Book review: 1 October 2009

Can the World Afford Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

Digby Tantam, Jessica Kingsley

Digby Tantam has given us another scholarly treat; a book that eloquently describes the social world we have created, how non-verbal communication shapes normal neuro-typical behaviour and the ­difficulties that people with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) have in gaining entrance to this world, writes Jenny Ravenhill.

He describes non-verbal communication as the invisible glue that creates and binds our social codes; which gives us social direction and affords us our place in society.

Tantam argues that impaired non-verbal communication is the fundamental problem in ASD and makes a compelling argument for more research into social intuition, both to find ways to help people with the condition compensate for their lack of intuition and to learn from those who have found ways to successfully negotiate a fundamentally social world.

The “afford” in the title is not the narrow monetary definition but the more embracing notion of “allowing access” or “creating opportunity” which leads directly to responsibilities – of those with the power to create opportunities to do so and for those with ASD to take advantage of them.

Jenny Ravenhill is principal psychologist at the National Autistic Society

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