Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Do Not Walk – Run!

Through February 2010, Royal Society Publishing will be providing free access to its digital archives, and above all else this means that the seminal autism paper, Enhanced Perception in Savant Syndrome: Patterns, Structure and Creativity (Mottron, Dawson, Soulières, 2009, hereafter referred to as EPSS), can now be read in its entirety without it costing you an arm and a couple legs. Please, if you are at all interested in expanding your horizons regarding the nature of autism, avail yourself of this opportunity to read EPSS. In an era when the entirety of the autism research community has become mired in a coagulation of genetic defect theories, brain dysfunction theories, medical imbalance theories, interventions du jour, and so on, reading the pages of EPSS can be like taking a step outdoors into the sunshine and fresh air. Even if you find yourself ultimately unable to accept the various ideas put forth in that paper, at the very least you will have to admit the presentation is not just more of the same old thing. If you want more of the same old thing, there is an interminable glut of autism research articles that can fulfill that need; but if you would like to begin to see autism through a new set of eyes, then the Mottron team's paper is certainly an excellent place to start.

(More of my thoughts regarding EPSS can be found here.)

EPSS is part of a Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B issue devoted entirely to the subject of autism and talent, and if you have time and inclination, I would encourage you to peruse some of the other articles in that issue as well. They are mostly a mixed bag, ranging from the not so bad (the Plaisted Grant and Davis paper, for instance) to the execrable (Casanova et al. and the opening introduction); but more than anything the other articles provide a revealing contrast to the EPSS paper. Note that even in an issue devoted entirely to exploring the talents and abilities of autistic individuals—talents and abilities that in many instances cannot be replicated by non-autistic individuals—even under such a heading, the various authors cannot seem to break themselves free of the paradigm that autism is the evidence of something gone medically wrong. From impaired central coherence to hyper-sensitive hyper-systemizing to “a failure in top-down inhibition,” autism scientists are literally stuck in their language of deficit and defect for explaining autistic characteristics; and at each turn there comes the barely contained whisper that it must be the strangest of happenstance that allows such fouled-up, abnormal cognitions to produce artifacts of human value and wonder. It is only in the pages of EPSS that you will find authors daring to make the opposite assertion, the assertion that autism is not so much the evidence of something gone medically wrong as it is the evidence of something gone humanly right.

I have noted elsewhere that even the Mottron team can have difficulties shaking itself completely free of the vestiges of autism's medical model; but within EPSS, the Mottron team is unabashedly spontaneous, imaginative and creative. The result is a first, solid glimpse into autism not as deficit and disease, but instead as a catalyst for humanity's most shocking and wondrous transformations. Do not miss this historical opportunity. Do not walk, but run! Run to the Royal Society archives!

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