Jennifer Noonan’s «No Map to This Country»

Last year I had the opportunity to preview six different books for which I wrote prefaces or endorsements. Jennifer Noonan’s book «No Map to This Country» was one of those that I endorsed.   Her plight and strength of character is easily conveyed in her story.I found from Goodreads a description of Jennifer that was akin to what I imagined her to be, «Jennifer Noonan never met a job she didn’t want to try at least once. She has at various times worked as a videogame sound designer, pizza chef, comedian, computer support technician, construction assistant, cooking instructor, and most recently as a voiceactor and writer. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Texas, because as usual she couldn’t commit to just one thing at a time, and lives in Austin with her husband, four children, and their pet tarantula.»
I asked Jennifer to write something personal to introduce my blog about her book, and this is what she wrote:
I first heard the word «autism» in January of 2009, when my son was 2 1/2. Three months later my daughter suffered her own severe regression, and the number of autistic children in our household doubled before we’d even finished reeling from the news of the first one. Like many parents, I spent a long time after the diagnosis in denial, but for me denial has always taken on a guise of defiance: the mantra going through my mind was not «nothing’s really wrong,» but rather, «I will fix this, and you can’t tell me otherwise.»

It wasn’t long before I began to discover a whole wealth of information and cutting-edge research that our general practitioners knew nothing about, and it was through this relentless digital interrogation, along with the help of a few well-informed doctors, that we began to get my children back. I would love to be able to say that I wrote this memoir to help other parents, but it’s closer to the truth to say that this is the reason I published it after the fact. My initial compulsion to write was for purely selfish motives, falling somewhere between therapy and superstition. Not only did it help expunge the daily stress and trauma of our situation, but I convinced myself that starting a recovery memoir years in advance would somehow ensure that we’d achieve it. Whether we ultimately did or not is open to interpretation, as is the entire concept of normalcy itself, but at the very least it has made for an interesting journey.

 No Map to This Country

Our society is riddled with vexing problems; bullying, drugs, and Internet safety are just a few of them. How do we cope with these problems? In a corporate environment solving problems would require an organizational leadership that would set rules and steer the company in an appropriate direction. At home, these same problems demand, more than anything, caring parents and community support.

Data from longitudinal studies on autistic patients who have improved enough so as to lose their original diagnosis show the importance of aggressive and tenacious parenting. These are parents who initiated interventions long before a diagnosis was obtained.  Furthermore, the number of therapeutic interventions for recovered patients was large and intensive requiring many hours of parental involvement each week. Parents soon find that there are, and will be, many competing demands for their time; too many to be handled by any single individual.

Jennifer Noonan’s book, No Map to this Country, could be the story of a race, in this case a marathon rather than a sprint.  Preparing for a marathon is not something to be taken lightly. You need to break down different aspects of the race in order to achieve your goal. You also need information on your state of health (physical check-up), what shoes to wear, hydration, weather conditions, diet, and a rigorous training schedule.

Jennifer Noonan picks up the gauntlet of Clara Claiborne Park and Bernard Rimland as devoted parents preparing for a marathon and finishing it.  In No Map to this Country Jennifer talks about her lifetime goals, the hopes she has for her children, her struggles with coping and freely admits to her own personal shortcomings.  It is also an educational book where Jennifer identifies autism related problems before they snowball uncontrollably.  The book provides a guide path to those new to the world of autism, pioneers in their own right, as to what to expect and how best to proceed.

Maybe writing this book for Jennifer has been an exercise in grief shared is grief diminished; one where she narrates a journey of healing and redemption. Truthfully I had a feeling of despair in reading the first few chapters because I could readily identify with Jennifer’s plight and the problems she encountered. This feeling has been superseded by hope and confidence in knowing that the Noonan family is in good hands. I am looking forward to the postscript several years from now.


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