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by Cheri Florance with Marin Gazzaniga
Perigee Trade, 2004
Review by Anthony R Dickinson, Ph.D. on Nov 25th 2008

Maverick Mind

Reminiscent of the pains and passions of her like-minded predecessors in Paul de Kruif (A Man Against Insanity, 1957) and Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1985), Florance records here a first-person account of her investigatory clinical observations and discoveries for a non-specialist readership. Coining the term 'Maverick Minds' to describe her highly-visual/low-verbal functioning patients (the key example of the book being one of her own children), the author relates a personal 15-year adventure to include the sufferings (and eventual pleasures) evolving around the development of a potentially 'closed' autistic-like behaving boy, to relatively high-functioning, literate, collegiate scholar. With a maverick enthusiasm (in the usual sense of the word) and a stubborn determinism to solve the mystery of her son's aberrant infant behavior, Florance tells of how she embarked upon a number of scientifically-informed remedial educational intervention practices and training schedules of her own design, whilst stubbornly rejecting the classical diagnoses of her own child as being 'autistic'. This method of enquiry (so often neglected in the pursuit of clinical categorization and prognostic intervention pattern-matching, in my view), was ardently pursued by Florance in an attempt to determine (and focus upon) what the young 'autistic-like' boy could do, rather than remaining content to determine what he could not do, in order to develop her training techniques. Many of this book's 18 chapters repeat this theme (though not always explicitly), and it is in tribute to Florance, both as participant investigator and author, that her perseverance and tenacity has resulted in the brighter future now available to her son, and to many others who may now be able to benefit from her writings, and continued clinical work.

Those familiar with the lives of autistic children (whether with specific or more broad-spectrum component diagnoses), will not be surprised to read the authors' frequent references to the life and work of Helen Keller (and her barrier-breaker, Annie Sullivan). Indeed, it is entirely appropriate that Keller's experience be recounted as an example in guiding the non-technical (or less neurophilosophically inclined) reader to understand the authors' logic, as they recount the various stages of the developing 'maverick mind' from infantile social isolation, through protolinguistic competency, towards gradual (although significantly delayed) social integration with age-matched peers, as said to have been exhibited during her son's adolescence. I would personally have preferred to also read of the ontological developing brain story which might accompany Florance's arguments (complete with discussion of the emerging plasticity of specific neural circuits in the brain), but perhaps that may await a further volume. Although little clear evidence for emerging neural connectivity development is currently available in addressing Florance's claims directly, I can foresee that such stories are readily beginning to emerge from a piecing together from a variety of fMRI studies now conducted (rather than relying upon the more traditionally favored pharmacological, and morbid anatomy literature).

Further welcome additions to this volume, would include a searchable index, perhaps a glossary of key terms, and some references to the relevant scientific research literature supporting Florance's thinking (though a few website addresses available at the time of publication, were provided for exploration and further reading). By no means a failure of this highly stimulating, motivating, (and I hope) inspiring work, this book relates a story of a 'classic' kind, written by a consultant practitioner who is highly passionate about her field, and one which I will be highly recommending to many of my student psychologists and clinical interns seeking a career in remedial education, a concerned parent seeking a role model, or an educational consultant needing a gentle reminder to be alert to what presenting children can do.

© 2008 Tony Dickinson

Tony Dickinson, Ph.D., Academic Research Laboratory, People Impact International Inc, HK., March, 2008.