Top positive review
166 people found this helpful
"Ignorance has become part of a society's belief system"
on March 11, 2013
Very well written text on autism and brain science. The collaboration between Grandin, probably the world's best known individual with high functioning autism, and Panek, a well regarded science writer, was a smart move for this book. While I have not read a previous work by Grandin, as a parent with a child diagnosed with moderate level autism I have frequently read about her and have seen enough interviews of her that I could hear her voice as I made my way through this text. Out of necessity, I have read a high number of books and research papers associated with autism, and the vast insight that Grandin shares from her own experience is valuable, as is what she shares about brain science and the opportunities she has had throughout the years to participate in ground breaking research that included scans of her own brain.
These two topics are interwoven throughout the book, and I agree with other reviewers here that this book probably has a wider audience than what the authors may have originally surmised. However, because I have read so much with regard to autism, potential readers of this book should be aware that the criticisms from autistic readers that Grandin mentions in this book about her past assertions with regard to how "thinking in pictures" is a common trait across autistic individuals, might cease but be redirected toward the fact that Grandin heavily concentrates on high functioning autism, not the entire spectrum. The DSM-5 may no longer include different degrees of autism, but even Grandin explains her reservations about DSM diagnoses. Potential readers just need to keep in mind that the vast majority of her focus here is on those with high functioning autism like herself.
That said, interestingly enough Grandin is probably among the most optimistic writers with regard to the potential of those with autism. In one of the best brief written summaries of the history of the DSM, for example, she writes the following words of encouragement for those with autism in their lives: "Unlike a diagnosis for step throat, the diagnostic criterion for autism has changed with each new edition of the DSM. I warn parents, teachers, and therapists to avoid getting locked into the labels. They are not precise. I beg you, do not allow a child or an adult to become defined by a DSM label." For those of us that have had to battle ICD codes while seeking treatment for our children, we realize that this categorization is probably not going to go away any time soon, but it is about time that someone of Grandin's stature is questioning their long-term validity.
As a parent, I especially appreciated chapter 1 ("The Meanings of Autism"), in which Grandin discusses the history of the autism diagnosis and reflects on the original diagnosis that she was given, "brain damage", chapter 4 ("Hiding and Seeking"), in which sensory disorders, an oft neglected area in research, are discussed in relationship to autism, and how Grandin came to realize that there exists great variety, chapter 5 ("Failing on the Spectrum"), in which she furthers her earlier thoughts on the DSM, and chapter 7 ("Rethinking in Pictures"), in which Grandin writes that "of course autistic brains don't all see the world the same way - despite what I once thought" after realizing that those with autism exhibit multiple rather than one type of visualization.
Although I enjoy the conversational style of this book, I also especially appreciated the way she shares her thought process in chapter 5. Following her thoughts on what she refers to as two phases of autism the diagnosis (1943 to 1980, and 1980 to 2013), she discusses how it is time for another shift. "Thanks to advances in neuroscience and genetics, we can begin Phase Three in the history of autism, an era that returns to the Phase One search for a cause, but this time with three big differences." She later furthers this thought by writing: "Phase Two thinking says, 'Let's group people together by diagnosis.' Phase Three thinking says, 'Forget about the diagnosis. Forget about labels. Focus on the symptom.' Focus on the cause."
"Instead of - or at least in addition to - assigning human subjects to studies through a common autism diagnosis, we should be assigning them by main symptom. I sometimes see researchers pooh-poohing self-reports. But as I learned from examples like Carly Fleischmann's description of feeling overstimulated in the coffee shop, I think what researchers should be doing is looking at the self-reports very carefully as well as eliciting them in new ways. They they should be putting the subjects into studies based on those self-reports." Bravo! In my opinion, this is the climax of the book. Concentration on the individual. Looking at every case of autism as an individual will lead to the broadest spectrum possible, a holistic analyses that includes the brain science that the authors discuss, and continues to encompass the entire being, both for classic and regressive cases of autism.