Hillary Wohl, PhD, CCC-SLP
"Maureen Marshall has written a captivating memoir in which she discovered that the power to change is born out of a consistent cushion of love, support, faith and encouragement. This is heartfelt, genuine, and very rare."
Emily Heckmanco-author / Please Don't Label My Child
"Maureen Marshall has written a stunning, moving memoir chronicling the year she spent working with children with severe communication problems. During that time, Maureen also found herself. This is an important book, that shows that love—not medication or labels—is what will truly free every child."
Marie R. Kerins, Ed.D.Associate Professor and Chair / Department of Speech-Language Pathology/Audiology at Loyola University in Maryland
“Solitary Genius is a unique book that lends itself to multiple levels of learning. Mo Marshall openly shares her own struggles with learning, allowing her to see the inherent good in each of the children on the Autism spectrum that she works with after graduating from college. Mo focuses on the gifts each child uniquely has to offer, reminding us that regardless of who we are, we all sense when someone genuinely cares and respects us. As a professor of speech-language pathology in a Catholic Jesuit institution, I look forward to using the book in my classes to teach the students about the complexities of the profession and of life.”
Shawn DiNarda Watters, Ed. D.CEO / PLC Consultants
“Solitary Genius is an honest portrayal of how to create a caring community of learners while accepting the students’ diverse needs and characteristics. Students will be successful, both academically and socially, once the educator focuses on the process of education rather than the products. Ms. Marshall’s experience is also a prime example of the parental impact on their children and how the educators must find the strengths in all parents to truly benefit the children. I also had my Sophomore Early Childhood Education majors read the book as part of my course curriculum. They absolutely LOVE it! Solitary Genius has provided a foundation for productive class discussion and expansion. Thank you.”
“Parenting a child with autism, PDD, ADHD or similar challenges can be confusing and taxing for loving parents who want more for their kids than sometimes they can give. This memoir is based on Marshall’s experiences of allowing development to happen through internal understanding, creating comfort, and realizing that every child has his or her own unique shape that society tries to jam into a square hole. Through her ability to almost read her students’ minds, and to sense what it was like being in their skin, these children slowly began to trust the outside world Marshall created in her classroom. Progress was made, where hope was gone. This book teaches us that in all aspects of our world, there is always something more that we cannot see, feel, touch or smell. By thinking out of the box, or more appropriately, out of defined walls, we can connect to these children. They are solitary geniuses in their own right, and learning their language also helps us expand ours. The book is a fast and simple read, and I highly recommend it to educators who want to step out from their teacher-trained curriculum and believe that we can be even more than we already are."
Brianne Higgins Roos, MS, CCC-SLPDirector / Post-Baccalaureate Foundation Program Dept. of Speech Language Pathology/Audiology - Loyola University Maryland
I used the book group model for Solitary Genius and I think it was the most successful group activity I have ever conduced in any course.
Solitary Genius is a story of intuition, love, and the power of true listening.
Raised in a boisterous family of 10, Mo was always searching for a sense of peace inside her mind. School was a struggle, and she often felt over-stimulated by her own brain. Marshall’s deep sensitivity to other people’s feelings and energies left her exhausted at the end of each day; yet, she was also bright, driven, and easily connected with others – especially anyone who was considered different.
After earning a degree in speech pathology, Marshall began teaching a small group of special needs children in a pilot educational program. Using a combination of empathy, her own “art form,” and patient listening, she helped these gifted-yet-challenged students to become more communicative, more comfortable with others, and most importantly, more engaged in the world around them. Solitary Genius is Marshall’s story of that transformative year.
“Children seem to understand more than adults do about life. I know as a child I instinctively understood the value of silence. But, at the same time, I was angry because of the seclusion and frustration of my state. What if this is just how an autistic child, a learning disabled child or a depressed child views things? What if they have cut themselves off from the world because they are angry, trapped, and fearful?”
– from Solitary Genius
It was late August in Baltimore of 1997 and the first day of school was approaching. I looked forward to learning about Andrew and helping him with his challenges…
It was late August in Baltimore of 1997 and the first day of school was approaching. I looked forward to learning about Andrew and helping him with his challenges. I knew he would say 2-3 word phrases if he were excited, but that was the extent of his verbal communication. I didn’t know what PDD was until I had met Andrew in Judith’s home office. I was told by Judith that PDD is a form of autism, but I barely knew what autism was. I had never interacted with any autistic child. With my limited understanding of his difficulties and having observed him only once, I would teach him every day for the entire school year.
Andrew walked into my classroom that first day with his newly cut brown hair, staring at the floor. He walked a few steps ahead of his mother who was excited about her son’s first real day of school.
