BIG LIT Reviews

A Review – Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity – Steve Silberman


I was instantly captured by the subject matter of this book, especially given Oliver Sacks’ ‘roll-out-the-carpet” forward that begs clear attention. My interest and pure enjoyment in working with children exhibiting characteristics of autism and/or diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has grown both in depth and in breadth over the years. Reading through this book was a little like following breadcrumbs back through a thickly wooded forest, with only thin streams of brilliance that seem to shed light and truth on the situation.  In 1999, when I saw my first kindergarten-aged child, who had been recently diagnosed with autism, the resources available to advise these fragile families were scant.  Sharing resources with colleagues, attending professional development across North America and experimenting with successful vs. failing methods were the streams of ‘brilliance’ that flooded my path as a speech-language pathologist trudging through the thickly wooded autism forest. Autism is still seen to be a burgeoning area of knowledge.  For those of us who work daily amidst this body of knowledge, books like Neurotribes, keep our intrigue at a high intensity. The perspectives explored within the 480-odd pages move along a timeline starting in the late 18th century where Silberman highlights the life of Henry Cavendish. Cavendish was a natural philosopher or scientist who was purposefully solitary and abrasively rigid. It is through several ancestral characters, that Silberman helps the reader to believe that Autism has existed for hundreds of years in an undiagnosed state. Also, through his text, Silberman slowly begins to expose the extraordinarily rich nature of Autism to those readers who may have only ever experienced negative or limiting views of its symptomology at one extreme end of the continuum. His extensive research into the work of Hans Asperger sends the reader away from any adverse slant on autism, over to the opposite end of the continuum.  At this end of the continuum, the eccentricities, compulsions for data-proven fact and high levels of organization are the greatest of strengths. The author encourages his readers to cultivate an appreciation for the diversity of all neural processes such as learning, thoughts, feelings, actions, and socialization. When the final pages of the book surfaced, I felt enlightened, extremely positive and I was filled with new intentions about how to better fulfill my role as a purveyor of information to the families I work with. Here is a quote from the book, provided by a blogger Silberman cited by the name of MOM-NOS:

Dear Autism;

You do not have my son, I do.

I will make sure he is never defined by his autism alone, and I will help him to recognize that, although his autism makes some things incredibly challenging, it also brings with it remarkable gifts.  I will make sure that we work on his challenges.  I will make sure that we celebrate his gifts.

This is only the beginning, MOM-NOS.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone, who wishes to know more about the diverse group of learners that we build communities with.

Written by Carmen Souster, BA, B.ED., MSLP, S-LP(C), R.SLP(C)



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