No doubt Marti Leimbach, author of the weepy Dying Young and mother of an autistic son, experienced many of the governmental and social indignities that pepper her new novel, Daniel Isn't Talking. The mother in the book, an American unhappily married to a Brit and living in London, learns that her two-year-old son is autistic, and starts on a downward spiral of condescending doctors, judgmental peers, and harried, ineffective therapists. But in spite of these incidents' likely foundation in fact, what Leimbach manufactures from them is pure fantasy. In her novel of romantic martyrdom, the mother's simple, sacrificial quest to help her son drives off her husband, earns her the hatred of social workers, sends her to the poorhouse, and explains her psychiatric disorders. This isn't a drama of child development—it's wish-fulfillment for masochistic supermoms.

In Leimbach's England, nobody but Melanie, Daniel's mother, thinks Daniel can ever learn to use language to communicate. When she reads books (helpfully cited with author and title) about behavioral therapies, petty bureaucrats assume she's in denial. Only Andy, a charming, uncredentialed Irishman, believes her son has the potential to speak, learn, and develop. One man in all the kingdom—one caring, loving, enthusiastic man, who coincidentally is everything Melanie's estranged husband isn't. Daniel's doctors either have never heard of this radical, unproven "play therapy," or they warn Melanie that Andy is a quack who preys on mothers' unfounded hopes. Unless the British National Health Service is 20 years behind the U.S., this strains credulity; play therapy is a common approach here in the States, speech therapists don't refuse to take on clients with little or no speech, and such alternative methods as signing and behavior modification are perfectly mainstream.


Families of special-needs children are hungry for stories about autism, and Leimbach's novel will find eager buyers among that growing demographic. Too bad her desire to tell a moving story led her to a plot so unmoored from reality. As she offhandedly shills for the MMR theory of autism—that thimerosol, a preservative in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, poisons 18-month-olds and stunts their neurological growth—Leimbach reinforces the persecution complex that drives her entire story. Those experienced with autism will see through her self-serving presentation. Hopefully the inexperienced won't read it, or won't believe it.