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Book Review of a Flawed and Mean Spirited Autism Book

Posted Jun 18 2009 10:10pm
Book reviews are not where I would expect to find a good understanding of autism spectrum disorders or the quirky neurodiversity anti-cure ideology which demonizes parents seeking to help their children but there are always exceptions. A review by Professor Guy Dove of Wendy Lawson's Book Concepts of Normality The Autistic and Typical Spectrum is one such exception. Mr Dove is a Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Departments of Philosophy and Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville and his review of Lawson's book is balanced, objective and informative. It sees some merit in the principle author's view of autism as natural variation but also summarizes vary succinctly some of the flaws. Somewhat surprisingly Professor Dover points out the nastiness of two contributing neurodiversity writers in the book including ... no surprise here ... the "joy of autism" neurodiversity blogger Estee Klar (Wolfond).

While Dove finds some merit in what Lawson has to say about viewing autism as part of the natural variation of humanity he suggests that she takes the position too far, relying on unsupported generalizations, ignoring the very real medical challenges of autism and ignoring the various subtypes of autism. His sharpest criticism though is with the lack of empathy shown towards parents seeking biomedical and behavioral treatments for their autistic children. While Lawson demonstrates this lack of empathy the two guest writers Dinah Murray and Estee Klar (Wolfond) are stated to be more pronounced in their hostility and Professor Dove provides some direct quotes to illustrate their nastiness towards parents seeking to cure their autistic children:

"The guest authors, on the other hand, seem openly hostile to such parents. Murray sarcastically remarks, "Some Others [members of the typical population] weep and moan and deplore their autistic child's existence; they wallow in self-pity and congratulate each other on how Truly Dreadful it all is." This statement illegitimately paints a diverse group of people with a broad brush and seems to be little more than a mean-spirited attempt to silence critics. Klar-Wolfond is not much better. In her discussion of the admittedly questionable practice of using scientifically unsupported biomedical therapies, she offers the following rhetorical question, "And to make them what? -- better at maths, quicker on the sports field, or well-mannered?" This is doubly insulting to parents of children who have tried such therapies. First, it belittles their concern. The suggestion is that parents are merely trying to get their children to "act normal" when in fact they are often trying to ameliorate severe challenges with respect to communication and social interaction as well as other difficulties including debilitating anxiety, painful gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, and even violent behavior. Second, it denigrates their reasoning. Many parents who try such therapies agonize over their decision. Although some of these therapies have potentially harmful side effects, most do not. When Klar-Wolfond lumps together treatments as diverse as supplements and detoxification therapies, she is being both misleading and unfair."

Mean spirited? Misleading and unfair? Standard fare from autism's anti-treatment, anti-cure ideologues.


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