Understanding different

Dispatches from Ray’s Planet: A Journey through Autism (Caitlin Press) is the fascinating story of a man who free dives through the thermocline, swims naked across the Rhine, inhales the miraculous intricacies of math, science and nature and creates his own version of a Dead Poet’s Society, all in an effort to navigate a planet populated by aliens who speak a language he cannot seem to grasp.

“I have been trying to understand your language my whole life,” he tells his sister, Gibsons author Claire Finlayson. “It’s a sort of verbal ballet and the best performances get the highest praise. On my planet, such evasion is considered an insult.”

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In a sensitive, honest and ego-suspended way, Finlayson explores her brother’s atypical behaviour, which she believes places him on the Asperger’s end of the autism spectrum, and his inability to understand Goongbalong – his word for the “social niceties, subtle hints, [and] little white lies” that for him amount to “a lot of people working very hard to not say what they mean.”

Although Finlayson’s passion for her subject occasionally causes her to repeat a fact or two, she is a great storyteller, skillfully blending her extensive research on autism, input from family and friends, and her own observations with Ray’s complicated reactions to her findings, provoking laughter, tears and a compulsion to turn the page to discover more about this intergalactic visitor who has been stranded in our world.

Endorsed by Temple Grandin, Dispatches will prompt many a thoughtful discussion about life on Ray’s planet and the wonders of being different.

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