Today is a bit of a strange and different post from usual. It is an urge for you to read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. Neurotribes is a book on the history of autism. It takes you through the perils that Autistic individuals have faced, the wonderful aspects of Autism: including the development of the classic film Rainman, the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime and the MMR vaccination controversy. But, more importantly, it is a fascinating read that illustrates the trouble and the wonder in disability.
Autism is defined as ‘a lifelong disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others’ (The National Autistic Society).
One sobering chapter dealt with the use of punishment in behaviour modification. Lovaas proposed that by extinguishing ‘autistic’ behaviours, autistic children would be able to socially engage.
He demonstrated this by using electric shocks (from metal foil attached to the floor) to get two Autistic children to approach a researcher. In other words, the children had to socially engage or else were given a shock. Lovaas declared these experiments a stunning success.
Years on, it’s widely believed that the use of punishment means that the subject is not taught adaptive strategies to control their behaviour. For example, a child taught to play the piano with threats of punishment will not learn with enthusiasm but will learn to hate music.
While some chapters are distressing, they are equal to those of fascinating anecdotes into life as someone with Autism. Here is one anecdote of my own about an Autistic boy.
Brian was a child with Autism in a mainstream school, who began to have challenging behaviour when he previously never had had any. He had been running away from staff and had at one point tried to escape out of a window. When asked why he was running away from Mrs B*, he said that he ‘checked the facts’. Brian said Mrs B dresses all in black and wears dark lipstick. He said he asked her whether she liked garlic and she said ‘Eww! Get that stuff away from me!’ And then he pulled out a homemade chart, which showed that Mrs B was never on lunch time or play time duty. He then told us that Mrs B was a vampire.
While this is rather a humorous story, it also shows how logical nature of Autism. Brian literally checked the facts and concluded that Mrs B must be a vampire. Therefore, his behaviour of running away and trying to escape out a window was completely rational.
In comparison, I have also seen some very locked-in Autistic children. Children who struggle to carry out tasks because they cannot cope with their Autism, or have not found sufficient coping strategies. Children who have crisis if their routine is changed, or if you give them pencils instead of felt tip pens.
I just wanted to offer people an insight into what this book is about. It is a long book that can look dauntingly scientific, but if you did not read it based on this you would be doing yourself an injustice. It is a superb read: funny, sad, educational and fascinating. Even if you have never heard of Autism I would urge you to pick this book up as it deals with so many other subjects, such as history, technology and mental illness.
Overall this book demonstrates how people can overcome, and adapt in the face of adversity.
Love Em x
(The Little Blogger)
*all names have been changed to protect identities.
A link to buy the book or read a preview: