Some books for the long winter

Simon Jarrett, editor of Community Living, suggests three great reads for the coming months

Looking for some good books to help tide you over winter, lockdown, Christmas and anything else that’s making you stay at home? Well, if you have an interest in the world of people with learning disabilities, look no further. Here are, in my opinion, three compelling reads.


Saba Salman’s excellent collection Made possible: stories of success by people with learning disabilities is a genuinely uplifting, challenging and ground-breaking work. In fact it’s so good I read it twice.

We live in a society in which people with learning disabilities are often written off, from a very early age, as people who cannot achieve and who cannot even cope with the sort of ordinary lives most of us live.

This book smashes that myth. A beautifully balanced collection of stories from high-achieving people with learning disabilities, ranging from professional singers and actors to film makers and politicians.

Their stories are at times utterly jaw-dropping, and often laced with humour and insight. You learn how each of these highly talented people has had to work twice as hard as anyone else to get to where they are. But work they have – each is a terrific fighter, and has forced the world to see and acknowledge their talent, even when the odds seem completely stacked against them.

Each person tells their own story, in a series of short essays. I am full of admiration for this wonderful book, and I hope it has the impact it deserves.


Pockets of brilliance

Sara Ryan has a new book out, Love, learning disabilities and pockets of brilliance: how practitioners can make a difference to the lives of children, families and adults.

She was the author of Justice for Laughing boy; Connor Sparrowhawk – a death by indifference which recounted how her son Connor drowned, aged 18, in a bath at an assessment and treatment centre while staff placed a Tesco online food order eight feet away. In that book she described the subsequent gruelling fight for justice for Connor in the face of official cover up, hostility and indifference.

Her new offering is something she felt driven to write to follow on from Laughing Boy – in her words ‘I wanted to write a book that generates further insight and understanding into the lives of learning-disabled people and their families’. This she achieves brilliantly, in a sparkling, highly readable jargon-free gallop that covers the early impact of the birth of a learning-disabled baby, childhood, adulthood, old age and parenting.

It’s often amusing, and has a light touch, but is also deadly serious. I shall be reviewing this book fully in the spring Issue of Community Living but, spoiler alert…… I think everyone should read it, it’s terrific.



Escape from hospital

Finally, I have only just come to Alexis Quinn’s remarkable 2018 book Unbroken: learning to live beyond diagnosis. We have an amazing interview with Alexis coming up in the January 2021 issue of Community Living. A young woman with autism, she was caught up in the Assessment and Treatment hospital system after the death of a close relative – doctors completely misread her reaction and detained her under the Mental Health Act.

The book describes the casual cruelty and unthinking brutality of this system and its utter unsuitability for people with autism and people with learning disabilities. In a story that reads like something out of a thriller film, she describes how she literally escaped, aided by friends, from a British hospital and jumped on a ferry to France, subsequently fleeing to Nigeria, where she found peace and started to rebuild her life.

There could not be a more chilling, or better written. indictment of the Mental Health Act and the system of detention in UK Assessment and Treatment units.