The Forgotten History Of Autism

16:54 minutes

In his new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, science writer Steve Silberman delves into the forgotten history of autism, and documents how politics and self-promoting scientists have altered our understanding of the condition over the years.

One of the most remarkable figures in the book is Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, whose pioneering ideas about autism were long neglected. Asperger thought of autism as a widespread condition, diverse in its manifestation, and mostly hereditary. Yet for years, Silberman writes, those concepts were buried by scientists like Leo Kanner, who favored a more narrow definition of autism, and others who wished to institutionalize or “cure” autistic children, with sometimes brutal tactics such as shocks from a cattle prod.

[Climate science goes to court in California oil case.]

Silberman closes the book by arguing that more attention and money should be directed toward building a more comfortable world for people on the autistic spectrum, rather than focusing solely on an elusive cure. Read an excerpt from NeuroTribes.

Segment Guests

Steve Silberman

Science writer Steve Silberman is the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Avery, 2015). He’s based in San Francisco, California.

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About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata was Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.

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The Ritual of Straws

An excerpt from "Neurotribes."

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