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Writer Andrew Solomon

We talk to writer Andrew Solomon about children who are born different and the parents who love them.

Andrew Solomon. (Photo by Annie Leibovitz)

Andrew Solomon. (Photo by Annie Leibovitz)

There is no such thing as reproduction, says writer Andrew Solomon.  By which he means we do not create carbon copies of our selves.  And some parents – no small number – produce children very different from themselves.

Children who are prodigies.  Children who are deaf.  Children who are transgender, or disabled, or dwarfs.  The experience of raising – loving – these children, says Solomon, can take us to profound understandings of identity and, sometimes, deepest joy.

This hour, On Point:  children who are born different, and the parents who love them.

-Tom Ashbrook


Andrew Solomon, author of the new book Far From The Tree.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker “The secret history of sex is not a story of fulfilled desires; it’s a story of expectations dropped off the cliff of the unknown. Coupling reroutes lives, and delimits them, and when the stork turns up bearing a charming bundle the chances for complication grow alarmingly profuse.”

NBC News “Clinton was in an incubator when Cheryl finally saw him, and she was allowed only to touch his toe, but when she did, his eyes opened and she saw that they were blue and beautiful. She also saw everything she would come to know as signposts of diastrophic dwarfism: the unjointed hitchhiker thumb that springs from the bottom of the palm, the flat nose, the cauliflower ears, and the cleft palate.”

The New York Times “The sprawling contents of “Far From the Tree” are difficult to summarize; indeed, Mr. Solomon has required nearly 1,000 pages, back matter included, to deliver his points. He has interviewed more than 300 families. He has shoehorned what might have been 10 or 12 books into one. His winding volume sometimes tried my patience, but my respect for it rarely wavered.”


Check out this trailer for the book.

* FAR FROM THE TREE – book trailer * from Nick Davis on Vimeo.


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  • 1Brett1

    I heard an interesting interview with him on Fresh Air

  • Nonantum

    Maybe Obamacare is attractive to employers and workers because permalancers can at least get health care?  With a little more social safety net –health coverage and more college grants for the kids– and some rules about hours stability, maybe it’s not a terrible thing? 

  • stillin

    I think it’s fascinating..I LOVE being a mom and having children was something I played out as little kid with dolls, decades ago, it is my most satisfying accompishment in life. ( I don’t believe everybody needs or wants or should have kids). I think being a parent is a path into a world that requires straight up courage, and faith, that eventually, life does make sense, it is a good ride. In our family, I think our youngest son is the most different…no label…gifted at writing…could care a less about anything else. In my own family, there is a lot of traits you don’t want, coupled with genius ( one of my sisters helped design the sidewinder missile) , one is off the charts with math, one is mensa iq etc…) My dad is a retired pharmacist who made medicine back with a mortor and pedstle…but my main concern here is that the public school systems has no place for many of these type of kids. I myself an am artist, I had a 4.0 through college, I probably have a handful of my own things that probably have a name, but I don’t care. I don’t know what they are, they are a part of me, they make me me, I am not suffering, quite the reverse, I am very, very content. I am also an art teacher and I EMBRACE the kids that come in here, that are DIFFERENT. Thank God for them.

  • TinaWrites

    And today — even more than when the oldest baby boomers were growing up — kids are being raised by TELEVISION, and by television-contingent peer groups.  And this can happen even when the parent does NOT want the television to prevail, because the peer group comes into the household with TV attached to the child’s friends! Perhaps the child has a gift for imitative learning?  And, so, when your child adapts values wildly different than your own, throughout their childhood and into adulthood, there can be a sense of the child having fallen very far from the tree. I love the “rich biosphere” concept, yet, when television is teaching rudeness and sarcasm, one wishes the child, perhaps now adult, recognized their other, balancing blessings.

  • bmad2012

    Tom, stop the call-ins. Let us listen to the writer

    • TinaWrites

      I thought the guest, the callers, and Tom were all equally wonderful to listen to.

  • OnpointListener

    Many children have undiagnosed learning disabilities.  Many of these children experience school as TORTURE.

    I think it would be helpful if all teachers (and the public) were more fully informed about how different children learn differently.

