'Truly beautiful' autism;Books

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
DISCOVERING MY AUTISM. By Edgar Schneider. THROUGH THE EYES OF ALIENS. By Jasmine Lee O'Neill. Both Jessica Kingsley pound;12.95.

Jasmine Lee O'Neill, an autistic savant, is creative with words, musical sounds and images but does not speak. She never explains why. Edgar Schneider is a highly articulate former mathematician and computer programmer. He discovered his autism in middle age, after being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic for many years. O'Neill looks at the world from an autistic "alien" perspective, while Schneider finds explanations within the autistic continuum for the difficulties caused by his inability to fit in.

Schneider's detailed and dispassionate account of his autism deserves a wide audience. He explains his life as an emotional loner, his need to intellectualise feelings such as love in order to experience them, and his use of his self-knowledge to help others in a way which will inform and enlighten those concerned with high-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome.

He describes the implications of his emotional deficit, comparing it to a missing faculty such as blindness. It is a moving and inspiring book. By the end, one understands a great deal more about Schneider's "country".

O'Neill's goal is "to show that autism can be seen as a truly beautiful event". She gives an impressionistic but often over-florid account of behaviours, reactions and perceptions which differ from those of non-autistic people. She describes activities, sounds, sensations and self-stimulatory activities that can give intense pleasure to people with autism, as well as those which may cause fear and discomfort. She pleads for the world to adapt to the autistic person, rather than the other way round. A book of great interest to anyone who works with autistic children, but less likely to prove a useful resource for mainstream teachers.

The writer is an Open University student adviser and has a son with Asperger Syndrome

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