Simon Baron Cohen
Andy Martin's piece Beyond Understanding for The New York Times looks at autism from the point of view of the philosopher. If he showed any understanding of autism or any interest in autistic people who are not famous and dead, this could have been fascinating. As it is, it's most useful as an example of how profoundly ignorant even smart, thoughtful people are when it comes to people like me.
Martin admits that he is writing about those on the "milder" or "high-functioning" end of the spectrum, but the only expertise on autism he apparently brings to his writing is having read Simon Baron Cohen's Mindblindness. Baron Cohen's serious work has been done primarily with children who have Kanner's autism. Because of of this, he is himself speculative and often simply wrong when he has written about Asperger's autism, the type that Martin says he is dealing with exclusively. Secondly, Mindblindness was published in 1997, which is makes it hopelessly outdated, since the most significant research on autism (even Baron Cohen's own most important work) has been done in the years since it was written. This is like using a book on Windows 95 as a reference for an article on the current Mac operating system: both off the topic and too old.
Why didn't Martin bother reading anything that shows the current understanding of autism? More pressingly, why didn't he bother to discuss his ideas with someone who actually has it? He writes, "autism is not some exotic anomaly but rather a constant." This is true-- the best current estimate is that about 1 in 110 people has some form of autism. We are everywhere, and we are the ultimate experts on our condition. It is simply not responsible for an organization as well-respected as The New York Times, even in the online edition, even in a "think piece," to allow someone to write about us at length without bothering to talk to even one of us.
You don't have to be a woman to love the Autism Women's Network. I would guess you don't have to be autistic, either. But I wouldn't know about that. Please vote for their Pepsi Refresh Project, which will fund workshops for women on the autism spectrum. And their Blog Talk Radio program is alwasy worth listening to. This week's episode features Borat's cousin, autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen. It's very interesting for its discussion of women and autism.