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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Dr. Barry M. Prizant

About Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism

Essential reading for any parent, teacher, therapist, or caregiver of a person with autism: a groundbreaking book on autism, by one of the world's leading experts, who portrays autism not as a tragic disability, but as a unique way of being human. Autism is usually portrayed as a checklist of deficits, including difficulties interacting socially, problems in communicating, sensory challenges, and repetitive behavior patterns. This perspective leads to therapies focused on ridding individuals of "autistic" symptoms. Now Dr. Barry M. Prizant, an internationally renowned autism expert, offers a new and compelling paradigm: the most successful approaches to autism don't aim at fixing a person by eliminating symptoms, but rather seeking to understand the individual's experience and what underlies the behavior. In "Uniquely Human," Dr. Prizant suggests a major shift in understanding autism: Instead of classifying "autistic" behaviors as signs of pathology, he sees them as part of a range of strategies to cope with a world that feels chaotic and overwhelming. Rather than curb these behaviors, it's better to enhance abilities, build on strengths, and offer supports that will naturally lead to more desirable behavior and a better quality of life. In fact, argues Dr. Prizant, attempts to eliminate "autistic" behaviors may actually interfere with important developmental processes. While it never discounts the difficulties of living with autism, "Uniquely Human" offers inspiring stories, and practical advice drawn from Dr. Prizant's four-decade career working in universities, schools, hospitals, and in private practice. It conveys a deep respect for people with autism and the qualities that make them special. Filled with humanity and wisdom, "Uniquely Human" offers a compassionate and insightful perspective that parents, professionals, and family members will find uplifting and hopeful.

My Review of Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism

I have read a lot of books on the subject of autism, some good... some not so good. My youngest son, who is eight-years-old, has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and I like to read a mixture of both parenting and professional books on the subject matter. This is not to seek a cure, or to change my son, but to help me gain insight into his world. Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism is a book based upon the experiences and professional knowledge of Dr. Barry M. Prizant, an internationally renowned expert on autism, who has worked in the field for over 40 years.

This book is refreshing, uplifting, empathetic and, I loved it.

At last, I have found a book that has a humanistic approach to autism. Just as Steve Silberman's book Neurotribes was hugely informative and focused upon the strengths of autistic people, rather than trying to find a cure, this book is equally as powerful and uplifting. I will just make it clear though, that the author does not shy away from the daily challenges that parents face in raising a child with autism. But the focus is very much upon that of empowering the child by understanding their behaviours, not by seeking a cure. This book contains many examples of case studies from Dr. Prizant's career. Some are funny, some are heart-breaking, and while reading them I found myself thinking: my son acts that way; maybe that is why he acts in that manner. There were so many lightbulb moments in this book, that it made me question how I do certain things and that perhaps I should try to do them differently. That's the thing with raising an autistic child. You are forever learning, trying new strategies, gaining new ideas... and this book has many ideas and insights that are extremely helpful.
This book helps to explain how behaviours are seen as a way of reacting to the world, they are a way of coping, that can be seen as antisocial and unacceptable, especially when the child is in full meltdown. Oh, I have had those strafes that scream; I am an unfit mother raising a naughty child. In fact, I have been told this by an unsympathetic stranger when my son was much younger while having a full-blown meltdown on the bus. The message within this book,  is that we have to try and understand why the child is acting in this way, and that by understanding, we can help them. What are the reasons behind their behaviour?  I have read so many books that strive to find a cure for autism and I want to cry. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, there is no cure, and I don't want to find a cure. I just want to better help my child, What I need as a parent is help, to enable my child to cope with daily stressors, sensory issues and ideas or strategies that can help him.
What Dr. Prizant does, is  to succinctly highlight the daily issues that families face, while offering helpful, practical advice and insight into behaviour. I particularly liked that he introduced the importance and the impact of sensory difficulties. Very often this topic is not discussed, although this greatly impacts upon the individual and how they cope with the world around them. My son has Sensory Modulation Dysfunction, and thankfully has strategies at both home and school, along with a sensory diet, that can help him. Many families do not have this support, nor understand that sensory issues exist, so this part of the book I found both insightful and vital for parents, professionals and caregivers.

We are in a good place at the moment. My son attends a specualsit school for children with autism. He was diagnosed early at the age of 3.5 years, and I had a lot of support during those early preschool years. As a family, we were extremely fortunate, therefore I approached this book from a very different viewpoint, than say that of a family who are receiving no support and who are struggling for a diagnosis. Therefore, I can only give my opinion based upon my own circumstances. But I do feel that this book is hugely powerful, in giving parents information and a voice to speak up. That it is ok to voice your concerns and to ask for help.
Everyone should read this book to gain a better understanding of autism. It is easy to read, insightful and gives power to the child and the family unit. It is a wonderful book.
With thanks to Souvenir Press who provided a hardback copy of the book.

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism  is published by Souvenir Press and can be found on Amazon here.

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