Childhood Disorders
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
12 and HoldingA Guide to Asperger SyndromeA Lethal InheritanceA Mother's Courage: Talking Back to AutismA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Special EducationA Toss Of The DiceA Tribe ApartA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDA Walk in the Rain With a BrainABC of Eating DisordersADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeADHD Grown UpADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention StrategiesADHD NationAdolescence and Body ImageAdolescent DepressionAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAll Alone in the UniverseAlpha GirlsAmericaAnother PlanetAntisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAsperger Syndrome and Your ChildAsperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and IdentityAsperger's and GirlsAssessment of Childhood DisordersAttention Deficit DisorderAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderAutism - The Eighth Colour of the RainbowAutism and MeAutism's False ProphetsAutistic Spectrum DisordersBad GirlBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Before I DieBetween Two WorldsBeyond AppearanceBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBipolar ChildrenBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar KidsBlackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive DevelopmentBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBody Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in YouthBoy AloneBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBreaking PointBreathing UnderwaterBringing Up ParentsBullying and TeasingBullying PreventionBut I Love HimCan't Eat, Won't EatCaring for a Child with AutismCatalystChild and Adolescent PsychiatryChild and Adolescent Psychological DisordersChild and Adolescent PsychopathologyChild NeuropsychologyChild Well-BeingChildren and SexualityChildren Changed by TraumaChildren with Emerald EyesChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChildren’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness City of OneCommunication Issues In Autism And Asperger SyndromeConcepts of NormalityConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering the Beast WithinConsuming KidsContesting ChildhoodCount Us InCrackedCrossesCutCyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy TeensDamageDemystifying the Autistic ExperienceDescartes' BabyDilemmas of DesireDirtyDisconnected KidsDoing SchoolDon't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning!Don't Pick On MeDying to Be ThinEarly Intervention Programs and PoliciesEating an ArtichokeEducating Children With AutismEight Stories UpElijah's CupEmerald City BluesEmotional and Behavioral Problems of Young ChildrenEpilepticEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEvery Girl Tells a StoryExiting NirvanaExploiting ChildhoodEye ContactFacing BipolarFamily HistoryFast GirlsForever YoungFreaks, Geeks and Asperger SyndromeFreewillFrictionGirl CultureGirl in the MirrorGirlfightingGirlhoodGirlWiseHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHandbook of Preschool Mental HealthHealing ADDHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHelping Hyperactive KidsHelping Parents, Youth, and Teachers Understand Medications for Behavioral and Emotional ProblemsHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHelping Teens Who CutHollow KidsHope's BoyHow Infants Know MindsHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tHurry Down SunshineI Am Not Joey PigzaIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf Your Adolescent Has an Eating DisorderIn the Company of CraziesIncorporating Social Goals in the ClassroomIntegrated YogaIntrusive ParentingIssues for Families, Schools and CommunitiesJake RileyJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJuvenile-Onset SchizophreniaKim: Empty InsideLearning and Behavior Problems in Asperger SyndromeLearning Disorders and Disorders of the Self in Children and AdolescentsLearning Outside the Lines Let Kids Be KidsLiberation's ChildrenLife As We Know ItLisa, Bright and DarkLook Me in the EyeLoserLove and SexLove That DogMad at SchoolMaking ADD WorkMaking American BoysManicMastering Anger and AggressionMaverick MindMedicating ChildrenMind FieldsMind to MindMommy I'm Still in HereMore Than a LabelMy Flesh and BloodMyths of ChildhoodNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Look at ADHD: Inhibition, Time, and Self-ControlNo Child Left DifferentNo Two AlikeNon-Drug Treatments for ADHDNot Much Just Chillin'NurtureShockOdd Girl OutOdd Girl Speaks OutOne Hot SecondOne in ThirteenOphelia SpeaksOphelia's MomOur Journey Through High Functioning Autism and Asperger SyndromeOut of the WoodsOvercoming ADHDOvercoming School AnxietyParenting a Child Who Has Intense EmotionsParenting Children With ADHDParenting Your Out-Of-Control TeenagerPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople with HyperactivityPhobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and AdolescentsPINSPlease Don't Label My ChildPraising Boys WellPraising Girls WellProblem Child or Quirky Kid?Problem GirlsPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPurgeRaising a Moody ChildRaising BlazeRaising Generation RxRaising Resilient ChildrenReady or Not, Here Life ComesReclaiming Our ChildrenRedressing the EmperorReducing Adolescent RiskRemembering Our ChildhoodResilience in ChildrenRethinking ADHDReweaving the Autistic TapestryRitalin is Not the Answer Action GuideRitalin NationRunning on RitalinRunning with ScissorsRutter's Child and Adolescent PsychiatrySeeing EzraSex and the American TeenagerSex, Therapy, and KidsSexting and Young PeopleSexual Teens, Sexual MediaShort Term 12Should I Medicate My Child?SmashedSnapshots of AutismSongs Without WordsSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSpeakStaying Connected to Your TeenagerStick FigureStraight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for KidsStraight Talk about Psychological Testing for KidsStraight Talk about Your Child's Mental HealthStrange SonStudent DepressionSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving OpheliaTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaming the Troublesome ChildTemple GrandinThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bipolar ChildThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Boy Who Was Raised as a DogThe Buffalo TreeThe Bully Action GuideThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Burn JournalsThe Color of AbsenceThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Depressed ChildThe Developing MindThe Dragons of AutismThe Einstein SyndromeThe EpidemicThe Evolution of ChildhoodThe Explosive ChildThe Eyes of van GoghThe Fasting GirlThe Field of the DogsThe Flight of a DoveThe Hidden Gifts of the Introverted ChildThe Horse BoyThe Identity TrapThe Inner World of a Suicidal YouthThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Last Normal ChildThe Little MonsterThe Medicated ChildThe Myth of LazinessThe New Gay TeenagerThe Nurture AssumptionThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe Other ParentThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of AutismThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Ride TogetherThe Rise and Fall of the American TeenagerThe Science of ADHDThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Survival Guide for Kids With LD*The Unhappy ChildThen Again, Maybe I Won'tTherapy with ChildrenThings I Have to Tell YouThings Tom LikesThrough the Glass WallThumbsuckerTotally WiredTouching Spirit BearTrauma in the Lives of ChildrenTreating ADHD and Comorbid DisordersTreatment of Childhood DisordersTwistedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnhappy TeenagersUnstrange MindsWastedWe've Got IssuesWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWhat about the KidsWhat in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?What Works for Whom?What Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?When Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWhose America?Why Don't Students Like SchoolWill's ChoiceWinnicott On the ChildWorried All the TimeYou Hear MeYoung Minds in Social WorldsYoung People and Mental HealthYour Child, Bully or Victim?

