With a smile as wide as the sky, twelve-year-old Eli just wanted to hug people. The gregarious and charming boy with the adorable elfin face never met a stranger – all people were friends just waiting to be met – and he longed to connect with them however he could, preferably by hugging them. In fact, Eli really couldn’t stop hugging and touching, no matter if his advances were welcome or not, no matter if the stranger was kind or unfriendly, no matter how many bribes, threats or punishments his mother Gayle devised. As a child with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition affecting approximately 30,000 Americans, Eli was displaying one of the hallmarks of the condition – unconditional love for everyone.
Who wouldn’t want a child that loved everyone? It sounds like a delightful problem to have, but as journalist Jennifer Latson reveals in The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, there’s much more to the story than that. Williams syndrome is a challenging condition characterized by developmental delays, moderate learning differences, heart problems, weaknesses with spatial relations and abstract reasoning as well as the distinctive over-friendliness. Parents may worry about abuse, questions of guardianship and whether their child will ever live independently.
So it was with Gayle and Eli. From a 12 year-old with an obsessive love for vacuum cleaners and floor scrubbers, Eli transitioned into a teenager struggling with school, making friends, behavioral problems and hormones (though he still loves floor scrubbers!). Through it all Gayle agonizes over his future and wonders if her exuberant son with the song in his heart and a big smile on his face will someday end up anxious and alone. The Boy Who Loved Too Much is a poignant and compelling story of a rare condition and the real people it affects.