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What's A Mental Disorder? Even Experts Can't Agree

This article is from NPR's “All Things Considered.”
What's A Mental Disorder? Even Experts Can't Agree
by ALIX SPIEGEL

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, updated roughly every 15 years, has detailed descriptions of all the mental disorders officially recognized by psychiatry. It's used by psychiatrists, insurance companies, drug researchers, the courts and even schools.

But it's not without controversy: The proposed changes suggested this year have sparked a kind of civil war within psychiatry.

In a small condo on the beach in San Diego lives Allen Frances, who blames himself for what he calls the "Epidemic of Asperger's." Frances edited the last edition of the DSM, and he's also the new DSM's most prominent critic.As one with a graduate degree in “Rhetoric: Scientific and Technical Communication” I am aware of the complex nature of the DSM editorial process. Though I specialize in language edu…

Holiday Season

My wife an I spent the holiday at home, with one friend, and that was fine with us. We'll likely spend New Year's Eve quietly watching movies, as well. Our ideal holiday, like most days off, is spent quietly with just the two of us. That's about as social as either of us wants to be. I might want out of the house at times, but I don't want to attend social events.

I never enjoyed family gatherings, which are just too loud and too stressful. I want to enjoy a holiday, which means I don't want the stress of people. Yes, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve are about family, but I can call and e-mail family members. I don't need to be in a crowded house, anxiously waiting for the holiday to end.

Holidays were rarely pleasant as a child. I dreaded them. I still do. The fact we are several thousand miles away from family was somewhat "helpful" over the last five years. It means we can be alone without offending anyone.

I care about my family,…

Autism and Adults

On one of the many popular autism blogs, the old myth of "no autistic adults" once again made its appearance. The argument is autism is "new" and an "epidemic" — the proof is that there are so few adults with autism receiving services.

Adults don't receive many services. The laws and supports are changing, though. For now, the best census of adults with ASDs was done in the U.K. by the National Health Service.

The autistic adults do exist, they just were not counted in the past. Again, from 2009:

On Sept. 22, England’s National Health Service (NHS) released the first study of autism in the general adult population. The findings confirm the intuitive assumption: that ASD is just as common in adults as it is in children. Researchers at the University of Leicester, working with the NHS Information Center found that roughly 1 in 100 adults are on the spectrum — the same rate found for children in England, Japan, Canada and, for that matter, New Jersey.Read…

Reflections on Charted Courses

A simple question as the new year approaches: What path should I take? More importantly, what is best for both my wife and me?

I am out of ideas. The past offers lessons of what I should not do, if I pay attention. But what should I do? In general, I'm just annoyed. I feel like the last 20 years have been wasted, professionally. I'm unemployed and overeducated.

My wife and our "kids" (the cats) deserve so much better than I've been able to deliver.

It seems an inescapable conclusion after 20 years that education is not a field for me, at least not in the humanities. I don't fit politically, philosophically, temperamentally, or in almost any other way within the professions of education. I don't even fit physically or intellectually. I love learning a lot, but that's definitely insufficient in a field dominated more by political views than intellectual curiosity.

They say you should learn from the past. There are many years I dislike and will never c…

Struggling to be Positive

This week I will turn 42. And, like too many of my friends and colleagues, I will continue to be underemployed, earning much less than $1000 / month since June.

People have told me, "At least you have a Ph.D." I'm supposed to feed "better" because I've expanded my horizons.

How does that help matters? How does $40,000 in debt help me? My academic "success" hasn't translated into anything. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Actually, it has resulted in negatives -- lost time, substantial debt, stress, and overall bitterness. What was the point of more than seven years' worth of graduate education?

When I started graduate school, the talk was of the coming wave of retirements in higher education. Some of those retirements did come, but new full-time instructors were not hired. Instead, universities are scaling back where possible.

I don't blame colleges and universities. They need graduate students and I'm sure most educators want to believe ed…

Autism: Researchers, Scientists and Science

Researchers and scientists are human. This means that despite their best efforts, they are shaped by their own biases and experiences. It also means they exist in a world of politics -- from university politics to the politics of professional organizations. And make no mistake about it, government and non-profit organizations make research funding decisions based on politics, as well. Most scientists and researchers I know were drawn to research for personal reasons. For example, many cancer researchers are motivated because they lost friends or relatives to cancer. The goal is still altruistic, in my opinion, but there is something that nudges each of us interested in research to pursue specific questions. I do want to clarify that not all researchers are scientists. Researchers in the humanities might borrow terms and techniques from the "hard sciences," but social science and general humanities research is often overtly political. This research is sometimes called "a…

What If MRI is Right, Dx is Wrong?

