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Ambassador to the Interior

by Kaja Perina

What happens to a gifted, introspective child whose dyslexia is identified and corrected by a beloved parent but whose homosexuality is rued by the same parent? In the case of Andrew Solomon, one result is a life of difficult and profound reckoning in prose. In his new book Far From the Tree, the confusing messages that young Solomon received from parents, peers, and the world at large coalesce into the question of what is an illness and what is an identity. … Solomon spoke to PT about the book, ten years in the making, and about the ways in which his subjects influenced his own journey to fatherhood. …

People often worry about what to say to the parents of children with some of the conditions you profile.

I think the best thing—the cornerstone of etiquette altogether—is to respond to the information the way it is presented to you. If someone comes to you in tears and says, “My child has been diagnosed with autism and I can’t believe it—I’m so unhappy,” the appropriate thing is not to say, “It’s a great identity and it’s all going to be perfect.” The appropriate thing is to be sympathetic. If someone says, “My child has mild autism, and I’ve been looking into it and I think its going to give him all kinds of special skills,” you don’t say, “No, it’s a terrible disease!” You want to reflect back in an edited fashion what the person is saying to you. I have a certain sympathy for people’s awkwardness with a lot of these conditions because it took me a long time to get to the point of understanding these things as I now do.

(To read the full interview, please visit Psychology Today.)