Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Challenges: COYER Summer Scavenger Hunt | NetGalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge
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Blurb from goodreads:
A groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding, and full participation in society for people who think differently.
What is autism: a devastating developmental disorder, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more—and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.
Going back to the earliest days of autism research and chronicling the brave and lonely journey of autistic people and their families through the decades, Silberman provides long-sought solutions to the autism puzzle, while mapping out a path for our society toward a more humane world in which people with learning differences and those who love them have access to the resources they need to live happier, healthier, more secure, and more meaningful lives.
Along the way, he reveals the untold story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome, whose “little professors” were targeted by the darkest social-engineering experiment in human history; exposes the covert campaign by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner to suppress knowledge of the autism spectrum for fifty years; and casts light on the growing movement of "neurodiversity" activists seeking respect, support, technological innovation, accommodations in the workplace and in education, and the right to self-determination for those with cognitive differences.
I know, I know. This is not my usual fare for the blog but I thought it was worth sharing. If you have any interest in autism or the history of psychiatry, this book is for you. I've taught toddlers and preschoolers for over 20 years and have had students with autism in my classes; some were diagnosed while in my class while others were diagnosed later. I remember my team and I fighting to get one particular boy diagnosed and provided with services who was clearly Asperger's while another was later diagnosed and we went, "Oh, that explains a lot." The information has changed a lot over the years and it's hard to keep up with the current thinking.
This book provides a detailed, thorough look at the history of autism, its permutations as well as the permutations of the definition of autism. Put me firmly in the camp, where the author also seems to be, that there isn't an epidemic of autism. What's changed is the definition and diagnosis for autism, from a strict, highly limited and rigid definition to a broader, more accommodating definition. As well, there's the fascinating, and to me highly likely, hypothesis that autism, especially certain forms of it, are just part of the normal continuum and one that veers to genius level at times. Maybe instead of 'fixing' autistics, and oh, there are some heartbreaking stories, we need to be focused on how to adjust the world to include them. Many inventors and some geniuses were autistic and Silberman, along with doctors and experts before him, posit that without those autistic gifts, the inventors and geniuses wouldn't have been capable of their achievements.
"NeuroTribes" is full of fascinating information, history, and theories. I read it on my Kindle and highlighted so much of the book, I may not be able to find what I'm looking for. At times, the history dragged on, there could have been less detail, but overall I was impressed with Silberman's thoroughness and I learned so much. I'll definitely recommend this to my co-workers and the administration where I teach. The author did get judgmental at times, especially in regard to Dr. Kanner, whom he really disliked. Still, the detail is exhaustive and I can imagine, after all the research Silberman did and the people he talked to, that it would have been difficult not to have an opinion.
Silberman didn't forget to talk to the people most directly affected by autism - the autistics and their families. We see how they are not so different in some respects - they fall in love, hold down jobs, are creative, etc. It wasn't too long ago that the medical establishment claimed none of that was possible for people diagnosed with autism. Heck, it was believed that only children were autistic, not adults. In recent years, adult autistics have begun to reclaim the autism movement, advocating for less time and money spent on 'cures' for 'fixing' them and for more spent on services helping them to cope and to function in our society as well as helping society to cope and to include people of diverse neurology.
I'd have liked more time spent on the whole concept of neurodiversity and how other neurological and cognitive conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia tie in. The whole concept of neurodiversity fascinates me and I will need to hunt up more information about it. I teach an age group that is pliable and open to being molded and helped. What can I do as teacher to help and just as importantly, what should I not do?
"NeuroTribes" is not a quick or light read but it's well worth the effort. As I said, I learned a lot and I have a lot to think about. It's a good introduction to what autism is and is not and to changing our thinking about what is normal and what is different.