Thursday, December 13, 2007

I am being constantly bombarded with brilliant ideas. I’ve thought of an idea for Professor Michael Fitzgerald’s next book about eccentric geniuses. How’s this for a title?

Socks and Sandals: is there a link between eccentricity in footwear and high intellectual ability?

The book should attempt to explain why the wearing of socks with sandals, a violation of fashion codes in most cultures of the world, appears to be unusually common amongst professors of philosophy, academics in general, eccentric geniuses who are suspected of having Asperger syndrome and (most puzzlingly) all kinds of German-born people.

Is fashionblindness commonly found within German-speaking populations, and does it have a genetic causality? Is there evidence supporting the commonly-held belief that sensory hypersensitivity is a common characteristic of the intellectually gifted, and may this explain sock and sandal syndrome? Is Asperger syndrome the best explanation for most cases of sock and sandal syndrome? How can we explain the middle-aged female lecturer that I had as an undergraduate student in the 1980s who wore thongs (flip-flops to the British) with a loose-fitting dress to work every day, or the professor in an Australian “sandstone” university that I idolized who turned up to give lectures wearing shorts and socks and sandals?

The eccentric genius mathematician Paul Erdos was known for wearing sandals with socks (Pickover 1998). The controversial former chess world champion genius Bobby Fischer has been photographed wearing socks with sandals. The controversial computer software genius activist Richard Stallman has been reported to have given a lecture wearing socks but no shoes (Jones 2006). Physics genius Albert Einstein liked to wear comfortable, casual attire, including sandals (James 2003), and one of the fashion violations that Einstein is famous for was his wearing of comfy slippers with flowers on them to his work at a patents office. Einstein was also known for wearing shoes with no socks. How can we explain this mysterious connection between the feet and the brain?


References

James, Ioan (2003) Singular scientists. Journal of the Royal society of Medicine. January 2003. Vol. 96, number 1, p. 36-39.
http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=12519805

Jones, K. C. (2006) A rare glimpse into Richard Stallman’s world. TechWeb News. InformationWeek. January 6th 2006.
http://www.informationweek.com/software/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=175802222&pgno=2&queryText=

http://www.informationweek.com/software/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=175802222&pgno=1&queryText
=


Pickover, Clifford A. (1998) Strange brains and genius: the secret lives of eccentric scientists and madmen. Plenum, 1998.

Robert Bobby Fischer (accessed 2007)
http://www.worldtopix.com/bobby_fischer.html


copyright Lili Marlene 2007
There are now 117 names on my lists of famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are/were on the autistic spectrum. There's no rest for the obsessive.

http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/11/concise-referenced-list-of-104-famous.html

http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html
The long and arduous debate about Mozart and Tourette syndrome: some references

You can call him a Touretter or an Aspergian, an ADHDer or you could even call him a maniac, but you couldn't call him normal, because turning cartwheels while miaowing like a cat is not really considered normal behaviour. Whatever Mozart had, did the legendary pianist Glenn Gould have it too? The two extraordinary musicians had some interesting characteristics in common: see my short article about them from October 2007.

As you can see from these references, Simkin's 1992 paper in the BMJ was not the first or only suggestion that Mozart may have had Tourette syndrome, others had published such speculation as early as 1983 and 1991.

Ashoori, Aidin, Jankovic, Joseph (2007) Mozart’s movements and behaviour: a case of Tourette’s syndrome? Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. 2007.
http://jnnp.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/78/11/1171
[argues that the evidence that Mozart had Asperger syndrome, autism, Tourette syndrome and some other neurological and psychiatric conditions is lacking]

Davies, Peter J. (1993) Mozart’s scatological disorder. [letter] British Medical Journal. Vol. 306 number 6876. 20th December 1993. p.521-522.
[can be read through PubMed Central]

Fog, R., Regeur, L. (1983) Did W.A. Mozart suffer from Tourette’s syndrome? World Congress of Psychiatry, Vienna, 1983.

Gunne, L. M. (1991) Hade Mozart Tourettes syndrome. [Did Mozart have Tourette syndrome?] Lakartidningen. December 11th 1991. Vol. 88 number 50. 4325-6.
[article in Swedish]

Heyworth, Martin F. (1993) Mozart’s scatological disorder. [letter] British Medical Journal. Vol. 306 number 6876. 20th December 1993. p.522.
[can be read through PubMed Central]

Karhausen, L. R. (1993) Mozart’s scatological disorder. [letter] British Medical Journal. Vol. 306 number 6876. 20th December 1993. p.522.
[can be read through PubMed Central]

Kammer, T. (2007) Mozart in the neurological department – who has the tic? Bogousslavsky J, Hennerici MG (eds) Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists - Part 2. Frontiers of Neurology and Neuroscience. 2007. vol 22, p. 184-192
http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=ShowPDF&ArtikelNr=102880&ProduktNr=232866&filename=102880.pdf

http://www.uni-ulm.de/~tkammer/pdf/Kammer_2007_Mozart_preprint.pdf
[concludes that Mozart’s diagnosis of Tourette’s is implausible]

Sacks, Oliver (1992) Tourette’s syndrome and creativity. British Medical Journal. Vol. 305 number 6868. 19-26 December 1992. p.1515-1516.
[Sacks describes Simkins’ paper in the same issue of BMJ as “at least circumstantial evidence” but then writes that he does not find the case for Mozart having Tourette’s entirely convincing, Sacks claims there are two types of Tourette’s, stereotypical Tourette’s and “phantasmagoric” Tourette’s that can alter a person’s character and creativity, can be read through PubMed Central]

Simkin, Benjamin (1992) Mozart’s scatological disorder. British Medical Journal. Vol. 305 number 6868. 19-26 December 1992. p.1563-7.
[a fascinating paper describing Mozart’s hyperactivity, non-stop obsession with music, fascination with nonsense words, scatological letter-writing and what appear to be Tourette’s symptoms, can be read through PubMed Central]

Simkin, Benjamin (2001) Medical and musical byways of Mozartiana. Fithian Press. 2001.
http://www.danielpublishing.com/books/suppl/simkin.html
[the book in which it is argued that Mozart had Tourette syndrome]



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Was the brilliant NZ author Janet Frame autistic?




Are you old enough to remember that movie "An Angel at my Table"?

Will there be a resurgence of interest in Janet Frame as an author and as a person?



(This blog article was added to in September 2008, minor alterations 2012)

Some books, papers, letters and articles about Janet Frame ONZ CBE
Autobiography

Frame, Janet (c. 1982) To the is-land. The Women’s Press, 1983.
[Frame’s first volume of autobiography]

Frame, Janet (1984) An angel at my table. The Women’s Press, 1984.
[Frame’s second volume of autobiography]

Frame, Janet (c. 1984) Envoy to the mirror city. The Women’s Press, 1985.
[Frame’s third volume of autobiography]

Posthumously published “Semi-autobiographical novel”
Frame, Janet (c. Janet Frame Literary Trust 2007) Towards another summer. Vintage Books, 2007.
[described as a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1963 but not previously published, in which Frame “wittily spoofs her own social gauchness” "It's a highly personal work that she did not want published until after her death."]


