Send in the Idiots is a witty and moving tale of reunion, part memoir and part journalistic character study. Nazeer, hailing from a Pakistani family that has lived in the United States, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, returns to the United States, where he had attended a school for autistic children during his early youth. He tracks down some of those who were also at that school with him, in order to find out how they are doing, what they are doing, and how their autism has affected their lives. He locates three people who were in the same class as he was and goes to visit them; he finds the family of a fourth; and finally sits down and has a slice of cheesecake with their former teacher and principal. Now a civil servant in the English government, Nazeer visits Andre, a computer scientist who makes uses of puppets to facilitate communication; Randall, a bike courier in Chicago and poet; and Chris, a speechwriter in Washington, DC. He then stays with the parents of Elizabeth, who had committed suicide a few years before, and through them finds out about her life, and about how parents may cope in the aftermath of such an awful catastrophe. Finally, he meets with Rebecca, who had been one of their teachers, and Ira, the prinicipal of the school, which has since shut down.


Much of this book is devoted to understanding how people with autism live in the world. In meeting with his former schoolmates and those with whom they live, Nazeer has a template not only for describing their particular lives but for thinking more broadly about autism. There are elegant descriptions of autistic individuals' needs for local coherence and the challenges they face in communicating and relating to others. The book debunks the notion that autism necessarily entails all that its name suggests (an emotionally autonomous existence, a complete inability to relate or want to relate to other people); Nazeer focuses instead on the serious and sometimes severe interpersonal challenges while always stressing how much hard work has gone into their sucesses. Nazeer is unsentimental about his accomplishments, as well as what Andre, Randall and Chris have achieved; he discusses at length the possibility that autism has played a role in their relative successes as well as the possibility that it has hindered them (and he also recognises that autism is a spectrum and that they are very much on one end of it).

By talking very specifically about his colleagues and then thinking about their experiences in a broader context, Nazeer is also able to write very incisive passages about the performative nature of conversation, the question of "genius", play, and relationships, with observations that are eye-opening and stimulating. The book itself is not "autistic" but is intimately related to the outside world and far from indifferent to the lives of others. Ultimately, "Send in the Idiots" is about relationships; this book is very much an opening into an inner world that people all too often think either does not exist or cannot be entered.

Those interested in theories about autism will find useful discussions here about etiology and treatment, and there is an excellent section where Nazeer queries theory of mind and mindblindness as it relates to autism; similarly, those interested in the effects of mental illness on families will find sympathetic analyses of family members and friends and their involvement in the lives of autistic individuals, especially in Nazeer's kind treatment of the story of Elizabeth and her parents.



Place Published

New York



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