When it comes to autism, how do we separate truth from fiction? Depending on whom you ask, autism is an insidious plague, which we must extinguish, or a valued nerd disease, which fuels mountains of startup investment in places that can tolerate eccentricity and value a certain kind of hyperfocused cognitive style.
Steve Silberman is a Bay Area writer who, for his Wired article “The Geek Syndrome,” dove into Silicon Valley culture in 2001 to explore the contribution of people on the autism spectrum to the dot-com boom. He followed up that article with years of research and study, culminating in his new book, Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, which, according to the late Oliver Sacks, is required reading “on the bookshelf of anyone interested in autism and the workings of the human brain.”
In a recent conversation, Silberman teased out the intricacies of autism as a pathology and as a different way of seeing the world.
RH: What got you interested in writing a book about autism?
Silberman: I’m fascinated by the subject of autism because some part of me really knows what it’s like to be completely at sea in social situations, trying to read signals in a language that I can’t comprehend and being in a continuous state of sensory overload. In my book, I tried to make autistic people emblematic of more than a condition considered to be a disorder or just a…