Feb 8, 2008

Unstrange Minds

Remapping the World of Autism
by Roy Richard Grinker

Grinker is an anthropologist and the father of an autistic child. Unstrange Minds is an in-depth look at the history and cultural context of autism, in conjunction with personal accounts of living with the disorder. In the first half of the book, Grinker looks at autism in the US- especially the issue of the growing rate of reported cases, which he argues is due to greater public awareness and improved medical diagnoses, not outside causes like vaccines. (For more on this position, read this statement). In short, he posits that we see more autism now than a decade ago because it is easier to recognize, not because more people have it. The author explores different attitudes towards autism in other cultures, from the Navajo in America to India, South Africa and South Korea. The second half of the book is a memoir of his own life with his autistic daughter. Including a wide range of information: statistical numbers, diagnoses and treatment, cultural perceptions and individual anecdotal stories, this book is a beautifully written examination of autism. It is very easy to read and quite interesting, even for someone like me (personally, I don't know anyone who has autism).

Rating: 4/5                  Published: 2007, 340 pages


  1. Very interesting. I haven't been lurking around here long enough to know your reading tastes, but I'm curious as to why you chose this book--especially not having any personal connections.

    Anyway, sounds like a fasinating book (maybe that's why you read it! *grin*), and thanks for linking to the article.

  2. Isn't autism the disorder where they used to put all the blame for it on the mother?

    I'd be interested in reading this because of the South Korea connection.

  3. Trish- well, I've always had an interest in reading about how people with mental or physical difficulties perceive the world differently from me. I really like books such as I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (schizophrenia), Karen (cerebal palsy), Touching the Rock (blindness), Alex (cystic fibrosis), and anything by Oliver Sacks (case studies from a neurologist). When I first read Thinking in Pictures (which I wrote about here a week ago), I became curious about autism. Especially because the author, Temple Grandin, described how her acute senses and different way of perceiving the world enabled her to understand how animals experience the world, and thus help make situations better for them. This along with curiosity about stories of "wolf children" who in most cases seem to have been autistics abandoned by their parents, sparked in me an enduring interest in learning more about the disorder.

    Bybee- Yes, I think you're right. It's also the one where they used to say they were living "in a shell" and if you could cure them, the real person would emerge. I'm no expert, but from reading numerous books apparently part of autism is the sensory system gone haywire. An autistic person can have such acute hearing, or sensitivity to light, that they can't stand certain noises, brightness, etc. and do anything to block it out (rocking, humming, etc.) Or, that sensory input is scrambled: the brain interprets sounds as smells, or sight as noises, terribly confusing and no wonder you wouldn't be able to communicate or make sense of the world (autism varies widely in individuals in terms of symptoms and degrees, my statements here are based on a few personal accounts I've read and may not be accurate). It's like the idea of: how do you know everyone sees the color red, or tastes an ice cream flavor, the same way you do? gone to extremes.

  4. Anonymous2/11/2008

    This one looks very interesting. I've been meaning to read Temple Grandin for a while and I think I will add this author to the list as well.

  5. Verbivore- I think this book gives an excellent overall picture of the disorder. Temple Grandin is a fascinating author, I recommend all her books!


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