Songs of the Gorilla Nation
by Dawn Prince-Hughes


Harmony, 2004. ISBN 1400050588.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 01/31/2005

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Body Language; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Dr. Prince-Hughes writes of her childhood, living or suffering with undiagnosed autism and surviving in an ordinary reality which to her was chaos, innumerable distractions and flashing lights. Imagine waking up from a sound sleep to a rock concert with pyrotechnic display that never stops. Her parents did not know what to do about her obsessions and repetitions, and with a classroom full of students, neither did her teachers. She writes that, "Most autistic people need order and ritual--it is no surprise that many high-functioning autistic people, unable to communicate with others above the ringing swirl, shout across the canyons of reality by writing."

Prince-Hughes goes on to describe the symptoms of autism and follows with stories of her very difficult school age and teen years and how she worked to balance her life. Her autism was a mild form called Asperger's Syndrome. She says she felt she lived with the wrong people, the wrong tribe. And then, in her twenties, she discovered gorillas. "The gorillas and I would truly come to share ferocity of love I had never before experienced. Our similarities went beyond the need for preservation of sameness and the need for space. They went beyond a difficulty with the human race." Having discovered her love and affinity for gorillas, the author managed to continue her education, obsessively researching all she could about the majestic beings.

She writes about her first encounter with gorillas at a zoo. "Through the rain and a lifetime of waiting, they did not look at me, but they knew I was there." After working with these gentle creatures at the zoo, she searched for and found one university in Switzerland which would accept her with conditions she could handle. Her stories about her relationships with the gorillas are tender and touching. Through her study and relationship with the gorillas, she, herself, began to recognize that the human, social world contained some sense of order. She is able to begin a relationship with a woman who understands her well enough to be able to teach her the interactive skills which come naturally to most of us.

To further understand herself, she researched autism and looked frankly at her own family, concluding that quite possibly, more than one member of her family also suffered from undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. Hers is the story of overcoming great challenges to become a public advocate of both the vanishing tribe of gorillas and the growing tribe of people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Prince-Hughes writes lyrically and courageously. Here is a book which will leave the reader more compassionate than when she started.

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