Unstrange Minds

Roy Richard Grinker's 2007 book on autism, Unstrange Minds: A Father Remaps the World of Autism, is not a book about the causes of autism, or even primarily a book about living with a child with autism or Asperger's (like Boomer and Me, by Jo Case, or Reaching One Thousand, by Rachel Robertson, both deeply personal and touching memoirs).

Unstrange Minds is more concerned with the social history of autism as a diagnosis, and the social response to it. Grinker persuasively contends that the recent 'epidemic' of autism cases is most likely the result of shifts in diagnostic criteria and the increasing availability of therapies, than a true rise in incidence -- and as autism becomes more familiar, less stigmatised, better understood and hopefully better treated, we may 'see' more people with autism still... Not because there are more of them around, but because we have learned to see more clearly.

Grinker provides fascinating comparisons in attitudes towards autistic children in various societies. In India and South Africa, there is little help available, but paradoxically, outcomes for autistic and disabled children may be better than in urban Western societies, because such children can be more easily accommodated into local communities. In South Korea, by depressing contrast, mothers are blamed for their children's differences, and autistic children are seen as a source of shame, to be hidden away.

As the parent of a child with dyslexia, I could relate, in a small way, to Grinker's account of the struggles he and his wife faced in trying to get appropriate help and recognition for their daughter from the obstructionist education bureaucracy. There has been some debate here lately about whether it's desirable, or even possible, to integrate children with different needs into mainstream classrooms. The consensus seems to be that it can be a positive experience for teachers and children alike (including the neurotypical children) -- IF the school is properly resourced to handle it. And that's a pretty big if.

But perhaps this book was most powerful where it was most personal: talking about Isabel's love for Monet's garden, her encyclopedic knowledge of animals, her hatred of discordant noises and her terror of 'the scary face painting book', Grinker sets aside his anthropologist's and advocate's eye, and becomes simply a loving father.

No comments:

Post a Comment