Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Strange at All

I've finally gotten through reading Roy Richard Grinker's Unstrange Minds-Remapping the World of Autism. I had picked it up earlier this month, when I also got to meet Grinker at a book signing. He passed my "sniff test" when I met him, and I looked forward to reading the book.

Having read a few other reviews, I didn't think I would be disappointed, and I wasn't. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is basically a short history of autism in western society, mostly in North America. The second part explains how three other cultures (Korea, India, and Africa) view and treat autism, from an anthropologist's view (which Grinker is).

Like most people directly affected by autism, I'm fairly well versed about "all things autism", and I didn't think that I would learn very much from the first part of the book. But there were many things that I hadn't known that I found quite interesting. Things such as J. Langdon Down (for whom Down's syndrome is named) also described atypical patients who he thought had mental retardation that sound very like autistic patients back in 1887. Down was also the source of the comment that he thought these children were especially beautiful.

Grinker comes from a long line of psychiatrists, as well as being married to one, and is thus well versed on how psychiatry and autism have evolved. He weaves anecdotes and personal history of famous figures like Kanner into an intriguing description of how autism has always been with us, and how it has come to be recognized and systematized.

Probably the thing that draws most readers in is how Grinker uses examples from his own familiy's experience with autism into this book. Grinker's daughter, Isabel, now 16, came of age during the leading edge of increasing awareness of autism. Many of the battles that she and her family went thru, as well as many of her victories, will be very familiar to anyone whose life has been touched by autism.

As bad as society sometimes views autism in America, things are often much worse in other parts of the world. Grinker takes us on a world tour of select spots in the world where autistics are treated much worse that they are here. Places where autistics are shunned and locked in cages, and places where there is little understanding, much less assistance, for autistics. Amongst other feelings, it leaves one feeling lucky to have as much understanding and acceptance that we do have, though it is far from perfect.

So I heartily recommend Unstrange Minds, both to readers who are a part of the autism community, as well as those that aren't. It's a great read, and hard to put down. Grinker personalizes autism thru his daughter, Isabel, while being thoroughly educational as to how autism has evolved both in western society as well as elsewhere.

Joe is 211


Maddy said...

I've read the 'dust jacket'.......I await 'free time' ......well, free time, when I'm awake at the same time!


I am an avid reader, but unfortunatly I always have my eyes elsewhere while doing it. I have both the blessing and the curse of having a 2 1/2 round trip commute. I go through a book a week on audio. I hope that it comes out on audio, although I am not holding my breath. Otherwise, my 'free' time is in the same sorry state as mcewn's!

Club 166 said...

If I had only known, I could have run a tape recorder while I read the book out loud to myself! :)

kristina said...

One wonders---since a lot of (most of us) (all of us) parents of autistic children never have time enough for anything-----if an audio version of the book would not be unwelcome.

Joeymom said...

I love audiobooks. I do far better with hearing than seeing, and I can play CDs in my car on the way to therapies and appointments!

Daisy said...

I gave in and ordered it tonight. I'll have spring break in another week; I can start it then. So many autism parents have spoken highly of this book, I thought it was time I bought my own copy.

Phil Dixon said...

I am not a part of the Autism community but I have really enjoyed reading this blog and all of your comments.

Club 166 said...


You're certainly welcome here, and from looking at your KTOV website, it looks like you're a pretty happening kind of guy.

All I can surmise from your presence hear is that you have WAY too much time on your hands, man.

But hey, there's no accounting for taste.