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The Science and Fiction of Autism

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The Science and Fiction of Autism [Hardcover]

Laura Schreibman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 15, 2005

Autism is a complex and incurable constellation of bizarre behaviors, impaired cognition, limited language, and most distressingly, a lack of responsiveness to other people, and it has been the center of impassioned debates for decades. What is it? What causes it? How can it be treated?

In The Science and Fiction of Autism, one of the country's leading experts in behavioral treatments approaches autism through the context of its controversies, showing where extraordinary and unfounded claims have falsely raised hopes, stirred fears, and ruined lives. Arguing that autism is an entirely biological disorder, however complex its neurological origins, Laura Schreibman lays waste to the beliefs that it is caused by "refrigerator mothers" or the MMR vaccine, as well as to the simplistic claims that it can be cured by a variety of unsubstantiated treatments.

Drawing from her own long clinical experience with autistic children and their parents, Schreibman arms her readers--students, educators, psychologists, and parents alike--with information and arguments to deal with the onslaught of good, bad, deficient, and irrelevant ideas about autism.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the tragedies of autism is that, as Schreibman writes, "[t]he field... is littered with the debris of dead ends, crushed hopes, ineffective treatments, and false starts." Drawing from her own extensive clinical experience, psychologist Schreibman, director of the Autism Research Program at UC–San Diego, provides a comprehensive account of this mysterious disorder within the context of the controversies and contentions of the field. Arguing that autism is entirely biological in origin, Schreibman systematically discounts past and present popular causal theories, such as "refrigerator mothers" and the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine. Although expertly guiding readers through a detailed analysis of characteristics, diagnosis and treatment, Schreibman never forgets to illuminate the human side of autism. The disturbing, and often tragic, impact of simplistic and unsubstantiated treatments, like facilitated communication, secretin and holding therapy, serve as evidence that "bad science can lead to as much mischief as no science." It reminds parents that, despite how far researchers have come, it will take years of research to fully understand the biology of autism. This book is strongly recommended for parents and professionals dealing with this debilitating illness. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


[Schreibman] provides a comprehensive account of this mysterious disorder within the context of the controversies and contentions of the field...Although expertly guiding readers through a detailed analysis of characteristics, diagnosis and treatment, Schreibman never forgets to illuminate the human side of autism...This book is strongly recommended for parents and professionals dealing with this debilitating illness. (Publishers Weekly 2005-08-01)

Schreibman has written a solid if conservative book outlining our current understanding of and misperceptions about the causes and treatments of autism. (Corey Seeman Library Journal 2005-09-15)

[Schreibman] provides a comprehensive account of controversies in the field of autism...Her approach is refreshingly undogmatic and pragmatic, emphasizing the importance of applying theory flexibly in relation to the particular needs and circumstances of the child...If Schreibman's book encourages both parents and professionals to adopt a more critical approach towards [campaigns by some parents promoting unorthodox biomedical theories and treatments], this will protect families from further 'crushed hopes, ineffective treatments and false starts.' It will also help to restore appropriate boundaries between parents and professionals. It may therefore make an important contribution to the welfare of children in general, and those with autism in particular. (Michael Fitzpatrick Nature 2005-11-03)

For anyone wading through the sea of misinformation and conflicting reports swirling around autistic disorder, this book is a lifesaver. The author takes each controversy and scientifically breaks it down into what's proven, what's promising, what's unlikely, and what's just plain false. Further, it teaches the reader how to do the same thing--to critically evaluate the myriad claims surrounding this mysterious and devastating disorder. (Kristin Taveira Newsday 2006-01-16)

For anyone close to an autistic person who wants to learn about the problem, this is almost certainly the best available manual...Schreibman describes pretty much every current approach to autism, and examines how well supported by evidence each proposed theory is, and how well each therapy works. There is no better straightforward source of answers than this book. (Ian Hacking London Review of Books 2006-05-11)

Autism--its etiology and its treatment--has been, and continues to be, a subject of debate in several professions, and here Schreibman explains the controversies and the science behind them...She covers diagnosis, assessment, etiology, core deficits, and treatment, introducing readers to past and current thinking. The reference list, organized by chapter, will be a valuable resource for those who want to further their knowledge of autism. Schreibman's approach to this controversial disorder is refreshing, and her book will serve an audience ranging from professionals to those just learning about autism. (M. Thornton Choice 2006-06-01)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674019318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674019317
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,890,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource August 23, 2006
This book is for people who: want to understand how the medical community thinks about autism; want a comprehensive overview of the various autism treatements and theories; or would like a framework for evaluating theories and treatments for autism.

