Rethinking Autism

Variation and Complexity

The media, scientific researchers, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual all refer to "autism" as if it were a single disorder or a single disorder over a spectrum. However, autism is unlike any single disorder in a variety of ways. No single brain deficit is found to cause it, no single drug is found to affect it, and no single cause or cure has been found despite tremendous research efforts to find same. Rethinking Autism reviews the scientific research on causes, symptomology, course, and treatment done to date…and draws the potentially shocking conclusion that "autism" does not exist as a single disorder. The conglomeration of symptoms exists, but like fever, those symptoms aren’t a disease in themselves, but rather a result of some other cause(s). Only by ceasing to think of autism as a single disorder can we ever advance research to more accurately parse why these symptoms occur and what the different and varied causes may be.
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Developmental psychologists, child clinical psychologists, child psychiatrists, pediatric neurologists, and autism researchers.


Book information

  • Published: September 2012
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-415961-7


"A seminal book forcing a much-needed change in the way in which we think about autism.  Impressively well-researched and well-argued.  A 'must-read' for all autism researchers."

--Prof. Jill Boucher, City University, London, UK



"This book by Lynn Waterhouse will ruffle some feathers, with its bold conclusion that "there is clear detriment to maintaining the diagnostic category of autism spectrum disorder." However, the evidence she presents is compelling. In every domain she investigates - symptoms, neurobiology, etiology, correlates - she finds that there is considerable heterogeneity in autism. As well as striking differences among children with an ASD diagnosis, there is also a lack of specificity in symptoms and causes. For instance, genetic variants and environmental risks that are associated with increased risk of autism are also associated with other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Waterhouse is not denying that there are children with severe developmental difficulties involving social interaction, communication and stereotyped behaviours. Rather, she is questioning whether their needs are best served by grouping them all together under a single umbrella label.

Her view is that research efforts directed at finding a unifying theory of autism are misguided, and that we should be focusing on symptoms rather than an abstract diagnostic category that can obfuscate rather than clarify our understanding."

--Prof. Dorothy Bishop, University of Oxford, UK

Table of Contents




Chapter 1: Autism Heterogeneity

Chapter 2 Autism Symptom Heterogeneity Exists in Family Members

Chapter 3 The Social Brain is a Complex Super-Network

Chapter 4 Genetic Risk Factors Link Autism to Many Other Disorders

Chapter 5 Environmental Risk Factors Link Autism to Many Other Outcomes

Chapter 6 Savant Skills, Superior Skills, and Intelligence Vary Widely in Autism

Chapter 7 Increasing Prevalence and the Problem of Diagnosis

Chapter 8 Autism Symptoms Exist but the Disorder Remains Elusive