A clear, well-written, informative, easy-reading book for the layperson on the history and current conceptions of autism, and what that means for people with autism. Grinker has an autistic daughter, and includes his own experiences with her to illuminate larger issues. He primarily writes about the US, but has two chapters with snapshots of the situation in South Korea and India.

I particularly liked the lengthy section in which he makes his case that autism is not increasing, but seems to be because we are more aware of it. I don't have time to lay out his detailed explanations of how he came to each of his conclusions, but the reasons for the perceived increase are as follows:

- It is only comparatively recently that autism, like many other mental and developmental disorders, has become understood as a unique phenomena rather than lumped in with every other disorder else as "mad" or "simple" or some such. That is, autism has always existed, but was not called "autism."

- Parents and researchers agitated for more awareness of autism. Once people became aware, they started noticing it more: laypeople recognized kids with autism, and doctors became able to diagnose it. Previously, the same kids would have been labeled mentally retarded or schizophrenic or something other than autistic.

- Due to improved services for autistic kids, pressure arose to diagnose kids with autism rather than with some other diagnosis which entitled them to less or inferior services. Hence, kids who previously would have been labeled mentally retarded are now labeled autistic. (Autism is also less stigmatized than mental retardation.) For the same reason, kids who have less severe problems, who previously would not have been diagnosed at all but would have struggled and been called weird, stupid, or lazy, now tend to get an autism diagnosis so they can get help.

- A misprint in an early edition of the diagnostic manual DSM-IV - "or" instead of "and" - led to many kids qualifying for an autism diagnosis who otherwise wouldn't have gotten it. (Basically, it should have been "must have this symptom AND this symptom," but it was printed as "must have this symptom OR this symptom."

Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism


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