I posted a link to this article a few days ago:
In Study, MRI Scan 90% Accurate Identifying Autism
The full story cautions that this is merely one study, but it is interesting. From the story on CNN's website:
Scientists are finding more pieces of the autism puzzle of with the help of MRI scans of brain circuitry, according to a study published Thursday online in the journal Autism Research. By scanning the brain for 10 minutes using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers were able to measure six physical differences of microscopic fibers in the brains of 30 males with confirmed high-functioning autism and 30 males without autism.Here is my question:
What is confirmed high-functioning autism?

HFA is not a standardized diagnosis, as it does not appear in the DSM-IV. It is a subjective diagnosis, and there are constant debates as to what differentiates HFA from Asperger's Syndrome or PDD-NOS. I have even heard discussions claiming it is easy to confuse "moderate" (whatev…

In Study, MRI Scans Detect Autism

In Study, MRI Scan 90% Accurate Identifying AutismThe full story cautions that this is merely one study, but it is interesting. From the story on CNN's website:Scientists are finding more pieces of the autism puzzle of with the help of MRI scans of brain circuitry, according to a study published Thursday online in the journal Autism Research.By scanning the brain for 10 minutes using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers were able to measure six physical differences of microscopic fibers in the brains of 30 males with confirmed high-functioning autism and 30 males without autism.The images of the brains helped researchers correctly identify those with autism with 94 percent accuracy, says Nicholas Lange, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and one of the study authors."No one has measured what we measured," says Lange of the MRI test he and Dr. Janet Lainhart from the University of Utah developed.While previous studies using different types o…

The Skeptical OB: Autism and mother-blame

The Skeptical OB: Autism and mother-blame

It's an interesting read, especially the comments. I'm not going to add much, beyond a simple observation: When people don't trust a medical doctor and Harvard instructor, I'm no longer as stunned as I once was.
It is also clear from the comments that people can get confused when they don't read carefully. A good blog post, if you read it carefully.

Easter Seals Survey: Adults with Developmental Disabilities

A representative from WestGlenn Communications (http://www.westglen.com/), a PR firm that works with non-profit organizations, asked me to review an Easter Seals survey related to adults with developmental disabilities and to consider referring readers of this blog to a video discussion.

Understand that this survey was funded by MassMutual Financial Group, which has a vested interest in marketing financial planning to parents of children with disabilities. I am not going to recommend any particular company, but I do agree that those families with the ability must consider how a child with a disability will adapt to adulthood.

The sad truth is that many of us with developmental disabilities are underemployed or unemployed. Surveys of adults with official diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders indicate only 17 percent have full-time employment. That leaves most dependent on public supports, friends, and family. I know that cannot be easy for parents to consider. Also, I know my persona…

Social Stories and Role-Playing

One of the standard educational strategies for children diagnosed with ASDs and similar learning challenges is social stories. There is a substantial literature on social stories, most supporting their use and finding some effectiveness. It should concern us that many of the published studies are anecdotal, at best.
Skimming the study abstracts, I am stunned by the number of studies relying on a single child. A "large" study of the effectiveness of social stories included only five students. And then, the recorded improvements are observational and anecdotal. We have no idea if the stories really worked or not. I find little evidence the simple passage of time or the repetition of rules didn't contribute to any observed social skills.

From Focus Autism Other Developmental Disabilities, Fall 1998 vol. 13 no. 3 176-182:
The student was a 12-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, Fragile X syndrome, and intermittent explosive disorder.From the Journal of Applied Behavioral Anal…

The Rare Book Review... Not a Recommendation

I don't view myself as part of the market for most autism books found on bookstore shelves, most of which are for parents. These books tend to cover familiar material, too often including data and information I consider faulty or even misleading. However, when I was asked by a representative of Skyhorse Publishing if I might review a book for parents with a section on education, I consented.
1,001 Tips for the Parents of Autistic Boys: Everything You Need to Know about Diagnosis, Doctors, Schools, Taxes, Vacations, Babysitters, Treatment, Food, and More
by Ken Siri
ISBN: 978-1-61608-105-8I cannot endorse this text for a number of reasons, some merely stylistic but some that are, at least for me, far more important.

