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Matthew: A Son's Life, A Mother's Story
Paul Dry Books, 2006
350 pp., $24.95
Amy Julia Becker
Fifty years ago, when Anne Crosby's son Matthew was born with Down syndrome, the life expectancy of a "mongoloid" child was around twenty years. Doctors and teachers called children with Down syndrome "ineducable," and professionals advised institutionalization for these children because it would be detrimental to the rest of the family to keep them at home. As one doctor says about Dido, Matthew's older sister, "Here is the important child, the bright and whole one. We can safely say the other is the Throwaway Child." Matthew: A Memoir (Paul Dry Books) is a tragic story. Crosby loved her son, and her recollections of their years together portray him as an earnest, lively, and thoughtful young man. But Matthew's father never accepted him. At his father's insistence, he spent most of his life in institutions. And when he did leave the grounds of the institution, he encountered a world that had no place for him. Matthew's one experience in the workplace ended in disaster. His attempt to live semi-independently resulted in brutal and persistent sexual abuse by his roommate. As he grew older, his self-esteem plummeted. "Not good as Dido," he told his mother. "Not clever at skates … Not to reading 'n writing … 'n talking … lots of Nots for biggest things." This sad tale ends with Matthew in a hospital ward, dying of heart failure. As the mother of a child with Down syndrome, I was both fascinated and appalled by Matthew's story. Given his capacity for love and compassion, it is easy to imagine a happier saga, if only he had been able to stay at home, if only the doctors and teachers and other professionals in his life believed in his value as a human being.