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.
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.
Inspiring, tearjerking, and informative
This book is a must read. Not just for autistic people like myself, but for everyone.
The author brings compassion, intelligence and humanity to a very complex subject. This is a must read for anyone interested in the multidimensionality of the human condition. Truly extraordinary!