Stylistic IssuesThe "1,001 Tips" are not actually individual tips. Most of the "tips" are composed of a few sentences from other sources. Too many of these sources are websites, not academic journals or scholarly texts. Some of the sourcing is unclear, a…

U.K. National Health Service Changes Vaccine Schedule

Right on the heels of my complaints about the anti-vax conspiracy radicals, who are so focused they often overlook issues of concern to all families and individuals with autism and related disorders, comes this twist. Certain to anger the anti-vax movement in the U.K., the National Health Service is considering changing the vaccine schedule. There are also discussions of what can or should be mandated.
One-off 'six inoculation' jabs to be introduced to one-year-oldsLast updated at 5:05 PM on 21st November 2010

Read MoreThe decision to immunise all the diseases at once, including MMR will create concern with some parents about the risk of side effects with the added possibility that families will not allow their babies to be inoculated in this way.The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation who advised the government to combine the jabs said research found no safety issues with families 'expected to increase take-up' of inoculations.It does make me wonder what the…

The Anti-Vax Hijackers

On many Web forums dedicated autism, no matter the topic there is an increasing likelihood that a discussion will be hijacked by the anti-vaccine, "curebie," anti-establishment, conspiracy theorists. They are led by "journalists" and celebrities given prominence by the Huffington Post, DailyKos, Age of Autism, and other websites. They admire discredited men and women, individuals reprimanded in legal proceedings, sanctioned by medical review boards, and disavowed by universities. Yes, to many of us with science and quantitative backgrounds, the science is firmly established — as firmly as one can expect within medical science. And what annoys us is that self-proclaimed watchdogs and anti-vaccine hooligans, and they are hooligans, point to "journal articles" and demand other articles in response. Of course, the "journals" publishing the Geiers and most others are vanity journals, foreign publications, or minor journals of no standing — but that d…

The Nonsense on Blogs

I won't delve too deeply in this, but I am familiar with the stupidity of people trying to prove I am someone else or the paid shill of this group or that. The basic story is that a blogger at "Age of Autism" (a website I do despise intensely), is trying to "prove" that Sullivan over at "Left Brain / Right Brain" is actually not the father of an autistic child, but is instead… well, I'm not even going to give it more credibility than that. It's stupidity and evidence of how conspiracy minded the extremists are.

Sadly, these extremists seem to come from one side of the debate. They've sent people like me hateful e-mails, even threats. These are not people interested in learning or discussing -- they are like religious zealots. It is ironic that these zealots are often aligned with "progressive" politics. They find standing on Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and other forums.

Let's get this straight, the political community general…

Writing about Autism

For the last two or the three years, I have considered writing a book about autism and education. I outlined the book, sent proposals to two publishers, and wrote 30 or 40 thousand words before abandoning the idea. It lost its appeal to me for a variety of reasons, including the fact I didn't really want to reconsider my most recent educational experiences.

Yet, there are those asking when I'm going to sit down and write about autism. I'm often asked about this when I speak to groups of parents or caregivers. Clearly there is a demand I don't understand. If I did understand it, I'd know exactly what to write.

Until this week, I had not read a complete "self-help" or "advice" book on autism or any other special education issues. I just don't see what such books would offer me and I don't believe my own experiences reflect the current realities of education. Schools have improved a great deal since I was in elementary school, way back in…

Twenty Years Ago...

The clichĂ© is that I am supposed to "learn" from the last 20 years. At least I have a great wife and cool cats… but it has been a long 20 years since leaving USC. I believe 1988-89 was the last "good" year. (Like many people, I still view a "year" in academic terms.)

I need to get back to the path I was on then: writing and more writing. I stopped giving my all to the journalism and English programs my last year at USC. I quit the Daily Trojan, ended my journalism internships, and shifted to the school of education for several complex reasons (including hubris). The basic thought was that teaching would be a secure "second choice" since I decided against journalism as my career path. I still love journalism, but I know I'm opinionated and passionate about the topics I might enjoy covering. Of course, a columnist or analyst can be opinionated, so there's hope.

