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Shelf Help: Interview with Andrew Solomon

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

Do you think the heart of the book is that perennial opposition between nature and nurture?

I don’t think one can disentangle nature and nurture. A child is born with particular genetic vulnerabilities (nature), which get triggered (or not) by external experiences (nurture), which help activate other parts of nature, which cause one to seek out other parts of nurture. Our relationship with our environment is so deeply rooted it would be like separating the dancer from the dance.

One of the most thought-provoking aspects of the book is your suggestion that the ‘able’ default to thinking of themselves as care-givers who can maximise potential, accommodate disability and ameliorate any suffering of the ‘disabled’, and how that viewpoint can compromise the autonomy of the disabled individual, or even ‘subjugate’ them. Could you explain more?

I think always of autism activist Jim Sinclair, who said, ‘Autism isn’t something a person has, or a ‘shell’ that a person is trapped inside. There’s no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colours every experience, sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person – and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with.’ Many autistic people have a deep sense of identity based on their condition; so do people with other differences. While I started off very suspicious about these claims to identity, I ultimately came to respect them.

(To read the rest of the interview, please visit Psychologies.)