The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century Exploring Psychology, Biology and Practice

Julie Nixon (Associate Lecturer in Autism Studies, Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Kent, UK)

Tizard Learning Disability Review

ISSN: 1359-5474

Article publication date: 11 January 2013



Nixon, J. (2013), "The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century Exploring Psychology, Biology and Practice", Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 50-51.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century is an accessible, wide ranging, and up‐to‐date learning aid and reference, which provides an excellent introduction to the fields and theories of autism. It was written by Ilona Roth with contributions from Chris Barson, Rosa Hoekstra, Greg Pasco and Terry Whatson.

No previous knowledge is required in order to read this book, making it suitable for everyone with an interest in the subject, including students, researchers, practitioners, individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. It is a completely self contained resource that can be used as part of an educational program, or simply for general interest, and is also recommended for students as part of the Open University course on the autism spectrum.

The book comprises over 340 pages packed with figures, tables, sidebars, summaries and diagrams, making the text very easy to follow and understand. Every concept is explained in detail with numerous examples and activities, and handy question and answers are supplied at the end of each chapter to let you test your new knowledge.

There are nine chapters in total, commencing with Chapter 1, which introduces autism and discusses syndromes such as Kanner's and Asperger's. Early views of the causes of autism are then presented in relation to biology and the environment, with particular reference to experimental studies. This chapter also presents and explains the first diagnostic criteria for autism and the 1979 epidemiological study by Lorna Wing and Judy Gould.

In Chapter 2 case studies are provided giving insight into classic autism and Asperger syndrome, before moving on to cover formal definitions of autism and the assessment procedures and instruments used for diagnosis. The debate about screening all children is raised, with useful checklists and recommendations. Lastly, world wide prevalence studies are presented, discussed and summarised.

Next, Chapter 3 discusses intellectual ability on the autism spectrum and reviews methods of measuring intelligence. The reader is encouraged to become actively involved in this process through a selection of relevant questions. Next, the way people communicate is analysed and broken down into key concepts, with the language difficulties found across the autism spectrum outlined in a clear table, and compared with typically developing children.

The difficulties an individual with autism has with non‐verbal communication are also highlighted with helpful examples, before moving on to looking at social interaction, with the use of several studies showing how people with autism have difficulty recognising and understanding emotions. Finally, the topic of restricted and repetitive activities is explored, with a sound discussion of studies and theories. The special skill and exceptional talent section is beautifully illustrated with extraordinary artwork.

In Chapter 4 the authors go on to present psychological explanations for autism including the theory of mind, executive function, social developmental, weak central coherence and empathising‐systemising approaches, supported by numerous illustrations, tables and summaries. As usual there is the opportunity at the end of the chapter to clarify the new material presented and test yourself through self‐assessment questions.

In Chapter 5 the focus is biological explanations for the causes of autism, with the highly controversial topic of the relationship between MMR vaccine and autism fully debated, using data from research findings. A discussion of the genetic basis of autism draws on previous research, and presents some of the future potential directions for genetic studies. Throughout this chapter the neurobiological basis of autism is described, along with plenty of diagrams and drawings. There is also an interesting debate highlighting the methodological difficulties of studying the brain in autism.

With this solid introduction under the reader's belt, the book then moves on to consider practice and intervention in Chapter 6, covering evidence‐based practice and psychosocial interventions such as TEACCH, the Lovaas approach, the Son‐Rise programme, and PECS communication. Biological interventions such as medication and gene therapy are also reviewed, and the notions and controversies of “cure” are highlighted – with an opportunity at the chapter end to analyse and review your views on the subject.

Chapter 7 covers the educational implications of autism, looking at physical, sensory curricular and social environments. Recommendations for an autism friendly school are then presented, and the profile of the provision and inclusion of parental choice is discussed, along with a summary of the provisions currently available. At this point there is a useful activity for exploring and researching the topic further, followed by a presentation on the concept of and issues surrounding inclusion. The chapter ends with a summary of specific developments in autism education, such as the SPELL approach and Daily Life Therapy.

Next, in Chapter 8, it is the turn of the family to be examined in detail, with discussions of a range of issues and circumstances. These include first encounters with the autism spectrum and reactions to diagnosis, to the effects of delayed diagnosis, and what it is like living with autism – with a number of first‐hand accounts of family life. Different life stages for a person on the autism spectrum and the effects on the family are also explored, along with a discussion of family resilience, and information on service provision and support for children and families.

In the final chapter a range of challenging issues are considered, including the routes to understanding the autism spectrum, with the importance of first‐hand contributions being highlighted. Also, the ongoing evolution of our understanding of the autism spectrum, and the new diagnostic criteria being used are outlined. The variations found in prevalence (e.g. between males and females) are noted and discussed. Finally the ways we integrate psychology, biology and practice are reviewed, along with an excellent diagram illustrating a multi‐component model of autism.

I found this book to be easy to read and packed with clear concise explanations of our current understanding of the autism spectrum, as well as giving good insights into where the field is heading.

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