Biography
King, Michael (2000) Wrestling with the angel: a life of Janet Frame. Picador, 2000.
[on pages 417-418 can be found a revealing excerpt from a letter written by Frame in which she described and explained an example of behaviour that she had in common with her niece’s autistic daughter]

A recent article about Janet Frame
Campion, Jane (2008) In search of Janet Frame. The Guardian. guardian.co.uk January 19th 2008.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jan/19/fiction5[a brief article in which Campion recalls her meetings with Frame, giving some interesting insights into the way Frame lived and worked]



Janet Frame in the Wikipedia
Wikipedia contributors. (accessed 2007) Janet Frame. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Janet_Frame&oldid=177157065.

Medical journal papers, journal letters and press articles about the posthumous diagnosis of “high-functioning autism” in 2007, or which mention this diagnosis
Abrahamson, Sarah (2007). Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism? The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 12th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1263.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/abstract.php?id=2747

Abrahamson, Sarah (2007) Author responds to criticism of her 'Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism?' viewpoint article. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/120-1264/

Autistic diagnosis proposed for Frame: celebrated author Janet Frame may have been autistic. (2007) The Press. Press.co.nz October 12th 2007.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/thepress/4234410a24035.html

Cohen, David (2007) Autistic licence. New Zealand Listener. November 10-16 2007 Vol. 211 No. 3522.
http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3522/artsbooks/9949/autistic_licence.html

Frizelle, Frank A. (2007) Peer review of NZMJ articles: issues raised after publication of the viewpoint article on Janet Frame. [editorial] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/120-1264/

Hann, Arwen (2007) Autism claim draws fire from family, mum. The Press. Press.co.nz October 22nd 2007.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4245818a6530.html

Johnston, Martin (2007) Author Janet Frame suffered from “high functioning autism”. The New Zealand Herald. nzherald.co.nz October 12th 2007.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10469459

Matthews, Philip (2008) Back on the page. The Press. Press.co.nz July 26th 2008.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/thepress/4631086a13135.html
[about the posthumous publication of “Towards Another Summer” and other works by Frame, Pamela Gordon’s role as literary executor, and the autism controversy]


Oettli, Simone (2007) Janet Frame and autism? Response from a Frame scholar. The New Zealand Medical Journal. November 9th 2007, Vol. 120 No. 1265.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/120-1265/

ONE News (2007) Frame autism claim rubbished by family. tvnz.co.nz October 12th 2007.
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411423/1401306
[with a link to a clip of New Zealand TV coverage of this story]

Sharp, Iain (2007) Frame of mind. Sunday Star Times. Section C8 (books) October 21st 2007.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4245062a6619.html
[gives Pamela Gordon’s view on the controversy, Frame’s literary executor and niece reveals that she has a daughter with “severe autism”]


Stace, Hilary (2007) Janet Frame and autism. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/120-1264/

Stace, Hilary (2007) Was Janet Frame on the autistic spectrum? humans.org.nz November 8th 2007.
http://humans.org.nz/2007/11/08/was-janet-frame-on-the-autistic-spectrum/
[interesting blog article with comments]


Tramposch, B. (2007) "Diagnosis by mail": a response to the viewpoint article on Janet Frame. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007, Vol. 120 No. 1264.
http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/120-1264/

Official web site of the Janet Frame Literary Trust
Janet Frame Estate Web Site
Literary Executor; Pamela Gordon

http://janetframe.org.nz/default.htm

Australian radio interview with Pamela Gordon and publisher Andrew Wilkins
Koval, Ramona (2008) Posthumous publishing - Janet Frame's poetry. The Book Show. ABC Radio National. September 17th 2008.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/stories/2008/2366763.htm


Unchecked reference
Bragan, K. (1987) Medicine and literature: Janet Frame: contributions to psychiatry. New Zealand Medical Journal. February 11th 1987 Vol. 100 No. 817 p.70-73.
[unchecked reference – do not know if autism or AS mentioned]



Janet Frame ONZ CBE (1924-2004, changed name by deed poll to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha but known by original name, New Zealand writer of fiction, poetry and widely known for her three volumes of autobiography that the movie An Angel at my Table was based upon, Frame had a long history of voluntarily committing herself to psychiatric hospitals, diagnosed as schizophrenic, received many shock treatments, a lobotomy operation planned but was cancelled when Frame won a major New Zealand literary prize, some years later in a London mental hospital a psychiatrist classified her as sane expressing the opinion that she had never been schizophrenic, Frame went on to consult a psychoanalyst, family history of epilepsy and autism, in 2007 a posthumous diagnosis of “high-functioning autism” by a doctor of medicine sparked controversy, Frame was awarded a CBE in 1983, admitted to the Order of New Zealand in 1990, won a number of literary prizes and awards, thought to have been short-listed for the Nobel Prize in literature)

What is it about movie director Jane Campion and autism?
She directed two hugely popular movies; The Piano and An Angel at My Table. The lead character in The Piano, Ada McGrath the mute piano player, has been described as autistic, and it turns out that the real person that the other film was about, Janet Frame, was also autistic. Autism appears to be a cinematic theme that obviously fascinates the public, even if they aren't aware that this is what the movie is about.

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's the Mother of All Famous Apies Lists, it's Listzilla, it's Moby List, it's The Big One, it's a bloody great 32 page monster!

http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html
Pulitzer Prize winners diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum


W. H. Auden
(1907-1973, full name Wystan Hugh Auden, poet born in Britain, migrated to the US, described as one of the greatest 20th century writers, wrote reviews and essays, worked on documentaries, won a Pulitzer Prize For Poetry in 1948 for The age of anxiety: a baroque eclogue, set to be a mining engineer till his great love of words lead him to be a poet, Auden was homosexual and described his relationship with poet Chester Kallman as a marriage, not known for domestic neatness Auden “…kept a kitchen that could have doubled as a research facility for biological warfare.” (James 2007), Auden’s poem Funeral blues was featured in the 1994 movie Four weddings and a funeral, biographer Davenport–Hines claimed that Auden hinted in his loosely autobiographical A certain world: a commonplace book “that he considered himself mildly autistic as a child, and conceivably diagnosed himself as manifesting what is now known as Asperger’s syndrome.” (Davenport-Hines 2004), I found that the book A certain world contains selections of work of other writers in a dictionary format and has an entry with the heading “Children, Autistic” with a passage of writing under that heading by discredited autism “expert” Bruno Bettelheim)

Tim Page (b. 1954, music critic with the Washington Post, also a writer, producer and editor, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 in the category of criticism, reported to have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in his mid-40s)

Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974, American pilot who made the first lone continuous flight across the Atlantic Ocean, was awarded the Medal of Honor (USA) and the French Legion of Honor, and a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 in the category of biography or autobiography, Lindbergh is one of the famous people described in the book Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world)

Carl Sagan (1934-1996, American astronomer, astrobiologist and popularizer of science, advocate of the scientific/humanist/skeptical philosophy, won many awards including an Emmy and a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 in the category general non-fiction for the book The dragons of eden, Sagan is one of the famous people described in the book Asperger’s and self-esteem: insight and hope through famous role models)


References

Auden, Wystan Hugh (1970) A certain world: a commonplace book. Viking Press.

