Editor's Note: This review by Dr. Manuel Casanova takes the measure of the book "Neurotribes -- the Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity" by Steve Silberman. "Having some knowledge on the subject, I thought that Neurotribes was a painful read," Casanova writes. "Silberman’s arguments are constructed as a house of straws. ... The book glorifies autism by exalting its gifts but failing to emphasize its handicaps, drawbacks or comorbidities. It is true that the author mentions that autism is a handicap but at the same time compares the disability to computers using different operating systems, one with Microsoft and another using Linux. This comparison trivializes many of the handicaps faced by autistic individuals and is offensive to those more severely affected."
By Dr. Manuel Casanova
I finally got a chance to finish reading Steve Silberman’s widely publicized book “Neurotribes”. The same received the prestigious 2015 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction and some journalists have touted the same as the definite book on autism’s past. Being a history buff myself I decided to give it a try and read it during my long layovers on a round trip to Russia. Fortunately I managed to read it all with a few hours to spare. On the other hand, being my usual self, I misplaced the book with all of my annotations. This may play well for the reader as a complete revision of the book with all of my annotations would have required a longer book than the one presently reviewed.
The book itself has been proclaimed to be Neurodiversity’s manifesto and as such makes de rigueur claims of historical figures as having had Asperger’s, providing a putdown of psychiatry and medical sciences in general, and somehow managing to talk peripherally about homosexuality and/or transgender issues. The aim of such a divagation is to ascertain that autism spectrum disorders are an expression of normal variability within the human genome and that any handicaps attributed to the condition can be overcome with proper accommodations. If this were the case it is easy to see why Neurodiversity proponents downplay the need for treatment and research and find especially offensive the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). In order to sustain their allegations they claim that autism has always been around and that there has been no real increase in prevalence throughout the last few decades. They also tend to over generalize suggesting that a significant proportion of engineers, radio aficionados, science fiction buffs, and computer scientists fall within the autism spectrum. All of the aforementioned allegations are made without dwelling on arguments that can falsify their position while simultaneously trying to destroy the credibility and reputation of those who oppose them. In their exposition they will usually not provide references for their work, or in the case of Mr. Silberman, those given may be untraceable and therefore worthless. Neurotribes touches on all of the aforementioned aspects while following the Neurodiversity blueprint to a tee.
Read the full review here.