Related Topics
The Philosophy of AutismReview - The Philosophy of Autism
by Jami L. Anderson & Simon Cushing
Rowman & Littlefield, 2012
Review by R.A. Goodrich, Ph.D.
Oct 1st 2013 (Volume 17, Issue 40)

Having parented an autistic son, the editors of The Philosophy of Autism, Jami Anderson and Simon Cushing, were struck by the sheer paucity of philosophical enquiry into autism.  Indeed, they find the topic "rich with philosophical possibilities" and favour an analytical approach aimed at "clarity and argumentative rigor" (rather than what they regard as "unreadable" "continental" philosophy) (3).  Furthermore, they equally wish to make their anthology responsive to "issues of immediate concern to people's real lives" (3).  Hence, room is made for first-person contributions extolling neuro-diversity by those with direct experience of the autistic spectrum. Both personal and philosophical contributions are thematically bound in the main by the task of challenging the popularised belief that autistic individuals can at least be readily recognised by their debilitating lack of empathy.  

Nine North American contributors, almost all of whom are academic philosophers, provide eight chapters which range from three noticeably personal accounts and advocacy to conventionally formal argument in the remaining five chapters.  This brief review will begin by outlining the anthology's initial framework with its emphasis upon conceptual analysis. From the outset, it quickly becomes apparent that one theorist above all dominates the attention of The Philosophy of Autism: English psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen figures as a subject in five of the eight chapters.  With the foregoing in mind, this critique will then summarise something of the unease Baron-Cohen and his characterisation of autism provokes amongst so many contributors.  Limits upon length mean that we shall by-pass other scholars of note.  For example, there is, albeit less obviously, the countervailing influence and contentions of psychologist Morton Ann Gernsbacher and colleagues which are traceable in at least three chapters.  In her cited co-authored 2005 article, but perhaps more pertinently in her co-authored 2008 chapter, "Learning in Autism" (in Cognitive Psychology of Memory edited by H.L. Roediger), Gernsbacher succinctly outlines methodological, linguistic, and paedological alternatives to those promulgated by Baron-Cohen and his supporters.  That said, we shall end by sketching some limitations of this anthology, including two areas some readers may regard as relatively neglected by this engaged and articulate volume: the unexamined nature of psychological theory and of analytical philosophy.  