Davenport – Hines, Richard (2004) Auden’s life and character. [Chapter 2]
In Smith, Stan (2004) The Cambridge companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge University Press.

[parts of this book available to read free through Google Book Search]

Fabrizio, Doug (2007) Parallel play. RadioWest. August 22nd 2007. KUER FM 90.
http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1134602
[Tim Page]

Fitzgerald, Michael, O’Brien, Brendan (2007) Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world. Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2007.
[Archimedes, Newton, Henry Cavendish, Jefferson, Charles Babbage, Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Nikola Tesla, David Hilbert, H.G. Wells, John B. Watson, Einstein, Bernard Montgomery (of Alamein), Charles de Gaulle, Alfred Kinsey, Norbert Wiener, Charles Lindbergh, Kurt Godel, Paul Erdos, parts of this book available to read free through Google Book Search]


James, Clive (2007) Cultural amnesia: notes in the margin of my time. Picador, 2007.

Ledgin, Norman (2002) Asperger’s and self-esteem: insight and hope through famous role models. Future Horizons, 2002.

[Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Orson Welles, Marie Curie, Carl Sagan, Glenn Gould, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, Bela Bartok, Paul Robeson, Gregor Mendel, Oscar Levant, John Hartford, Temple Grandin, parts of the book available to read through Google Book Search]

MacDonald, Kate (2007) Living with Asperger’s syndrome: Tim Page. Late Night Live. October 10th 2007. ABC Radio National.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2007/2056236.htm

Page, Tim (2007) Parallel play: a lifetime of restless isolation explained. The New Yorker. August 20th 2007.
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/20/070820fa_fact_page

Pulitzer-winner on living with Asperger’s. All Things Considered. August 13th 2007. NPR.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12750745
[Tim Page]


Copyright Lili Marlene 2006, 2007.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bloody offensive language that the kids bring home from school

Today one of our kids criticised someone in our family for being so condescending that they thought that someone else in our family was "too inarticulate" to know how to do a simple bit of technical troubleshooting. Obviously our child thinks that the word "inarticulate" has the same meaning as the word "intelligent". The only place that our child could have picked up this idea is at school; we never use the word inarticulate to mean unintelligent in our household, as we, being both intelligent and rather inarticulate, have always known that the two things aren't the same. When you think about it, the usage of the word "articulate" as a synonym for "intelligent" is an insult to most autistic people, who generally have an intellect that is at a higher level than their verbal ability.

Another offensive example of language usage that the kids have brought home from school is the use of the word "gay" to mean "crappy" or "second-rate". Obviously it's an insult to people who are gay, and I've explained this to the kids so many times. I hope the message will sink in one day. Perhaps one has to personally be the butt of insulting language to understand how offensive it all is. I suspect that this may be true. I know so many people who have had the dumb good luck not to be a member of any unpopular or disadvantaged minority group in society, who go to their graves in almost the same state of blissful ignorance that they were in when they entered the world. Maybe it's these clowns who think up this offensive language in the first place.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I recently stumbled across this interesting essay:

Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (2007)
A conspicuous absence of scientific leadership: the illusory epidemic of autism.
http://jepson.richmond.edu/academics/projects/ESSAYGernsbacher.pdf

I think I'll add it to the list of references in my old blog article "What autism epidemic?"
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-autism-epidemic-allen-arthur-2007.html

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The (autistic) kids always come last in Australia

I wonder whether Jenny Brockie will invite the "parents" of starved Shellay Ward to talk on her TV show Insight about how hard it is to be a parent of an autistic child, and to explain why they killed their child. Jenny Brockie did this in a past episode of Insight, interviewing on her show an Australian mother who killed her autistic child, after giving her a warm welcome. Maybe they did it for the attention.

These "parents" should have been brought to the attention of the law years ago. It should be a punishable offence to give a child a ridiculous name. What the hell kind of name is "Shellay"? Shellaaaay? WTF? The absolute looniest names that I have ever heard of are the names of autistic kids. It seems pretty obvious that a sizeable proportion of the parents of children who receive an autism spectrum diagnosis are mentally ill, of limited intellectual capacity or something even worse. Every pediatric diagnosis of an autism spectrum conditon should be followed up with a full psychiatric screening with IQ testing of both of the child's biological parents (if they have custody of any children). This latest horrific case of another murdered autistic child is, I believe, a compelling argument that this needs to be done.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You know where you can stick your garishly coloured letters?

I’m browsing through the Australia Post colour catalogue of Christmas gifts, and I spotted a group of educational toys for children, including a thing that is recommended for ages 2 to 5 which has buttons on it for all the letters of the alphabet, and I guess is computerized. For a moment I though it would be a top choice as a Christmas gift for the youngest member of our family, until I noticed that the letters were all coloured in a range of different colours, and the thing as a whole is quite revolting to look at due to the ugly colours used in it and the way the colours just don’t work together. It looks as though it was designed by someone who either doesn’t care what it looks like, is colour-blind or has Aesthetic Deficit Disorder.

There are two reasons why I hate the colours used in this toy. If our toddler has the coloured letters type of synaesthesia, like three other members of our family, then the bright and different colours of the letters on the keys of this toy may conflict with the colours that our child already has in their head. I’d much prefer that the letters were all the same neutral colour (such as black). After all, it is the shapes and sounds of the letters of the alphabet that young children are supposed to be learning, not the (arbitrary) colours of the letters. I don’t have a problem with kids’ books or toys being brightly coloured (I adore the stunningly coloured Meg and Mog kids’ books), but I wish toy designers would resist the urge to colour the actual letters and numbers. I know that some people believe that coloured letter synaesthesia is caused by children’s toys that have differently coloured letters. This simply isn’t true. On the same page of the catalogue there are five other educational toys advertised which appear to have specific colours associated with specific numbers or letters. I won’t be buying any of these toys.

The other reason why I won’t be buying that toy is that it is both garish and ugly due to the colours. It combines an aggressive red with insipid, annoying blue and green and pink, colours that aren’t pale enough to be pretty pastel, but aren’t vibrant enough to compete with the loud red. The toy isn’t neutrally-coloured enough to not catch the eye, and it is so ugly that I wish I couldn’t see it. Sadly this toy is typical of children’s toys. There seems to be an unwritten law that children’s toys must be brightly coloured in a range of different colours. Black, white, grey, brown and beige are shunned. Subtle and mixed colours are not on. Anything except bright primary and (if you must) secondary colours appears to be considered too much of an intellectual challenge for young children to process mentally. Kiddies can’t understand turquoise. Turquoise is developmentally inappropriate, and so are gunmetal grey, ice blue, vermillion and yellow ochre. We live in a world that is designed to be appropriate for the most ordinary masses, and even the colours of kids’ toys are dumbed-down in the most patronizing way.

