November TBRJust one book today, mainly because I got this on NetGalley and you can save time by just putting a link in to your review when submitting feedback. And it’s the only one I’ve got outstanding at the moment, and just sometimes it’s good to be nice and tidy at the end of the month (my TBR is anything but. This will change).

Steve Silberman – “NeuroTribes”

(October 2015 – from NetGalley – thank you to the publisher Penguin Group Avery and NetGalley)

This book now rather famously (as it won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction between me acquiring it and this review) sets out the history of research on, attitudes to and treatment of autism (and what eventually became known as its spectrum). It starts off with a couple of descriptions of scientists from history who we would say now are “on the spectrum”, not in a move to retrospectively diagnose them but more importantly to highlight their huge contribution to the development of science, which would not have been possible without their distinctive personality traits, which is the central theme of this book.

Some of the historical sections on diagnosis and treatment would be distressing for people with autism in their immediate family to read and were on the edge of my tolerance: but it’s important for the author to set out the arguments around eugenics and around aversion therapy (the latter being practised until almost the present day), both of which were represented, of course, at the time as “science”, because we need to know and remember what has happened in the past.

The mix of history and modern stories of advocacy and empowerment make for an engaging read; it was good to come across “old friends” such as Temple Grandin, the subject of one of Oliver Sach’s books. I particularly liked the autism activists who arose and grouped together with the development of the World Wide Web and collaborate with others in the disability advocacy groups; less welcome was the in-fighting and one-upmanship amongst the various autism organisations, but this is typical of all  movements and again, needs recording.

The book makes a convincing argument for two main strands: one, that we don’t have an epidemic of autism, but a rise in diagnosis (a process which he pulls apart forensically and convincingly) and the other that there are huge benefits to neurodiversity, much as there are to biodiversity: different kinds of minds are needed for different situations, and we shouldn’t strive to make everyone uniform.

This book will suit … anyone interested in autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (with the caveat that some stories of the Nazis and of treatments meted out in the 20th century could be found distressing).