This book is not for people who: have embraced treatments not endorsed by the medical community and aren't interested in having those ideas challenged; want a book that entertains as well as educates; want to hear about the latest miracle cure.

The author of this book comes from the mainstream medical community. If the author didn't tell you this up front, it would still be obvious from the way the book is written. Even though the book is written for a lay audience, its tone reminds me of technical papers like you'd find in a professional journal. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you can understand it, which you can. Still, it doesn't exactly make for a "fun" reading experience.

Dr. Schreibman provides some truly useful information here. First, you get a pretty good overview of past and present theories of what causes autism. You get a similar overview of autism treatments, past and present. Third, you get a call for sanity when evaluating theories and treatments, and a framework in which to base that sanity (namely the scientific method). And finally, you get the author's science-rooted opinions of most of the theories and treatments she discusses.

I was at least somewhat familiar with just about everything discussed in the book. There weren't a lot of new ideas here.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stylistically pedestrian but has useful information November 20, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How to write about autism in a populist tone and not lose the science pitch? This is the dilemma haunting this book. To be fair, it handles it it reasonably.

This book will be of interest to parents with autistic children (Kanner or classical autism, rather than Asperger Syndrome). Understandably the book trots out a lot of what is in other works (diagnosis, behaviours, etc). The upswing is review of various treatments and interventions, including facilitated communication. As the author point out many of the treatments have been debunked, but then comes down very positively on the side of ABA. It would have been helpful if some of the counterarguments against ABA had been laid out. There are several interesting recommedations for improving services which may possibly pan out for parents groups and activist committees.

It is difficult to make the transition from writing academic papers to popular print, and writing style is probably where the book is most shakey. It is not a page turner, but it is still relatively readable with a little perseverance.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first book you should read about autism June 17, 2006
If you know someone who is dealing with autism and desire to know the truth about what this is, read this book FIRST.

This book does not provide wishfull corollaries, inspiring anecdotes or mystical cures. It cuts to the bone in as simple a manner as is possible to tell you exactly what is known and just how much is not.

It will undoubtedly anger highly emotional people that are convinced that some treatment cured their child that this book claims has no scientific validation. What needs to be understood is that there are treatments that work and have been verified to work. If a person reads this book actively, taking notes throughout, it provides insight into not only effective techniques but also techniques beleived to work but not yet verified. Further research on these obscure little bits can provide a wealth of ways to encourage new development.

Of course it also provides a wealth of what NOT to do. Snake oil peddling that could cost a family their lifes' savings or drive them into bankruptcy and horrific debt.

This book is the ounce of prevention worth more than the pound of cure.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This Book Communicates May 24, 2006
Here's an excellent summary of the problems associated with autism - its definitions, its possible causes, its possible treatments. This would be one of the first books to turn to when someone close to you has been diagnosed with autism. It will orient you on the subject. It is concise enough to address the full range of questions that might hit you; but it goes into enough depth to provide real insights into the different facets of this puzzling syndrome.

Even people who don't have an affected relative would probably find something interesting and worthwhile here. For example, the chapter that discusses different researchers' attempts to find the "core" deficit, the defining deficit of autism, carries readers into considerations of the very nature of consciousness itself. Does consciousness dawn when you attach affect to different perceptions? Or is consciousness a particular way of associating perceptions? Whatever it is, this book suggests more avenues of exploration on the subject than many of the more highly touted books that profess to "explain" consciousness.

Other chapters will also have meaning for a broader audience. The chapter on possible treatment procedures for autism reminds the reader of how easy it is to be misled into accepting unproven, unsound treatment modalities. It's a refresher course in the scientific method.

This book's conclusion is that some form of behavioral treatment has been shown to be of the most help to the most autistic patients. Here again, another consideration is suggested to the general reader. Surrounding a person with a structured environment that provides a strict regimen of rewards (and in some cases, mild punishments) for appropriate behavior, may go against our liberal grain.
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