Why do kids’ toys need to be brightly coloured anyway? I had a look at the packaging of a Fischer-Price toy to try to find out. Fischer-Price toys have a rather horrible uniform look about them (bright simplistic colours on white mostly), and they are obviously designed according to some rigid set of corporate rules governing colouration. On the box it said something about the bright colours helping the child’s development. I’m not aware of a shred of scientific evidence that young children need to have garishly coloured toys for the optimal or normal development of their brain or senses. In fact, I think subtle and interesting colours, and interesting combinations of colours might be better for the education of the senses, if such a thing really ever happens. Do you know of any person who is colour-blind due to a lack of access to aggressively-coloured toys in childhood or infancy? Colour-blindness is caused by genes, as far as I know, and so is synaesthesia.
The dark side of theory of mind?

“Our reputation-conscious ancestors would have experienced a pervasive feeling of being watched and judged, he says, which they would readily have attributed to supernatural sources since the cognitive system underlying theory of mind also seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning, even where there is none.”

That is an excerpt from a summary of a theory about religion from Jesse Bering at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast. The quote is from a story by Helen Phillips in New Scientist “Is God good?” in the September 1 2007 issue, number 2619, pages 32-36. Link to story online: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19526190.400-what-good-is-god.html?page=1


I’m not so sure that I would want to have a mind that contains a “theory of mind” module that seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning even where there is none. I think there’s a word for such a state of mind; isn’t it “delusion”?
If the “cognitive system underlying theory of mind” is also the neurological basis of religious belief or religious sentiment, then I (an atheist) am very glad that I don’t (apparently) have one.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just in case you were wondering ....

actually, I'm not a visual thinker like Temple Grandin or Einstein or Tesla (I suspect a proper decription of how my mind works would be much more complex and unusual than a simple categorization as "visual thinker")

I'm not unusually good at doing mathematics or unusually interested in maths

I don't think Dr Atwood is the best thing since sliced bread

I haven't read that book by Haddon (only had a look at a few passages in it when browsing in a book shop)

I don't have face-blindness or prosopagnosia, and there's nothing unusual about my ability to read facial expressions

I don't have any tics and I don't have Tourette syndrome (but I do have autistic stims, which are entirely different to tics)

I don't "melt-down", I lose my temper or swear sometimes, which isn't any different to the normal behaviour of many men (but is not so similar to the behaviour of most women, in which unpleasant behaviour tends to be more planned, premeditated, manipulative and verbally articulate).

I don't use computers, the internet or internet gaming sites as my primary means of socializing, I use the internet for more intellectual activities. I've read that some clever people have created computer programmes that have automated the process of befriending people on social networking web sites. This doesn't surprise me at all. I've always suspected that the idea of socializing through a computer is mostly w*nk. I don't have a second life, because I'm too busy having a first life.

Monday, November 05, 2007

“Hypocrisy in search of social acceptance erodes your self-respect.” - James Watson quoted in New Scientist.

That was a quote that caught my eye. Here are some more quotes that have caught my eye on various occasions:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/11/lilis-favourite-quotes-autists-are.html

What are these teachers thinking?

This is the second time that I've been speaking with one of our kids' teachers to discover that the teacher thinks we have taught, or made our children learn, stuff that they know about their (autistic) special interests. These teachers must have an image of us as most peculiar and bossy parents. Do they think we stand over our offspring, threatening that "If you don't learn everything that there is to know about Polish military history and Icelandic grammar by the end of the week you can expect a rap over the knuckles and no fast food till it's done!" Well, it is true that we are parents, and are also peculiar and bossy, but not in the way described.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Born to Offend: characteristics shared by Nobel Prize winners James Watson and the late William Shockley



(I have written about James Watson at length in this article: http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/01/autism-neurodiversity-and-excellence-in.html)


Both co-winners of Nobel Prizes awarded for discoveries that have changed the world that we live in (Watson was a member of the team that discovered the structure of DNA and Shockley was a co-inventor of the transistor)

Both men of science

Both atheists

Both thought to be/have been racists because of comments made about the mental capabilities of black people with African heritage

Both linked in some way with the autism spectrum; Watson apparently has an autist in his family and Shockley has been identified as a “high systemizer” and “low empathizer” by one of the world’s leading experts on autism

Both invited to be sperm donors with the now defunct sperm bank “The Repository for Germinal Choice” popularly known as the “Nobel Prize Sperm Bank” (Shockley publicly acknowledged that he donated)

Both have been described as advocates of eugenics

Both concerned about the issue of stupidity in humans

Both made many enemies when expressing opinions and paid a price for this (Watson was recently suspended from a position at a research laboratory following a controversy, and according to legend Shockley’s effigy was burned in a protest by university students)

Both married with offspring


References and further reading
Aldhous, Peter (2007) DNA’s messengers. New Scientist. October 20th 2007. number 2626. p.55 – 59.
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg19626261.900-interview-dnas-messengers.html

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2003) The essential difference. Penguin Books.

BBC News (2007) Lab suspends DNA pioneer Watson. BBC News. October 19th 2007.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7052416.stm

Manier, Jeremy (2007) Peers horrified by famed scientist’s race remarks. Chicagotribune.com October 19th 2007.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/services/newspaper/printedition/friday/chi-watson19oct19,0,4157889.story?coll=chi_mezz
[Watson and Shockley both mentioned in story]

Plotz, David (2005) The genius factory: unravelling the mysteries of the Nobel Prize sperm bank. Simon & Schuster UK. 2005.

Randerson, James (2007) Race row professor resigns from laboratory post. Guardian Unlimited. October 26th 2007.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/26/sciencenews.highereducation

Sternberg, Robert J. (2007) Race and intelligence: not a case of black and white. New Scientist. October 27th 2007, number 2627.
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19626275.900-race-and-intelligence-not-a-case-of-black-and-white.html
[Watson and Shockley compared in this article]

Wade, Nicholas (2007) DNA pioneer Watson gets own genome map. International Herald Tribune: Americas. June 1st 2007.
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/06/01/america/dna.php?page=1

copyright Lili Marlene 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Now Prof/Dr Watson has decided that this is a good time to resign from his position at the lab. Does this mean that he will no longer be making the news? I doubt it.

Link to story in the Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/26/sciencenews.highereducation

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dr James Watson in strife

Dear me. Dr James Watson is in trouble, and there's nothing about his latest controversy that surprises me in the least. I know his type; technically brilliant enough to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific area, and at the same time socially insensitive and politically incorrect enough to get into heaps of strife. He's a particularly fascinating example of the broader autistic phenotype, in my opinion. I believe Dr Watson wants to identify and eradicate the genes for autism, but despite that there's something about him that I can't help liking. I've read that the full genome of Dr Watson was recently decoded, and is apparently available to look at on the internet. I’m sure that would make interesting reading! In different and important ways, Dr Watson is like an open book.

