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I have been fortunate to have known Dr. Manuel Casanova for a few years. I have learned a lot about autism and the neurodiversity debate from reading his blog. So when I learned that he published an entire book about the various aspects of autism, I was very excited. Overall, this book covers Dr. Casanova’s views and knowledge surrounding autism.
“Chapter 1: History” gives a good overview of the history of how the portrayal of autism came to be. As I anticipated, there was also discussion of autism research in the Nazi regime, pointing out that the historian Herwig Czech discovered that Dr. Hans Asperger had strong ties to the Nazis. This is important in discussing the moral implications of Dr. Asperger’s work and cannot be ignored.
Chapter 2 and 3 covers many medical symptoms, comorbidities, and risk factors for autism. Chapter 4 covers therapies for autism, including diet and exercise therapies, which are good for most people in general. I myself am currently eating homemade bread leavened in a bread machine, which has a lower gluten density than bread in a store. Some say that gluten in high concentrations is addictive (https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/addicted-to-gluten/). However, I have noticed that because I eat less bread, I need to eat more fiber to compensate, which is also mentioned in Chapter 4. The easiest way to get more fiber is through dried fruits and dried vegetables.
Chapter 5 focuses on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is one of Casanova’s research interests. Casanova notes that TMS has not been officially approved yet for autism. Chapter 6 covers potential causes of autism and the reasoning behind those claims. Additionally, this chapter covers psychological theories of autism, like the Theory of Mind. Casanova discusses Clements’ Theory of Mind in The Autistic Buddha with respect to his experiences. He said that Clements was very worried about educationally impressing his parents and couldn’t let go emotionally. According to Casanova’s analysis, Clements eventually realized that his parents simply wanted him to be happy, and he was far less stressed and moved forward with his goals.
Chapter 7 discusses the autistic brain, including minicolumns, a structure inside the brain. For his work in this area, Casanova has been referred to as the “Minicolumn Man”. Using computerized imaging analysis, he has established the anatomical validity of the cell minicolumn. Chapter 8 is about autism research, and focuses on the most important issues in this field as a whole, such as bias in research funding.
Chapter 9 focuses on the unusual range of political debates in autism. The “Refrigerator Mother” theory was one of those debunked theories about autism. Additionally, the vaccine controversy and Andrew Wakefield are discussed, with the overwhelming conclusion being that vaccines do not cause autism whatsoever. The controversial neurodiversity movement is discussed from multiple angles, with some advocates simply wanting acceptance and a small minority attacking individuals that wish for a treatment or a cure. The sociology of autism is discussed with respect to multiple issues, such as obesity, bullying, and so on.
One aspect I noticed that was not discussed in depth is the scientifically discredited technique of facilitated communication (FC). While the media does not like to use that term anymore, there are occasional discussions of allegedly low-functioning autistic individuals in the media that can suddenly discuss complicated topics through this method. Use of FC has even led to false accusations of abuse and false arrests. Fortunately, many Wikipedia articles making this claim were removed (https://corticalchauvinism.com/2019/06/26/a-triple-victory-three-wikipedia-articles-promoting-facilitated-communication-are-deleted/). Additionally, in the section “Igor Stravinsky and autism”, an anecdote from Tito Mukhopadhyay is used, even though Tito communicates through rapid prompting, which is similar to FC and also discredited.
Unfortunately, the media has sometimes misrepresented Casanova’s view on autism. One article claimed “Dr. Casanova is ready to begin working on wiping out autism entirely” which is a false statement (https://www.wave3.com/story/5146301/uofl-neuroscientist-so-close-to-autism-breakthrough-hes-helping-fund-research/). A Newsweek article claimed that Casanova has received death threats from writing about autism, but this actually had to do with individuals assuming from the false statement in the previous article that he wanted to wipe out autism. More details can be found from a statement by Dr. Casanova’s wife and from a blog post where Dr. Casanova explains what actually happened (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:EmLyCasa and http://autisticbfh.blogspot.com/2006/07/my-publicist-ate-my-homework.html).
Chapter 10 discusses autism advocacy around the world. Following that, there are statements about various autism advocates that Casanova has gotten to know such as Jonathan Mitchell, John Elder Robison, Alex Plank, and Stephen Shore. There are many types of autism advocates that he features and discusses in depth.
Overall, this book is an interesting collection autism with respect to many areas of life. In each chapter, multiple perspectives are discussed which show the different ideas surrounding autism. Autism has been the subject of many unique findings and controversies, which are all displayed with Dr. Casanova’s commentary.