Dawn Prince-Hughes is an anthropologist, primatologist, ethologist, and author who earned her M.A. and Phd in interdisciplinary anthropology from the Universitat Herisau in Switzerland. She was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in her thirties, and has written several books on autism and primates, including Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Gorillas Among Us: A Primate Ethnographer’s Book of Days, Expecting Teryk: An Exceptional Path to Parenthood, The Archetype of the Ape-Man: The Phenomenological Archeology of a Relic Hominid Ancestor, Adam, and Circus of Souls: How I Discovered We are All Freaks Passing as Normal. She is also the editor of Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students with Autism.
Though she was not diagnosed until her thirties, her differences were apparent early in life. She was often singled out by her peers, and her teachers believed that she was lazy and inattentive. Her sensory issues made it difficult for her to focus, or to interact with others.
She credits her job as Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo with helping her to cope with the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome. She spent many hours observing the gorillas, and found many parallels between primate and human society. She observed how the silverback males gorillas cared for their families, intervened in conflicts, and set the tone for community behavior. She came to the conclusion that humans and gorillas share many social, emotional, and spiritual templates.
Ms Prince-Hughes also found that she was able to set aside her autistic “filters” when she was working with the gorillas, and she learned strategies that helped improve her social skills. Her experiences at Woodland Park Zoo are chronicled in her book Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism.
She has written several other books, including Expecting Teryk: An Exceptional Path to Parenthood, chronicling her relationship with her partner, leading up to becoming parents. Aquamarine Blue 5: Personal Stories of College Students with Autism is a collection of essays from real college students with Asperger’s Syndrome. It covers various topics, including academics, dorm life, socializing, and sexuality, and shares the gifts of autism along with the challenges.
Circus of Souls: How I Discovered We are All Freaks Passing as Normal explores her discovery that no one is truly “normal,” though most try to pretend. It started when she went on her first book tour promoting Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism. She feared that she would be viewed as a modern-day freak, similar to the freak shows of the past featuring Percilla Monkey Girl or Mille-Christine the Two-Headed Nightingale. Instead, she found that everyone she met on tour was struggling with their own deep disfigurements and spiritual twisting, no matter how “normal” they appeared. She interweaves the history of the American freak show with reflections on modern day normalcy, freakishness, and disability.
Along with her writing, she continues to work with apes, as the executive chair of ApeNet, Inc. She has also served as the executive director of the Institute for Cognitive Archeological Research, and is associated with the Jane Goodall Institute.