Neurotribes opens with a question – why is autism suddenly so visible? From popular culture to the children of the author’s contacts in Silicon Valley, he keeps hearing about autism. He sets out to discover why.
His quest takes in the history of our understanding of autism, the reasons for the increase in the diagnosis and the changing experiences and treatment of autistic people.
Neurotribes is written with the pace of a thriller, and vividly brings to life academic rivalries, tabloid panics and science fiction fandom. Interspersed are the stories of the people the author has encountered along the way – autistic people, their families and carers, clinicians and writers, and even movie stars.
Parts of the book are very dark, including the accounts of institutionalisation of people dismissed as ‘feeble-minded’ and the horrors of Nazism. It is a timely reminder that Hitler was not an aberration but a man who exploited ideas which were widely articulated in Europe and the US at the time.
A running theme through the book is the tension between those who think that autistic people need to be ‘cured’ and those who think that society benefits from the strengths of autistic people and should accommodate their particular needs. The book ends on a positive note as it discusses the self-advocacy movement and profiles autistic people who have found their own ways to live fulfilling lives.
I found Neurotribes a fascinating and moving read.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Neurotribes on Goodreads
For a different perspective on this book, read Calmgrove’s review