    • Vera Alexander

      So true.  Although well intentioned, our
      special education is often failing children with learning differences due to deficiencies in educational
      content, deficiencies in the execution of valid therapeutic methods, and due to
      frequent procedural violations.  The “free and appropriate public
      education” (FAPE)  is far from
      adequate because, rather than evaluating children against their potential, it
      sets a standard of progress that is so vague as to be meaningless.
      In its current form, FAPE is inefficient, fragmented, expensive, and based only
      weakly on scientific evidence. 
      Most importantly, it is not grounded in the unique ways that many students
      with special needs learn. There is a better way to educate children with special needs and special gifts:  http://www.montessori4autism.org

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/B2YJWBNXN4IC7C5O7GLLGV5XUA Sart

    made the point very early on that children need to learn identity from a peer
    group, and today you’re speaking largely about the differences between parents
    and children that arise naturally and congenitally.  But how do you address the ethical issues
    involved when society allows parents to raise children highly different than
    themselves as a matter of choice by the parents. For example, white Americans
    adopting black African children, or two men adopting and raising a girl. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Life is what happens when we are making other plans. Other than just the day to day stuff, when you get a “special child” there is a major shift that your life is going to unfold in way you hadn’t expected or maybe even considered. Coming to terms with the loss of that life you had expected can be very hard.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I am sitting here hoping Solomon thinks someday of writing a book about the children who have to proceed without the love and acceptance, how their peers seek to and either succeed or fail in renegotiating/revisiting the first 20 years of that life, how those children frame and handle the fractured relationships with the family of origin, and what works best for them.

  • Guest

    I am fascinated by the Andrew Solomon book, but my perspective is as an adoptive parent, and I’m wondering if and how adoption factors into any of this work.  My children are different than me racially and culturally, and I have found that on the whole to be an incredibly enriching experience, though not without its challenges. But the place where this discussion most resonates with me is around having children with serious learning disabilities, most likely due to early trauma, poverty and malnutrition. There have been major challenges and struggles figuring out what my children need in order to learn best in school, advocating for them, supporting them with their learning, and getting people to see them in terms of their strengths and not just their difficulties.  But on a deeper level, there has been an internal issue that I think may be common for many adoptive parents.  Many adopted children have serious learning disabilities, and many adoptive parents that I know are, like myself and my husband, high intellectual achievers who always did well in school and have taken that for granted. For me, it has been challenging and enlightening to have to rethink my preconceptions about intelligence and the values I take for granted about academic achievement, reading, good grades and the like. I sometimes feel very different than other parents in what would otherwise be my peer group, who just assume that their children will be high achievers and experience a certain level of ease in school.  But I also feel that our family’s struggle has given me a deeper understanding of life and taken me out of a certain privileged bubble that I otherwise may not have questioned.

    • nprconversations

      I, too, have a completely changed perspective on what to value in life, now that two of my four children have had learning struggles. My self worth – and the way I judged others- was once measured according to a scale of high academic achievement and superior intellect. Now I have a much broader appreciation -and love- for a spectrum and variety of intelligences and personalities. This has definitely been a positive growth experience for me and for my partner.

  • gretchen123

    I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7, and my parents, and my mom in particular, always made me deeply aware of how my diabetes made me different but that difference was a gift and would not limit my future. I worked as an MSW with children and families dealing with chronic conditions, and am now a grown woman with two young children. I can only hope that my husband and I can support and empower our own girls in any difference, and know that my parents took my difference and made it a strength.

  • hagkaup

    My 3 year old son has a genetic neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which makes him unable to stand or walk.  Although it took us a little while to adjust to this new reality, I have often spoken with parents of children with mental disabilities who seem to struggle much more with many aspects of their child’s disability.  The visibility of my son’s disability makes it much easier for me to explain to others what his needs are, and I think this makes my job a lot easier, compared to the job of a mental disability parent.  I might be more physically exhausted at times due to having to take care of all his physical needs, but because we know what can be done for him, and what can NOT be done for him, I feel that we are at peace.  The unknowns, not knowing how to help your child, has got to cause a lot of stress and anxiety for parents.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4WARN3MMC225SRENE6RCXGKD7M Jaki Reis

    To the current mother with the child who has marfan syndrome, John Kenneth Galbraith was over 7 feet tall. He was extraordinary in many ways. A reminder that our best attributes are not on the exterior.

