Book cover and author headshot

NeuroTribes: autism and neurodiversity

Autism has been defined and its spectrum expanded in the last 80 years. We still don’t entirely understand its meaning, causes and implications.

More recently autism has been placed in an expanding understanding of what we call today “neurodiversity.” I read through NeuroTribes, the 2015 book that chronicles the history and science by Steve Silberman. A key theme it returns to often: autism is better understood as “different, not less.”

Below I share a few notes from my reading.


  • English scientist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), who “weighed the world”, may likely have had Asperger’s, which is now understood to be part of ‘autism spectrum disorder.’
  • Researchers are careful to project into the past but Cavendish is one of several historical figures thought to perhaps have been on the autism spectrum;
  • Autism was first defined in 1943, but only as a rare and extreme childhood case; by the 1980s the spectrum concept was popularized by Lorna Wing; in 1988, Rain Main was a commercial success and by 1994 Asperger’s was defined.
  • In 2001, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks argues Cavendish was likely on the autism spetrum, a rare retro diagnosis from an influential scientist
  • Naturalist Temple Grandin famously described her brain as “different, not less”
  • Echolalia is the term for repetitive use of other people’s words (a la in the movie Rain Main)
  • Stimming (self stimulation) is familiar trait of some on the spectrum

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