Three different reader reviews of the Norwegian edition of A different childhood:
FASCINATING This book is the author Iris’ own retelling the experience of growing up as an autistic, and this at a time when the diagnosis autism was not known. The focus of the book is on what it is like to be an autistic, and how their mental life differs from another person’s. The book is not abstract or hazy, but returns continually to amusing and engaging stories – together with a backdrop and family filled with warm and interesting figures. The book is also interesting in that the author’s depiction of her everyday experience as an autistic crosses the border between the normal and the supernormal, between every day and supernatural phenomena, such as astral projection and mind reading, which she experienced as what she as a child called the “real reality”. A good book, I think, and I recommend it for all who wish to extend their understanding of how fantastic the brain is and can be, and how much that (possibly?) lies hidden in our minds. And, of course, invaluable for those who want insight into autism.
BORING This was book I had great expectations for because of my work with autistic children. It was recommended to me and I figured it had to be a very good book. It could have been a good book. But the language is so bad, repetitions are unending, so the book could have been half as long with just as much information. Then you could maybe absorb everything that was said. I got discouraged when I was reading, thought I’d never get through it. Iris Johansson should have gotten help to improve the book with things like sticking to first or third person. It was exhausting when it changed even within a paragraph. This was in other words not a good reader experience. The story was great, so it is disappointing that the publisher didn’t do anything with the structure of the book.
A FANTASTIC BOOK I can as an autistic myself testify that this is a fantastic book. I notice that another reviewer finds the book boring and thinks the publisher should have helped Johansson more. But the reader ignores the fact that Johansson writes as she is to show others how an autistic thinks and functions. I can also see that to the outside the book may seem boring, with repetitions, etc, but that is an irrelevant objection. It is not a literary work, nor a textbook. It is an autobiography, and is not meant to entertain. A rewrite would have diminished its objective.
There are several places in the book where Iris talks about paranormal experiences and abilities. Several of those take us back to her school days, where she describes her ability to read teachers’ minds. According to her, it comes out in the atmosphere so she can see it or some other way pick it up or sense it. This obviously gets into controversial terrain, since mind reading, or telepathy, is not commonly accepted as a real thing. In Wikipedia we read the following:
Scientific consensus does not view telepathy as a real phenomenon. Many studies seeking to detect, understand, and utilize telepathy have been done, but according to the prevailing view among scientists, telepathy lacks replicable results from well-controlled experiments.
Still Iris tells us she could pick up what the teacher was thinking. We can exclude the possibility that she is fibbing, but maybe she is misremembering. However, her memory is of extraordinary degree. In a note at the beginning of the book titled “How this book came about” her editor/friend Göran Grip, relates how Iris thought she had lost the original floppies she created when she first wrote the book. A couple of years later when she resumed work on it she rewrote the whole book from memory, which Dr. Grip was able to verify, since he in fact had a copy of the original floppy. So how can we reconcile Iris’ story with the weight of scientific consensus? I think readers will find that this is just one of many thought provoking moments that this book provides. In the excerpt below she describes how she was able to trick and confuse her teacher by literally putting words in her mouth. This goes beyond just reading her mind and into controlling it. How did this work? Read the whole book and see what YOU think?
….I was also wont to provoke ma’am like when she had just thought of something she was going to sausage-stuff the students with. When I saw what she was about to say, before she formulated it in words, I could pick any word at all, that had nothing to do with her thoughts, and then this word came out of her mouth, “dress”, or “blue paint”, which made her really confused. If I was really mean I could get her to say a cuss word, and then she was crushed for the rest of the day. But it was risky to try to stick in a word that was too much in conflict with her own morals and values, because then she might come to a dead stop, and say nothing at all. Then she would start over, frustrated and irritated, and eventually some unfortunate child who wasn’t paying attention received the brunt of her irritation. She never connected any of this to me.