I have been unable to focus since leaving L.A. in Dec 1990. I did finish the En…

Vaccination Rates Drop in Wealthier Kids: The Autism Rumors Take a Toll

Vaccination Rates Drop in Wealthier Kids: The Autism Rumors Take a TollIf there's one great truth of political debate, it's this: when noise trumps knowledge, someone's going to get hurt. That's been proven anew with Wednesday's report that vaccination rates for children with health insurance have been falling — due mostly to fears about the widely disproven link between vaccines and autism. If there was a glimmer of good — and surprising — news in the report it's that vaccination rates for kids on Medicaid are on the rise.I've read the more education one has, the more likely to embrace alternative medicine, too. I'd like to see this broken down by which academic majors these “educated” people studied. Yes, I do believe we'd find a difference between science majors and the humanities graduates. But, that's only my theory.I am a humanities graduate (English, journalism), but I found some very vocal academics upset that anyone questions c…

Speaking, Job Hunting... Health Issue

I haven't had much time for personal writing, even the creative writing I have been pursuing this year. I've made two public speaking appearances this month, both two hours long. Thankfully, one was a panel discussion so I wasn't speaking nearly as much.

The academic job hunt has continued, subdued after last year. The applications have also taken a great deal of time. One university required four applications, though all four fell under one job description. I'm certain there's a legal reason for this, but it was a lot of work because they wanted so many documents. Not only did you have to submit the documents online, they asked applicants to mail copies of the documents, too.

The main reason I've only managed eight-hour days is that I'm dealing with some medical issues. I am anemic, with severely low hemoglobin and iron levels. Last time this happened, two years ago, I ended up spending Christmas Eve in the hospital getting a blood transfusion. On the positi…

Reflecting with Jo

Yesterday I spent several hours holding one of our cats, Jordan, knowing she needed love and attention. It was, sadly, the end of her battle against the ravages of age. I don't know how strange it is, but I spent much of the time telling her how much I enjoyed various things she did throughout life. I whispered to her and told her how much she had meant to me during the roughest patches of life.She would fade in and out of sleep, exhausted. I've read research pointing increasingly towards emotions, memories, and even self-awareness in animals. I want to believe that Jordan knew how much I loved her as a companion. Jordan and her sister, Mimi, have been with us for almost as long as my wife and I have lived together. That means they have been through the good and bad with us. I thought about those times a lot over the last few days as Jordan needed more care and attention. For all my shortcomings, and they are many, the one thing I am certain I have done "right" for …

Communities

The word "community" is overused in academic fields, but it is the best word for what it on my mind today.

I closed "The Autistic Place" today. It was meant to be an online community dedicated to issues of autism and education. The reality is, however, that online communities come and go so rapidly that what was popular a year or two ago is often "inactive" now.

There are dozens of Yahoo groups that are dedicated to autism. Most of these were active five years ago, but have since fallen out of favor with users. Just as the Usenet groups and most "listservs" have faded away in the last five years, so have many online forums.

The Internet has accelerated the speed with which a community grows, propers, and then declines. The timeline of the Internet is punctuated by technologies and business ideas that were "hot" for a moment. When is the last time you used IRC or read a newsgroup? Remember CompuServe? Prodigy? And Netscape was nearly…

Plans to Close The Autistic Place

This blog is continuing but in the next week or two, I will be terminating The Autistic Place -- a failed attempt to create a Web portal for all things autism.The Autistic Me has many readers and seems to serve a purpose. While I might be recognizing the impossibility of establishing a thriving portal in a virtual world with far too many autism-related Web sites, I am not going to stop blogging. In fact, I think terminating the relatively inert portal is going to free up a little tiny bit of time and energy to focus on other tasks.Updating the Drupal CMS and the backend databases proved to take a few hours every month. Yet, there were never any active users for the Web site. For those seeking autism-related portals, there are many of them. I was unable to create something better -- and definitely not able to fund any sort of advertising campaign to launch a portal.One of the things I am noticing is that the Internet itself is evolving. The mailing lists I have read for years are slowl…

