One of my favorite books of the last decade is Daniel Tammet’s memoir “Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant,” so I was eager to read “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son” by Tom Fields-Meyer (New American Library, 2011).
“Following Ezra” does not disappoint. The paperback cover, with its bright plastic dinosaurs marching across a blue field, promises a book filled with energy and fun. It’s not all sunshine and roses: there are harrowing accounts of Ezra’s tantrums; his overwhelming obsessions; his reckless oblivion to the danger of running across a street or climbing a rickety garden trellis.
But mostly this memoir is a celebration. Fields-Meyer recalls sitting in a therapist’s office soon after his 3-year-old son is diagnosed with autism. The therapist suggests that he needs to grieve “for the child he didn’t turn out to be.” Fields-Meyer resolves, instead, “to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.”
Fields-Meyer is a writer by profession, and dealing with the challenges of Ezra’s autism has, perhaps, made him an even keener and more insightful observer. In “Following Ezra” we get a remarkable glimpse into a mind that works differently from most. Ezra builds up storehouses of information, such as the release dates and running time of animated movies, which he finds comforting. He learns, painstakingly, that it is not OK to comment on people’s size and shape. And he connects with friends and neighbors in his own fashion, remembering not only their dogs’ names, ages and genders but sharing his prodigious knowledge of their breeds.
Ezra’s mother is Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, and at one point “Are you Jewish?” becomes part of Ezra’s litany of questions, asked of everyone from his gym teacher to the waiter in an Italian restaurant. The author sees the question as a positive development: “He is gaining an awareness of religion and what it means. And at least he’s not asking why they’re fat.”
“Following Ezra” starts when Ezra is three and begins showing signs that his development is veering off track, and ends when he is 13, a Bar Mitzvah. The lessons learned by both father and son along the way make this an inspiring, uplifting read for any parent — or anyone interested in how we learn about life and love.