I

The introduction by Anderson and Cushing, at first colloquially pitched, swiftly turns to the crucial questions facing conceptual analysis. First of all, what is autism and what does the concept include especially at a time when the very term is "exploding into use by the general public" (3)?  Secondly, how is autism identified and "what are the signs that justify [its] diagnosis" (4)?  What, therefore, are the implications of construing autism as a syndrome, a disorder, or a condition, let alone as a spectrum of the latter two?  Moreover, if there are no necessary and sufficient behavioural criteria for diagnosing autism, or its sub-classes such as Kanner's and Asperger's syndromes, is autism merely a blanket term which "might meet the fate of...'neurotic'...a pseudo-scientific term for an inexact clumping together of unrelated phenomena" (5)?  Finally, if, from a clinical perspective, autism is not capable of therapeutic cure, does this not only imply that the condition "is not simply the symptoms," but that it also calls into question clinical tests for diagnosing the condition "simply from the symptoms" (6)?   

The first chapter by Cushing is underpinned by the above set of questions whilst reviewing the diagnostic criteria listed by Leo Kanner in his 1943 paper, "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact" and by the 1994 fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under the aegis of Allen Frances, both of which have materially shaped seven decades of Anglophone research and practice to date. When turning his attention to major psychological theories, Cushing touches upon "the most influential version" of "impaired theory of mind" attributed to autistic children, that of Baron-Cohen's mind-blindness, which Cushing believes ultimately "fails to account for what are deemed essential elements" of autism (28).  Indeed, he continues, Baron-Cohen himself acknowledges the inadequacy of the theory and nowadays believes that it acts as one constituent of "a complete theory" (28), the other components being the lack of "empathizing"--"of which mindreading is the 'cognitive' aspect"--and excessive "systemizing"--"the drive to analyse or construct systems" (33).  Cushing concludes that Baron-Cohen's theory illustrates "an extreme example" of "hypothesis-driven" research that avoids confronting evidence which threatens to falsify or "undermine the hypothesis," namely, evidence which fails to demonstrate

that there is a uniquely identifiable autistic brain that explains and unifies the disparate elements of autism, thereby justifying the label of autism as a natural kind of phenomenon (34).

Collectively, The Philosophy of Autism is concerned to dismantle Baron-Cohen at every turn.  Amongst the key strategies deployed against Baron-Cohen are the following: 

(a) shifting the focus from a reductive neurological or cortical conception of mind towards an emergent interactional notion of mind "at the intersection of brain, body, and world" (58);

(b) taking account of the testimony of autistic individuals--be it an Amanda Baggs, a Dawn Prince-Hughes, or a Nick Pentzell (54ff. & 104ff.)--who depict their learning by way of restricted repetitive behaviour in order to accommodate their amplified and fragmented sensory sensitivities (cf. 147, 153 & 179) (or, as Ian Hacking, in his 2009 discussion, "Autistic Autobiography," expresses it, learning "to read these texts not as describing well-defined experience, but as creating ways...to express experiences" (1472));

(c) highlighting not only the inadequacy of the actual sampling of children in tests for false beliefs of inanimate others aimed at bolstering the depiction of autistic children as lacking empathy for others, but also acknowledging the sheer syntactic or clausal complexity of the "wh" questions posed by experimenters (105; cf. 148-151) and thereby claiming that syntactic development precedes cognitive development;

(d) identifying the lack of evidence for and hence non sequiturs in the deductively constructed claims of the "common cause" argument which causally connects in utero differences between the male and the female foetus with the subsequent diagnosis of autism overwhelmingly amongst males (especially given the hormonal role of foetal testosterone) (86ff.); and

(e) emphasizing the ethical consequences of regarding autistic individuals as condemned to "impaired social interaction" (80) or to "social cognition deficits" (178) (which, although raised by over half the chapters, none appearing to wrestle directly with the difficult normative concepts of justice and equality (where the principle of treating like cases alike and unlike cases differentially underpins Aristoteles' discussion of "equality...for equals.  And inequality...for unequals" in, say, the Politikon III.ix.1280a8ff.)).  

II

At this juncture, let us sketch some reservations about this thought-provoking anthology. Its collective efforts listed above at countering Baron-Cohen--even when most deftly demonstrated in the third chapter by Ruth Sample (73-101)--run the risk of promulgating a negative thesis.  Denying the veracity of Baron-Cohen's tripartite theory in whole or in part does not logically imply the truth of alternatives such as theories of central coherence or of executive dysfunction (28-30, 60-62, 75-76).  Nor is there any concerted attempt to engage more recent developmental evaluations of such theories in combination by, for instance, Elizabeth Pellicano. 

