30 December 2005

Seems like a simple enough question

This question from David Kirby (as posted at the Huffington Post) pretty much sums it up:

Why is it so controversial to suggest that a known neurotoxin injected directly into the systems of pregnant women, newborns and infant children above federal safety levels MIGHT have caused a neurological disorder in a subset of children with a genetic predisposition against metabolizing mercury efficiently?

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13 December 2005

Mark your calendar for "Autism and Hope": Autism policy discussion from the Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution is holding a conference entitled Autism and Hope this Friday 16 December from 2:00 - 6:00 pm.

The Brookings Institution, in conjunction with The Help Group of Los Angeles and with the additional support of the Karmazin Foundation, Autism Speaks, Cure Autism Now, and Michael Fux, will hold a conference to examine policy proposals for expanding the availability and affordability of early intervention for ASD. Drawing on a variety of expert opinions, the conference aims to illustrate that autism and hope are no longer mutually exclusive.
Register Online

For those unable to attend the conference, a live webcast will be available at www.brookings.edu.

A good background paper is also available to read (.pdf file) in preparation for the conference.

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10 December 2005

Focusing on the positive - New book for parents of autistic children

The new book A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive is described as a "road map" to help parents with autistic/Asperger's kids. I just learned about it this morning from Ginger in Adventures in Autism: New Book for Parents New to ASD Diagnosis.

Though I've not yet read it, I do plan to. I've written before about the importance of working with our autistic kids' strengths, and this seems to be a key aspect of this book:

The book's guiding principle is to focus on a child's strengths, not weaknesses, and to have parents channel their child's unusual behaviors and ways of thinking into positive achievements.

'There are many examples of children with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism who grew up to be successful adults. The key was their being able to use their strengths,' said Dawson. 'There is a tendency to focus on children's problems so they don't get a chance to figure out how to use their strengths. These children have unique ways of learning so it is very important to identify a child's learning style. This can help them blossom rather than flounder.'

'Most parents are devastated and the impact on the family is great. Divorce is very common and other siblings sometimes can be neglected. But many parents rally and are able to start on this journey to find their child. They need to know this process is a distance race, not a sprint, and that eventually their child can lead an extremely satisfying and productive life.

'There is no reason why many people with Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism can't get married, go to college, get a job and give to society. All are reasonable goals that can be reached, but usually with a lot of work,' she said.
The reviews on Amazon are all favorable so far, I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to read it.

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Art as insight into the autistic mind

Most parents of autistic children can remember the first time that there children "communicated" with them. Sometimes it is verbal, such as an unexpected - but highly hoped for - "Good night mommy." Sometimes it is in an action, sometimes it is in writing.

The story Portraits of a silent artist give insight into autism talks about one autistic child's use of art to communicate with the world and express what is going on in his mind:

Klar-Wolfond, whose 3-year-old son has been diagnosed with the condition, says many experts believe that autistic savants like Lerman are exhibiting inert talents, that their music or math skills are simply weird accidents of neurological wiring, bereft of reason or insights into their surroundings.

'Some people see this as a quirk of biology' she says, scanning Lerman's soulful artwork.

'They believe that people with autism lack a `theory of mind,' which means they have a very limited capacity to understand human emotions, they have no capacity to understand thoughts outside their own, can't read body language and are incapable of symbolic thought.'

Lerman's work — with its intensely emotive faces — belies this belief, Klar-Wolfond says.

'It shows that there's a lot going on, and that we have to rethink the way we interact with people with autism.'
One of the most recurring descriptions of autism is that autistic people lack a "theory of mind," that they have a limited understanding of the emotions of NT people and that they have no ability to understand thoughts outside their own.

I think, sometimes, that we who are NT have a serious lack of a theory of mind of the autistic. We project our understanding and pre-conceptions of how the mind should function on autistics, and when we don't see those manifested we assume that there is nothing, or very little, going on in those minds.

I don't think we could be more wrong.

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09 December 2005

Another interesting site: Asperger's Conversations

It never ceases to amaze me what you can find on the Web, in all areas of interest. Obviously in this blog, the information I find and discuss is related to autism. On that note I'd like to introduce you to Asperger's Conversations: Weekly audio posts by Larry Welkowitz, Ph.D.

I've not had a chance to go through it in detail, but one particularly interesting post to me was a discussion Dr. Welkowitz recorded with his class on the subject Counseling Asperger's and High Functioning Autism: Philosophical Dilemmas:

You be the judge, but I thought that these students (mostly educators, school counselors, and parents) were wary of models that pathologized children with AS/HFA and were moderately skeptical about the role of pharmacology. They were concerned about medication side effects and expressed concerns about superficial understanding of the complexity of these individuals.
I'm looking forward to going through the whole site in more detail.

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08 December 2005

No wheelchairs in heaven? What about autism?

Yesterday morning on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard Ben Mattlin's commentary Valuing Life Whether Disabled or Not (available in either Windows Media or Real Player format).

Commentator Ben Mattlin has been quadriplegic since birth. At the memorial service for a disabled friend who passed away, he came to realize the world needs to expand its definition of what it means to live a successful life, disability or not.
What caught my attention, and inspired the first part of the title of this post, were the last few sentences of the commentary:
Are there no wheelchairs in heaven? I'm not buying it. For me, if there is a heaven, it's not a place where I'll be able to walk. It's a place where it doesn't matter if you can't.
If there is indeed a heaven, and our autistic children go there when they die, will they still be autistic?

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