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Showing posts from August, 2010

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 publ

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 Today The 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 de

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: The 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

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 t