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NeuroTribes
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NeuroTribes
The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
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A New York Times bestsellerWinner of the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fictionA groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance,...
A New York Times bestsellerWinner of the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fictionA groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance,...
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  • A New York Times bestseller
    Winner of the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction
    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 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.
    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    I STARTED READING every news story about autism I could find and downloading journal articles by the score. It soon became clear that the mysterious rise in diagnoses was not restricted to Silicon Valley. The same thing was happening all over the world.

    To put the rising numbers in context, I familiarized myself with the basic time line of autism history, learning the story of how this baffling condition was first discovered in 1943 by a child psychiatrist named Leo Kanner, who noticed that eleven of his young patients seemed to inhabit private worlds, ignoring the people around them. They could amuse themselves for hours with little rituals like spinning pot lids on the floor, but they were panicked by the smallest changes in their environments, such as a chair or favorite toy being moved from its usual place without their knowledge. Some of these children were unable to speak, while others only repeated things they heard said around them or spoke of themselves detachedly in the third person. Claiming that their condition differed "markedly and uniquely" from anything previously reported in the clinical literature, Kanner named their condition autism—from the Greek word for self, autos—because they seemed happiest in isolation.

    Then a year later, in an apparent synchronicity, a Viennese clinician named Hans Asperger discovered four young patients of his own who seemed strangely out of touch with other people, including their own parents. Unlike Kanner's young patients in Baltimore, these children spoke in elaborate flowery sentences while displaying precocious abilities in science and math. Asperger affectionately dubbed them his "little professors." He also called their condition autism, though it's still a matter of dispute if what he saw in his clinic was the same syndrome that Kanner described.

    For decades, estimates of the prevalence of autism had remained stable at just four or five children in ten thousand. But that number had started to snowball in the 1980s and 1990s, raising the frightening possibility that a generation of children was in the grips of an epidemic of unknown origin. After telling my editor about the frightening thing that the teacher in the café said about what was happening in Silicon Valley—the heart of Wired's tech-savvy readership—I got permission to pursue this intriguing lead.

    My research was facilitated by the fact that our apartment in San Francisco is located just down the hill from the University of California, which boasts one of the best medical libraries in the country. I became a regular browser in the stacks, poring through articles on epidemiology, pediatrics, psychology, genetics, toxicology, and other relevant subjects. Meanwhile, my shelves at home filled up with books like Clara Claiborne Park's The Siege, Oliver Sacks's An Anthropologist on Mars, and Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures. Each offered a view of the diverse world of autism from a unique vantage point.

    The Siege, published in 1967, was the first book-length account of raising an autistic child by a loving and devoted parent. In a dark age when psychiatrists falsely blamed "refrigerator mothers" for causing their children's autism by providing them with inadequate nurturing, Park offered a candid portrait of life with her young daughter Jessy (called Elly in the book), who would sit by herself for hours, sifting sand through her fingers. With the meticulous eye of an explorer mapping uncharted territory, Park chronicled each small thing that Jessy learned to do in her first years, usually with great effort—only to apparently unlearn it shortly...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 29, 2015
    Journalist Silberman devotes this thick, linear tome to the stunning evolution of the autism diagnosis from one that’s explicitly negative to something more ambiguous and even positive. Child psychiatrist Leo Kanner named the disorder in 1943 after noticing that 11 of his patients lived in “private worlds.” His belief that autism was a severe handicap persisted for decades. But pediatrician Hans Asperger saw autism as both handicap and blessing, particularly in milder forms. Calling his patients “little professors,” Asperger wondered whether, in science and art, “a dash of autism is essential,” noting a predilection towards abstract thinking as well as a type of “skepticism indispensable to any scientist.” Now, Silberman says, it is
    recognized that much gets done inside intense “private worlds,” and that negative views began to ebb when the “spectrum” definition was adopted. The “neurodiversity” movement that Silberman sketches now helps those on the spectrum access services and draw positive attention. He does reach some overexuberant conclusions, including the speculative claim that autism is a “strange gift from our deep past, passed down through millions of years of evolution.” Still, the main point—that autism may persist because it can come with adaptive qualities—is well taken. This is a thorough look at the difficulties and delights of a very complex
    disorder.

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2015
    A well-researched, readable report on the treatment of autism that explores its history and proposes significant changes for its future. Silberman, a writer for Wired and other publications, explores the work of Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician who saw a genetic root to the disorder, and Leo Kanner, a child psychiatrist in Baltimore whose work led to the "refrigerator mother" concept promoted and exploited by Bruno Bettelheim. Woven into his accounts of the clinical work and theories of these men are a wealth of sympathetic stories of parents and their autistic children. There's even the story of the making of Rain Man, which featured Dustin Hoffman as an autistic man. The latest version of the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recently redefined autism as autism spectrum disorder, a single disorder having a wide range of symptoms and severity. Asperger's syndrome, no longer in the DSM, is generally seen to be at the mild end of the spectrum. Silberman argues for the concept of neurodiversity, the idea that this disorder-and others like dyslexia and ADHD-represents naturally occurring cognitive variations that have contributed to the evolution of human culture and technology. As the author writes, people with autistic traits "have always been part of the human community, standing apart, quietly making the world that mocks and shuns them a better place." In the closing chapters, the author acknowledges the emergence of autistic-run organizations, the impact of the Internet in providing a natural home for the growing community of newly diagnosed teens and adults, and a growing civil rights movement that doesn't depend on hopes for a cure but seeks to help autistic people and their families live more productive and secure lives. In the foreword, Oliver Sacks writes that this "sweeping and penetrating history...is fascinating reading" that "will change how you think of autism." No argument with that assessment.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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