Autism: preparing for adulthood by Patricia Howlin (Routledge Pounds 14. 99) has won the academic class in this year's National Association for Special Educational Needs book awards. The award, which celebrates books that advance theory and practice in this complex field, attracted 43 submissions.
While autism affects a relatively small number of people, Howlin's book raises ethical and professional issues relevant to everyone.
The book focuses on "a life-long, often devastating disorder that profoundly affects almost every aspect of an individual's functioning". Howlin's major concern is with the more verbally able autistic children, though she does not neglect those whose abilities are less well developed. Howlin has written a well-documented and innovative exposition illuminated by her extensive experience in working with autistic children and adults.
Howlin, a consultant clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology at St George's Healthcare Trust, never compromises her account of the difficulties and the uniqueness of each individual. She describes and analyses a range and variety of learning difficulties manifested in the social, communication and obsessional behaviours shown by autistic individuals. Howlin provides a basis to enhance the reader's understanding of the autistic individual's unusual patterns of behaviour. What may have been seen by the observer as maladaptive, bizarre and challenging behaviours can be validly reconstrued as the individual's own attempts to understand and obtain some modicum of control in an environment that is "unpredictable, confusing and rejecting".
The other books shortlisted were: New Directions in special Needs: innovations in mainstream schools by Catherine Clark, Alan Dyson, Alan Millward and David Skidmore (Cassell Pounds 15.99); Mainstream or Special? educating students with disabilities by Josephine Jenkinson (Routledge Pounds 12.99); Special Needs Provision: assessment, concern and action by Geof Sewell (Cassell Pounds 13.99); Reflection through Interaction: the classroom experience of pupils with learning difficulties by Judith Watson (Falmer Pounds 14.95); Opening Doors: learning support in higher education edited by Sheila Wolfendale and Jenny Corbett (CassellPounds 13.99); and Meeting Special Needs in the Early Years: directions in policy and practice edited by Sheila Wolfendale (Fulton Pounds 13.99).
Peter Pumfrey is professor at the Centre for Educational Needs, School of Education, University of Manchester. He was chairman of the judges for this year's award