Among other issues Hacking considers is why autism is being diagnosed more often; what it means for a diagnosis to be in vogue; and how autism might be a key to understanding the human mind. Is autism that one recovers from, or an autistic-spectrum disorder with preservation of intellect, somewhere in the spectrum of the same neurobiological condition, or something different?
Philosopher Ian Hacking discusses autism in the London Review of Books: “Over the past fifteen years everyone has got to know about autism. Autism will figure this year in dozens, maybe hundreds of cheap novels, thrillers and maybe a good book or two, just as multiple personality did fifteen years ago. (Thank goodness that’s gone!) As well as core autism we now have the autistic spectrum. We have Asperger’s. We have ‘high-functioning’ autists. The success of the high-functioning, their foibles and their triumphs, tends to make the general reader think, ah, so that is what autism is like. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time acts, among other things, as a wonderful means of raising awareness. But life is not always like that. Downers don’t sell unless there is something sensational to tell. There are any number of more or less factual books about any number of subjects to make you feel wretched, but I have never read a book more wrenching than Jeanne-Marie Préfaut’s Maman, pas l’hopital! (1997), written by a woman who murdered her 23-year-old autistic daughter.”