Life As We Know It

by Michael Bérubé

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Life as We Know It by Michael Bérubé is as much a memoir as it is an advocacy for better treatment of children with disabilities. In the book, Bérubé recounts the myriad of challenges he faced raising a child with Down syndrome. However, his challenges pale in comparison to what his son Jamie had and has to go through in life as a person with the syndrome.

The book details the various elements in American society that create obstacles for Jamie in his path to a normal life. For instance, Jamie had to live within the strict guidelines of insurance policies that prevented him from receiving the full potential of medical technology and practice. He also had to undergo various medical treatments that alienated him from his peers, who could not understand the type of challenges he faced daily. From a societal point of view, negative stigmas regarding people with Down syndrome made him feel "sub-human" or like a second-class citizen.

This, of course, pained his father, Michael, too. As the parent of a child with Down syndrome, Bérubé became more aware of society's viciousness in treating and perceiving individuals with disabilities. By expressing their shared challenges, Bérubé indirectly, or perhaps intentionally, articulates the foundation for future healthcare reform proposals that could be passed into law.

The subtitle of the book is A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child. Bérubé doesn't selfishly relate his account of being a father to Jamie; instead, he paints a portrait of the whole family's collective experience. Bérubé could have written a one-dimensional, narrow perspective of Jamie as a figure representing disability, but he shows Jamie's humanity instead. Bérubé writes an inclusive narrative in which Jaime is a part of the family regardless of what society perceives as his abnormality. Jamie is not brushed off as a medical case study or a caricature of disability—he is described as an "exceptional child."

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