Added to the series of things I thought I posted about but never did is Steve Silberman’s new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, out next week.
What is autism? 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.
Jennifer Senior wrote a largely positive review for the NY Times.
“NeuroTribes” is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to “Far From the Tree,” Andrew Solomon’s landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin’s words, “different, not less.” Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.
Silberman was born in New York, the son of two teachers who were communists and anti-war activists. “I was raised to be sensitive to the plight of the oppressed. One of the things I do is frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil-rights movement being born.”
He says the fact he is gay also conditioned his approach. “My very being was defined as a form of mental illness in the diagnostic manual of disorders until 1974. I am not equating homosexuality and autism — autism is inherently disabling in ways that homosexuality is not — but I think that’s why I was sensitive to the feelings of a group of people who were systematically bullied, tortured and thrown into asylums.”