When award-winning author Andrew Solomon was born, homosexuality was considered an illness. Throughout his lifetime, he has witnessed the evolution of homosexuality into a dynamic, vibrant identity for himself and millions of others.
“A great deal of attention has been paid to the advancement of gay people, but less ink has been given to the acceptance of other types of differences,” explains Solomon, who spent the better part of the last decade exploring how differences evolve into identities for exceptional children.
Solomon conducted some 300 interviews with families and children coping with such conditions as deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism and more for his 2012 book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. His conclusion: Individual differences in children, often the basis for much stigmatizing, can unite them as well.
“While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly,” says Solomon, who shared his message with university faculty, students and staff last week as part of Disability Awareness Month activities. “The exceptional is ubiquitous; to be entirely typical is a rare and lonely state.”
Department of Family Studies and Community Development Chair Karen Eskow was so impressed by Solomon’s work that she personally emailed him and began months of discussions that resulted in his visit.
“Our department has a unique and distinct commitment to raising awareness and promoting an appreciation of individual differences,” says Eskow.
Following a well-attended noon Book Talk at the University Union, Solomon was joined by some 350 students, instructors and community members in a workshop on “The Diversity of Disability: Raising Awareness,” which included a panel presentation by five Towson students with various disabilities including learning issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hydrocephalus, mental health concerns and dwarfism.
“The dialogue that Andrew Solomon brought to campus was the highlight of our Disability Awareness Month activities,” notes Susan Willemin, director of Disability Support Services. “Following an initial review of feedback from students who attended the workshop, without a doubt they were positively impacted by what he had to say.”
The workshop was co-sponsored by the Department of Family Studies and Community Development, Disability Support Services and the College of Liberal Arts. For more information on the month’s activities, contact Disability Support Services.
Far From the Tree received the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Solomon’s previous book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression was honored with the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2001 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2002.