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Kent State University Professor’s Book on Autism Receives Award, Reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine (07/22/2009)

Kent State University’s Dr. Deborah Barnbaum’s work on autism and ethics is bridging the gap between philosophy, ethics and medicine. Her book, The Ethics of Autism: Among Them, but Not of Them, recently won a bronze “IPPY,” from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

For Barnbaum, an associate professor of philosophy, the recognition of her work is personally and professionally rewarding. The IPPY Awards honor the year's best independently published titles – the Indiana University Press published her book – and, although the NEJM is a medical journal, her work focuses on the philosophical and ethical implications of autism. Review in the journal shows her book crosses the lines between hard sciences and the humanities.

Barnbaum’s motivation in writing the book was personal. Her younger brother, Michael, is autistic. 

“I see and understand that he experiences the world differently,” Barnbaum says. “I am focusing on that, and how we should be expected to treat him and how he should be expected to treat others, in light of the different way in which he sees the world.”

Barnbaum begins her book by focusing on the “theory of mind.”

“People have the ability to ‘read other people’s minds,’” she says. “For example, if we’re talking and I look out the window, you’ll assume that I saw something outside. People with autism suffer from a deficit of theory of the mind – they don’t have the ability to read people.”

After discussing the theory of mind, Barnbaum considers its implications for areas such as consciousness and language and then examines theories about a fulfilling life and the value of an autistic life.

She says the main conclusion most readers seem to pick up from the book is that autism should not be cured in adults, because it would be a failure to respect them as humans and an overwhelming change. 

“Autism isn’t like other diseases,” Barnbaum says.  “It affects the way people interact with others and understand themselves.  Ultimately, all other diseases might shape how you interact with objects – not people.” 

While Barnbaum doesn’t think autism should be cured in adults, she says it should be cured in children because what the disease takes away is so fundamental. 

Barnbaum hopes that individuals who read her book will develop a better understanding of autism. She says the research allowed her to better understand how her brother sees things.

Her book is available through the Indiana University Press Web site,


Media Contacts:

Deborah Barnbaum,, 330-672-0267

Lindsay Kuntzman,, 330-672-9776



This page was last modified on September 8, 2009