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Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism Hardcover – April 3, 2004

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Paul Collins and his wife Jennifer thought their son was perfect. At age one, Morgan learned the alphabet; by two, he was reading, counting, even doing multiplication tables--yet he couldn't respond to his own name and scarcely noticed others in the room. He was, as it turned out, autistic--gifted, intelligent, preternaturally focused, but a stranger in the strange land of human emotions. Fortunately, Paul Collins is eminently suited to act as his guide. The author of Banvard's Folly and the bibliophile's delight Sixpence House, Collins is a very particular kind of historian: an archaelogist of the arcane and a lover of eccentric people and facts. Not Even Wrong turns that love to the best possible use. Part memoir, part history, it traces the lives of suspected autists both famous and obscure, from Peter the Wild Boy, a semi-feral child who became a sensation at the court of George I, to Henry Darger, the recluse and outsider artist. Collins dabbles in neurology and science history, but what emerges is nothing less than a portrait of how Morgan's mind works--as well as a respectful and fascinating account of those with autism and their contributions to our world. --Mary Park

From Booklist

By the age of two, Collins' son, Morgan, could read and multiply but would not respond to his own name. When he was diagnosed with autism, Collins and his wife resisted then slowly let go of their denial and set about getting Morgan the help he would need to develop fully. Collins also set out to explore the world of autistics, social outsiders often as profoundly misunderstood as Peter the Wild Boy, a nearly mute feral child discovered in the Black Forest in 1725. In his search through an English courtyard, the streets of Vienna, a Wisconsin prison, and Microsoft's offices in Seattle, Collins recounts the history of psychological and neurological theories, controversial interpretations and treatments of autism, and the pantheon of geniuses and eccentrics who were diagnosed as or suspected of being autistic. He intersperses his research with accounts of his attempts to connect with his son, to draw him out of the enigmatic world of autism. This is a thoroughly touching and engaging look at autism through the ages, told from the perspective of a loving father. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (April 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582343675
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582343679
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,466,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His 9 books have been translated into 11 languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). His freelance work includes pieces for the New Yorker, Slate, and New Scientist, and he appears on NPR Weekend Edition as its "literary detective" on odd old books.

Collins lives in Oregon, where he is Chair and Professor of English at Portland State University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard Nelson on June 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a person whose imagined future plans have almost never included children, my threshold for empathy with a memoir of parental experiences is pretty high--to me, you had a choice and you made it, knowing full well that your kid, like all kids, would one day be a bratty teenager. Maybe that's why this book works--because Paul Collins and his wife didn't have a choice about their son, Morgan, being born autistic.
The way that Collins blends a momentous year in the life of his family with a variety of stories about the history of autism and notable autists (including many whose conditions have been diagnosed posthumously, because autism wasn't understood at all until recently) works, too. We feel his pain and his growth, and laugh and cry with him, even as he gently gives us a textbook education in the development of society's understanding of the condition, from Peter the Wild Boy to Rainman and beyond.
Quietly, deftly, Collins also seeks to reshape the way we think about autism. For instance, he says, "Autists are described by others--and by themselves--as aliens among humans. But there's an irony to this, for precisely the opposite is true. They are us, and to understand them is to begin to understand what it means to be human. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. A child tugs at his or her parents and whispers, 'Where's that man's arm?' But autism is an ability and a disability: it is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an overexpression of the very traits that make our species unique. Other animals are social, but only humans are capable of abstract logic. The autistic outhuman the humans, and we can scarcely recognize the result.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have taught preschool children with disabilities for twenty odd years. I am always looking for books that I can share with parents to help them on their road to raising their child. This is going to the top of the list. What a gift Mr. Collins has written.
For one thing, the total unconditional love Morgan's parents show shines through. It doesn't matter what he can or cannot do - he is a child first. Anything else is secondary. That is such an important view for parents, and teachers, to have.
They took the bull by the horns. The diagnosis was devastating, but it didn't stop them from jumping in to the interventions that were recommended. One of the biggest issues I have is trying to get parents beyond the intial shock and denial, and get them moving. TIme is of the essence. I also have trouble sometimes getting them to see that they indeed are partners in this process - what we do at school cannot be isolated, and must be followed through at home as well. His descriptions of how they experiemented, and how they took the ideas of therapists and adjusted them to fit Morgan was perfect. His description of the classrooms and the activities were right on target as well.
His explanation of how people with autism think can help me explain to parents why their child might be reacting the way that they do.
I was impressed by his experience as a father. Its a rare family where the father actually takes on an equal share of the work in raising a child with disabilities. His POV was enlightening and will give many other fathers encouragement to be involved.
I also appreciated the historical point of view. I think parents and professionals need that background to see where we have been and get a better idea of where we are going.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By oddizm on March 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Oh! You thought that autism only affected "Rain Man" and only impacted the life of his brother who sleezily hauled him off to Las Vegas. Or maybe you thought that autistics have only been born in the last 14 years. Boy were you wrong! :-)
Autitstics have been impacting human life and the course of history for hudreds of years. Paul Collins does a fantastic job of not only chronicling his experience with his young son and his being diagnosed as autistic, he also does a fantastic job of chronicling the existence of autistics who lived before there was such a word.
Way to go Paul Collins!
Thank you for exposing Bruno Bettleheim for the creep he was and for interviewing Simon Baron-Cohen (a nice man, as far as I can tell).
Thank you for sharing your fascination with Peter the Wild Boy.
I am an adult with an autism spectrum diagnosis, Asperger's syndrome.
I hope your little boy is always treated with respect by the world that so often demands conformism.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Nonesuch Explorers on August 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism was written by historian Paul Collins, the author of Sixpence House. His son Morgan bounces around exuberantly playing verbal games with numbers and letters, banging on the piano, reading everything in sight, and interacting with his nanny and parents in his own way.

Morgan is certainly not a "stranger in the strange land of human emotions" as the official review claims (once again, the autistic as weird alien stereotype). He's *happy*. He has a great time. He's as enthusiastic as Mandy West in Paul West's old classic Words for a Deaf Daughter and just as oblivious to the fact that according to autism experts, he's actually living in a world of his own and that there must be a real child in there struggling to get out, etc., etc.

And his parents! They think he's simply a bright kid with many interests. Who the hell cares if he doesn't answer when you ask his name or play along with dumb "look at the funny monkey" games when there's a much more interesting talking computerized camera in the same room?

In short, the parents don't see anything wrong with the kid, because there isn't anything wrong with the kid. He isn't living in a world of his own. He's just more interested in music, math, reading, and audio equipment than people. A phalanx of experts try to convince Collins that Morgan's in need of vast amounts of therapy to bring him up to "normal", but Collins sensibly doesn't buy it even after he is made to understand that two-year-olds generally have more interest in the above social interactions.
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