Member Rara Avis
I agree, Brad, but for two reasons rather than one.
Autism, as you suggest, is much less simple than implied in this article, and the autistic condition even less so. One might argue there is no such thing as an "autistic child," but only a child who is autistic, perhaps blind, misunderstood by confused parents, with a chronic heart problem, et cetera, et cetera. Indeed, the only reason the reviewer felt a need to point out that autistics aren't necessarily retarded is because autism is SO often accompanied by that and other conditions. The severity of autistic symptoms describes a typical bell curve, running from mild to severe, with most clustered toward the mid-point. Those most severely disabled in social interactive skills, language, and communication are sometimes classified has having classic autism, also called "Kanner's autism." Those are actually (and thankfully) rather rare.
While I have no doubt Jim knows a great deal more than I do, it so happens I wrote an article about autism in 1995, and my focus coincidentally was on language - which is only ONE of the six major symptoms associated with the condition, each of which can be present in any given child with varying degrees of severity. Some of these were briefly addressed in the review, but not all.
Social Skills The inability of autistic children to develop normal social skills is probably the most noticeable characteristic of autism. Children with autism don't interact with others the way most children do, or they don't interact at all. They have difficulty understanding and expressing emotion, and show few, if any, signs of attachment.
Communication Autism's second major symptom is speech, language, and communication problems, with approximately fifty percent of all autistic children being effectively or completely mute. This is NOT simply a matter of language. Children with language disorders typically can use gestures or other methods of communications, something the autistic child has a great deal of trouble doing.
Sameness Children with autism are usually unable to relate normally to objects and events. Many exhibit, to some degree, a "need for sameness," and may become very upset if objects in their environment or schedules are changed. The way autistic children play may be very unusual, often making no attempts at "pretend" play.
Sensory Children with autism may overreact to sights and sounds, or have almost no reaction whatsoever. For example, some children find certain tones very distressing and may cover their ears and throw a tantrum until their parents eliminate the source of the sound, while other children may appear enthralled with sounds they make themselves or with "background" sounds such as distant police sirens. Similar reactions are seen in the realms of sight, taste, smell, and touch.
Development Rate The fifth symptom of autism is the different rates of development, particularly in communication, social, and cognitive skills. While children without special needs generally progress at a relatively even pace across all areas of development, either slow or fast or in between, the autistic child's development is not at all smooth and will likely be different for every autistic child.
Onset The final symptom of autism is that it begins during infancy or childhood and can generally be diagnosed before the child is three years old.
While I actually like Hobson's attempt to define autism in terms of emotion deficit, I don't think it takes into account many of these symptoms. As you said, Brad, the definition seems a bit too simplistic. When we escape that simplicity, the obvious questions arise. Yes, some autistics learn to use language. But which of the MANY levels of autism are we discussing?
My second objection is similar, in that I also don't think the definition of language can be that simple. Yes, some autistics learn to use language. But HOW are they using it?
I use a computer language, just about every day, to make a computer do what I want it to do. That does not mean that I am communicating with the computer in any traditional sense of the word.
Language development is usually divided into two areas: the acquisition of receptive language and the acquisition of expressive language. Receptive language is the ability to understand words and gestures, while expressive language is the ability to use words, gestures, and written symbols to communicate with others. In most children, receptive understanding of a word will precede its expressive use. In autistic children, this isn't always the case. There is at least some evidence to suggest that language for the autistic child is sometimes a means to control the environment, much in the same way I control the computer. If this is true, I don't think this kind of language use necessarily invalidates Hobson's contentions about communication.
I have to admit, you've piqued my interest this time, Brad. I have something of a distinctive distrust of reviewers (dare I say, critics?), especially when I catch them calling psychology a "hard" science. I think I'm going to track down a copy of the book and see what the author is REALLY trying to say.