Review of Re-Thinking Autism: Diagnosis, Identity and Equality (Timimi, Mallett Runswick-Cole Eds.)

Volume 1. No. 5

Review of Re-Thinking Autism: Diagnosis, Identity and Equality (Timimi, Mallett Runswick-Cole Eds.)


July 11, 2017

By William M. Arnold



This is a review by a lay individual on the fringes of Autism, not used to academic styles of literature or deeply read on the topic. In effect the type of individual I feel the book is aimed at.



Review of Re-Thinking Autism: Diagnosis, Identity and Equality (Timimi, Mallett Runswick-Cole Eds.)

By William M Arnold

Why review this book when the closest "qualification" to justify it is a low grade A level pass in Biology? To myself I reply, why not? Perhaps my lack of tuition and expertise will give me a viewpoint unsullied by some of the undignified scholastic squabbling that this work seems to invoke. Well here goes. The Book is entitled Rethinking Autism: diagnosing identity and equality and is made up of a series of essays  that seem to be concerned with more than just the strict limits of autism and, to my untrained eye, seem to refer to autistic spectrum disorders, which is probably the fault of the title, not the essayists. In general, the articles are well referenced, well written and readable. To some, this might render them unacademic but perhaps the tendency to discuss individual cases from a narrative viewpoint is the standard expected from the field. My desire for true scientific understanding lies in the use of the specific to illustrate the general, not the general being deduced from the general. What is wrong with statistics? The underlying premise that because an individual has been damaged by a diagnosis or misdiagnosis of "autism", everyone is in the same position, is highly suspect.

I may be being harsh but is it unjustified that is debatable? .My distrust goes back to the general introduction which makes the claim to be the "first edited collection that is firmly located in the previously non-existent field of critical autism. Echoes of vain glory I invent a name and boast to be the first to use it". Could I invent a field of critical tax studies and claim to be the first critical analyst of government fiscal policy? The introduction goes downhill when it claims that critical autism studies are concerned with two questions: "1. Is the diagnosis of autism scientifically valid? and 2. Is the diagnosis of Autism useful in the lives of people so labelled, their families and allies?" As for 1, first define Autism as a description of a set of observable behaviour patterns. It certainly exists and which of the very many diverse attempts to explain it are unscientific - surely not all of them? If so, how have our brave pioneers risen above the whole mass of psychological ineptitude that their statement to be valid must presuppose? Statement 2 is not as bad and can be read as - are modern diagnostics resulting in treatment that is ameliorative, curative or socially damaging? This seems to be a fair question - perhaps they should have invented another new field of critical psychiatric practice studies?

A totalitarian subtext then begins to emerge: "The authors in this text seek to examine the pseudo-scientific claims upon which autism is deemed to be a biological disorder. That is to say Our brave pioneers have scaled Olympus and sent down the diktat to mere mortals that any one that disagrees with them is pseudo-scientific. If autism is not nature as they say, it must be nurture, so as a pseudoscientist, if autism is not biological, it must be conditioned and as such could be cured by electric shocks or near drowning, or as the American apologists for intensive interrogation say this is not torture. As a mere lay person, I would posit that there are both inherent and experiential elements that lead to the definition and diagnosis of autism.

Thats enough of my own demagoguery. Does the book do what it says on the cover, "Rethink Autism"? Not really, as it mistakes criticism for critique. The individual essays are in themselves worthwhile but when strapped together like five pencils, are still weaker than the six inch nail of orthodoxy which can be hammered deep into the hard timber of peer review without it shattering. Read this book and draw your own conclusions.  Perhaps it should have been given another title: "Contemporary diagnosis of Autism can damage your kids".




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