Review – Autism

Autism – Stuart Murray


A reasonably short book which briefly details the history of the field of autism, but bases much of its discussion on the controversy and debate which surrounds areas such as diagnosis, the medical model approach to autism versus the social model approach.

The book is loosely divided into three sections entitled: The Facts; Social, Cultural, and
Political Histories; and Major Controversies. As the name suggests, the first third of the book is very much focused on what is known about autism, and what is not known yet. It highlights the very glaring fact that for all we do know about autism since it’s labelling by Asperger and Kanner, there is an awful lot we do not know.

After all, autism is only of interest because of the fact that it affects people, and if we cannot extend what we know about it to make a real difference to individual lives then there is not much point to any research on the condition.

This section includes information on diagnosing and how it can be a subjective means of determining if someone has autism – which goes some way in explaining the claims of simultaneous under- and over- diagnosing of autism, the briefly discusses treatments and interventions, and gender. All of this is somewhat cushioned within the social context so it’s not so much a dry retelling of statistics as it is a discussion.

The second section briefly outlines the history of autism, from before it was labelled and how it might have been present in literature from earlier periods, right through Kanner and Asperger, then Bettelheim, the creation of organisations and associations before finishing with the neurodiveristy movement and discussions of cultural representations of autism. This isn’t an indepth discussion on autism’s history – since that would take a whole book on it’s own – but rather a whirlwind rush through the key points.

The rise of the opinion that autism constitutes a positive difference, and is not a deficit, has been the most noticeable non-medical development in the history of the condition in the last decade.

The final section focuses on two of the biggest controversies within the field of autism, and again it isn’t an indepth analysis, but rather an outlining of the key points for each area of contention. The first of these is the discussion of the cause of autism – which of course makes reference to the Andrew Wakefield fraud that resulted in a huge reduction in vaccine receipt and, ultimately, deaths that could have been prevented. The second discussion points is the idea of autism and a cure – a very controversial topic. Even a cursory search of related terms on the internet will result in numerous back-and-forth arguments on the topic; some autistic people want a cure, others reject the very idea that it needs a cure, some parents wish for a cure for their son/daughter, and others find the concept abhorrent.

This also, of course, establishes autism as exactly the kind of fearful contagion suggested by Grinker; a silent predator that spreads among an innocent population of children. And, in turn, if autism is constituted as some kind of poison; it becomes very difficult to make the argument that it is a form of human variation; we do not react well to thinking of difference in terms of some kind of noxious disease.

The book comes in at 107 pages (excluding reference list and index) so it isn’t a long read, nor is it especially indepth, but it does offer an overview of the main areas of discussion concerning autism and how these are framed within society at large. It’s a good starting point for more indepth reading for those who want it.

Is it worth reading?

Yes, it’s not long but it contains a lot of useful information about autism within society. It’s quite pricey on Amazon, and I don’t think it’s worth the £25 that they’re asking for so shop around.

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