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What is it like to raise a child who really does love everyone?

A new book explores a mother’s struggle, and a young boy’s. Eli is 12. He will soon be an adult. And a genetic disorder makes it impossible for him to be sceptical.

books Updated: Aug 05, 2017 18:54 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Williams Syndrome,Genetic disorder,Children
Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder that makes a person - in this case, a child - biologically incapable of distrust and scepticism. He can still feel pain, but not suspicion.
The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness
  • Author: Jennifer Latson
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Price: Rs 712 (Kindle edition)

There are people who talk too much, who worry too much, who smile too much and who cry too much. Those who love too much are tough to find outside rom-coms and Shakespearean tragedies, but they exist. And some, like 12-year-old Eli D’Angelo, can’t stop loving.

Eli has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that makes him biologically incapable of distrust and scepticism. He is missing the switch that makes humans socially inhibited. He hugs shopkeepers, bus drivers and strangers and is ready to do anything for them. He is irrepressibly gregarious, indiscriminately trusting, overtly affectionate and, with it, hugely vulnerable.

Everyone Eli meets becomes his best friend forever, which makes life far from easy for his mother Gayle, who has the unenviable task of explaining to her son that strangers can be dangerous and it’s not all right to hug everyone.

Williams Syndrome is a disorder that affects 1 in 10,000 people and is caused by the loss of just 26 genes, which is a very small number given the complex interplay that goes into making human personality traits. Studying the syndrome has helped scientists identify the genes for high blood pressure, high blood sugar and raised levels of oxytocin, the “cuddle” or “love” hormone that makes people affectionate.

People with Williams Syndrome also tend to have impaired intelligence and dexterity, which makes it difficult for them to function independently as adults.

Apart from the science of this rare disorder, this book is also about a mother struggling to do right by her child, who is preparing to enter the adult world. Gayle has to choose between being overprotective to shield Eli from a world teeming with danger and giving him the freedom to make mistakes and find his own way.

It’s a situation most parents find themselves in, but parents of people with Williams, obviously, have an especially hard time.

The book is as much about the mother as the child, as she learns to accept that effusiveness is as much a cultural as a personality trait and that while her boy may be a misfit in socially undemonstrative Japan, he would fit right in in uninhibited Greece and Italy, where public displays of affection are welcomed and not frowned upon.

Behaviour is as acceptable as we allow it to be, the book suggests. And if we all became a little more accepting of differences, the world would be a happier place.

First Published: Aug 05, 2017 18:54 IST