Recent story about Dr Watson at BBC News:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7052416.stm

Dr Watson is one of the great people of science that I have written about in my blog article "Autism, neurodiversity and excellence in science writing", which can be read here:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/01/autism-neurodiversity-and-excellence-in.html

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wired for sound: 12 characteristics that are shared by the famous musicians Glenn Gould and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

-musical genius
-child prodigy
-from a “musical” family
-left-handed
-gifted with perfect pitch/absolute pitch
-an extraordinary memory for music
-eccentric behaviour (Mozart enjoyed vulgar humour and was in some ways childish, and Gould’s eccentricities were numerous, varied and well-known)
-subject of speculation that they may have had Asperger syndrome
-heterosexual
-male
-died too young
-attained legendary status due to genius and personality

Both men are among the 99 fascinating individuals included in my
Referenced list of famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are/were on the autistic spectrum
which can be found here:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition often associated with naivety (with regard to scientists)

A lot of people who have the neurological condition synaesthesia do not regard this condion as being a disorder. Some synaesthetes take issue with people who discuss synaesthesia as though it is some type of medical disease, even though acquired, non-inherited, forms of synaesthesia can indeed be caused by drugs, disease or damage. Some synaesthetes write that the condition makes their lives more interesting or enjoyable, and they claim that they would not wish to be "cured" of the condition if it were possible to make it go away. Many synaesthetes appear to naively assume that scientific researchers, and the world in general, will take seriously their claims that they are not sufferers who have something wrong with their brains. Some synaesthetes display a cynical attitude regarding the way the mass media depict synaesthesia, but expressions of explicit cynicism towards the attitudes of scientists and researchers are not so easy to find.

It is most probable that the majority of people who have any form of synaesthesia do not realize that they have the condition, and do not consider themselves disordered or preceptually impaired. Researchers used to believe that synaesthesia is a very rare condition, but now that properly designed studies are being done, researchers are finding that it's really quite common.

I've stumbled across this page about synaesthesia at the web site of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, which is one of those research institutions that are trying to find the "genes for" horrible diseases: http://www.well.ox.ac.uk/monaco/synaesthesia.shtml

Regardless of whatever you or I or anyone believes, the boffins at Wellcome have described synaesthesia as a "disorder" which "often results in perceptual and cognitive dysfunction." The idea that something positive might come of synaesthesia is given the " " treatment twice on this page. They obviously don't take the positive side of synaesthesia too seriously. Synaesthesia is placed in the same category as "Neurodevelopmental and Neurological Disorders". I shudder to think why they are so keen to find which genes cause synaesthesia.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wasn't Mr Page's reference to the line from the movie "The Shining" spooky? Especially when one considers that Stanley Kubrick, who directed that movie, and Glenn Gould, friend of Mr Page, are two famous people who are thought may have been on the autistic spectrum.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This afternoon (if you live in Australia), or this evening (if you live in Western Australia) you can hear Pulitzer Prize winner and classical music critic Tim Page, who has Asperger syndrome, talking on the Late Night Live radio show on ABC Radio National 810am. It will be a repeat of last night's show, at 4.00pm, or 6.00pm in WA. This week the host is Norman Swan, who I am sure will do an intelligent job.

link to Late Night Live's home page:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/

link to a story about Tim Page's life in The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/20/070820fa_fact_page

In our family there are members who particularly enjoy the music of Wagner and minimalist classical music, probably for the same reason that Mr Page enjoys this music. I played a favourite piece by Philip Glass early this morning!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I’ve just seen an author interviewed on the telly, and I’m most curious to read his new book: “The outsiders’ edge: the making of self-made billionaires” by Brent Taylor.

Apparently if you are an “outsider” you have “the holy grail of extreme wealth creation”! I’m sad to say that I haven’t gotten round to any extreme wealth creation yet in my life, even though I was born an outsider. Perhaps I’ll have some time for all that after I’ve put the washing out on the line and done some gardening chores.

Link to book website: http://www.brentdtaylor.com/

I doubt that Asperger syndrome is mentioned in the book, but I really don’t know as I haven’t seen the book yet myself. If AS isn’t mentioned in the book that would be quite ridiculous, as it is a very important category of outsider. Of course, Bill Gates, a man who like myself was probably born an outsider, is discussed in this book. There is even a chapter entitled: “Why haven’t I got what Bill Gates has?” Well, I think a look at this list of famous people might go some way to explaining that: http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html
I’m sure that it takes extreme persistence to become ridiculously wealthy, and most people don’t have a brain that is wired for extreme persistence.

I was a bit surprised that the late Australian media giant Kerry Packer doesn’t appear to be featured in this book. Like a few of the entrepreneurs in the book he was thought to have had dyslexia, and he apparently had a psychologically tough childhood. There do seem to be quite a few dyslexics, many people who were bullied in childhood, and some people who are rumoured to be autistic amongst the billionaires who have been discussed in this book.

I wonder how many aspiring business leaders will read this book and think “Damn it! I don’t stand a chance! I’m psychologically normal, I’ve never had any shortage of friends, I can spell most adequately, I wasn’t victimized much at school, I have a supportive middle-class family background and I don’t belong to any unpopular ethnic minority. I just don’t have what it takes to be a self-made billionaire!”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lili Marlene’s ideas for research studies that will never be funded or conducted

How do outcomes in adulthood and late adolescence in terms of employment, personal satisfaction, personal relationships, education and level of physical independence compare between people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition who are given autism-related interventions in infancy and childhood, and diagnosed people who were not given any autism-related interventions early in life? (a non-treated properly randomized control group would be needed for this study)

Do verbal/speech skills develop at the expense of other abilities or skills?

Do verbal/speech skills develop at the expense of other abilities or skills in autistic children?

Does speech therapy for children with delayed development of speech impair or delay the development of other cognitive skills, including exceptional or unusual skills? (a non-treated properly randomized control group and extensive psychological/educational testing would be needed for this study)

Does systemizing play and/or sensory play decrease in children following speech therapy or social skills teaching interventions?

Are there typically autistic forms of play in early childhood? Can these be roughly categorized as systemizing play, sensory play and spatial play?

Are there typically autistic forms of sexuality?

What are the rates of male homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, asexuality and transsexualism among formally diagnosed and self-diagnosed adults on the autistic spectrum?

Do hyper-empathizers, as defined by Baron-Cohen’s model of mind types, have any characteristic cognitive impairment or a syndrome of cognitive impairments? Are these people “systemblind”? Is systemblindness a serious disability? Does systemblindness need to be identified in the education system? Does it require or benefit from forms of early intervention? Does screening for systemblindness need to be done with employees or job seekers or politicians standing for election? Is systemblindness associated with low IQ scores or any existing category of learning disability?

Is a score suggestive of a high level of “empathizing” in the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and/or the Empathy Quotient (EQ) associated with increased or decreased risk for any psychiatric conditions or disabilities?

Do the parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions have, on average, higher levels of assertiveness than the parents of children with non-autism disabilities (as might be suggested by testosterone-related theories of autism)? If so, what are the political implications of this difference?

Are personality disorders more common than the norm among the parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions? If so, what are the implications for the clinical care of autistic paediatric patients?

Is an over-controlling personality more common than the norm among the parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions? If so, what are the implications for the clinical care of autistic paediatric patients?

Is there really an association between synaesthesia and autism spectrum conditions, or are autistic people just more likely to be identified and/or self-identified as also having synaesthesia?

Are any of the supposed cognitive gifts, neurological peculiarities and deficits thought to be possibly associated with synaesthesia simply autistic traits of undiagnosed or slightly autistic people who also have synaesthesia?


