ASD Book Review #4 – “A Tiny Space”

Back in July 2019, I posted my first book review that dealt with the subject of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

There, aside from reviewing an excellent book “A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism“, I also created four categories that I felt ASD books could be classified into.

The four categories I described in that post were:
1. Manuals & Academic texts,
2. Memoirs,
3. Insider Accounts, and
4. Fiction.

For the third category “Insider Accounts”, my experience up until recently was that the writing style of such books was typically the straight-up-personal-prose kind (think long-form autobiographies written from the perspective of the first person).

Today, I’m adding a sub-category to it. For want of a better word, I’m calling this sub-category of Insider Accounts, “Lyrical“.

And it’s all thanks to a small but beautiful ASD book I came across a couple of months ago, called “A Tiny Space” by fifi coo & family.

Although my ASD book review #3 was also a book that could be classified as Lyrical, “A Tiny Space” really stood out in a class of its own, making it impossible for me to ignore.

What’s it about?

photo of person holding a book
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A Tiny Space“, published by Singapore publisher Ethos Books in 2018, was written by Fifi Coo (affectionately referred to in the book as “fifi” or “son”), with help from his mom and contributions from his family, including three older sisters.

The book is written like an anthology of poems, but also includes smatterings of dialogue between fifi’s mom and him.

From what I gathered, fifi is a non-verbal autistic boy who found his “voice” when he turned eight, thanks to his loving, resourceful mother and a stencil board. The board became a bridge between fifi and the world; from it flowed lovely lyrical poetry you will find nestled beautifully among the pages in this book.

In writing so, fifi desires to weave the reader into the intricate web that is his unique autism world. To let us catch a glimpse of how his mind thinks and what it’s like to be different from others. The hope is that readers, be they other special needs persons, caregivers, or those unfamiliar with ASD, will learn something. Something that brings them to a new level of awareness, acceptance and affection for fifi and those like him.

Those who struggle daily to make sense of our complex world.

And, in turn, get our complex world to better acknowledge, appreciate and empathise with fifi’s “special world”.

Why I Liked It

silhouette of man touching woman against sunset sky
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There are three main reasons why I like this book a lot.

First of all, it’s a palm-sized book with less than 180 pages, meaning you can actually complete it from cover to cover in less than one uninterrupted hour! That makes it an easy and quick read for the busy 21st-century reader today who has little time on his/her hands to even read news headlines!

Secondly, I’m already an ardent admirer of the beautiful art that is poetry. It’s why I write and post up one poem every Monday on my blog (though, as I’ve said before, they are really more amateurish musings than anything else; hardly worthy of being considered poetry!).

Poetry in all its seemingly casual simplicity, but also multi-faceted subtleties and nuances that challenge instant understanding, has what other types of writing lack. It slices through the tangled and mangled logic of our world and experiences, and grabs our jugular in a swift vice-like grip! You feel instantly choked but in a good way, like when your child suddenly appears behind you and grabs you around your neck in a big bear-like hug!

At least that’s been the kind of poetry that gets to me. Visceral and raw.

It’s like that with “A TIny Space“.

Thirdly, the poems really helped me get into the mind of my own son. It does so in ways I think are far quicker than if I had to read some lengthy memoir or academic texts on ASD. Like I said, poems are uniquely placed to get to the core of any issue rapidly, and in the case of this book, they do so exceptionally well.

Excerpts

book page
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Take the following examples:

“…to awaken my senses, it sometimes takes all-day
I need help, I need to be consoled,
trapped in a body I cannot control.”

“I already have little control over my own body. Hugging makes me feel restricted…overpowered…overwhelming…Ask me first if you wanna hug me…”

“Going to a new place often stirs new emotions…can be too overwhelming for me…”

These remind me how my own son experiences the world in ways vastly different from my own. In past blogs where I expound on his unique and sometimes frustrating ways, my mind’s always thinking: “How can I change him so he can be more like the rest of us?

Here, fifi chastises me and makes me realise that this question only hinders me from loving and accepting my son for how God made him. So rather than ask this question, I should be seeking ways to show I love and embrace him for all his quirky ways.

To accept him for who he is.

And then there are other breathtaking pieces in the book, like this one:

“I stand and face the sea,
as the waves come crashing to the shore,
the music of the sea is thunderous and loud.
Yet I am unafraid, I chase the waves, I run about,
excited but calm, I want to explore, I only want more.”

Lyrical right?

Then there were the more solemn and poignant insights, such as:

“…only those that stare at son many times on purpose, to make sure that son knows that they are disgusted, these are the people who make me feel my differentness and my disability…”

“…I worry about my future in a world where we are seen as dysfunctional and with nothing to contribute…who will take care of me when my parents are no longer around?”

These observations cut me to the quick! They remind me of the many times I’ve looked angrily and helplessly at people in public who stare unkindly at my son when he has a meltdown or acts “weird”, either by speaking too loudly or gesticulating wildly without warning.

It reminds me there’s still a long way to go before society can be inclusive enough to embrace those like my son who are “differently-abled.” And how it still gives me cause to advocate for him whenever I can and to stay healthy and live for as long as possible.

Until the day I know he’ll be alright without his daddy and mommy.

So on that note, if you have an hour to spare this weekend, why not give “A Tiny Space” an hour of your time and space?

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