Blog:Life with Aspergers- Book Review: Uniquely Normal: Tapping The Reservoir of Normalcy To Treat Autism by Robert J. Bernstein

Uniquely Normal: Tapping The Reservoir of Normalcy To Treat Autism by Robert J. Bernstein

Uniquely Normal is a very impressive book which looks at a number of cases over Robert Bernstein’s career ranging from children as young as two to adults aged sixty-five. It’s quite a different book to the usual “parent’s guides” that cover the subject because this is more a collection of abbreviated case studies.

Robert’s techniques for treating conditions associated with autism are unique and very effective and as you progress through the book you’ll begin to understand what to look for in your own children and how you can use those “moments of normalcy” to open up a larger world for them.

In the introduction to the book, Robert talks about growing up with a brother on the autism spectrum. I find that the best writers on autism are either writers with autism themselves or writers with a life-long connection to autism that usually starts with a sibling on the spectrum. Robert’s brother Ben clearly played a large part in educating him.

There’s a great story about him sending his brother some DVDs and getting no response. He assumed that his brother was unimpressed with the gift but after talking to him and drawing the information out slowly, he realises that his brother loved the gift.

What I found most astonishing in this book is the way in which Robert is able to overcome many of the non-verbal aspects of autism. It’s one thing to help a two year old non-verbal child to start speaking but it’s another thing entirely to get an aggressive 12 year old who has never spoken to start using her words in only a couple of weeks.

The chapters in this book are organized in age order with the youngest clients at the front. Each chapter starts off with a statement about the client, for example; Jeff, 6 Nonverbal; bites hand to ease stress. The chapters then go on to describe Robert’s first meetings with them and his first impressions.

Robert’s technique, particularly with younger clients, often involves watching the client and looking for a moment of “normality”. His theory is that most people on the spectrum have such moments of clarity and that once the moment is found, it can be widened and the client can be taught to control the moment to make it predominant in their lives.

Sometimes the moment is in the client’s reaction to a loud noise, such as a siren or music – or in the way that they move. Sometimes, the moment comes from their reactions to everyday things. Robert uses a variety of techniques which include card tricks, yoga, dance moves, music and believe it or not, pizza ordering, to help his clients to exert control over their lives. It’s very impressive to read about.

At the end of each client case study, Robert talks about what worked and what didn’t.  He doesn’t hold back and points out his own failings as well as those of teachers and parents. He also acknowledges the way in which others around his client made changes to improve their interactions and how his clients have worked on their own behaviour.


Robert J Bernstein

One of the other things that I found quite different in Robert’s interactions was that he doesn’t encourage the use of praise. He believes that praising a child for an activity, particularly while they’re still making progress, can actually distract from the activity itself. This is quite different from conventional wisdom which encourages constant praise.

In the later chapters, as Robert deals with clients in their teens and early twenties, he covers topics such as employment, dating and living independently, something that very few books on autism cover. His interactions with clients are often “in the real world” outside his clinic and are quite revolutionary. In one case for example, he got his client a job in a bagel store and when they struggled with some of the basic tasks, he bought a bunch of bagels and bags and spent time teaching them how to cut and bag the bagels. It’s the kind of interaction that is incredibly rewarding but it rarely seen with autism professionals.

I got a lot out of this book and I’ll be applying much of Robert’s wisdom to help my own kids. I can’t recommend this book enough. It has something for more or less everyone on the spectrum, at all ages – and those who support them. Robert’s “real life therapy” is particularly applicable to parents and grandparents who can take the initiative to use everyday interactions to improve they way their children interact with others.

Uniquely Normal: Tapping The Reservoir of Normalcy To Treat Autism by Robert J. Bernstein is available from Future Horizons, on Amazon, the Book Depository and Booktopia in Paperback and eBook formats.

You can read more about Rob on his website, Autism Speech and you can watch some videos on his blog.

Honestly clause; I was provided with a kindle version of this book for review purposes. 

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