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Rob Neufeld on Andrew Solomon’s Book, Talk on Autism

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner 2012)

by Rob Neufeld

Q: [T]he issue that people zoom in the most on is the difference between condition and disease.

A: I think there’s a sense right now that we live in a moment of both social and medical progress. … It’s a subtle calculus, figuring out how the two of them should interact … How do we balance the fact that there is beauty and value in deaf culture with the fact that there is, at the same time, advantage to having people function in the hearing world. I think that question — what’s an identity and what’s an illness — is really the underlying question of the book.

Q: You made me feel that there’s extraordinary value in some of those cultures.

A: Human diversity is very valuable and if we cure things and make them go away, there will a loss in our having a world in which more people think the same way. Autism is a particularly striking example because I think that autistic people sometimes have abilities that non-autistic people lack.

Autistic people have been involved in the development of the technology that’s allowing me to talk with you on the telephone from the car right now … I’m worried that if we got to the point at which we could eliminate autism altogether, we would actually eliminate some of the things that we would like to see happen in the world.

(To read the full review, please visit the Asheville Citizen-Times.)