His mother was talking nervously as soon as she entered our temporary make-shift classroom. The state had not approved my classroom for the first day of school. We were waiting for the final safety inspection for the fire door, so instead we worked out of an empty classroom that was used as a computer room. I had rolled one of the shelves from the primary classroom into the temporary room along with a love seat couch so we had something comfortable to sit on. Surrounding us were many metal desks. They were piled high, and were too large for Andrew to sit at, so I left them pushed to the side. Instead, we used dividers that were against the wall to create some areas of clear space. Essentially, our classroom was the size of a walk-in closet but I knew it was only temporary. Given this backdrop, I concentrated on a gracious delivery as I introduced myself to Andrew and his mother. First, I interrupted his mother to refocus his attention.
“Hello Andrew, I’m Miss Maureen”
He did not respond to his name and did not speak. He continued to stare at the floor. His mom stood there looking like she was feeling awkward and filled in any silence with conversation and prodding her son to speak. She knew her son didn’t respond to people’s questions and this was her way of dealing with her misfortune. I did not nor could I really understand how she must have felt as a parent of a child who barely spoke.
“Well, we are going to have fun today Andrew, so why don’t you tell your mom good bye and we’ll start our day.”
I thought he wanted his mother to leave because he did what I asked. Most children his age would want their mother to stay. He kept his stare fixed on the gray tile floor and said a barely audible, “Bye,” while throwing up one of his hands, awkwardly waving goodbye. His mother was hesitant to leave. So, as well as she could, she smiled and left us for the day.
Head down, he walked over to the wooden shelf filled with all different toys, without raising his head. He appeared to me to be in a constant state of anger and disturbed concentration because his face was all scrunched up as if he were a grumpy old man. He pulled a train from the shelf.
“Andrew must like trains.”
I observed for a few minutes and then interjected,
“Andrew is holding a train.”
“Miss Maureen will take out the tracks so we can make a great big train track together.”
I started putting the wooden tracks together and Andrew remained standing with his train; he soon decided to sit down on the cold tile where I was working away.
A few minutes later he put his train on the track I had made for him.
“Andrew is putting his train on the train track.”
“He is pushing his train up the hill.”
“He is pushing his train down the hill. The train is at the end of the track. Andrew needs to add some more tracks for his train.”
Andrew was ready to communicate. He picked up a train track and added it on and pushed his train a few more inches. He then began adding on more tracks.
Just then, Judith came in to visit. She noticed that Andrew was happy at his task.
Andrew did not look up. Andrew knew Dr. Judith very well. He had been seeing her for speech therapy for two years.
“Andrew, what a great train! Show Dr. Judith how you play with your trains on the track.”
Andrew silently got up and threw the train across the room. He took the train tracks and started throwing them in different directions.
I stepped away so I wouldn’t get hit. Judith was in the room so I was able to observe how she would handle this.
“Andrew is angry. Andrew needs to stop.”
Andrew ignored her and continued throwing things and proceeded to pick up a chair, throw it over and push more of the tables and chairs in all different directions.
In a monotone and firm voice Judith said, “Andrew, you need to stop throwing the trains or Dr. Judith will have to stop you.”
Andrew did not respond so she took Andrew’s arm and held it still and removed the track from his hand. Children with PDD or autism resist any type of physical contact with another person. Most are ultra-sensitive to touch and feel that being touched is an encroachment on their world. But Andrew did not try to hit Judith; instead he stood there breathing quickly and heavily through his nose and staring with a mean, scrunched-up face at the ground.
“Andrew, this behavior is not allowed. Dr. Judith is sitting you on the floor and you have to sit and breathe and calm down. Dr. Judith and Miss Maureen know you are upset but you may not throw toys.”
Andrew sat after Judith physically guided him to a sitting position. He started to calm and Dr. Judith left soon after. Reading was the best way I could think of to calm Andrew. I quickly pulled one of my classic books from the shelf. Andrew continued to look away staring at the ground.
“It is reading time and Miss Maureen is going to read Andrew a book. The book is called, “Corduroy”.”
I sat as close to Andrew as I could without disturbing him and I began to read. Andrew slowly turned his head toward the book to see what it was about. Andrew was out of his “rut”; by now it was lunchtime.
People Who Are Reading Solitary Genius
Ideal for teachers, students, parents, teenagers, or anyone who has ever felt they didn’t fit the mold, Solitary Genius opens readers up to experience a new understanding of themselves and others – to become more aware and empathetic as they move through an increasingly distracted world.
Solitary Genius doesn’t explore the latest medical and psychological research or tackle theories about what causes autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, or other challenges. Instead, Marshall wrote this highly personal memoir to share her love for eight uniquely gifted children – and the success she achieved by patiently and intuitively meeting their needs. The book is also a resource to help people communicate more effectively in any situation.
Shifting between her small classroom and her own childhood experiences, Marshall’s unassuming story demonstrates how listening can transform our lives. As she teaches from the heart, the children begin to blossom. Readers come to understand that everyone has different wiring – and compassion can be a powerful force for change. Ultimately, we all have special needs.
Inside everyone is a solitary genius, longing for love and true connection.