One of the things I love about being a librarian is finding books I didn’t even realize I had. Yesterday, while perusing the card catalog, I decided to do a search on autism. I came across a book that I undoubtably had bought at some point, but didn’t remember. It is titled Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life by Daniel Gottlieb. I started skimming it and, many tissues and sticky note bookmarks later, found a real treasure.
When Daniel Gottlieb, a psychologist, was 33 years old, he was paralyzed in a car accident and became a quadriplegic He regained some use of his arms and went about living a full life, continuing his practice and adjusting to his new circumstances. Twenty something years later, his daughter had a child, Sam, who quickly began showing signs of autism. With medical complications from his paralysis that made Gottlieb worry he might not be around much longer and, worrying that Sam might not develop quickly enough to understand what he wanted to teach him, Gottlieb began a series of letters about life, love, and adversity. In his letters to young Sam, Gottlieb shares valuable lessons learned about being different and how to navigate the world. He is honest with Sam about the challenges he faces with autism and honest about his own painful experiences following the accident.
The advice that he gives Sam could come only from someone who understands being different. In a place now where we don’t know what kind of future our two year old autistic child will have, Gottlieb’s instructions on how to be happy in a world that isn’t made for differentness are a beacon of hope for me. I loved the gentle, yet respectful honesty of this grandfather to his cherished grandchild and was encouraged by Sam’s progress as he grew older. Hope is a precious commodity in a family impacted by autism. This wonderful collection of letters inspires hope and reminds me that we will survive what we fear so much right now. Highly recommended.
P.S. Gottlieb has another title that I look forward to reading as well- The Wisdom of Sam: Observation on Life From an Uncommon Child. (Kindle version only .89!)