Monday, January 25, 2016

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "NeuroTribes" Explores Autism

"Author explores life on the expanding autism spectrum" PBS NewsHour 1/19/2016


SUMMARY:  The rate of diagnosed cases of autism has more than doubled since 2000 and researchers have spent millions looking for causes and cures.  In "NeuroTribes," author Steve Silberman explores the history behind this dramatic increase, arguing it's just always been much more common than we realized.  William Brangham sits down with Silberman to discuss his work.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now the first of two looks we’re taking at the history of autism.

There seems to be more and more instances of it, but in this edition of the “NewsHour” Bookshelf, science writer Steve Silberman argues that the rise of autism is not some mysterious byproduct of the modern world, but instead a result of our growing understanding of the full range of the disorder.

William Brangham spoke with him recently in New York.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  The most recent federal data shows one in every 68 American children is diagnosed with autism.  Fifteen years ago, it was one in every 150 children.

In his book “NeuroTribes,” Steve Silberman explores the history behind that dramatic increase.  NeuroTribes” has been lauded as one of the best scientific books of the past year.  It won the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and made the best-of lists for over half-a-dozen newspapers and magazines.

Silberman says the genesis of the book came more than 15 years ago, after he wrote this story ("The Geek Syndrome") for “Wired” magazine about autistic kids in Silicon Valley.  After it ran, Silberman was swamped with e-mails from others who were struggling with the disease.

STEVE SILBERMAN, Author, “NeuroTribes”:  People were wrestling with very profound day-to-day problems with finding health care, finding employment, finding schools for their kids.

Meanwhile, the entire world was having a conversation about autism, but it was a completely different conversation.  It was about whether or not vaccines caused autism.    And that dominated virtually every mention of autism in the media.  Certainly, if there was an article about autism that didn’t mention vaccines, the comment thread on the Internet would be about vaccines.

And so I started to think that there was a disjunction between the problems that autistic people and their families were dealing with every day of their lives and what the whole world was talking about.

I learned that what happened has less to do with the slow and cautious progress of science than it does with the seductive power of storytelling.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Silberman's deep dive into the world of autism took him back to the very first researchers who tried to define and diagnose the condition.

STEVE SILBERMAN:  The true discover of autism was a guy named Hans Asperger in Vienna in the mid-1930s, and he and his colleagues discovered what we would now call the autism spectrum.  It was a very, very broad condition with many different manifestations ranging from kids who couldn’t talk at all and would need help every day of their lives to one of his former patients became an astronomy professor, actually, but he was still autistic.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Silberman argues it was this broadened definition of autism, that coupled with better diagnostic tools and better public education, that explains the dramatic rise in the number of diagnosed cases, not the repeatedly debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.

"Telling the story of parents and activists who fought for autism acceptance" PBS NewsHour 1/20/2016


SUMMARY:  The story of autism is many stories -- from doctors, to parents, to the afflicted themselves.  Journalists Caren Zucker and John Donvan examine that history in their new book, "In a Different Key: The Story of Autism."  Jeffrey Brown sits down with the authors to discuss the evolving definition of the diagnosis and the constant of parental love.

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