    • tn_amygdala

       he was actually 6’8″ according to wikipedia


     This is a response for Amy with an adopted child who was traumatized in early childhood. There is a new medication that can help traumatized children, called guanfacine (brand name Intuniv). It helps to strengthen the prefrontal cortex, which is weakened by stress exposure. A physician working with guanfacine for this indication is Dr. Daniel Conner at Univ. Connecticut Medical Center. I have heard that it can be a great help to traumatized children, and hope it may help your child.

    • nprconversations

      My prayers are with that mom. Great caller contribution (the first call on this program). Amazing mother.

  • belmontguy

    My brother Britt lived a productive happy life until his high school years were over. Vanderbilt’s “Next Steps” is great new program for special needs students to transition to independent living in a college environment. He might still be with us if he had a program like this. First of it’s kind in Tennessee. It’s not cheap, but PEL grant’s may soon be available.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570230411 Arianna Arbo-Yax

    I grew up with a sister with special needs. Her name is Alina and she was born with Down Syndrome and is also on the Autistic Spectrum. She is now 20 years old and just graduated from High School, my old High School! One story I heard from my mom, that made me feel so good inside, was the morning Alina was on her way to home room, escorted by this big burly football player! As they walked down the hall he called out for everyone to move out of the way for Alina. I am also proud to say that she was also nominated AND crowned PROM QUEEN!

    It’s amazing, she is amazing. Alina is on the honor roll, frequently and she is one smart cookie. Her ability focus on her music lessons is amazing and i am stunned by the amount of musical knowledge she has stored in her head. Her accomplishments are tremendous and she is a beautiful gift to our amazingly intricate family. She is the best thing to happened to us.

  • stillin

    Are you kidding me that there are only about 20 comments on this? If it was the almighty buck , the economy!!!!! there would be 100′s, an affair ohmy ohmy 100′s, but something soooo relavant, something that has to do with every single human being…20 comments, ….says it all.

  • nprconversations

    Here’s hoping one day soon - very soon -our gay children will be so mainstream (varying sexual identities will be so simply and easily accepted) that being gay won’t be included in a conversation about differences.    The author brings up his own personal experiences (with his parents) so frequently- it is clear that those experiences were at the root of his interest in this topic. I’m hoping, though, that HIS was a generational experience, and that MY children will grow UP knowing that their sexual identities are not something that will be examined and judged.

  • nprconversations

    People can be so vicious and judgemental. I was shocked, several years ago, at the reaction, at my son’s school, to the mother who is schizophrenic. She went “off her meds” and was then “outed” by her ex husband, in a letter to the school, as he and her doctors worked to get her back on track. He (and I) overestimated the community’s level of enlightment and tolerance.   Parents whom I thought were warm, loving, intelligent people turned out to be so backwards and ignorant and just plain evil and nasty when discussing this situation. The cruel gossip was horrifying and so depressing. This mom has been “fine” again for years, and her child has turned out beautifully, but no thanks to any of them!!!! When are we all going to grow up?

  • http://www.facebook.com/collywolly1 Colleen Madden

    I am struck and moved by the idea that love becomes more acute through exertion.  My son, who is now seven, was very challenging for me and my husband in his first years.  He seemed to avoid “bonding”, was physically unpredictable and violent, and had no impulse control.  Friends, family, and the occasional caregiver have all suggested that he was on the Asperger Spectrum, or at least had ADHD.  I worked daily to connect with him and to give him access to a relational world, but to tell the truth, it was sometimes hard to love him.

    Now that he is seven, he is much softer, more reasoned, an easy bonder, affectionate, exceptionally articulate, and loving.  I joke with friends now that he’s like the “bad boy boyfriend” who makes you swoon when he turns his light on you.  He still has those earlier characteristics, but the love and energy I’ve put into him makes any warmth from him feel like the sun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.j.j.stauf Jason Stauffer

    I work with children with high-supports autism, and I often find myself helping parents through the challenges and discoveries of raising a child with very different and very time- and resource-intensive needs.

    One of the most common themes I’ve seen running through all of these parents’ experiences is the way they hold on to, and oftentimes are forced to reevaluate or outright abandon the images and expectations of their child that they formed before their child was even born – their child’s first words, their child at prom, and most of all, their child’s wedding. 

    I might say it is from these pre-formed expectations that most of the challenges arise when parents raise children different from themselves – It has been compared to coping with the death of a child when a parent is faced with the facts of their child’s “differentness.”

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