Decompressing, Sometimes

When I am anxious, there are a few things that sometimes help decompress. These things do not work always, but most of the time they do. Because I don't like street noises, which are particularly painful, I seek out isolated park-like areas when I am not home. In Dallas earlier this year, I found several amazing park-like settings, include an enclosed mall with a duck pond and sculpture garden. Parks, arboretums, and gardens are followed closely by museums and galleries. The worst places for me are urban downtown areas. Even the park areas are often too close to the buildings and streets. If I am at home, I turn to cartoons and family entertainment, from Disney to Warner Brothers. I love films with a family pulling together in the end. How can you feel bad after a Pixar movie? Friends and family always win the day in a good movie. I do seal the windows, close the curtains, and drink herbal teas when I am at home and anxious. I do not want to think about where we live, which is muc…

Places Causing Stress

There are places that leave me anxious and stressed for days or even weeks. I can't explain it, but some settings leave me unable to gather my thoughts, senses, or emotions. I remain on "overload" and miserable until something several times more comforting can offset the anxiety. The main university campus makes me sick. Literally. I hate the campus and everything it represents to me. One visit of a few hours leaves me unable to focus and function properly for at least three days, and usually more. While the university is the most extreme example of a place making me sick, there are also businesses I can't enter or support. The nearby Target store is one I will not visit. It's a disgusting place with horrible employees. Maybe that will change, but I'm not going to go back to a store just to find out if they've mopped the floors. (I've noticed two stores in the same chain can be opposites. I love the Walmart in a nearby suburb, while the urban Walmart …

Am I Autistic

My doctoral dissertation included a chapter on the definitions of "autism." I located regional differences in criteria and these differences correlate to diagnostic "clusters" where the more liberal diagnostic traditions are emerging.Some clinicians call for a broad application of "autismness" that scales from "zero autismness" to "classic autism." This would result in a lot of autism diagnoses.Others, especially researchers, cling to the DSM-III tradition that autism cannot be comorbid with a known physical diagnosis. This was explained to me in this way: if you know the cause, you can research and treat accordingly. Things we do know to be "medical" are moved out of the DSM on a regular basis. This is a logical strategy for categorizing and treating conditions. You wouldn't study Fragile X the same way you might neurotoxin exposure.I fall into the "if you know it, classify it" camp. If I know the cause of my c…

Vaccine Studies

On the tail of revelations regarding the settlement agreed to by the Vaccine Court in the case of Hannah Poling, now there are more studies showing there appears to be no statistical correlation between certain vaccines and autism. The public is certain to view these as contradictory reports because the Poling case has been reported so badly in the media and online. Thimerosal in vaccines did not cause an autism epidemic.The study was released online Sept. 13 in advance of publication in the October print issue of Pediatrics.Questions and answers with the thimerosal-autism study author.From the University of Pennsylvania site MedPage Today:The case-control study, of 256 children with autism spectrum disorders and 752 age- and sex-matched healthy controls, found that higher-than-average exposures to ethylmercury were, if anything, less common in kids with autism compared with healthy kids, reported Frank DeStefano, MD, MPH, of the CDC's Immunization Safety Office in Atlanta, and co…

Vaccine Court Confusion

The Hannah Poling news reporting is analyzed at Left Brain / Right Brain. Specifically, LBRB looks at the coverage from CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson:Sharyl Attkisson blogs the Hannah Poling settlement.The reporting is misleading, but the issue is so complex I cannot fault CBS or the reporter entirely. The 2007 decision to settle the claim by the Poling family that vaccinations harmed their daughter was a reasonable choice -- the case would have been complex and likely to end in the same confusion regardless of any award. The Poling case was filed in 2002 and the decision to settle without a ruling was made in 2007. The reasons for settling the case were logical: Hannah Poling's underlying condition was exacerbated by a fever. Though we can never know if a vaccine was or was not the cause of the fever, the "tables" used in such cases assume a potential cause within certain timespans. In other words, if you get ill within X days of a vaccine, you do not need to prove the …

Campus = Anxiety

I haven't felt well since Thursday, when I had to make a trip to the university campus. I dislike the university and everything it represents to me. The anxiety and stress of being on campus leave me unable to relax and think clearly for days at a time.My physical and emotional response to campus are too much to handle. I lose days of productivity. The reaction I have to campus raises a number of questions about what I should do or can do in the future. I know I have two more campus trips this year, at least. One for an eye appointment and one to speak to a class about writing. Neither trip will be easy and I anticipate losing two or three days after each trip to campus. Also, this week we had to confront the reality of student loans. It's a lot of debt, for a degree that causes my stomach to knot and head to ache when I think about the university. The diploma itself is somewhere downstairs. I never want to see it again. The university was a lousy experience that I'll be p…

The Amish Question, Again

I encountered the question of the Amish and autism again today. Yes, the Amish do have autism in their communities and yes they do vaccinate, but at lower rates than most groups.

