Book Review: Uniquely Human by Barry Prizant

Uniquely HumanOne of my favorite autism books of last year was Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D. I eagerly pre-ordered this book before it was released in August because I was already a fan of Dr. Prizant’s work on the SCERTS Model, which is the primary tool we use to assess and plan Kiddo’s autism intervention.

Uniquely Human embraces the view of autism as a neurological difference rather than a disease or disorder. Dr. Prizant encourages his readers to see autistic behaviors as coping strategies for people who have social, communication, and sensory challenges and repetitive behavior patterns. Rather than working to eradicate these behaviors, he suggests working to understand the reason for the behaviors, provide support, and build on strengths.

I think the core message of the book can be summed up in this passage:

Autism isn’t an illness. It’s a different way of being human. Children with autism aren’t sick; they are progressing through developmental stages as we all do. To help them, we don’t need to change them or fix them. We need to work to understand them, and then change what we do.

In this book, Dr. Prizant isn’t arguing that autism intervention is unnecessary; he’s arguing that we need to shift the focus of autism intervention from eradicating autistic behaviors to understanding the function of the behavior, and then working to “enhance abilities, teach skills, build coping strategies, and offer supports that will help to prevent behavioral patterns of concern and naturally lead to more desirable behavior.”

This is the approach to autism intervention that resonates with me as a parent of an autistic child. The SCERTS Model is based on this philosophy, and that’s why I embraced it when Kiddo’s speech language pathologist (SLP) introduced us to it. (I’ll write more about SCERTS in another post.)

The first chapter of the book is called “Ask Why?” because that really has to be the basis for any autism intervention. How can we possibly figure out what to do about a behavior, or whether to do anything at all, without understanding the reason why the child is exhibiting that behavior. The thing I love about this approach is that some behaviors that seem bizarre can suddenly make so much sense once you know why somebody is doing them. (My next post will be about some of Kiddo’s perplexing behaviors and how learning his reason for doing them completely changed our reaction to those behaviors.)

The book then goes on to discuss typically autistic behaviors and challenges such as echolalia, obsessions (or as Dr. Prizant reframes them, “enthusiasms”), strict adherence to routines and rules, and difficulty understanding social situations. In part two of the book, he offers suggestions for parents and professionals working with individuals with autism. Many of the ideas in part two relate to the SCERTS Model, although he suggests other resources as well and provides extensive examples to illustrate his points.

Most of the information in Uniquely Human wasn’t new to me, but it was an easy and enjoyable book to read. Sometimes it’s nice to read a book or attend a course even if I already know the material because it can provide reinforcement of those concepts. Besides, there’s usually at least once tidbit of new and useful information. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals alike, as well as people on the autism spectrum.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Uniquely Human by Barry Prizant

  1. Uniquely Human was my favorite autism book of the year, and I made sure all of my colleagues read it, too. I’m a school psychologist and the mother of a son with Asperger’s and very knowledgeable about the spectrum–and I learned a few things from this book. I’ve been recommending it to parents with whom I work and to other professionals in the field–a great book!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I’ve been sharing this book with our local autism community and have purchased copies for some family members. I’m glad to see it getting so much attention. I’m looking forward to reading your book when it comes out, too!

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