Neurotribes: A Novice Review…

neurotribes Jeffrey Fisher

When I graduated from college I was presented with a beautiful quilt. Three layers: a solid bottom layer, a middle layer to provide warmth and a top layer that stitched together hundreds of pieces of unique,worn fabric. Worn fabric? Carefully curated scraps from clothing that several generations of family produced in the Great Appalachian Valley of Eastern Tennessee. The scraps were rich and no piece was more important than the next. The craftsmanship was essentially crowdsourced. Quilting remains an open source environment in which artistic impression, decoration or commemoration benefits from community.

When it comes to Autism, I am a novice; freshly minted as advocate and supporter of those who are non or limited speaking. My heart is closest to subject matter experts that I learn with and from daily… Emma, Julia, Ian, Graciela, Liam,  Anna, and Charlie. I am blessed that the list is seemingly endless; nearly hundreds that I have met over the past two years.

My subject matter experts cannot articulate the quilt of knowledge that Steve Silberman has expertly stitched together. Once enriched through meaningful education and empowered with communication they are simply individuals at various stages of anger, acceptance or pride; generally emerging from ages of educational marginalization.

I am not certain what I was expecting from “Neurotribes” but I got way more than I could have imagined. We pre-ordered it months ago based on TEDTalk I caught on twitter. My hope was to glean some fantastic nuggets to employ alongside my non/limited speaking friends who are just now finding their voice and embarking on their own Civil Rights platform. The legacy I expected was one of forward progress.

Silberman has stitched together a literary scientific quilt of the young field of autism. The pieces are intricate, but not the community, open source craftsmanship of the Great Appalachian Valley quilters. Proud practitioners unwilling to yield or integrate new insight carried their torches to a dead end in the maze at every turn. Parents and/or female practitioners pushed innovation, matured diagnosis and insisted on creating a platform and voice for those who were marginalized or worse, institutionalized. I was so happy to meet Lorna Wing… “When I read Kanner’s late papers, I thought they were bloody stupid. I knew I wasn’t a refrigerator mother.” Wing did not always get it right, but she went on do some amazing things… I will not go on and spoil the book here.

Read. The. Book. That is my review. If you are an Autism novice, it reads like any page turner you would pick up on the NYT Best Sellers list. If you are an educator or medical practitioner with a background in Autism, read this and critically game the “what if” moments. What could have/should have been done differently? What can we do differently as educators/practitioners going forward? If you are looking for depth on the NeurodivCalvinersity movement – well, this is slim… a few chapters. Why? We are the next chapter; the future! The subject matter experts… the Calvins, Bellas, Bens, Nikos and Huans; they are the future of Neurodiversity acceptance and celebration. When you are finished with this book, share it with a friend.

I share this review on the eve of a HUGE week in our metro DC community!  On Monday I will join several of our local subject matter experts at Ivymount, a local private school where Steve Silberman will be speaking.  On Tuesday I will attend the ASAN Annual Gala at the National Press Club where Nuerotribes will receive a book of the year honor.  Silberman was recently awarded the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, the first work of popular science to win the British award. Looking forward to a fantastic week with my #ActuallyAutistic friends as Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Meghann Travel abroad to support #RapidPromptingMethod!

❤ Christie Vosseller

Photo credits: Self-Portrait, Christine Vosseller 2015; Neurotribes, Jeffrey Fisher NYT Sunday Book Review, 8/17/15; Calvin at Connections, Christine Vosseller 2015


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