In the early 1940s, two researchers on either side of the Atlantic, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner in Baltimore and paediatrician Hans Asperger in Vienna, independently identified and classified a condition they both called autism (from autos, Greek for ‘self’). This conjunction ‘is still considered one of the great coincidences of twentieth-century medicine’, writes Steve Silberman in NeuroTribes. It was an idea whose time had come.
The time, it seems, is ripe for two comprehensive, thoroughly researched and eminently readable books on autism. NeuroTribes, the winner of the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize, was first through the gate. It sets out to make the case for accepting and even celebrating people with autism for who they are.