Steve Silberman

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Steve Silberman in 2016

Steve Silberman is an American writer for Wired magazine and has been an editor and contributor there for 14 years. In 2010, Silberman was awarded the AAAS "Kavli Science Journalism Award for Magazine Writing."


NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015 )[edit]


  • One of the hardest things about having a child with autism, parents told me, was struggling to maintain hope in the face of dire predictions from doctors, school administrators, and other professionals who were supposed to be on their side. (p 9)
  • "The Geek Syndrome," was published in the December issue of Wired in 2001. The world was still reeling from the horror of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, but e-mail started pouring into my inbox even before the magazine officially hit the newsstands. I heard from parents who said that the article helped them feel less isolated from other parents facing the same challenges with their own children; from clinicians who saw the same dynamic at work in their own high-tech communities; and from readers who had been struggling in social situations for most of their lives without knowing why. This flood of responses was both inspiring and humbling...Years passed, and I still got e-mail about "The Geek Syndrome" nearly every week. As time went on, though, I became convinced that by focusing on the dynamics of autism in one highly specialized community, I had missed a larger and more important story. (p 10-12)
  • A wry saying popular in the autistic community, "If you meet one person with autism, you've met one person with autism," turns out to be true even for molecular biologists. (p 14)
  • Two decades after the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents still routinely find themselves having to sue their local school boards to obtain an appropriate classroom placement for their son or daughter. Furthermore, very little of the money raised by advocacy organizations like Autism Speaks addresses the day-to-day needs of autistic people and their families. By focusing primarily on funding searches for potential causes and risk factors, these organizations reinforce the idea that autism is a historical anomaly-a distinctive problem of modern times that could be solved by a discovery that seems perpetually just around the corner. As the mainstream world had a long argument about vaccines, newly diagnosed adults were engaged in a very different conversation about the difficulties of navigating and surviving in a world not built for them. By sharing the stories of their lives, they discovered that many of the challenges they face daily are not "symptoms" of their autism, but hardships imposed by a society that refuses to make basic accommodations for people with cognitive disabilities as it does for people with physical disabilities such as blindness and deafness. A seemingly simple question began to formulate in my mind: After seventy years of research on autism, why do we still seem to know so little about it? To find the answer to that question for this book, I decided to start my reporting at the very beginning, even before Kanner's and Asperger's allegedly independent discoveries of autism in the 1940s. By taking nothing for granted, I learned that the standard time line of autism history-its creation myth, so to speak-is fundamentally flawed in ways that render autistic people in previous generations harder to see. Until these inaccuracies in the time line are corrected, they will continue to hamper our ability to make wise choices about the kinds of research and societal accommodations that would be most beneficial to autistic people and their families. One of the most promising developments since the publication of "The Geek Syndrome" has been the emergence of the concept of neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions. Though the spectrum model of autism and the concept of neurodiversity are widely believed to be products of our postmodern world, they turn out to be very old ideas, proposed by Hans Asperger in his first public lecture on autism in 1938. The idea of neurodiversity has inspired the creation of a rapidly growing civil rights movement based on the simple idea that the most astute interpreters of autistic behavior are autistic people themselves rather than their parents or doctors. (p 15-6)
  • My conversations at Autreat-some mediated by keyboards or other devices for augmenting communication-taught me more about the day-to-day realities of being autistic than reading a hundred case histories would. They also offered me the chance to be in the neurological minority for the first time in my life, which illuminated some of the challenges that autistic people face in a society not built for them, while disabusing me of pernicious stereotypes such as the idea that autistic people lack humor and creative imagination. After just four days in autismland, the mainstream world seemed like a constant sensory assault. The notion that the cure for the most disabling aspects of autism will never be found in a pill, but in supportive communities, is one that parents have been coming to on their own for generations.

Quotes about Steve Silberman[edit]

  • He has portrayed the remarkable shifting of attitudes toward autism and Asperger's over the past few decades. NeuroTribes is a sweeping and penetrating history of all this, presented with a rare sympathy and sensitivity. It is fascinating reading; it will change how you think of autism, and it belongs alongside the works of Temple Grandin and Clara Claiborne Park, on the bookshelf of anyone interested in autism and the workings of the human brain.

External links[edit]

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