Monday, 5 April 2021

Why Is He Still Here? Book Review

When Max Toper emailed me to ask if I would review his book 'Why Is He Still Here?', he attached the first chapter for me to read. I was instantly hooked and wanted to read more. 
Purple book cober with text why is he still here and author name max toper, with black question mark with shadow of a head on it

Max is eighteen years old and was diagnosed at the age of 5 with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. He has not been formally diagnosed with PDA but multiple professionals, close friends, and family members believe he fits the profile. In an initial email to me Max remarked ‘From at least the age of three, I remember noting disparities between myself and my peers. I was smaller, weaker, and behind in just about everything. Since those early days in our world, I’ve experienced much.’

The book is a memoir of Max's life so far. He draws on his experiences and relays many of the challenges of having to attempt to 'fit' into the education system. The book title is describing a time when, after an incident in Primary School when he was just nine years old, his mother was called to the head teacher’s office where she was told that “parents, students, and staff, are wondering why he's still here.”

Chapter 1 begins with memories of the early years; playgroup, nursery and reception. Max explains his thoughts and feelings really well, particularly when it comes to interactions with other young children. He then goes on to write about his experiences in primary school where he faced internal exclusions in what was called the 'Rainbow Room' - 

"My face dropped when there weren't any rainbows. The room was drab, miniature, with a dirty carpet that may as well have been mouldy concrete. With no windows, it was effectively my prison at lunchtime." 

Max moved onto a smaller unit before a move was made to reintegrate him into a mainstream school and he describes some difficult times there. The majority of the book recalls his time at secondary school though, and the difference between what he was able to achieve there and at home.

Max's writing style is very expressive and it draws the reader in. There are some paragraphs which involve gaming terminology and share the kind of conversations which Gamers have on servers such as Discord. I think it's worth mentioning that some adult topics are covered in this book and strong language is used in places. I'm sure that many parents of PDA children will relate to these challenges!

The book is eye-opening in terms of showing how much thought and self-development goes on in the minds of some children, even when they may not be expressing it all verbally. I could draw a lot of parallels with our girl. Children like this who might be behind in terms of communication skills are often not well understood by others, but I think this book shows that it's a mistake to assume there is no self-reflection. 

At the end of Year 11, after GCSEs (he finished four GCSEs, despite attending few lessons), Max reaches a crossroads and has to decide what he will do next. He writes about how his EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) process had dragged on for three years and about the Tribunal needed to ensure a placement at the provision he felt could help him best. Max replicates the letter he sent to an old TA, asking for advice, and his TA's reply, before following on with his summary of the situation:
"It took me almost two weeks to decide. But after consulting everyone, listening to their advice and weighing everything up, I chose Oakwood school. It wasn't an easy plunge, but in the long run it would be a fresh start, providing me with valuable time to mature. Portum had prepared me for the next step, and not taking it would be a disservice to all they had done for me."
Reading this, I felt it was such a mature stance and yet in some ways a contrast to the other actions which had been going on. The whole book was so interesting in terms of insights into the mind of a child who was having to face the school system in our country.

If I could persuade our autistic daughter to read a book I think she would love this one. Sadly she insists that she hates books and hasn't read many at all. She has almost certainly learnt most of her reading skills from online worlds and she does show a high level of understanding. She might not enjoy reading but she has typed many great stories herself already and I hope these might one day be seen by a wider audience. 

I know I'm biased, but I think our daughter writes in a very engaging way, just like Max does. Max is definitely a gifted writer and I hope he will go on to write more. 'Why Is He Still Here?' is available now from Amazon.

For more reading about the PDA profile of autism, please see my post 'Books about the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of autism.'

*This post contains an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you visit a link or click on an image and go on to buy something. It won't cost you any extra*

book cover for why is he still here?

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page. If you are looking for more information on Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.

Books about the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of autism

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?

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