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Lions Roar : January 2016
If there’s one message you’d like people to take away from your book, what would it be? That autism is not a historical aberration. It is not a product of vaccines, pesticides, Wi-Fi, antidepressants in the water supply, or any of the other factors that are constantly pointed to in the media. One of the things that Asperger was prescient about was that he believed autism was very common, once you knew what to look for. Autism has always been part of the human com- munity. The reason we don’t think so is because autistic people were kept behind the walls of institutions for most of the twentieth century, or they got no diagnosis at all, in the case of people with Asperger’s syndrome. Based on the current understanding of autism, what do you think is the most helpful thing we can do for people on the autism spectrum? The most important thing we can do as a society is not pour another billion dol- lars into finding the genetic risk factors for autism. We should start undertaking the process of making a space in society where autistic people can live happier, healthier, and safer lives. In the modern understanding, the word “disability” contains within it the understanding that disability is a product of the individual’s interaction with the environment. Some environments are more or less disabling—a person with Asperger’s may not feel disabled at all when they’re sitting alone in a room. By adapting the environment to the sensory needs of autistic people, we can help them feel a lot less disabled. That’s where I think our energy should be going. There are heroes in your book—autistic peo- ple who lead the fight to have a voice, parents who refuse to give up on their children, and a few medical practitioners. But many profes- sionals in the history of the field come across badly—as self-promoting, fraudulent, inhu- mane, or just plain wrong. I’m going to push back on that and say that almost everyone in my book—with the possible exception of Andrew Wake- field, the guy who really pushed the vaccine theory into the mainstream—is a hero. Virtually everyone in my book was trying to do something good. What doesn’t work when reading my book is binary thinking—are these people good or are they evil? Almost everyone is both, in a very provocative and instructive way. Maybe the difference is not good versus evil, but between people who believed the lives of autistic people had value and potential and those who did not. That’s true. And not just autistic people, but autistic traits. Autistic people have not only been part of the human commu- nity for millennia. They have also been making valuable contributions to the evolution of technology, science, and art in their own quiet ways, at the same time that non-autistic people were shunning and mocking and bullying them. Q&A Neurotribes: The New Diversity STEVE SILBERMAN’s groundbreaking book, Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, is changing the way we think about cognitive differences. CARLOSCHAVERRÍA/©GUARDIANNEWS&MEDIALTD2015 In the inspiring chapter “The Boy Who Loves Green Straws,” Silberman (left) describes the trials and triumphs of Leo Rosen (right) and his loving family. ➢ SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 15 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE