With the rising prevalence estimates and increased public awareness of autism spectrum conditions (ASCs), there has been a sharp increase in the number of publications designed to explain the disorder to both healthcare providers and caregivers of individuals with ASCs. The goal of this 269-page volume is to be a comprehensive resource to address the most common and pressing questions associated with the disorder. This book contains contributions from 66 of the world's leading experts in autism. The book is organized as 78 chapters presented in “FAQ” format: chapter titles are posed as questions (e.g., “What are the First Signs of ASC?”; “Why is Early Intervention Important in ASC?”) to aid healthcare providers and caregivers to more quickly find information most relevant to their questions. Chapters are brief, typically only a few pages, and offer “big picture” summaries that reference studies by established experts for readers interested in more information. This “breath over depth” approach is highly conducive to the overall goal of a useful initial resource for answering common questions about autism. Further, the wide range of topics included and clear presentation assures that the volume holds useful information for healthcare providers and caregivers of individuals with ASCs of varying ages and cognitive levels.
Overall, the book is a superb reference and eminently readable. It serves as both a clinical autism resource as well as a comprehensive survey of current topics in autism research. The book is presented in 10 well-organized sections. The first eight are reviews of state-of-the-art findings regarding prevalence, early identification and signs of autism, developmental trajectories, etiologic theories, and treatment options. These sections are wide-ranging, include contributions from internationally recognized experts, and summarize the most up-to-date research findings. In particular, the sections on treatment are a valuable resource for clinicians and caregivers wanting an introduction to evidenced-based treatment options for individuals with ASCs. The sections on School, Education, Employment, and Independent Living will likely be of highest interest to family members and caregivers of individuals with ASCs. These sections cover topics related to educational options, employment strategies, and common functional impairments associated with activities of daily living. The section addressing legal rights and support organizations for individuals with ASCs provides an overview of international policies, resources, and research centers, and several of the agencies listed provide an excellent starting point to identifying local service agencies for many readers.
Despite the brevity of the book's chapters, material is presented with targeted references to the empirical literature and appropriate caveats for topics without clear resolution. Although this is likely to be highly satisfying to researchers and clinicians, some of the topic and language may be fairly technical for caregivers, particularly for those with little prior knowledge about autism or without a research background.
For example, chapters on topics such as weak central coherence and the continuous distribution of autism traits in the general population, though of great interest to researchers and clinicians, may be somewhat tangential to the interests of caregivers. This is not necessarily a criticism—indeed, it may not be possible to produce a comprehensive volume about autism in which every chapter is well suited to researchers, clinicians, and caregivers alike. It does suggest, however, that this volume may serve as a companion piece to families for other more lay-friendly reference books.
It is worth mentioning that the topic of restricted and repetitive behaviors, a core feature of ASCs, receives only minimal consideration outside of the review of early signs of ASCs. Given recent evidence that this symptom domain may be among the earliest signs of ASCs during infancy and that the severity of restricted repetitive behaviors in childhood may uniquely predict the severity of autism in adolescence, this oversight is unfortunate. The volume's unequivocal treatment of vaccinations and of ineffective and harmful alternative treatments is appreciated and should serve as a model for other books aimed at lay readers who may be confused about the contradictory information presented by the media about these topics.
In summary, Sven Bolte and Joachim Hallmayer should be commended on thoughtfully assembling a valuable contribution to the autism literature. It will serve as an important resource for healthcare providers and caregivers of individuals with ASCs alike. This volume is highly readable and thus may also serve as a starting point for undergraduate or graduate students seeking an efficient reference to get “up to speed” with the autism literature.