The Amish do vaccinate. The old Amish communities have a lower rate than other communities, but the rates are steady in most communities. There are, however, almost a dozen "Amish" types, from those speaking a form of German to those that trade with "English" neighbors and are active in local counties while still living within their own village.
About 70% of the Amish in Lancaster County do, indeed, vaccinate.  Immunization can be especially low among conservative groups, with only 6% of Swartentruber Amish participating, compared to 63% of the overall Amish population and 85% of the non-Amish population, according to a 1984 study (Paradox, Hurst/McConnell).
http://www.medpagetoday.com/Neurology/Seizures/2954
http://autism.about.com/b/2008/04/23/do-the-amish-vaccinate-indeed-they-do-and-thei…

The Unexpected Twist

I have applied for a dozen 2011-12 university appointments already, not yet a week into September. After last year's job hunt, I decided to narrow my search by location and specialty. When creating a "job search criteria" I omitted autism and focused on literacy and new media opportunities. This weekend, a job opening appeared that caused me to reconsider a judgment I had expressed several times over the last year. I had stated, emphatically, I would avoid seeking autism-related research posts. Autism research is often the target of vitriolic rhetoric, even threats against researchers. Seeking other posts seemed wise, considering the heated debates around autism. A major research university has a tenure-track opening that is associated with a leading autism research institute. The post reflects the topics I explored as a graduate student -- the text of the announcement could be used to introduce parts of my dissertation.I decided to apply for the post, knowing that if I…

The State Fair

My wife and I went to the Minnesota State Fair last Thursday. There were, according to the news, 179,000 people there on opening day. I hate crowds and noise, but did okay at the fair. One reason is I knew exactly what I wanted to see, where those things were, and where the fair was least crowded. It helps to have a plan.My priority was the animals. I love the small mammals: rabbits, hares, and other little creatures. I always loved wandering the 4H and FFA displays back in Central California, too. There's something wonderful about animals. Plus, people are busy doing other things at an urban fair, so the livestock areas are a good place to be.I guess people here care more about the rides and food, but I think fairs should be a celebration of the farm life. The only problems I had were in the art exhibits. The people smelled bad, which sounds funny after wandering livestock areas. Too many people here smoke. How much do you have to smoke to smell like ashtrays? Apparently smoking …

Anti-Vax Leaders and Epidemiology

Tonight I read yet another post from an anti-vaccine advocate citing epidemiologists who can prove a link between vaccination and autism. Those must not be very ethical epidemiologists. Science is seldom certain of anything. It is rare that a researcher can say X is definitely, undoubtedly, always caused by Y. Only in public policy debates do we make science seem certain of things. In academic papers, everything is reduced to correlation and likelihoods, seldom are there certainties. Being certain can lead to embarrassment later in most fields. Epidemiologists are professionally constrained from stating that "X causes Y." They can offer correlation, probability, and other measures of statistical significance, but they are not experts in causation.In fact, the U.S. Code prohibits the use of epidemiology as the sole or even primary evidence in a case relating to causation. The British and Canadian courts have similar restrictions on epidemiologists.An epidemiologic study publi…

Medical News: Autistic Children Slower to Integrate Multiple Stimuli - in Pediatrics, Autism from MedPage Today

Medical News: Autistic Children Slower to Integrate Multiple Stimuli - in Pediatrics, Autism from MedPage TodayThe combined responses of all the children exceeded the sum of the single responses -- an indication of multi-sensory integration. But the autistic children had less pronounced differences, the researchers said, suggesting their integration was less effective.As well, the multi-sensory integration took place within about 100 to 200 milliseconds of the stimuli in the typical children, the researchers found, but only occurred after about 300 milliseconds in the autistic children.It was a small pilot study, but once again there seems to be an indication that neurological differences are, eventually, going to be quantifiable in some forms of autism.

