Books, Fiction

Autism and the harsh reality of parenting: A Boy Made of Blocks Review

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Alex’s life is falling apart. He recently separated from his wife. He’s stuck in a job he hates, has unresolved childhood trauma, and he doesn’t know how to deal with his eight-year old autistic son.

Sam is constant source of confusion and concern for Alex. He is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum but Alex has difficulty relating to him. He sees his son as a problem to manage.

It’s only when Sam discovers Minecraft that Alex begins to develop a sense of how his son works. As they game together, Alex learns new ways to connect. He begins to see Sam as a person, rather than a problem, and starts to realise that he has to take some action if he’s going to put his family back together.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart is a work of fiction inspired by the author’s experience with his own autistic son and it does read a little like non-fiction. Stuart’s depiction of parenthood is brutally honest and doesn’t shy away from painting a sometimes-ugly picture of his frustration, resentment at the loss of his old life, and bitterness about parenting a child with challenging behaviours.

‘One super-fun lesson you learn very quickly as the parent of a sometimes disruptive child: people love to judge.’ 

Alex’s frustration at not being able to understand his son is palpable, and his confessions of wanting to shirk away from the responsibilities of parenthood are unsettling but also very relatable – Sam can’t stand loud noises and crowds, is afraid of dogs and often says whatever comes into his mind. He’s also a very fussy eater.

‘Have you ever cut apples into exact one-centimetre cubes at five in the morning? It’s tough – especially when the recipient makes Gordon Ramsey look laid back and amenable.’ 

The sense of fear about how his child may behave, mixed in with the need to defend and protect him, is familiar ground for most parents, but as the novel progresses you get a real sense of how much more difficult this is when you have a child with autism.

Alex is an engaging narrator and it’s refreshing to see a father-son relationship dissected in such detail and with such honesty. It’s immensely satisfying when Alex finally develops enough awareness to realise that he can make things better for himself by taking action and connecting with people. And it’s nice to finally read something where gaming is given a good rap and put in the perspective of a tool that can help people learn, create and connect.

A Boy Made of Blocks is a familiar story for many about the ideal of parenting versus the sometimes-harsh reality. It’s an unusual piece of fiction. The first-person narrative is, at times, almost uncomfortably close and there’s a sense that Keith Stuart might be revealing all of those thoughts you’ve had about your own child and about parenting, but would be hesitant to admit.

Despite things working out perhaps too conveniently for Alex and Sam by the end, A Boy Made of Blocks is an uplifting and almost inspirational read. It’s more than a story about a family struggling to cope with a child with autism. It’s about parenting, making connections and taking responsibility for your own happiness.

A Boy Made of Blocks is published by Hachette.

2 responses to “Autism and the harsh reality of parenting: A Boy Made of Blocks Review

  1. Hi Susan,
    Nicely written article about a difficult and frustrating subject for parents that have an autistic child. Parenting in general is not easy, it has so many variables.
    tony c

  2. I have an 11 year old girl who has autism. When asked about autism, I find it difficult to explain.
    With more awareness of autism, the better life will be for my girl.
    I too have learnt the “super fun” lesson, people love to judge.
    The world needs people with autism- many go on to invent stuff we never could imagine was possible. I’ve come to realise that autism is a gift.
    Good review.

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