Bad Animals: A Father's Accidental Education in Autism


Joel Yanofsky tried for years to start this memoir. “It’s not just going to be about autism,” he told his wife, Cynthia. “It’s going to be about parenthood and marriage, about hope and despair, and storytelling, too.” 

“Marriage?” Cynthia said. “What about marriage?” 

A veteran book reviewer, Yanofsky has spent a lifetime immersed in literature (not to mention old movies and old jokes), which he calls shtick. This account of a year in...

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Bad Animals: A Father's Accidental Education in Autism

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Joel Yanofsky tried for years to start this memoir. “It’s not just going to be about autism,” he told his wife, Cynthia. “It’s going to be about parenthood and marriage, about hope and despair, and storytelling, too.” 

“Marriage?” Cynthia said. “What about marriage?” 

A veteran book reviewer, Yanofsky has spent a lifetime immersed in literature (not to mention old movies and old jokes), which he calls shtick. This account of a year in the life of a family describes a father’s struggle to enter his son’s world, the world of autism, using the materials he knows best: self-help books, feel-good memoirs, literary classics from the Bible to Dr. Seuss, old movies, and, yes, shtick. Funny, wrenching, and unfailingly candid, Bad Animals is both an exploration of a baffling condition and a quirky love story told by a gifted writer.

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Editorial Reviews

David Gilmour
“Writers show their capacity for greatness when they point their talent at something they love. Joel Yanofsky has done just that:
written a marvellous book about a child he adores—his son.”
Adam Gopnik
“Joel Yanofsky has taken on just about the hardest of literary tasks, writing about life with an autistic child without succumbing either to sentimentality or bitterness—producing a book that seems both truthful, in its refusal to put too bright a face on a hard reality, and tender, in its insistence on the mysteries of love.”
Library Journal
Author, literary columnist, and book reviewer Yanofsky (Mordecai & Me: An Appreciation of a Kind) has an 11-year-old son with high-functioning autism. His memoir of a year of life with an autistic child provides an honest picture of a father's emotions about his son's disability. Yanofsky freely admits that he doesn't enjoy therapy sessions, doesn't like having to teach his child things that come naturally to other children, and doesn't want to read books about how autism can be inspirational or how it can be "cured." He adores his son but is honest about how difficult life with an autistic child can be and how his son's tantrums drive him crazy. Written with humor and lots of self-criticism, Yanofsky's candid look at his family's daily struggle and his expectations for his child's future prompts his realization that he could be a better father and husband. VERDICT An entertaining memoir that also gives factual information about autism. It should appeal to parents of children with high-functioning autism as well as those new to the disorder.—Terry Lamperski, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews
With self-deprecating humor and searing honesty, Montreal-based feature writer and book reviewer Yanofsky (Mordecai and Me: An Appreciation of a Kind, 2003, etc.) reveals the painful frustration and the powerful bond of love between him, his wife and their 11-year-old autistic son, Jonah. The author explains why he decided to add his family's story to the massive collection of books already available on the subject: "The uninspiring everydayness of living with autism, its routine weirdness, its unbearable bearableness, its incremental ups and downs, is what so often gets unstated." He writes of the pain of "coping and not coping at the same time," and watching people, including himself, undervalue his son. Yanofsky relates the difficulty of knowing which experts to consult, whether to pursue dietary cures or behavioral therapy, even whether to consider the autistic spectrum as a disability or merely a different way of perceiving the world. At age 4, Jonah was diagnosed at the high end of the spectrum, and Yanofsky and his wife chose applied behavioral analysis therapy, an exacting discipline that requires parents to participate along with a therapy team. Stories about bad animals—the inspiration for the title—became metaphors shared by Jonah and his father as they discussed his behavior and the ups and downs of their relationship with each other. By the end of the book, Jonah has decided to rename the animals: "Worst-Monkey-Ever" became "Jumpy the Monkey," and the monkey's father, formerly "Worst-Daddy-Ever," became "Grumpy the Daddy." An eloquent memoir of Jonah's sometimes-almost-imperceptible growth, increasing social skills and developing self-awareness that also addresses the broader issues involved with parenthood.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611454147
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/1/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,498,346
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Joel Yanofsky is the author of the essay collection Homo Erectus: And Other Popular Tales of True Romance, the novel Jacob’s Ladder, and the biography Mordecai & Me: An Appreciation of a Kind, which won the QWF Mavis Gallant Non-fiction Prize and the Canadian Jewish Book Award. He’s a regular book reviewer for the Montreal Gazette and has written for a variety of publications, including Canadian Geographic and the Village Voice. He’s won two National Magazine Awards as well as the Malahat Review’s Creative Nonfiction Prize. He lives in Montreal, Canada, with his wife, Cynthia, and his son, Jonah.
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Table of Contents

Prologue September 1

First Term

1 What You Need 13

2 Weltschmerz 26

3 Bad Day 40

4 Let's Talk About Complaining 56

5 Trouble Came 73

6 Variable Weather 88

7 Mr. Potato Head 106

Second Term

8 Harriet 125

9 Okapis 136

10 Old Sperm 151

11 Welcome to Autismland 163

12 Poor Us 175

13 Who's on First? 187

14 Zebras and Zebus 199

15 Bulletin Board 213


16 July 227

17 August 244

18 September 258

Selected Bibliography 267

Acknowledgments 271

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