There is a lot of information on autism being generated and circulated by rumors, the mass media, and the Internet. Critically evaluating this vast bo...moreThere is a lot of information on autism being generated and circulated by rumors, the mass media, and the Internet. Critically evaluating this vast body of information is like trying to navigate a large ocean that is almost impossible to navigate. That is what it is like for most people when they try to understand autism in order to help their loved ones affected by it, mostly their children. This book acts as a compass and a radar to navigate the ocean of information in order to separate the facts of autism from the myths, misconceptions, and falsehoods regarding what it is, how it develops in the brains of those affected by it, what causes it, and what can be done to help autistic people.
The book opens up with the author, Paul A. Offit, briefly describing in this edition's prologue his reasons for becoming a medical doctor and his experiences with the hate mail and death threats he received from angry parents of autistic children on the assumption that vaccines (his speciality) caused the disorder. In the introduction, he makes a comparision with the increased visibility of autism to the polio epidemic in early-20th century America in terms of public response. In both cases, people panicked and desperately sought any form of solution to deal the outbreaks (Note: the growing rate of autism is note really an outbreak) and, if possible, cure them. When the science and government institutions could not provide immediate answers to the general public, a few doctors have appeared with them and promises of a cure. To many people, especially parents, such doctors are like prophets that promise a deliverance of a sort of salvation from the epidemics; they were the only ones who cared about them and have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, such assumptions were not the case as those so-called "prophets" have treated their patients with difficult and expensive therapies that have no validity in science, were ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous. Given this fact, they are 'false prophets' who emotionally and financially exploit the desperation of parents seeking a cure for their children's autism for their own interests and benefits.
The rest of the book then goes over the many circumstances that gave rise to and permeate the 'false prophets' in regards to autism. They include the lack of public understanding of science, the failure on part of the public and the science institutions to communicate, how information on science is filterd by the mass media with mixed results, and the culture that equates commonly held beliefs with common wisdom, that seems to thrive on cynicism and scandal, and that considers reason to be an enemy of emotion. The author also discusses, in layman's terms, the profiles of such 'false prophets' as Andrew Wakefield, Mark and David Gier, Lyn Redwood, and Sallie Bernard, the movivations of promoting their cases as to what causes autism (the myth that vaccines cause autism, for example), and their personal agendas they sought to achieve through publicity campaigns and lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers and the government. The autism advocacy groups including Defeat Autism Now (DAN), are also discussed. The parents who are skeptical of the whole issue, most of whose children have autism, are also discussed. Such parents include Kathleen Siedel, founder of the website neurodiversity.com, Camille Clark, a mildly autistic blogger known as Autism Diva, and Michael Fitzpatrick, a British physician with an autistic son and a critic against the vaccines-cause-autism myth promoted by Andrew Wakefield.
As an autistic person who is currently living with my parents who have been skeptical of the disorder since my birth (and have given me this book for my 25th birthday), I highly recommend this book to anybody who wants to have some crystal clear information about autism, including parents with autistic children, people with a form of autism, aides and teachers to autistic students, and other people who have an interest in autism. It will prove to be a helpful navigator in the vast and cloudy ocean of unevaluated information on autism. (less)