Ben Mattlin, Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Graduates from Harvard & Helps Others with Disabilities

Written by Antje Clasen – Harvard Writers and Publishers, with permission from Ben Mattlin

Ben Mattlin was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular condition that made him a lifelong wheelchair-user.

His parents decided to let him attend normal schools, which at the time was pioneering. It meant that Ben Mattlin was one of the first students with a disability in a normal classroom in New York in the seventies.

In a memoir entitled Miracle Boy Grows Up, he describes his life in which he beats the odds.

Miracle Boy Grows Up
Image courtesy of

Ben became a pioneer in his elementary school, graduating from his high school in New York and being accepted to Harvard.

The intellectual challenge of lectures and term papers at Harvard contrasts with the many physical barriers he had to overcome: cobblestones, stairs and unreliable assistants all made life far more challenging than it is for other Harvard College freshmen.

Image courtesy of Ben Mattlin
Image courtesy of Ben Mattlin

Ben Mattlin is among the firsts to attempt and accomplish a life in a competitive world created for able bodied people.

In his second year, Ben Mattlin is admitted to a closed creative writing seminar at the university- which is not an easy feat for a sophomore – yet he is aware that he hasn’t found his voice yet. He focuses less on creative writing and masters navigating further uncharted territory.

He succeeds at graduating cum laude from Harvard, moving to California, marrying and finding his career as a journalist.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

He becomes an advocate for the disability rights movement. 30 years later, writing his book Miracle Boy Grows Up, he has finally found his voice.

Video courtesy of Ben Mattlin

It is a literary voice telling a story worth listening to.

An author no less than Jay McInerney praises the book, editors at CNN decide to feature Ben Mattlin and all reviewers on Amazon without exception consistently recommend the book as deeply moving and informative.

Miracle Boy Grows Up is an extraordinary book. Words are certainly his friends – he is an intelligent and perceptive wordsmith. Ben Mattlin has become a fine writer.

Ben writing using a mouth-controlled joystick called the QuadJoy. Photo courtesy of
Ben writing using a mouth-controlled joystick called the QuadJoy. Photo courtesy of

To quote praise by a more famous colleague and author from New York:

“Insightful, poignant, light-hearted and often hilarious… Like many of the best memoirs, this one brings you inside a beautiful mind.”

~Jay McInerney

Buy Ben’s book, Miracle Boy Grows Up >

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