Loving Andrew is a biography of the author’s oldest son, Andrew, who was born in 1959 with Down syndrome.
At the time, social attitudes were such that the doctor advised Andrew’s father to tell his mother that the baby had died at birth, and to quietly have him institutionalized for life. Instead, the Wyllies decided to take him home and raise him, giving him the love and family structure they had always intended to give their children. Mrs. Wyllie tells the story of Andrew’s life in clear and loving language, discussing his education, his relationship with other children, including his (non-disabled) siblings (Jean, who died of cancer at 14 months, Lisa, and John), and his development. The book discusses Andrew’s struggles and accomplishments as he learned to take care of himself, hold down a job, manage a long-term romantic relationship, and function effectively in a group home, until schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s sadly brought an end to his life at the age of 52. Additionally, Mrs. Wyllie also discusses the similar milestones of two other people with Down syndrome, Lindsay Yeager (born in 1980) and Blair Rodriguez (born in 1994), in order to show how attitudes and available services have changed over time since Andrew’s birth.
The story is told with grace and sensitivity, not descending into condescension, nor ever scolding parents who made different choices than they did. The author’s deep love for her son shines through the book, warming it with her memories of his personality and charm. She is unfailingly and courageously honest about her thoughts and internal struggles, even when those are less than flattering to herself. Her experiences and lessons learned are clearly set forth, along with her wise and thoughtful perspective on topics such as educational mainstreaming, romantic and sexual education for the developmentally disabled, and the touchy subject of prenatal testing and selective abortion. The references to Ms. Yeager and Ms. Rodriguez give a different, and useful, perspective on Down syndrome from the point of view of younger generations. But the real light of the book is Andrew, and his self-assured strength, generous warmth, and heartfelt desire for independence are truly admirable.
Several parts of the book are absolutely heartrending – there are parts of it, such as the death of Andrew’s baby sister Jean, and Andrew’s own last struggle with mental illness and death, which will make any parent cry, and likely most non-parents as well. But the emotional tone of the book in general is loving, gentle, and full of hope.
Though Down syndrome children are of course individuals like every other child, and though the syndrome includes a wide spectrum of behaviors and capabilities, any parent facing the prospect of raising a child with Down syndrome might find this book to be a reassuring and helpful resource. It offers a view of not only the problems and struggles, but also the great joys that likely lay ahead of them. And anyone may be enriched by the life story of a young man who achieved a great deal, and became a wise and loving human being, despite having so many obstacles thrown in his way from birth onward.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader