Review – Autism: Making Sense of Senses

Autism: Making Sense of Senses – Janet E S Carter

Autism Making Sense of Senses

An introductory book to sensory processing and how this affects autistic people. There are short chapters on each of the senses – well sort of (I’ll explain that later in the review) as well as some other, sort-of related chapters such as ‘Trust/Intuition’ and ‘Empathy’. This book jumps around quite a bit and nothing is described comprehensively so it really is only useful as an introduction.

This book falls into the trap that another book I reviewed did (cannot remember which off the top of my head) in that it puts across the idea of “they’re autistic but it’s okay because they’re very clever!”. Within the first 20 pages I had read the descriptions:

  • highly intelligent and well educated man
  • highly educated, articulate and intelligent man
  • very intelligent and talented daughter
  • normally very articulate child
  • extremely intelligent, articulate mother

Of course there are intelligent autistic people – and this constant emphasis of “they’re very intelligent, see look they’re very educated!” just becomes tiresome when you’re reading it over and over again. I understand that people want to get rid of the negative stereotypes and connotations that have been associated with autism over the years, and rightly so, but I’m not quite convinced this is the way to do it. Even if the author happens to know lots of genius autistic people, the constant use of the descriptive is a bit jarring considering she never describes anything else about them unless it’s to do with sensory processing.

Anyway – that aside this book is okay. Some of the sections are really good and give both short anecdotes and bits and pieces of advice as well as a brief overview of the sensory processing involved in each sense.

One young man insists on a thick vinyl cushion-floor in his bedroom, that is both smooth, cool and warm and also easy to clean, combined with a shag-pile rug that he enjoys the texture and the colour of.

Other parts are not as good, or at just plain confusing. There is a chapter entitled Balance which starts by stating that gross and fine motor skills can disrupted in an autistic person. Then it defines gross motor and lists a whole load of examples, defines fine motor and lists a whole load of examples, has a paragraph on balance and then finishes. I don’t know whether the author was attempting to include the vestibular and proprioreceptive senses (which are otherwise not mentioned) and tried to merge them with gross and fine motor skills and then…gave up? I’m not sure. It’s not a useful chapter. Then there’s a chapter entitled Time – space and dimension – time to develop at own pace, where the author describes the fact that there can be disruptions in time, space and dimension experiences…and then goes on to talk about giving children time to develop. The chapter ends with this paragraph:

Let’s the clock forward 10 years and re-visit that gifted and frustrated 8 yr old, alone in his world of confusion and fog. He has been 10 years without Gluten, has been able to resume Casein in his diet for several years, he can manage zips, buttons, buckles, shoe-laces and all his personal grooming. He has an excellent group of friends and he is planning on moving out of the family home to attend University.

Which, for a start has nothing to do with time, space and dimension (although disruptions in the experiencing of time is covered in another chapter, and is probably the most interesting chapter in the book), but also seems to say that all of this stuff happened because the boy was put on a Gluten-Free, Casein-Free diet. Looking at what is written throughout the book, the author is clearly pro-GFCF and that’s fine, it’s not harmful (unless your child only eats foods with Gluten in and refuses all else…), but she describes it as ‘In the very common gluten and casein conversion or intolerance, the body does not produce the enzyme…’. Except Gluten and Casein intolerance are not very common. I know it seems like that when you read the biographies of autistic children by their parents but maybe that’s because people don’t tend to write about things that didn’t work. I have worked with and known between 10-15 parents and people who have very seriously tried the GFCF diet, and only one saw any significant impact. It’s not good practice to be reporting these amazing improvements as if they are fact. They work sometimes, and that’s the best you can say, if they were the amazing cure that they’re publicised as then every autistic person would be on a GFCF diet and we would know about it.

Anyway, my ranting aside, there are chapters of this book I liked – the sight, hearing, and touch chapters, the section on empathy, and the chapter on Sense of Time. Overall, the book is quite disjointed, and it is only useful as an introductory text because there isn’t enough detail for it to be anything more, but it’s a okay place to start.

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