Top positive review
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Very useful, but it's not the definitive 'bible' it seems
on 2 February 2016
No, it’s not complete: it’s a veritable curate’s egg - good in places, bad in others. The 15 chapters, described in detail below, cover from diagnosis to adulthood and careers, by way of bullying, relationships, language and movement difficulties, etc. Each chapter ends with a summary section of bullet-pointed notes, and advice is given.
There are many quotes from people with Asperger’s, or relatives of such, and each chapter is headed with an appropriate quote from Dr Asperger’s original paper. One can only say “if only ...” this paper hadn’t been buried for many decades: much suffering could have been prevented.
Liane Holiday Willey and Temple Grandin are quoted far too much. Mr Attwood has a fixation on ‘Social Stories’ and ‘Comic Strip Conversations’, and I am not convinced of their use. My personal experience is that Asperger’s people would much rather that normal people stopped being so annoying, spiteful, noisy, etc.
The book is now out of date and really needs to be revised on a regular / frequent basis to keep up with medical, psychotherapeutic and legal changes. Some advice is just plain daft, eg “move country(!), yes, honest, see p94.
If you want a short review, stop here, if you want more depth, read on.
There are 15 chapters, and I shall describe each one in turn.
Chapter 1, “What is Asperger’s Syndrome ?”, covers the basics, and perceptively (p21) Attwood prophesies what is happening now: more and more adults being diagnosed.
Chapter 2, “The Diagnosis”, briefly discusses some of the diagnostic criteria, this is a short (I disagree strongly with the two-star reviewer here) but technical chapter that one can ignore. In Great Britain, as I write, diagnosis is still a ‘postcode lottery’ dependent upon NHS Trust and Council fundings, that vary too widely.
Chapter 3, “Social Understanding and Friendship”, charts growth from the first signs as a toddler to young adulthood. My biggest concern here is the continual description of the Asperger’s person as “immature”, which is patronising and a gift for bullies, as if such people weren’t already, whereas describing the social skills area as “damaged” or “missing” is better as it doesn’t have the element of inferiority about it. It will explain, however, how and why the Asperger’s child has difficulties in certain areas. Adults will recognise their own childhoods here.
Chapter 4, “Teasing and Bullying”. Asperger’s people are a bully’s dream. This was the most annoying chapter for me. I don’t see that(you can guess what those are) helps deal with the core issue of humanity’s inhumanity to humanity. Find out what makes people tease and bully and deal with that, it will be so much more use than trying to make Asperger’s people do the impossible and grow thicker skins. I also disagreed with the ‘Scales of Justice’ example, if the bully doesn’t want a punch in the nose, then don’t go bullying people in the first place.
Chapter 5, “Theory of Mind”, very short but very good in explaining how Asperger’s people think differently from the rest, and different does not mean inferior.
Chapter 6, “The Understanding and Expression of Emotions”, is a very long chapter, perhaps showing Mr Attwood’s preferences here as the preceding chapter could have done with being this long. Positive mention is made of Asperger’s people’s fidelity and steadfastness in romantic relationships, but the sections on anxiety, depression and anger completely fail to grasp how Asperger’s people are wound up by the rest of society being so damned awkward, difficult and contrary. When normal people learn to put things away, be quieter, shops turn off background music, control their children, watch and see the difference in Asperger’s people’s mental health.
Chapter 7, “Special Interests”, another long chapter, essentially saying ‘go with the flow as much as possible’. It’s all very well saying this can lead to a job (p195, p198-9), but that replies upon the co-operation of parents in supporting the interest, schools ditto, there actually being sufficient openings for ‘square peg’ people, employer’s recognising the potential and not going ‘socially inept nerd’, and employer’s policing bullying at work, promoting the Asperger’s person, etc. Until then quite shocking numbers of Asperger’s people will be long-term unemployed and try killing themselves.
Chapter 8, “Language”, this goes through speech characteristics, speaking v writing, and a very useful section on literalism and the problems of grammar. Again, when normal people accept that what they have said could have had a second meaning, and express themselves much more precisely, then many communication problems will stop. Adults reading this may retrospectively understand how and why things have gone wrong in the past.
Chapter 9, “Cognitive Abilities”, quite a long chapter that usefully points out that there are different types of IQ and that Asperger’s people can peak in one but not in another. On a personal note, I mention that Asperger’s people suffer because contemporary British society prefers ‘chit-chat’, ‘small talk’, or ‘witter’ to a well-informed conversation about a specific topic, therefore the Asperger’s person’s intellectual skills are demeaned. The chapter also usefully points out how the information has to be geared towards the Asperger’s person (finally, one is not making the Asperger’s person geared to the world), and how particular teachers are preferred because they do this.
Chapter 10, “Movement and Co-ordination”, a short chapter that does what it says on the tin. Usefully points out how PE is hell for Asperger’s people, especially being always picked last and how having the PE teacher pick teams helps.
Chapter 11, “Sensory Sensitivity”. If there is one thing that is impossible for Asperger’s people to convey, it’s just how sensitive to noises, smells, tastes, movement, colours, etc they really are. The biggest bane of an Asperger’s person’s life is the ‘cloth-eared’, ‘tin-eyed’, ‘rhino hide’ person who ‘needs’ (‘wants’, surely ?) everything up to the max before they can appreciate it. This chapter really needs to be repeated in schools, police stations, libraries, etc to all those who can’t get self-restraint and the joys of peace, quiet, calm, smooth, etc.
Chapter 12, “Life after School: College and Career”, a ridiculously short chapter, and frankly p298’s hope for a better world isn’t going to get employers to deal with institutional bullying, scrap open-plan offices, remove internal politics, and all the other problems adult Asperger’s people have to deal with in the work place.
Chapter 13, “Long-Term Relationships”, again a ridiculously short chapter that fails completely to deal with the “urgh !” reaction of the female of the species to Asperger’s people (overwhelmingly male), the long-term psychological damage this does to the Asperger’s person, and how society stops this reaction. Asperger’s people are fulfillingly loved by nice, ‘mumsy’ women, but there just aren’t enough to go round: too many so-called ‘adult’ women are interested in ‘hunks’.
Chapter 14, “Psychotherapy”, a very short chapter that says psychotherapy can be useful. If you actually ask an Asperger’s person what they actually need, it’s for normal people to stop being to annoying, spiteful, noisy, etc, not drugs and therapy. Attwood quotes an Asperger’s person with the t-shirt “You’re the reason I have to take medication” (page ref lost, sorry). Quite.
Chapter 15, “Frequently Asked Questions”, are the FAQ’s he’s been asked, not the ones Asperger’s people have, and it just covers what’s in the rest of the book, but in a different format.