(Not) Back to School

For students and teachers, and a great many families, it is "Back-to-School" month. In many states, school starts in August, while there are a few that still stubbornly cling to a post-Labor Day start. Like most Americans, I view back-to-school as the real start of a new year. For the last six years, I bought new notebooks, pencils, pens, and even crayons for the start of school. Last week, I caught myself wandering the "seasonal" displays at Target and Walmart with a sense of nostalgia. I am ambivalent.I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I will miss the school year. And yet, I'll never miss teaching what I was teaching or being a student where I studied. I did not like my four years as a doctoral student. With the exception of the third year, during which I had no classes and was not yet trying the job market, would have been the only acceptable year -- I was left alone to read and teach. However, I ended up hospitalized with serious medical problems that…

Socially Constructed Autism

To call autism a social construct is accurate according to the rhetoric / philosophy of science. "Autism" is observational, phenomenological, as long as it is defined in the DSM by traits and not a set of etiologies. That does not mean "autism" is not real. It means we define it imprecisely and experientially by committees and standards organizations. We have no "one" definition even within research or clinical practices because some insist on the broadest definitions (the "spectrum" of which I am increasingly leery) and others want a return to Leo Kanner's rigid definition that excluded "full quadrant" IQs over 100. If I assign the name "red" to a 650 nm wave, it is measurable and quantifiable. We can argue over the name chosen, but the wave itself is what it is. Autism is not like "red" because we don't have measurements that are precise. We have DSM-III, IV, and V definitions that conflict. We have Wang d…

Birth Trauma and Autistic Traits

A study reported today concludes that birth trauma resulting in neonatal intensive care increases the likelihood a child will develop autistic traits.The article appears on several websites. Here is the link to USA Today:http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-08-09-autism-babies_N.htmThe assertion that autism can be predicted in some cases within the first month of life indicates that at least some cases are not caused by post-birth exposure to toxins. No one has been immunized at a month, and I seriously doubt most month-old children have been chewing toxic toys. (We should ask what common experiences the parents, especially mothers, have.)Signs of autism may show up in babies as young as 1 month old, a new study shows.
But the tip-offs are not the usual red flags, such as a lack of eye contact or smiling, the researchers noted.

Instead, they found babies who needed neonatal intensive care and were later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have abnormal mus…

Employment and Identity

I have been on the academic job market since last summer. In a few cases, I managed to be a finalist for posts, but the reality is that the economy forced state and private universities to freeze hiring or even cut positions. However, since I completed my doctorate in May it is not as if I am a "stale" candidate, thankfully. I made the wise decision to search early and learn what universities need. My ability to continue freelance writing is also a good thing, meaning I remain active intellectually instead of focusing only on the job market. I cannot imagine doing nothing but pursuing work -- it would definitely leave me more dispirited. Writing fiction is also a great outlet and holds some promise. I am writing about employment and autism, a project I will post to The Autistic Place as the research and writing progress. Work matters. I describe myself as a writer and teacher. These labels, for a variety of reasons, are my identity. If I were a parent, I'd probably list …

Parents Killing Children…

We've had a number of stories lately on mothers killing autistic or possibly autistic children.Mother Posts Blog Blaming Stress Before Killing...Texas Mom Kills Children, Blames AutismColorado Mom Wanted to Have 'Fun in Life'What can anyone say about this? Children are stressful, normal or not. Depression, stress, lack of supports, et cetera, are not excuses to kill. I do not doubt depression is real in some cases, but I do not tolerate any excuse for killing children. Even if we don't have perfect supports, there are supports in most cities and counties. Families also have a responsibility to intervene. It is impossible for me to imagine no one was aware problems were present before these children were killed.The association of autism with infanticide is a common theme in media. I won't bother listing examples.

Why I Desire Social Skills

I don't feel "lonely" most of the time, I feel isolated. That's different. I don't want to deal with people, I want to do things that too often require dealing with people -- leaving me stuck at home some days. People for me are ways to gain knowledge and data; I am interested in people with knowledge I don't posses yet want want to learn. I don't care to be social for no reason. Even with a reason, I'd rather skip the social elements. I've written that I do sometimes wish to be more social. Though hard to explain, I perceive there would be intellectual benefits -- people would be more comfortable sharing information with me if I were more "charming." So, when I say I wish I were more socially skilled, it is not because I miss the skills or want them for enjoyment, but I wish I could persuade more people with skills and knowledge I admire to be mentors.My wife is not social, either, but she does much better with people than I do. She is …