomplished artist of astonishingly precise paintings of buildings and scenes in the rainbow colors of Nirvana. Her work has been included in a number of museum and gallery shows.

Park’s first book, The Siege: The First Eight Years of an Autistic Child, published in 1967, is considered one of the best personal accounts of autism and Park is a frequent speaker on autism and the issues it causes to surface.

Her latest book is published by Little, Brown and Company.


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