Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dani's Story by Diane and Bernie Lierow with Kay West

Dani's Story is the true story of Danielle Lierow and how she came to be in a loving, caring adopted family after seven years of severe neglect. It is a harrowing tale of a girl who held on when many might have perished and was able, despite a horrific start in life, to acknowledge the possibilities of allowing in the love of a new family.

The book is written from the perspective of adoptive parents Diane and Bernie and shows their struggle to get Danielle into their home as soon as possible after learning about her start in life. They never imagined when they first looked into adopting that they would take in a special needs child but fell in love with Danielle and knew that she needed them as much as they needed her. It would be an adjustment for all involved and would take longer than any of them realised, with some massive roadblocks along the way.

I was fascinated by this book before I had even read it, after reading that the diagnosis of Danielle's "condition" after being removed from her birth mother was that of Environmental Autism. Basically, it seemed that Danielle was born completely fine, but the neglect she suffered from a young age and the severe lack of love, care and encouragement she encountered meant that she had gone into herself, never spoke and acted the way a baby does. She made noises, grunts and repetitive sounds, she walked on her tip-toes, drank from a sippy cup, shovelled food in her mouth so fast it often made her sick and still wore a nappy. So when the Lierows were told the full extent of her life so far, nobody could say for sure whether she would improve or stay the same for the rest of her life.


The brilliance of this book is its honesty. At no point do you get the impression that the Lierows are saints or annoying do-gooders who blow their own trumpet. They are a close-knit family comprised of children from each parent's previous marriage and Willie, the one child the two of them share. They live in a close-knit community, close to their pastor and a couple of elderly couples nearby who are like surrogate grandparents. They do not see Danielle as a project, merely another member of their family. They keep eight year old Willie constantly in the loop to make sure he will be OK with the transition.

And what a transition it is... For prospective adoptive parents, they also go into laborious detail about each step of the process and how after all the time and effort they have put into becoming potential adoptive parents for Danielle, they then have to apply for a Foster licence too. The red tape gets so much, you can see how so many people would give up on the process. But despite knock-back after knock-back, the Lierows are a determined bunch and you feel their frustrations and pleasures so keenly as the process drags on and on.

I work with special needs children and was touched by the way the books describes the "little victories". When an Autistic child manages to get one word out, you want to grab them and hug them and tell them how amazing they are. The Lierows have this appreciation of Danielle. They take their victories where they can and realise how lucky she is and they are compared to the many children and families with far more severe disabilities.
Then Dani's story really takes off when a local reporter asks to cover their story, which gets a massive response from people all over the world... especially when the story is picked up by Oprah!

It's not always an easy read, but is helped by the fact that you know Danielle is now adopted by the Lierows so there is a certain "happy ending" to her tale. This doesn't lessen the frustrations, the horror and the fear at all, it simply drives you on to see how they managed to pull it off.

Dani's Story is a gripping, heartwarming and horrifying non-fiction must-read.


Click here for an extract on the Penguin website.

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