But wait ... there's more!

Does autistic stimming or "hyperactivity" in autistic people aid concentration or improve intellectual performance?

Does simulated stimming or "hyperactivity" in non-autistic people aid concentration or improve intellectual performance?

Is synaesthesia associated with intellectual giftedness, unusual talents or abilities or unusual rates of low or high IQ?

Are gifted children who are not accelerated in school more likely than gifted children who are accelerated in grades to develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, behavioural problems and/or unhealthy levels of perfectionism?
(A properly randomized control group would be needed for such a study, but in the Australian context, finding subjects for a “treatment” group would be the difficult bit, as there is still so much unjustified resistance to acceleration of gifted kids among Australian educators.)

Is intellectual giftedness a biological syndrome?

Which genetic variations are both “genes for autism” and “genes for high IQ”? How many different genetic variations are members of both groups?

Can genes associated with intellectual giftedness be identified in prenatal genetic screening tests?

What is the relationship between systemizing and general intelligence?

Do the gifted really have more acute senses? Is sensory hypersensitivity more common among the gifted? If this is true, why are the two conditions linked?

Can intellectual giftedness be identified accurately in babies or toddlers?

How do people who have been diagnosed with “Psychopathic personality disorder” using Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) score on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and the Empathy Quotient (EQ)?
(I think if this study could ever be done it might yield results that call into question the idea of “empathy” that is currently so fashionable, especially in reference to autism. How specific is the EQ to measuring empathy rather than mere skill in social manipulation? I don’t believe that being a very immoral, manipulative, impulsive and selfish person would preclude one from scoring within the normal range of the EQ. Is reading someone else's mind the same thing as caring about someone's feelings or respecting their best interests? Just imagine that you live in a world of immoral people (some of you may not have to imagine too hard). If you could "read the minds" of immoral, corrupt others with perfect accuracy, would that make you more or less likely to empathize with others?)

When the genome of Homo sapiens sapiens (as described by the Human Genome Project) and the nuclear DNA of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (expected to be described some time next year by researchers at the Max Planck Institute) and the “genes for autism” (expected to be described by researchers in institutions such as the Autism Genome Project and the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory) are all compared, do any interesting commonalities or differences come up? Do autists have Neanderthal genes?

What was the 2D:4D finger digit ratio of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (males and females)? Can the digit ratios of different species or different sub-species be compared in any meaningful way?

Can the systemizing abilities of Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis be measured or compared in any meaningful way?

Do children on the autism spectrum learn more when taught by male or female-systemizer teachers?

Do autistic boys achieve more in single-sex schools for boys?

Do intellectually gifted girls achieve more in single-sex schools for girls?

Can intellectually gifted girls achieve more in single-sex schools for boys?

Is high verbal ability or fluency associated with less or more divergent thinking, lower or higher creativity, or lower or higher capacity for original thought?

Is there an inverse relationship between having an “autistic” score on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and/or the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and having the propensity to tell lies? Are autistic people really less likely to tell lies?

Are people who have acted on their own as “whistleblowers” in workplace crime or corruption situations, in the public interest, psychologically unusual in any way? Are they more likely to be “loners” or introverts? Do they, on average, score differently than the norm on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and/or the Empathy Quotient (EQ)?

What do the characteristics, deficits and abilities of the autistic mind tell us about the comparative deficits, workings and gifts of the “normal” mind?

Do children who have been given formal psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD or “Autism Spectrum Disorder” have, as a consequence, lowered expectations regarding their own abilities, their own rights and their own futures? What is the long-term effect of the labelling process? (A non-treated properly randomized control group would be needed for this longitudinal study).

Are children who have been given formal psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD or “Autism Spectrum Disorder” less likely, as a consequence of the labelling process, to aspire to becoming parents when they grow up? (A non-treated properly randomized control group would be needed for this study).

Whatever happened to all of those people who have Asperger syndrome who were born before AS or “mild autism” were commonly used as diagnostic labels?

What proportion of people diagnosed with a personality disorder meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum conditions, when assessed by a professional who has expertise in autism spectrum conditions?

What proportion of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and related diagnostic categories meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum conditions, when assessed by a professional who has expertise in autism spectrum conditions?

Do educational interventions that simulate grapheme – colour synaesthesia help dyslexic people with reading or learning?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The pollies are falling over themselves to court the parents of autistic kids' vote

It's a measure of the power of the Australian lobby groups of parents of children dignosed with autism spectrum conditions that this morning both major political parties in Australia are competing for the parents/curebies vote with the simultaneous release of their pre-election promises relating to autism.

See story in the Age here:
http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/leaders-throw-spotlight-on-autism/2007/10/03/1191091158145.html?s_cid=rss_news

"He said the Government had consulted widely with experts for some time in developing its package."

Yes, but I bet the government didn't consult with any actual autistic people.

Lili Marlene has decided to not hold her breath waiting for similar pre-election promises of additional severely-needed additions to services offered for intellectually gifted children in the education and early childhood care sectors in Australia. Do you think that an intellectually gifted young child will have their important needs met for appropriate intellectual stimulation and solitude and appropriate study resources in a standard child-care centre or in the government school system as it is? No way Jose! Do you believe that professionals who deal with babies and toddlers and their parents, such as child health nurses and professional parent counsellors know anything at all about identifying giftedness and appropriately dealing with the at times challenging characteristics of giftedness in the very young? Dream on! I know that many of these people don't even believe that children are born gifted; they believe that kids are made that way by pushy parents! The way that giftedness is being treated and regarded by child health and education professions today in Australia is in some ways similar to the way autism was treated by these same professions during the Bettelheim "refrigerator mother" dark ages.

There's one thing that I'd like to state regarding government services for the young gifted and the young autistic; neither of these types of children belong in child care centres. Sure enough, the parents of autistic kids certainly need respite services, but using child care centres on a long-term, long-hours basis? Are you kidding? Child care centres are all about raising kids in economy-of-scale, large, noisy, chaotic batches, providing care that is geared to the average, the majority, the ordinary, with no room for any resource or toy that will only be suitable for one or a few kids. Everything has to be destructive-child-proof and simplified and dumbed-down to the appropriate level for the average child. Child care centres are socially rich but in some ways sterile environments. There is no way that a brilliant young aspie child can pursue their special interest in such a stifling and limited, but at the same time chaotic and disturbing environment. It might be a fun contrast to ordinary life if the child visits now and then, but as a regular care arrangement, well, I'd expect a lot of compensatory stimming and profound unhappiness may be the result.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On Saturday I also listened to parts of the radio programme on Poetica on Radio National about Les Murray, one of the most respected and well-known poets in Australia. I don't have a lot of time for poetry myself, but even I have to admit that his work is wonderful. To my ear Murray sounds so likeably ordinary when he talks, not at all how a great poet and "literary icon" is supposed to speak. In this programme Murray briefly mentions his "half-autistic" childhood.

