Book review: Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea

Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea by Judy Singer. Reviewed by the Salvesen Mindroom Centre team.

Date published: September 2017 (Original thesis published in 1998)

Neurodiversity_birth of idea

Paperback price: £4.50

Link to book on Amazon website

Reviewer: Salvesen Mindroom Centre team

Reviewer expertise: Directly supporting families of neurodivergent children and young people

What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

“Neurodiversity: The Birth of an Idea” is Judy Singer’s 1998 thesis about the emergence of the neurodiversity paradigm and the movement that resulted, with a specific focus on “high functioning Autism” and Asperger’s. As this is a thesis, the book is aimed at people who have an academic interest in neurodiversity and/or sociology.

A brief description of the book

The book starts with an updated introduction from the author reflecting on her thesis and placing it in the context of neurodiversity today. It then goes onto her thesis which attempts to “depict, demystify and promote” what was at the time a growing social movement of autistics. Her hope was that everyone would benefit from the idea that our minds are more diverse than we originally thought and there is strength in our differences. Judy draws on sociological theory and personal experience in order to do this.

Is the content in line with best practice or research evidence?

The thesis was ground-breaking for its time and introduced the term and concept of neurodiversity to the world, which is now beginning to embrace this way of seeing neurodivergent conditions. Her introduction acknowledges that things have changed since she originally wrote her thesis, however its core principles are still incredibly relevant today.

Would this book be helpful for its target reader?

For readers who are confident reading academic text, this book gives a really interesting insight into the birth of neurodiversity as a concept, and all of the technological and academic developments that aligned to allow this to happen. The personal introduction and autobiographical nature of the book shows the author's lived experience. This gives the reader a greater understanding of the impact of the neurodiversity movement on those who are a part of it and makes it more engaging and accessible for all readers. It would be a helpful read for anyone who is interested in the history of neurodiversity.

What is your final, overall opinion on the book?

As this book is an academic thesis, it is not an easy read, however we got a lot out of reading about the author's lived experience both in understanding her and her family’s autism and her part in the neurodiversity movement. It is an incredibly honest text, and at times surprisingly frank, which gives the reader an unfiltered view into the challenges that the author has faced throughout her life leading her to write this book. This work shows the context and academic thinking behind Singer’s creation of the term “neurodiversity” which has shaped how we consider disability today, and as such, it is a seminal text which has played a pivotal role in the history of neurodiversity.