‘NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity’ by Steve Silberman

I wanted to read this book for two reasons. First, I am thinking about writing an autistic character in a future book, so I wanted to do some research on the topic in order to write a more accurate and compelling character. While this book was informative, I feel as though I am not much closer to writing a compelling autistic character. Second, I suspect I might have a few autistic characteristics myself. After reading this, I am no closer to knowing the truth.

This book is about the history of autism research. It includes some case studies about autistic individuals, theorizing that some important scientific figures were autistic. It also goes into the medical history of autism, discussing the early-modern German experiments by the doctor Asperger and more recent experiments out of the University of California. A unifying theme to most of these medical experiments was that they treated autistic people poorly, if not as outright expendable. Autistic people have faced a lot of discrimination over the years, and doctors often treated them no better than the rest of society.

If I were to provide two main critiques of this book, the first is that it did not go very far into discussing the topic of life-as-an-autistic person. Only at the very end did the book stop speaking from the perspective of a doctor or parent of an autistic person and start quoting the perspectives of autistic people themselves.

Second, the book kinda lost the forest for the trees. Having finished reading this, I barely am better informed as to what autism is than before. I think autism is an alternate style of thinking/an alternative brain structure (alternative compared to neurotypical brains).

  • The main difference between autism and neurotypicality manifests as much improved focus, pattern recognition and long-term-memory formation.
  • These traits (focus, pattern recognition, long-term-memory), when combined together, help the autistic individual study a topic and become an expert on that topic. So while an autistic person might not have lots of ‘generalist’ intelligence, they might have lots of ‘specialist’ intelligence.
    • As an example, an autistic person in the STEM fields can utilize their different brain structure to become a better researcher (or more specifically, a more committed researcher) than their neurotypical colleagues.
  • In some instances, the focus is improved past the point of being useful.
    • An autistic person might forget to eat or take showers because they are working too hard, as an example.
    • Or they might zone out while thinking about a favorite topic, and not pay attention to a boring class in school.
    • At autism’s greatest extent, an autistic person might be completely nonverbal because the brain is literally unable to focus on the outside world. Hence the ‘idiot savant’ trope, of autistic people being really smart in some ways but unable to take care of themselves in others. (I suspect the phrase ‘idiot savant’ is rude, and I apologize for it if you are autistic and you’re reading this. The book used the phrase (specifically when talking about autism in popular media), so I’m quoting the book.)

Or at least is the impression I was left with after reading this book. The author didn’t really delve too far into this subject and I wish he did. I’m gonna have to do more research if I want more info on how to write an autistic character.

This is a good, well researched book which covered a plethora of topics from the medical history of autism, to autism in popular media, to autism in scifi fandom, to modern-day parents trying to raise autistic children and those parents being used as piggy banks by well meaning (and not so well meaning) doctors. If that is the sort of book you want to read, then this book fills that niche perfectly. But if you’re just trying to gather info on the subject of autism itself, I feel as though this book is at best a secondary resource. Feel free to read it, after you’ve read more topical books. If you’re a parent trying to raise an autistic child, or you’re autistic yourself, this might not be the first book you read to learn about the subject.

STARS: 2.5 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

GRADE: A summary of the history of Autism research. While well written, it probably shouldn’t be the first book you read on the subject. Worth reading if you are researching this topic.

Overall Rating: Recommended with Reservations (How I Rate Books)


Genres/Tagwords: History, Nonfiction, Autism

Similar books:

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