Review: An Exact Mind

An Exact Mind – Peter Myers, Simon Baron-Cohen and Sally Wheelwright

An Exact Mind.pngI think I wrote this same thing when I reviewed Drawing Autism, but at the risk of repeating myself – I am largely disinterested in art. It’s not as if I have some ingrained hatred for it – but I just have little desire to go and actively look at any. I wouldn’t say that I would necessarily go and seek out the art that is in this book if it didn’t have anything to do with autism – but the style was interesting enough to me that I spent a little bit of time actually looking at the images.

Which – in theory – should mean that anyone who actually is interested in art will find the contents of this book quite entertaining. If this book was just Peter Myers showcasing his artwork and discussing what each piece was about and the time in his life in which he drew each particular piece, this book would be much better.

Between Myers’ artwork and discussions are snippets about his life and sections where the main psychological theories of autism are discussed. Some of these are quite interesting to read:

It seemed to us that Jeffrey may produce these lists, and Peter may produce his drawings, for no other reason than to complete a system. The type of system may vary hugely from one person with AS to another, but in other respects, one can see the similarities.

The biggest problem I had is that because the authors other than Myers are involved in the systemising/extreme male brain theory of autism, it is this theory that is pushed over and above all others. As a result, theories like Weak Central Coherence and Executive Functioning are misrepresented in the effort to demonstrate just how accurate the Systemising theory is.

For us, Peter Myers’s art is a stunning demonstration of his ability to plan. So any theory that claims AS entails a deficit in planning runs into a serious problem in trying to explain his wonderful work. This is a man who can plan the content of his drawings to the nth degree! A person with executive dysfunction would also not be able to work as a precision-model maker where planning is essential.

To represent such a simplistic and inaccurate representation of executive functioning, especially given the amount of autobiographical reports from autistic people about how their ability in the areas of their special interest are often at odds with the rest of their life, and the well known “spiky profile” in autism, just comes across as sloppy and almost deliberately misleading.

The strong point of this book is that Myers’ artwork is both detailed and fascinating, and there is plenty of it for readers to explore. Some may recognise one piece of artwork from both historic National Autistic Society postcards, and from the front cover of Ilona Roth’s book ‘The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century’.


Worth Reading?

It’s more worthwhile looking at the artwork – which coming from someone who much prefers reading to art, is quite a significant statement on its quality.

Value for Money?

This book is still up at around £20 new and £10 second hand – which makes it quite pricey for the reasonably short content (80 pages). You would have to weigh up how much you appreciate artwork to decide whether it’s worth it for you because the written content is not worth that price.

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