Review: Beyond the Wall

Title: Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Author: Stephen Shore
Rating: 2/5

I found this book on my father’s bookshelves while clearing out at the beginning of lockdown, and I read it out of curiosity as to what my parents had read when I was first diagnosed. I came at this from the perspective of an autistic person, who is doing worse now than I was as a child, and who has been very active in the autistic community. I had severe problems with this book.

My main problem is related to the fact that the author recommends Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) which is a highly controversial therapy. Several reports have linked ABA with PTSD in autistic individuals subjected to this “therapy” which has been described as torture by many. It was designed on the same principles as conversion therapy, by the same person, Ivar Lovaas.

There is a large focus on early interventions, a phrase which is controversial in the autistic community – mostly because it is a euphemism for ABA nine times out of ten. Also, Shore implies that the word “neurotypical” is a slur, which is not true. Neurotypical is merely the predominant neurotype, a way of describing the majority. Calling such things slurs is unfortunately common, but does not make it true.

After reading this book, I discovered that Shore sits on the board of Autism Speaks, a highly controversial autism charity based in the US which is often referred to as a hate group by autistic individuals. It is only recently that Autism Speaks has created places on the board for autistic people, in a gesture seen as tokenistic. The vast majority of pro-neurodiversity people would never work with this organisation.

There were good points, of course: the writing is engaging and easy to follow, unlike some texts on autism the language isn’t clunky or hard to read, and some of the personal stories are relatable and good to hear. But to me, this doesn’t outweigh the facts that this spreads some misinformation, and doesn’t refute the myth that vaccines cause autism, even after mentioning them early on.

This myth has caused untold harm, both to autistic people and humanity as a whole. It has led to outbreaks of preventable diseases which have harmed and can kill people due to spreading fear and paranoia about vaccinations. In a global pandemic, we can only wait and see how this affects our recovery from COVID-19. Claiming deadly diseases are better than autism is highly offensive.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. There is a fabulous amount of books out there from own voices autistic authors which do the subject much more justice than this. 2/5, only because the writing is fairly decent, in spite of the content’s general offensiveness.