Link to programme "Les Murray - the Bunyah poems"
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/poetica/stories/2007/2016499.htm
The theory of autism that just won't quit

I do love to listen to the radio while I slave away in the kitchen. On Saturday I heard a story about autism research on the Science Show on Radio National. Apparently the scientists at the ARC at Cambridge University (including Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen) are finding more evidence to support the theory that autism is somehow caused by the influence of testosterone on the developing brain.

The bit that I was most curious about in this interview was the range of variation found in testosterone levels in the amniotic fluid of male and female foetuses.
"Yes, there is definitely a big range. In girls the range is about 0.1 nanomoles per litre, up to about 1.75 nanomoles per litre, whereas in boys it can go anywhere from 0.1 nanomoles per litre, which is in the female range, up to about 2.05 to 2.5 nanomoles per litre."
The size of the range of variation is indeed interesting. I also think it is interesting that there are males as well as females at the extreme lowest end of the range. I guess this explains that rather chubby bloke who appears on Australian daytime TV who is always raving on about celebrity gossip and making catty remarks about people. I'll bet 50 bucks that he was a 0.1. Have I invented a new slang term for an effeminate man?

But there's is one biological phenomenon that I feel that these statistics don't explain; females on the autism spectrum. The top of the range for females is indeed a lot larger than the lower end of the range for males, but males still seem to have the extreme highest end of the range to themselves. I guess the crowd from the Autism Research Centre would explain this by saying that females with autism are rarities, but I still don't buy this. I've met and read about so many girls and women who have Asperger syndrome or some other variant of autism. I still have my money on the theory that females on the spectrum are under and mis-diagnosed. What kind of person is typically given an autism spectrum diagnosis? Little boys who are a lot of trouble for their school teachers or parents (or both). Little girls are typically less violent and better-behaved than little boys. Is it possible that there are, or have been in the past, lots of autistic little girls out there who aren't brought to the attention of those who diagnose because they don't make too much trouble for adults?

It would be the easiest thing in the world to look at the statistics quoted by the researcher and conclude that autism in females is indeed rare, but I think this is just wrong. I believe the testosterone theory is certainly part of the explanation of what autism is and what causes it, but it appears to me that the most interesting parts of the explanation have still not been discovered by autism researchers. Obviously there are some more very important heritable characteristics, that may interact with testosterone, which are the causes of autism, and I'm not saying any more than that, except that I certainly don't believe that vaccines or pollutants are causes.

Link to transcript of "The link between maleness and autism" on the Science Show on Radio National (ABC) September 22nd 2007 http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2007/2040145.htm#transcript

Link to Guardian Unlimited "Autistic traits linked to testosterone in mother's womb" by James Randerson September 11 2007
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/11/autism

Link to Guardian Unlimited science blog, with many comments, about this subject
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/09/should_we_cure_autism.html

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fashion blindness

You know you have fashion blindness when you can't tell the difference between a suit from Armani and a suit from the Salvation Army. Some people see it as a disability, but it certainly saves money.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Gays and Autists and the DSM and why I'm not holding my breath

A few weeks ago there was a two-part American radio programme broadcast on the ABC Radio National's radio show "All in the mind" that I found most interesting. It was all about how in the 1970s activists got homosexuality taken out of the DSM, the diagnostic manual of the American psychiatric profession, thus redefining homosexuality as as sexual orientation rather than a mental disorder.

I'd love to see the same thing happen with regard to autism and AS, but this isn't the 1970s and miracles of social progress and humanist enlightenment rarely happen these days. The wheels of social revolution stopped turning roughly 30 years ago. The only things that people are keen to "come out" as these days are as a drunk, a druggie, a depressive, a person with bipolar, or all of the above at the same time, and quite frankly I find that rather depressing. It's still fashionable to "come out" as something these days, but only if you're hopelessly ill and dysfunctional, and happy to admit it. We are no longer allowed to be stridently confident and happy about just being ourselves. These days that attitude is regarded as insensitivity or boastfullness. These days people apparently love to see the famous and mighty publicly humbling themselves. If I hear another news story about some Australian professional football player "opening up" about their personal problems I think I might scream! I just don't care about football players and their personal issues, even if they cry on national television. Is that perfectly clear? Telling the world that you are gay is no longer exciting or controversial, and if you declare that you are autistic, no one knows quite what to make of that. It's way too complex a subject for the man in the street to respond to.

As I listened to the radio documentary about gay activism in the 1970s I noted similarities between the way homosexuality was regarded by psychiatry and people in general in the 1970s and the way that autism is regarded now. It was very interesting to find out how pathological the condition of homosexuality was made to look through the lens of the mental illness industry, simply because the whole picture was not shown and the whole story was not being told by people who were supposed to be practicing science in an unbiased and objective manner.

"Now prior to Evelyn Hooker, all the research in homosexuality, all of it, was done on people who were already under serious psychiatric treatment. Let me repeat that. In the history of psychiatric research no one had ever conducted a study on a homosexual population that wasn't either in therapy, or prison, or mental hospital, or the disciplinary barracks of the armed services. "

Don't you think the complete body of published research on autism and Asperger syndrome is probably just as biased? For a start, the vast majority of published research on autistic people is of people (adults or children) who have been professionally diagnosed. The research would have little credibility in the world of science if it wasn't done on formally diagnosed subjects, because that is how the world of science defines autism; as a diagnosable medically defined disorder. Generally people don't get diagnosed with something from the DSM unless they have major troubles or are causing trouble for other people (in the cases of troublesome offspring and troublesome school students). Is there a "hidden horde" of generally happy, not-mentally-ill, relatively inconspicuous and functional autists who are invisible to and ignored by clinicians and scientific researchers, just like the sane, functional gays who were unstudied by science before the 1970s? Who the hell can say "No" to this question with any authority?

Link to "All in the mind"
http://abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/

Link to Part 1 transcript of "81 Words: the inside story of psychiatry and homosexuality"
http://abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2007/1992653.htm

Link to Part 2 of transcript of "81 Words: the inside story of psychiatry and homosexuality"
http://abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2007/2000523.htm

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The puzzle of hidden ability - article in Newsweek

I discovered this brilliant little article today in the August 21st 2007 edition of the Bulletin, on page 69 in the Newsweek section; "The puzzle of hidden ability" by Sharon Begley. Read it here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20226463/site/newsweek/page/0/

The article is about measuring IQ in kids who have "full-blown autism, not Asperger's". Michelle Dawson (who I believe has "full-blown autism") and her academic colleagues in Montreal have found that a well-known IQ test that does not require social interaction (Raven's Progressive Matrices) does a much more accurate job of measuring intelligence in autistic kids than the commonly-used Wechsler test.

These study findings are validation of the screening test methodology that our local gifted and talented education specialist teachers (working in the government primary school system) use to identify intellectually gifted children. Time and money constraints mean they can't IQ test all kids, but they use a well-chosen group of tests, including the Raven's, and kids can be identified as intellectually gifted based on their Raven's score alone. The Raven's test is included specifically to identify the kind of gifted kid who falls between the cracks or who isn't readily identified as gifted. As far as I know teachers' recommendations or input play no part in this gifted testing process. Children with autism, Asperger syndrome and ADHD diagnoses have been identified as gifted through this process.