Might this state of affairs relate to the targeted readership of The Philosophy of Autism?  Whether theorists or practitioners, activists or parents, is there sufficient allowance made for the "uninitiated," for those not "trained in philosophy" (3)?  Certainly, contributors do attempt to gloss their more technical points--ranging from the cerebral "module" labelled "theory of mind" (7) to the interactional stance called "abstract allocentrism" (182-183).  However, what is to be understood by passing references, for example, to "Humean sympathy" (144), let alone its bearing upon or difference from the anthology's central pre-occupation with empathy?  Again, what is to be understood by "Kantian deontology" (144), let alone its contestable variants in terms of the rights and duties of human agents?

Next, in what comprises the first philosophical anthology solely devoted to autism, some readers might look for a more explicit discussion of psychological theory since, as already mentioned, five of the eight chapters overtly confront theories propounded by Baron-Cohen.  Take, for example, his earlier theory of mind-blindness said to be a defining characteristic of autistic impairment on the basis of false belief tests.  What makes the theory of mind-blindness a theory?  Anderson and Cushing, for instance, acknowledge "prediction" on the grounds of what Baron-Cohen believes "to be true about the brain" (7), tests for which purportedly reveal "a specific deficit" that has "the potential to explain" such factors as "lack of pretend play and social impairment" (8).  In brief, psychological theory centres upon prediction and explanation.  Ruth Sample, by contrast, concentrates upon Baron-Cohen's later neuro-developmental theory that autism results from sexual cortical differences (the so-called "extreme male brain") and upon its failure to act as a coherent and evidenced explanation.  During the course of so doing, Sample questions claims about foetal testosterone being causally relevant to the autistic spectrum; at best, they remain speculative.  Alternatively expressed, theory not only involves valid standards of explanation but also differs from mere speculation. In practice, a close reading of these contributors also reveals their common demand that a psychological theory should provide conceptual definitions (e.g. 4ff., 18-20 & 75ff.); that its counterfactual propositions ("if...then...") should lead us towards nomological (or law-like) principles (cf. 81, 88 & 93); and that its inferences should be tightly integrated such that fewer generalisations are made to account for more facts (unlike a behavioural "cluster" of statements which diagnostically "gains in flexibility" yet "loses in specificity" (22)) .

More pointedly, other readers may wonder whether a more critical rationale is warranted by an anthology espousing the necessity of conceptual analysis in terms of clarity, rigour, and readability (3).  By applying conceptual analysis to autism, is one only breaking the concept of autism into its simpler or more basic parts so that its logical character or structure is revealed as Simon Cushing, for example, does?  Or is conceptual analysis, to adapt Jeremy Bentham's view of "paraphrasis" in his 1814 "Essay on Logic," to be construed as a process of translating or interpreting assertions made about autism into an appropriate logical form before its character or structure can be depicted as Ruth Sample's handling of the "common cause" argument displays (86-87)?  Or again, is it, to follow an earlier precedent set by Eukleides of Alexandreia in his Elements (Stoikheion), a process of reversal or a "backwards solution" ("anapalin lysin") where one begins with the concept under examination and, by investigating its antecedents, aims to identify the first or basic principles at work?  Neglecting this third--yet complementary--mode of conceptual analysis results in two possibilities a further or enlarged edition of this anthology may wish to address.  Firstly, is there a place for an analytical philosophy of autism to engage in the history of its conception (in both senses of the word) and in the work of earlier generations of scholars whose debates are unwittingly recapitulated as if present-day enquiries were de novo?  Secondly, by arguing on the basis of its "disjunctive" or its clustered features (80 & 20ff.) that autism as characterised by the DSM-IV lacks definition and hence may be little more than an expedient if not passing "social construct" (24), has an alternative response been ignored?  To declare that autism is not definable is not necessarily to say that we cannot know what it is like or that we cannot say anything about it.  Perhaps such a declaration also tells us that autism is not reducible to anything else.

 

 

© 2013 R.A. Goodrich

 

R.A. Goodrich teaches in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, co-edits the online refereed arts-practice journal, Double Dialogues, and co-ordinates with Maryrose Hall a longitudinal project investigating behavioural, cognitive, and linguistic aspects of higher-functioning children within the autistic spectrum of disorders.


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7900 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716