Book Review: A Boy Called Arsenal

The front of a book called A Boy Called Arsenal, which features an illustrated boy's back. The boy is wearing a football shirt.

A review of Alan J Hill's A Boy Called Arsenal, the true story of a man coming to terms with autism, which touches upon his stammer too.  

This review was written by STAMMA volunteer Bill McMillan.

When Alan J Hill, Strategic Director for Autism Wessex, was told there was a hard-working man in the organisation whose name was Arsenal, he wanted to meet him. Knowing he had autism, Alan was advised to "Be careful how you approach him. Make sure you give him space". 

After getting off to a bad start when they met, things improved and when Arsenal opened up about why he changed his name, how his autism wasn't diagnosed until he was 49, as well as his life with a stammer, Hill was fascinated.

Wanting to share the story of this remarkable man, he decided to write about Arsenal's life. In this engrossing biography, based on a series of conversations between and Arsenal and himself, Hill covers the setbacks, the estranged family who didn't understand Arsenal, how he manages to cope with autism and his difficulty communicating, not least because he stammers.

Although the main focus of the book is on how Arsenal deals with autism, a whole chapter is devoted to his stammer and the things Arsenal did to try and control it, which is very interested. Nothing worked for him until he signed up for a course with The Starfish Project, which made an enormous difference in helping him cope with his stammer and give talks to rooms full of people about living on the autism spectrum. This chapter resonated with me as I grew up in an era when therapists concentrated on speech fluency only, so I know how it can feel to want to reduce your stammer. 

I get the sense Arsenal considers his stammer to be less of a handicap to everyday living than autism, which is the main focus of the rest of the book. This isn't surprising as the author himself works at a charity for people with autism, and Arsenal's experiences with this are enlightening. The associated characteristics, such as obsessive behaviour, are described well with honest and direct quotes from the many conversations between him and Hill. 

With autism there can be no nuances, everything is black or white, which makes life so hard and led to Arsenal self-harming for years and punching his own face. His life is ruled by time; he must get up at the same time every day, eat meals at a certain time and not one minute longer or he rages. Some of the quotes about dealing with these difficulties are hilarious and it is obvious Arsenal feels comfortable joking about himself. 

Overall, this a fairly long book but there is no sense of wanting to finish it. After reading it I feel (as any reader surely will) that I know Arsenal. I enjoyed the style of writing so much that if Hill ever decides to write a book centred around Arsenal's stammer that would be terrific, I'd love to read more about his experiences there. 

A Boy Called Arsenal, by Alan J Hill, is published by The Book Guild Limited and is out now. The Starfish Project course is one of several options for people who stammer. See the full list of Stammering Therapy & Courses For Adults.

Many thanks to Bill for his review.

Read more book reviews.

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