Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder? Nonverbal Communication, Asperger Syndrome and the Interbrain

Tizard Learning Disability Review

ISSN: 1359-5474

Article publication date: 15 July 2011



Tantum, D. (2011), "Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder? Nonverbal Communication, Asperger Syndrome and the Interbrain", Tizard Learning Disability Review, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 53-54.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As a parent of a young son diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), and a non‐expert in the medical/scientific aspects of this disorder, I found this book engaging, especially the concepts and hypothesis on the interbrain – an unspoken and unseen interconnectivity that exists between people, and appears to be functioning differently (mainly below par) in ASD‐affected individuals compared to the neurotypical population. It was easy to identify with the many and diverse aspects of ASD and indeed the hypotheses underpinning the expression of this disorder. It was also easy to question certain aspects raised, which is hardly surprising given the diversity of symptoms and expressions seen with people affected by ASD. It was reassuringly stressed in the book that diversity amongst people with ASD is greater than in neurotypicals in light of non‐adherence and acceptance of the norm, especially in social interactions. The book covers a range of topics from the complexity and diversity of diagnosis through to the way diagnosis is handled by individuals with ASD who are self‐aware. This may help the reader to put themselves into the shoes of a person with ASD to some extent. Such explanations/hypotheses may be welcome or useful for carers/family of ASD individuals as it shows that there are few rules/techniques that can be applied universally to help this disorder across affected individuals. Assumptions that all people with ASD do “X” or cannot do “Y” are extremely frustrating (especially in schools) and it leads to overconfidence by non‐experts and inappropriate (even if honourable) choices on intervention.

As a parent, some issues and concepts proposed seemed controversial, although this in itself helped my own reassessment of some of the aspects of ASD that we experience (such as the link (moreover potential lack of link) between gaze, eye contact and anxiety).

The book covers interesting new themes related to this disorder and emphasises the interbrain concept. Generally, the more immediate theme of the book title (can the world afford ASD?) seemed not to be so relevant. Some figures/metrics on the technical aspects of affordability (i.e. monetary cost in terms of direct and indirect management) are mentioned. The author, in fairness, explains in the introduction that this was not the intended theme of the book, although this subject did seem a little conspicuous by its absence, especially as many carers/lobbyists like to see this in order to promote research and lever support processes.

The discussions around the interbrain are interesting and provide a very good vehicle for putting aspects of ASD to the reader in a new way, and possibly explaining some of the root causes of the disorder. The interbrain hypotheses with analogies to the internet (such as broadband vs modem and accommodating abilities), the malfunctioning not just of an individual computer but moreover the communication and recognition between computers, enable the reader to understand the concepts raised. The notion of the interbrain as an integrated system (such as an organism) also helps the author get to grips with the concept. The postulated influence of the interbrain on ASD characteristics (such as persona) was thought provoking and may be helpful in understanding the disorder better. This is useful as it provokes new thinking and may provide the foundation for helping individuals with the condition at least for some readers (although it is not obvious that this is an intended outcome of the book).

There is arguably a lack of “what to do” or recommendations, especially as so many thought provoking observations are cited. However, it is almost inevitable that a reader who is also a carer/loved one of an ASD individual seeks “eureka” moments and advice in progressive literature on ASD. The reader should not lose sight of the fact that the book's emphasis is more around how nonverbal communication affects social interaction rather than directly helping carers. Rationalising proposed correlations in case studies that highlighted improvements against symptoms in relation to events (such as “Honey therapy” – where the unremitting attention of dogs helped outward communication of a child) were interesting, heart‐warming and useful. The section on bullying brought context to this behaviour (for both the bully and the ASD victim). This could potentially help individuals with ASD.

The book is also useful for reference purposes although the referencing and citation are a bit inconsistent (e.g. obscure biblical references cited yet arguably more useful specific/behavioural and societal material was occasionally not backed up with potentially useful references). The focus on the strengths that people with ASD show (e.g. attention to detail, immunity from contrived (albeit unavoidable) status in society) may offer some reassurance to family members, as well as provide strategies to enable appropriate intervention. The book finishes strongly, highlighting some of the strengths of ASD individuals in society (e.g. technical skills in employment), which is also potentially useful in enabling a more progressive approach to helping people with ASD in the workplace and acknowledging the valued role they have to play in society.

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