It's so pleasing to read an article in a serious current affairs magazine that gives a positive view of kids with "full-blown autism" and that corrects a negative incorrect belief about autists (that most very autistic kids lack intellectual potential). It's so nice to read an article in which the journalist interviews an autistic person and takes their research completely seriously, without any emotive nonsense or cutesy comments getting in the way. It's gratifying to know that some people are succeeding at doing their job to make the education system fair for all children. To Michelle Dawson, Laurent Mottron, Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Sharon Begley, our local gifted Ed. teachers, and the editors of the journal Psychological Science (which published the study) I'd like to say "Job well done!"

Oh, and if you wish to read further about autism and intelligence there's this academic journal paper, which reviews 215 articles that were published between 1937 and 2003.

Edelson, Meredyth Goldberg Are the majority of children with autism mentally retarded? : a systematic evaluation of the data. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. Vol. 21, no. 2, summer 2006.
http://www.willamette.edu/dept/comm/reprint/edelson/


In the conclusion it says; "In view of the present findings on these three issues, the conclusion that the majority of children with autism also have MR does not seem warranted."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I was watching my favourite Australian musician on the telly last night, and I couldn't help noticing that he had the habit of swaying subtly from side to side while being interviewed. The documentary would cut away to some music, then later back to Mr Kuepper, and he'd be doing it again, and again ...

http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/03/famous-people-who-have-been-subject-of_19.html

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The opposite of Michael Buble: I am very unaffected to be here: famous actors and singers with or who had monotonous or rather droning voices

The opposite of Michael Buble: I am very unaffected to be here: famous actors and singers with or who had monotonous or rather droning voices

Joey Ramone
- lead signer of the punk/rock and roll band The Ramones, a loner in his youth and he had Obsessive-compulsive disorder during his adult life, there has been speculation that he had Marfan Syndrome, which I guess could be an explanation for his very tall and slender build, and there has also been some speculation about Asperger syndrome.


Nico - real name Christa Paffgen, born in Germany, ground-breaking singer-songwriter, model, actress, Warhol associate, heroin addict, had odd eating habits, apparently a stranger to soap, bleak themes feature in her work, Nico is described as having had a “deep narcotic monotone voice” and has been identified by some as a possible case of Asperger syndrome.

Marlene Dietrich – legendary German-born actress, singer, fashion icon, cross-dresser and bisexual. She had a very cool and aloof public image.

Bryan Ferry – English singer and songwriter of the defunct band Roxy Music, has been described as a “lounge lizard”. Ferry and Dietrich both recorded versions of the classic blues tune “You go to my head”.

Ed Kuepper – German-born Australian singer, songwriter and guitarist, famous for music made under his own name and in the defunct but recently reunited Brisbane punk band The Saints, has had a number of different backing bands, has a reputation for being reserved and arrogant and was rather alienated from his peers in his teen years.


In one of those fasinating convergences of discovery that one occasionally finds in the histories of the arts and the sciences, The Saints and The Ramones simultaneously and apparently independently invented the punk rock sound (harsh guitar sounds, shouting vocals and a fast tempo) in 1975 in the US and in Queensland in Australia. The thing that I find particularly interesting about this simultaneous rebellious originality is that both bands had highly influential members who displayed autistic traits (Joey Ramone with his droning voice, solitary youth and OCD, and Ed Kuepper with his monotonous voice, aloof manner and tendency to not make eye contact while being interviewed). Did punk rock naturally evolve from the socially non-conforming "extreme male brain" psychology of the autistic spectrum? And its also worth mentioning that Joe Strummer from the punk band The Clash also had a very monotone voice.

In recent years Kuepper has made very loud live soundtrack music for weirdo arts festival short movies with bright swirling colours and flashing strobe lights. My central nervous system is still recovering.

Steven Morrissey – English lead singer and lyric writer in the legendary defunct band The Smiths and also a solo artist. Themes of alienation, depression and sexuality feature in his lyrics, but it is unclear whether he is straight, gay, celibate or some other sexual orientation, and quite frankly, who cares after all these years?

Mark Seymour – lead singer, guitarist and songwriter in the defunct Australian band Hunters and Collectors, a band that had an image of brutish, working-class masculinity that was almost ridiculous, that was initially influenced by “Kraut-rock” and had themes of alienation and sexual politics in their songs. I think there is a similarity between the music of the Hunters and Collectors and the music of Ed Kuepper, especially the use of horns. The Hunters’ horn section was known as the “Horns of Contempt”.

Sylvester Stallone – American movie actor, screenwriter, director and producer, apparently he started his cinema career with a role in a blue movie, famous for playing ridiculously muscular characters in ultra-macho action movies, has a mumbling way of speaking that has been parodied, is left-handed and Stallone has a son who was diagnosed with autism.


Ian Curtis - was a singer and lyricist in the Manchester band Joy Division, he is the subject of a new biographical movie titled Control, had epileptic seizures on stage, has been identified as a possible case of Asperger syndrome, bleak themes feature in Curtis’ lyrics including alienation, he had an unusual deep singing voice that has been described as eerie, monotonous or “a less tuneful Jim Morrison”, Curtis comitted suicide at the age of 23.

Joe Strummer - was the lead singer of the English punk rock band The Clash. Left-handed. Another punk superstar with a monotone voice? Seems like a pattern here.

Nick Cave - of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party. Australian post-punk, alternative musician, songwriter, author, screenwriter, and occasional film actor. His voice is more of a drone than a monotone. Dark, intense gothic themes are a feature of his work.



























The Nihlists from Ronnie Johns Half Hour



Sunday, August 12, 2007

Did you see that story on 60 Minutes tonight about the autistic savants Stephen Wiltshire and Daniel Tammet? For a person who is supposed to be "an awkward, painfully shy person with few social skills" Tammet is doing a pretty slick job of presenting himself on all the shows in all the different forms of media. I guess he's got an agent or a PR person or something like that. That Professor Snyder was in the story too, with his zany hat and kooky specs and all. There's no show about savants without the expert in the zany hat there to explain it all to the folks at home.

Professor Synder apparently believes that inside every non-autistic, neurotypical person there is a little autistic savant "rain man" waiting patiently, keen to bestow amazing savant skills on the neurotypical person if some professor comes along and messes up the "higher thought" parts of their "normal" brains enough to simulate the "damage found in the brain of savants" (this insulting phrase was used by the 60 Minutes journalist). Apparently this is done with strong magnetism. To date the professor has I believe not to created any Tammets or Einsteins or Mozarts using his methodology. If he hopes to simulate Tammet's extraordinary gifts I'd have thought at least the professor would be trying to simulate synaesthesia. A logical first step, and not unprecedented.

The professor tells us that there's a little autistic "Rain man" inside every neurotypical person, and all around the world there are neurotypical parents of autistic kids who believe that inside their autistic offspring there is a little neurotypical "social butterfly child" struggling valiantly to emerge from their "hollow, dead cocoon of autism". Ya gotta laugh.

I really like this quote from Daniel Tammet:
"It's only as I got older that I realised it isn't bad to be different. It can be a good thing if you can find what it is that makes you unique and have the courage to live that out then I think you can be happy."

http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=285127