South Africa's original sin was not race but difference. Fixed into our DNA, the social genetics that is our inheritance, is a low tolerance level for anything outside of what our society has come to define as normal. The most obvious defect in our social DNA shows up in a long history of anti-Black racism but there are loci on those genes for anti-Semitism, misogyny, xenophobia and any number of targets that fall outside the norm. The social construction of an able-bodied person is one of those normative conditions that leads to the exclusion, marginalization and suppression of those deemed less able including autistic persons. Sadly, that inattention to children with autism is also found in the research literature in South Africa. I was very surprised to hear that this is the first scholarly book on autism in Africa.
That is why this excellent collection of research and thinking on autism is such an important contribution to scholarship on the subject under the broad conceptual umbrella of Inclusive Education. The topics covered are wide-ranging including religion, technology, rurality, sexuality, and the law. Given my own field of interest (education), I was particularly drawn to the insightful chapters on early childhood education, curriculum differentiation and classroom assessment.
We should not underestimate the level of ignorance in the South African society about autism and why this book is therefore so important because it offers a rich compendium of concepts, methods, and interventions for creating more inclusive classrooms. I found it useful, for example, to think of autism as a spectrum condition and to engage the fascinating question as to whether autism is in fact a disability or simply a naturally existing form of human diversity. How we see autism, in other words, could be highly consequential for how we see human beings with autism and how we design teaching and learning in response to such conceptions of others.
This otherwise powerful idea that how we “see” autism has many positive possibilities such as a humane response that goes beyond biomedical treatments of an illness – but also some potential downsides. In this regard it is important to distinguish between normative ideals (what we would like to see autism research, policy and practice look like) and empirical realities (what actually exists on the ground as documented through high quality research).