Book review: ‘Benjamin Breaking Barriers: Autism, A Journey of Hope,’ by Malva Freymuth Tarasewicz
Special to the Daily
Navigating the increasingly fast-paced world of the average American childhood can be overwhelming for any youngster. Societal expectations are higher than ever, and children have to learn early how to juggle school, extracurriculars and the often intimidating landscape of socialization and peer group assimilation. For the growing number of autistic children, the challenge can be daunting and, for many, nearly impossible.
For one special young man, the impossible became possible, thanks to the unparalleled dedication of his mother, Malva Freymuth Tarasewicz, who documents her journey with her son in her recent book, “Benjamin Breaking Barriers: Autism, A Journey of Hope.” Built from nearly two decades of careful and heartfelt journaling, Tarasewicz’s book is an honest account of the daily challenges of raising an autistic child — from the earliest panicked days following his diagnosis when he was 2 to his successful completion of high school and his subsequent passion for sharing his story with others through public speaking engagements.
Tarasewicz guides the reader through the daily struggles of Benjamin’s life, painting a rich portrait of a beautiful spirit trapped inside the “monster” that was autism. Clearly a woman of great intellect and spirit, Tarasewicz became her son’s anchor and pillar of support through his many years of shifting roadblocks and behavioral swings.
For readers navigating their own family struggles with the syndrome, Tarasewicz’s account will be an inspiring motivator of what is possible in the daily battle of living with an autistic family member. Willing to throw her entire being into helping her son, Tarasewicz is a testament to the power of a parent who is determined to fight for her child’s future.
Fortunate enough to have many resources within her reach in the famously alternative environment of Boulder, Tarasewicz was able to build a world in which Benjamin could blossom and discover the strengths and natural talents that were trapped beneath the confines of autism.
Using her own background in violin, Tarasewicz built the framework of her son’s therapy around music and its storytelling nature, and Benjamin took to the instrument with great aptitude. The repetitive and logical structure of formal musical training supported the methods Tarasewicz employed to arm Benjamin with the best tools to navigate the often-overstimulating modern world.
Management and progress
Parenting, under any circumstances, demands great patience, but the role for parents of children on the autistism spectrum perform at a near Herculean level, and though Tarasewicz accomplished seemingly insurmountable daily hurdles with a superhuman dogged persistence, she does share plenty of moments of failures and setbacks, acknowledging the fact that autism is not something to be cured but something to be managed.
Progress, she learned, was not a steady road. At times, Tarasewicz shares, “Benjamin seemed like an empty shell, and I was frightened by the apparent retreat of his soul.” When he would finally reemerge, she was relieved, and with time, she discovered patterns, the down times often corresponding with the intense internal processing of new information.
Throughout the years, a veritable medical journal of treatments were attempted, some traditional, others more experimental, but Tarasewicz was willing to try anything that might move her son closer to a normal life. Behavioral therapy, sign language, herbal treatments, speech therapy and prescribed drug regiments were some of the many puzzle pieces that were employed to varying degrees of success, but above all else, consistency proved crucial, with every single moment spent working with her son being an opportunity to pull him back from the abyss of autism.
The book is heavily weighted to Benjamin’s earliest years, the window when she faced the biggest day-to-day challenges of guiding him through his diagnosis. Throughout it all, though, Tarasewicz proved that with “unconditional love, acceptance of the present and hope for the future” Benjamin could live a fulfilling and productive life.
It’s good advice for anyone.