Allen and Unwin, £16.99, paperback out now
A worthy winner of the Samuel Johnson non-fiction book prize, this is a fascinating and highly readable history of autism. We also get to meet several interesting people affected by autism, and an invitation to reconsider what we think we know about it.
Silberman, a journalist for Wired magazine, became interested in autism in 2001 when he heard of an ‘epidemic’ of autism among the children of Silicon Valley employees – parents who tended to be computer programmers and engineers. The book opens with The Wizard of Clapham Common Henry Cavendish, genius 19th century scientist and inventor, who Silberman retrospectively diagnoses as autistic. Silberman is an informative guide through geek culture, disability in Nazi Germany, faulty diagnoses of toxic parenting, Rain Man and more.
Critically, the author is respectful of autistic people. Oliver Sacks in his foreword notes that Silberman particularly sought out autistic people for his research. A further mark of quality is that it is dedicated to Lorna Wing, a psychiatrist and doctor who transformed thinking about autism for the better first in the UK and then internationally both through her work and her involvement in the establishment of the National Autistic Society. He concludes: “Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodation is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently”. This is an excellent, accessible book, and a worthwhile call to consider the riches that can come from diversity.
Review by Bethan