Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unstrange Minds: Book Review

Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, by Roy Richard Grinker, was a fascinating read. I've read several absorbing, thoughtful books on autism in the past few years (Songs of the Gorilla Nation, by Dawn Prince-Hughes and George and Sam, by Charlotte Moore, most recently), and Grinker's book helped put the others in a larger context. It was kind of like Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire in that respect, which put all the novels and memoirs I've read about the Middle East into a bigger picture, with history and comparisons of the extremes and the differences of Islam (or autism, for Grinker) in different parts of the world.

Grinker has gotten the most publicity for his analysis of the autism "epidemic" (like this Time article), and his argument that improved and broader diagnosis accounts for the startling rise in numbers of people with autism spectrum disorders, but I found his historical and cross-cultural examinations of autism even more compelling. Who would have thought that the stories of Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, the influence of psychoanalytic theory, and the origins of the DSM would make such interesting reading?

The story of Grinker's daughter and their family's experiences with a school district was both eye-opening and moving, and all too familiar to any parent who has dealt with an IEP for something that confuses and dismays many people.

Thanks to Naomi, who recommended this in her journal here. :-)


Sherry said...

This is a subject that is quite interesting to me even though I have no relatives, family members, or close friends who are autistic.

Have you ever read Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon? It's fiction, but nevertheless insightful about autism and the possibilities and perils thereof. My review is here:

Sandy D. said...

I'll have to check Moon's book out. I've heard of it, and I like SF, so I really should read it.

My family is not directly impacted by autism, either - though my son's OCD and Tourette's Syndrome shares some neuro-chemical similarities. And the whole IEP process, discrimination, etc. is much the same.

I'd actually love to see cross-cultural studies of OCD - since what people focus on is so culturally conditioned, that would be really interesting.