Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Simon Baron-Cohen

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Simon Baron-Cohen

Article excerpt

In the NHS clinic where I work, adults who suspect they may have Asperger syndrome wait almost a year for a diagnosis. The clinic takes referrals from all over Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (a population of 860,000), but we have to see all of them in the hours of a single full-time doctor. And the clinic is not given funds to run a follow-up support service once someone has been diagnosed. These individuals struggle to socialise, are neurologically different, and are overlooked because their disability is invisible. Many have experienced bullying in childhood, underemployment in adulthood and exploitation because of their social naivety. Many are made to feel inferior despite their often considerable talents. No surprise that many develop depression. Our study in the Lancet Psychiatry showed that two thirds of the patients in our clinic had felt suicidal, and a third had attempted suicide. Parliament passed an Autism Act back in 2009 to legislate for more services but, despite much talk, no new funding means precious little has changed.

I open my email to find an unusual message: an invitation to give the keynote lecture to the UN in New York on Autism Awareness Day, 31 March. The topic is autonomy and self-determination. These sound to me like human rights issues. Perhaps it's time to highlight how, for decades, these have been sorely overlooked in the case of autism.

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk in the Distinguished Lecture Series at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain, part of Humboldt University. With my colleague Dr Isabel Dziobek, a talented social neuroscientist, I took the opportunity to visit the 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe'. It is an impressive, depressing piece of sculpture, with more than 2,000 concrete slabs arranged in a suffocating grid. We walk along the rows and columns. Each dark-grey slab seems like a huge grave. Two out of three European Jews died in the Holocaust. Walking the streets of Berlin today, I imagine the cries of Jews dragged out of their homes and herded off to the gas chambers. I am continuously conscious of the haunting feeling of being in the lucky one in three who survived, by historical accident.

I asked my Berlin taxi driver, a friendly Palestinian, to take me to Bebelplatz. Here, on 10 May 1933, the German Student Union burnt 20,000 books by Jewish authors, including the works of Albert Einstein and Karl Marx, and other books not in line with Nazi values. …

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