cover image Out of Silence: A Journey Into Language

Out of Silence: A Journey Into Language

Russell Martin. Henry Holt & Company, $22.5 (300pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1998-8

Martin's account of how an autistic child was brought out of his silence and acquired language is made more poignant by the fact that 10-year-old Ian Drummond of Colorado is his nephew. Given to bizarre rituals and violent tantrums, and bombarded by a cacophony of sounds due to a brain-related hearing impairment, Ian struggled inside a seemingly inescapable hell. Yet, aided by his parents, he gradually learned to communicate, first through American Sign Language, then with a portable speech synthesizer, and most recently by typing his thoughts, wishes and feelings on a computer keyboard. Martin, author of a book on neurology, Matters Gray and White , interweaves his nephew's heroic story with speculations on the mechanisms of autism and language acquisition, buttressed by recent findings of linguistics, brain research and learning theory. Of special interest is his disturbing charge, backed by corroborative studies, that Ian's autism resulted from an allergic, encephalitic reaction to the pertussis component of the DPT (diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus) vaccine administered to him when he was 18 months old. (Apr.)