Top critical review
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Avoid - stereotypical, bias, lacks nuanced understanding
on 17 January 2015
As someone recently diagnosed with Asperger's as an adult I was interested in gaining an understanding of the current understanding, and this book seemed like it would provide the answers.
My main issue with this book is that it presents only a stereotype of aspergers i.e cold, controlling, and difficult. This may describe many with Aspeger's but there is much variety. Many are characterised by passivity and kindness. I also dispute the authors description of empathy which he breaks into two, the ability to recognise others emotional state and the ability to respond appropriately, both of these area are clearly areas of difficulty for someone with Aspergers, but I think this misses out an important third part, a basic ability to care and feel for others, which many aspie report feeling intensely (as aspies experience everything intensely). Again this reinforces a stereotype.
If I had come across this book earlier in my life and read it, I would not have recognised I had this condition. Compare this to the extremely nuanced understanding presented in 'the complete guide to aspergers syndrome' by Tony Atwood, with that book I recognised myself on every page and finally understood my entire life.
Although the book was written a few years ago, I was surprised that it didn't discuss the uncertainty around certain issues. The differences between the DSM and ICD criteria, with regards to whether speech delay excludes someone from aspergers in favour of higher functioning autism, and whether there really is a significant difference between Aspergers and Higher Functioning Autism (I would say now the consensus is that there is not). Instead it presented it as a given that there is a difference, and that speech delay delineates the two. This made me concerned that if it would present this one important area of uncertainty as fact then what else in this book could also be more debatable than presented.
Another very serious issue I have with this book is the authors 'extreme male brain' theory. I did not think it was appropriate for a book sold as 'the facts' to be so clearly pushing the authors somewhat controversial pet theory. The theory even as presented by the author did not make sense, a table showed not even all men with aspergers fit into the 'extreme male brain' category, and there is considerable overlap between men and women's Autistic Quotient ranges. It is at best an increased tendency towards, or a higher average, for men, not a difference defined by gender.
The very name 'extreme male brain' theory reinforces beliefs that it is a male only disorder, with so many reports of women saying their requests for diagnosis are not taken seriously and refused, and increased recognition that it is under diagnosed amongst women, this theory is harmful, not to mention how stigmatising it must be for diagnosed women to be told they have an 'extreme male brain'. I also did not understand how the theory differed from the existing empathising-systemising theory. The cynic in me wonders if it is just an angle put on it designed to get publicity/sell books (as the titles of some of the authors other books seem a bit sensationalist for such sensitive subjects as autism and personality disorders) and wonder if his characterisation of the condition also stems from this.
The book does have some redeeming features in describing some of the research, i.e when it sticks to 'the facts'.
I cannot speak for the classic autism side of this book. But for the Asperger's side it is seriously lacking. I genuinely worry about the influence this author has.