Unstrange Minds; Remapping the World of Autism
by Roy Richard Grinker
reviewed by Enid Gort, PhD.
A recent study of autism-spectrum disorders finds that one child in 160 is a sufferer and that the prevalence of the disease is lowest in Alabama and highest in New Jersey ( The New York Times, 2/9/07, p.A12.) Dr. Grinker's discussion about the nature and prevalence of autism and its variants places studies such as this one into perspective. Arguing against the notion of an autistic "epidemic," he guides readers to an understanding of how more inclusive and reliable definitions of the disorders, earlier diagnoses, and statewide disparities in services effect the numbers, and dissuades them from thinking that autism-spectrum disorders are something new. That they are age-old genetic conditions unrecognized until the mid-20th century gives Grinker the opportunity to recount a medical history replete with drama and suspense. His description of the careers of Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger makes one yearn to read biographies of these early researchers who recognized symptoms based on their own suffering, and his discussion of the interdisciplinary debates between psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and medical philosophers underscores the difficulties parents in the past have faced in seeking relief for their afflicted children.
Crediting the renowned anthropologist Colin Turnbull for providing insights that have inspired him as a social scientist and fostered his own development as a father, Grinker writes:
This book is guided by Turnbull's belief that anthropology is about more than going away away to a distant culture. It's also about coming home and seeing your own world, even your own child, in a new light. It's about finding that, in the end, the people who can teach you the most might very well be in your own backyard.
Dr. Grinker's overarching message is that there is no reason why lives impacted by autism can not be lived with grace, beauty and joy. It is a lesson learned from his daughter, and one from which many will benefit.