Review by Cheryl Shainmark
What a story! What a life! I found myself rooting for the author, David Patten, from the opening pages, and it just got better from there. Dummy – A Memoir is at times disturbing, heartbreaking, and always inspiring. While it is nominally the story of one man’s struggle to triumph over his autism and build a gratifying life, there is a universal appeal to the author’s inner world, the problems he faces, and his questioning of the reality around him. Readers will find themselves identifying with Mr Patten’s most poignant moments, and cheering along with his successes.
Born with Autism Spectrum and Sensory Integration Disorder, and growing up severely learning disabled in the 1950-60s would have been challenging enough, but it was compounded by the limited understanding and lack of resources available at that time to deal with his problems. We read that the author’s mother (a developmental psychologist herself) spent hours with Patten as a small child, coaxing and preventing him from toally withdrawing and shutting out the world. She succeeded, but Patten, who scored at genius levels on IQ tests, spent several years battling the teachers and the school — after being left behind a grade he was later passed along, but was unable to read or remember most coursework. At the same time his grandfather, a college mathematics professor, taught him advanced maths when he was 8 years old and found that he caught on faster than most college students. Still, Patten grew up increasingly isolated, depressed, and frustrated, culminating in an attempted suicide and time in a mental institution.
Unable to live with his mother any longer and unable to hold a regular job, Patten becomes a drug dealer and descends into ever more violent scenarios. Still a teen, he moves from one alternative school to another, hoping to complete his GED. Along the way he moves to California to participate in an experimental treatment that turns out to be abusive and life threatening. His girlfriend, herself an abused and damaged addict, and one of his brothers help him escape and Patten comes to an awakening that helps him turn his life around. He joins a meditative spiritual community and at the same time pursues educational and vocational grants that allow him to go to college. His work in getting the state and university officials to allow textbooks to be transcribed to tape later opened the door for other learning disabled people that came after him. Having mastered digital electronics, Patten moves up through better and better jobs, finding an expertise in troubleshooting and computer systems.
Along the way he gets the life he always wanted: he marries, has children and is able to support them — something he was always afraid wouldn’t happen. After his first marriage dissolves after several years, Patten meets and marries another woman who is his companion to this day. Patten’s final trials and triumphs, including the loss of his job, a deep depression and a great spiritual awakening are the making of a fantastic book, but more importantly it is his growth and his redemption in his own eyes that will have the reader cheering. There is an Everyman quality to the suffering and the enlightenment that will appeal to a wide audience.
What Others Are Saying About Dummy – A Memoir:
“This wonderful book, Dummy, by David Patten is a true story of tragedy turned into triumph. But it is much more than a success story, it is a story that speaks to the eternal light of the Soul and how it finds its way through an odyssey of darkness and despair back to wholeness and freedom. In the end this story is a testament to the power of love and grace and how they can be found in the most unexpected of circumstances.” ~ Adyashanti, spiritual teacher and author
“I have not found a book with such heart and spirit for a long time. This is one of those rare works that captures the universal in the particulars, as the author’s struggle for self-respect, and his rocky path to fulfillment, takes the reader on a winding journey from growing up to waking up. This book, about a life worth living, is definitely worth reading – once, and again, and then sharing it with friends and loved ones.” ~ Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior