Science Writer / Autism Advocate Steve Silberman on Disorder’s Forgotten History

Steve Silberman could be considered a modern-day Renaissance Man. He is an award-winning science writer whose articles have appeared in Wired, the New Yorker, the MIT Technology Review, Nature, Salon, Shambhala Sun, and many other publications. He was awarded the AAAS “Kavli Science Journalism Award for Magazine Writing.” His featured article “The Placebo Problem” discussed the impact of placebos on the pharmaceutical industry.

As a young man in the mid-seventies, Silberman studied with Allen Ginsberg, and later became his teaching assistant at Naropa University. Their relationship helped develop Silberman’s interest in “The Beat Generation,” which became a regular subject of his writings.

His love of music led Silberman to San Francisco in 1979, drawn by the sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Grateful Dead and other Bay-area bands. His liner notes have been featured in CDs and DVDs by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Jerry Garcia Band, and many other groups.


Discovering the History, Secrets, and Myths About Autism

In 2001, Silberman published “The Geek Syndrome,” one of the first articles in the mainstream press to probe the complex relationship between autism and genius. This led to his ongoing interest in the answer to the question: Why have rates of autism diagnosis increased so steeply in the past 30 years?

From that curiosity stemmed his 2015 book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, which noted neurologist Oliver Sacks called a “sweeping and penetrating history…presented with a rare sympathy and sensitivity.” NeuroTribes is a groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding, and full participation in society for people who think differently.

Along the way, he reveals the untold story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome, whose “little professors” were targeted by the darkest social-engineering experiment in human history; exposes the covert campaign by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner to suppress knowledge of the autism spectrum for fifty years; and casts light on the growing movement of “neurodiversity” activists seeking respect, support, technological innovation, accommodations in the workplace and in education, and the right to self-determination for those with cognitive differences.

Read More from Steve Silberman: Commentary: “Autism Speaks needs to do a lot more listening”


TED Talk: “The Forgotten History of Autism” by Steve Silberman

In March of 2015, Silberman gave a TED Talk called “The forgotten history of autism,” where he discusses the answers he discovered while researching for the book. In his 14 minute talk, hediscusses some of the history of autism and why, until only recently, it had been so misunderstood. He also tries to dispel some of the fallacies and myths about the growing number of autism diagnoses, such as the widespread but erroneous belief that childhood vaccines are a major cause of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs.) You can watch his complete presentation here:



About TED

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world.

1. Wired Magazine: The Geek Syndrome” by Steve Silberman
2. Wikipedia:
4. TED Talks: Steve Silberman: The forgotten history of autism;