Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: Uniquely Human, A Different Way of Seeing Autism

Let me begin by saying that everything I have been writing about autism for years is now succinctly discussed in the book, Uniquely Human, A Different Way of Seeing Autism, by Barry M. Prizant, Phd.

Dr. Prizant starts his discussion on autism reflecting on the dehumanizing process and dehumanizing understanding of autistic individuals. He says autism is seen as a group of deficits. He states emphatically that it is this negative view of autistics that is disrespectful and devaluing.
       [sic]The present approach to autism [sic]...."treats the person as a problem to be solved rather than an individual to be understood. It fails to show respect for the individual and ignores the person's perspective and experience. (page 17)"

Dr. Prizant continues on with his discussion of the concept of "recovery." Basically alluding to the reality that according to the psychiatric world, persons who no longer exhibit autistic-like behaviors are no longer autistic. which in reality is in contravention to what any autistic self-advocate will tell you. The brain is wired, as it is wired. Simply "training" an autistic person to act neurotypical does not change how the brain functions. Once born autistic, a person will always be autistic, no matter their external actions and behaviors. Understanding this unremarkedly simple concept is what will lead to a better understanding of autistics, which will in the end also lead to better supports, programs and more respect.

Dr. Prizant discusses that one of the main issues lacking within society's understanding of autism is a simply discussion of "why." A three letter word that would clarify so much about the life of a person with autism. Why does an autistic person react the way they do? What is causing a meltdown? What is causing stimming? What outside influence is causing the autistic person such discomfort? Why are we, as a society, not paying attention and respecting how an autistic person feels in any given situation? Why are we not listening? Why do we also only look at coping mechanism in a negative light? Why in many ways does their actions cause us discomfort, instead of forcing us to understood the autistic person withwhom we are interacting?

Dr. Prizant writes about a more appropriate central model of autism: understanding the concept of emotional dysregulation. What does it actually mean to be emotionally dysregulated? How is that different than simply being overwhelmed, as many of us are at times? The author discusses what can the school, and others, in an autistic person's life do to help them handle issues and become better regulated without being condescending and ultimately destructive? He mentions how emotional dysregulation, more than any other characteristic, should be what defines autism.

In essence, everything autism-warrior-parents discuss with their child's village is a  theme in this book:
Dr. Prizant talks about echolalia and how that is beneficial to an autistic trying to figure out speech; The organizational and control issue that everyone tries to eradicate from an autistic mind, yet in reality is not only a coping mechanism, but a huge benefit to successful functioning;
Enthusiasm, even going over to obsessions and how they can be harnessed to create positive learning environments as well as direct an autistic into a given career/job/opportunity;
The need for autistics to have trusting and happy relationships. Pr Prizant dismisses the myth that autistics are unemotional and uninvolved with those around them. Infact, he discusses that the opposite is true. Those with autism are unusually attached to people in their lives;
There is a discussion of PTSD, emotional triggers and its relationship to autistic persons, what ot do and how to help;
Then what does it mean to "get it?" What are we required to do to help autistic be all that they can be.

Dr. Prizant goes on to remind us all that there are two kinds of experts in the world of autism. YOU, the parent, are the expert on your child. You run the village. You organize your child's world. You understand who they are and what they need better than anyone else. The other expert Dr. Prizant mentions, is adult autistics. Finally in this generation, there is a voice out there that tells others what it means to be autistic. They tell us what has helped and hindered their development. They openly explain to us how society can support autistic people, ultimately leading to productive and satisfying lives and benefits for all concerned. Listening to them and accepting what they have to say about themselves is a major aspect of creating a more respectful and accepting society.

Dr. Prizant discusses the idea of a LONGVIEW goal. (Something I have always said doesn't have to be realistic, no matter what the "experts' tell us.) He mentions how each autism family is different and has different needs. That there really is no one catch-all model for autism. That in the end, we need to make sure that we allow for self-determination, happiness and a total sense of self for each and every autistic individual.

Finally Dr. Pizant addresses some of the more well known myths about autism and what they mean. He gently, but firmly, explains and dismisses every idea that at present is holding back an autistic person's acceptance into the mainstream of society.

In the end, I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is as I said in the beginning, everything I have been saying, writing and advocating over the last two decades. It's nice that someone in the psychiatric world not only "gets it," but "gets it" big time.

PreOrder this book at AMAZON
From Dr. Prizant's website
From iTunes

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to write the review. I received no financial incentive of any kind.