Ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin my interview with celebrated writer Steve Silberman, I still had not figured out which questions I wanted to ask him. Staring down at a list of over 50 topics, I was overwhelmed by just how much there is to discuss when it comes to the history of the discovery of autism and misconceptions surrounding the diagnosis. Silberman was one of the first members of the mainstream media to bring attention to the rise in autism diagnoses, and I wanted to know why autism had captured his interest. His article “The Geek Syndrome” featured at Wired magazine described the dramatic increase in autism particularly among Silicon Valley’s tech-savvy entrepreneurs. During the course of his research on this topic, Silberman interviewed Dr. Geschwind, director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at UCLA, who offered the following insight into neurodevelopmental disorders and creativity:
“Autism gets to the fundamental issues of how we view talents and disabilities. The flip side of dyslexia is enhanced abilities in math and architecture. There may be an aspect of this going on with autism and assortative mating in places like Silicon Valley. In the parents who carry a few of the genes, they’re a good thing. In the kids, who carry too many, it’s very bad.”
Within the autism community and research institutions, it is well known that autism is a spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with the development of social relationships and communication skills. As scientists, our focus so often favors the discovery of the genetic underpinning of a specific neuronal phenotype. Silberman challenges his reader to move beyond the clinical definitions of autism in order to embrace neurodiversity. His book is not a quest for a cure for autism, rather, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity explores technological interventions that might alleviate distress for individuals with autism and provides a historical framework for the discovery of the complexities of the human mind.
His TED talk, “The forgotten history of autism” has been viewed 1,234,834 times to date and points out that in the 20th century, autism was considered a rare disorder. With prevalence currently estimated to affect 1 in 68 children, Silberman set out to write NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity in an attempt to uncover why.
Listen to a conversation with Steve Silberman where we discuss his book, the history of autism, and making room in society for people who interact differently or have different ways of thinking, processing, or socializing.
We will be giving away a signed copy of Steve Silberman’s book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. Enter here by April 8, 2016: