Thursday, December 13, 2007

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.
[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
[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.
[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

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."]

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. January 19th 2008.[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.

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.

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.

Autistic diagnosis proposed for Frame: celebrated author Janet Frame may have been autistic. (2007) The Press. October 12th 2007.

Cohen, David (2007) Autistic licence. New Zealand Listener. November 10-16 2007 Vol. 211 No. 3522.

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.

Hann, Arwen (2007) Autism claim draws fire from family, mum. The Press. October 22nd 2007.

Johnston, Martin (2007) Author Janet Frame suffered from “high functioning autism”. The New Zealand Herald. October 12th 2007.

Matthews, Philip (2008) Back on the page. The Press. July 26th 2008.
[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.

ONE News (2007) Frame autism claim rubbished by family. October 12th 2007.
[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.
[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.

Stace, Hilary (2007) Was Janet Frame on the autistic spectrum? November 8th 2007.
[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.

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

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.

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

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)


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.
[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.

Page, Tim (2007) Parallel play: a lifetime of restless isolation explained. The New Yorker. August 20th 2007.

Pulitzer-winner on living with Asperger’s. All Things Considered. August 13th 2007. NPR.
[Tim Page]

Copyright Lili Marlene 2006, 2007.

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.

I think I'll add it to the list of references in my old blog article "What autism epidemic?"

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

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:

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.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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
-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
-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:

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"

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:

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.

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 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."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The most stupid quote of the week regarding the autistic spectrum

The Most Stupid Quote of the Week Regarding the Autistic Spectrum:

"He's married, which almost certainly means he's not autistic."

A quote by Professor Allan Snyder, Director of the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't that Newport couple been married once or twice, and hasn't Liane Holliday Willey been married, and Donna Willams too, and I'm sure that Wendy Lawson mentioned getting married in her autobiography, and Daniel Tammet is kinda married, and the artist Peter Howson was married or is going to be married I'm sure, and what about that Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith, he has a wife, and I'm sure the Fields Medal winning mathematician from the UK diagnosed in the book "The essential difference" is described as married, and aren't all of these people supposed to be autistic? Are married autistic people really rare creatures? I've come up with the names of 9 of them off the top of my autistic head.

Professor Synder was quoted in this weekend's magazine of the Weekend Australian newspaper, on page 29 of the article "Beautiful minds" by Richard Guilliatt. The article is about the remarkable family of Australian Fields Medal winner Terry Tao, within which autism, intellectual giftedness and extreme levels of intellectual achievement can be found. As you've probably guessed, the Tao family are of Asian descent. This seems to confirm what those politically-incorrect Bell Curve IQ experts have been telling us - that the Asian races are smarter than us humble European types. The Chaser team had a rather funny joke about the embarrasing intellectual superiority of Asian Australian kids on their show the other night.

Professor Synder does not really help us in this article to understand the apparent relationship between autism and genius, quite the contrary, but the knowledgeable observations of Australian intellectual giftedness expert Miraca Gross are always worth reading.

Beautiful minds.
(What's it like to raise a family of geniuses? With three highly gifted sons, Billy and Grace Tao have learnt to ignore the advice of experts)
by Richard Guilliatt.
The Australian
August 11, 2007

Professor Snyder is the bloke who is trying rather too hard to look quirky and eccentric in these photos:

"Vote for insanity: you know it makes sense."

I think I'll add that to my list of fave quotes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

What autism epidemic?

Allen, Arthur (2007) The autism numbers: why there’s no epidemic. Slate. January 15 2007.

Fombonne, Eric MD FRCPsych (2001) Commentary: is there an epidemic of autism? Pediatrics. Vol. 107 No. 2 February 2001, pp. 411-412

Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (2007) A conspicuous absence of scientific leadership: the illusory epidemic of autism.

Grinker, Roy (2007) Unstrange minds: remapping the world of autism. Basic Books.

Grinker, Roy and Chew, Kristina (2006) If There's No Autism Epidemic, Where are all the Adults with Autism? Unstrange minds (web site)

Lawton, Graham (2005) The autism epidemic that never was. New Scientist. Number 2512, August 13 2005.

Lilienfeld, Scott O. and Hal Arkowitz, Hal (2007) Autism: An Epidemic?: a closer look at the statistics suggests something more than a simple rise in incidence. Scientific American Mind. April 4th 2007. Volume 18, Number 2 April/May 2007, p. 82-83.

Ritvo, Edward R. MD (1999) No epidemic of autism. FEAT Daily Online Newsletter. Aril 30, 1999.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A quote that caught my eye:

"My concept of what constitutes a good person is based on what I do rather than what I feel."
- Temple Grandin in her book “Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism”

It's from this list:
The unique David Bellamy OBE is the rather belated newest addition to my list. I remember watching Mr Bellamy on ABC TV way back in the 1970s when I was just a kid. He was hugely famous and compelling to watch. I think his TV shows were some of the best media creations to come out of the 1970s, along with the music of Abba and the pop science books of Richard Dawkins. David Bellamy was so knowledgeable and so passionate about the environment. Only an autistic person could feel that excited about plants.

I get abnormally excited about plants. Ever since I was a young child I’ve been unusually fascinated with inanimate natural things, and nature in general. When the kids and I go on a bush walk I’m always pointing out the fascinating flora and wildlife. I like to make accurate plant identifications, knowing the current botanical Latin names, and I tell everyone what they are whether they want to know or not. I’d feel that I was an inadequate, pathetic failure in life if I couldn’t at least tell the difference between a trigger plant and a fan flower. There is always something splendid blooming where we live. In spring the beauty is obvious to anyone, one is surrounded with stunning colour. At other times of the year you may need to look close or look carefully to see nature’s fascinating show. We sniff and touch things as we go. I sometimes pinch leaves to see if they are aromatic, and sometimes I even get down on my hands and knees to see if some low-growing flower has a perfume. The smells and fragrances are half the pleasure.

Big list here:

Jane Austen may be appearing in this list in the future.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Badassitude and the autistic spectrum: there is no such thing as too much testosterone

Charles XII of Sweden
“… by all accounts was pretty hardcore.”

The Blues Brothers
“There is just something about these two hapless brothers and their wild adventures that makes you totally pumped up and ready to crash a car through a window while smoking cigarettes, wearing a black suit and listening to James Brown.”

Paul Dirac
“He was a virtual black hole of destruction”

Moby Dick (book written by Herman Melville)
“80-ton, hate-filled, murderous embodiment of God's Wrath.”

The Microsoft Xbox (made by Bill’s company)
“Just turning the power on makes me so pumped up that I want to start kicking shit, pounding on my chest and bodyslamming my television.”

References mentioning some famous people and autism

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

[Paul Dirac, Einstein, Newton, William Shockley …]

Caplan, Arthur (2005) Would you have allowed Bill Gates to be born?: advances in prenatal genetic testing pose tough questions. May 31 2005.

Elmer-DeWitt, Philip and Farley, Christopher Joh (1994) Diagnosing Bill Gates. Time. Vol. 142 Issue 4:p 25.

Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[Herman Melville and others]

Gillberg, C. (2002) [Charles XII seems to have fulfilled all the criteria of Asperger syndrome] (article in Swedish) Lakartidningen. 2002 Nov. 28;99 (48):4837-8.
[Charles XII of Sweden]

Gross, Terri. (2004) Comedian – and writer – Dan Aykroyd. Fresh Air. NPR. November 22 2004.
[Dan Aykroyd (of the Blues Brothers) discusses his childhood diagnosis at around 29 minutes into this radio interview]

James, Ioan (2004) Remarkable physicists: from Galileo to Yukawa. Cambridge University Press.

[Dirac, Newton, Cavendish, Einstein]

Lagerkvist, B. (2002) [Charles XII had all symptoms of Asperger syndrome: stubbornness, a stereotyped existence and lack of compassion] (article in Swedish) Lakartidningen. 2002 Nov. 28;99(48):4874-8.
[Charles XII of Sweden]

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Why do I think Wilson Alwyn “Snowflake” Bentley, the first photographer of snowflakes, was autistic?

Why do I think Wilson Alwyn “Snowflake” Bentley, the first photographer of snowflakes, was autistic?

This article is mostly but not wholly based on information in the junior biography book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian. I am not the first person to notice that Bentley may have been autistic, blogger Club 166 was the source of this idea.

Bentley was home-schooled by his mother till the age of 14. He read all of his mother’s set of encyclopaedias. “He attended school for only a few years.” This unusual educational history strikes me as being somewhat similar to the schooling of eminent Australian poet Les Murray, who has claimed a number of times to be mildly autistic. Intellectually gifted children and autistic children appear to be especially likely to be home-schooled. I believe both Bentley and Murray would have fitted into both categories. However, Bentley’s home-schooling is perhaps not so unusual when one considers that his brother was also home-schooled and his mother was a teacher.

Bentley had a major autistic special interest which was his “claim to fame”. This interest was the study of snowflakes, which lasted from his teenage years through to the end of his life (around 50 years). This was a visual special interest, focusing on small things. Autistics are thought to be generally “visual thinkers” who are cognitively talented at studying the world from the micro, rather than macro level. As a child Bentley loved to look at things through his old microscope, things such as raindrops, flowers, and blades of grass. An autistic special interest could be defined as a very intense and sustained focused interest in a very specific or unusual subject. Bentley’s fascination with snowflakes was certainly intense, deep, sustained, specific and unique to fully meet this definition of an autistic special interest.

Autistic special interests are often regarded as odd, ridiculous, crazy or bizarre by non-autistic people. Bentley’s father believed that “Fussing with snow is just foolishness,” and his “Neighbours laughed at the idea of photographing snow.” The picture book about Bentley implies that his behaviour must have looked odd or eccentric – standing out in the snow catching snowflakes. According to one web site Bentley “was considered odd, and was known to many of them as the "Snowflake Man" because of his quiet nature and unusual preoccupation with his snow photography.” When you think about it, when a person is described as “quiet” that does imply that they used verbal communication less than most people, and verbal communication is a weak skill in people who are on the autistic spectrum.

Autistic children often love to collect small and similar items. Some examples include collecting ladybugs, insects, bird feathers, sticks, sand grains, sea shells and “conkers”. Autistic children can sometimes be wonderfully independent and resourceful by finding mental stimulation and amusement in whatever they find in their local environment, be it urban, coastal or a snowfield. The collecting obsessions of aspie children may initially be motivated by an enjoyment of the sensory characteristics of the collected items (the feel of rough bark, the colour of feathers, the different shapes of shells) but these collecting habits can evolve into special interests. One could say that Bentley was a collector of snowflakes, or photos of snowflakes. I believe there is research showing that autistic people can have special abilities in visually searching for items. I believe this may be an element contributing to the enjoyment of autistic collecting obsessions. Bentley might have had some special ability to detect visual patterns, as he was fascinated with snowflakes and spider webs, which both have similar star-like shapes.

Autistic people are known to be remarkably persistent in the pursuit of interests or ventures that are of interest to us. Bentley’s study of snowflakes lasted most of his life, and he showed remarkable persistence in his invention and development of a new technique of photographing snowflakes, requiring an expensive camera, after initial failure. Photographing snowflakes is a difficult task requiring huge patience, as the things melt quickly and don’t show up well in photos. Bentley must have displayed remarkable passion for his interest to his parents, who spent their savings on a special camera for Bentley to use only for his interest.

A true autistic special interest is not motivated by any desire for financial gain or enhancement of social status. Autists study special interests simply because they bring joy, and may be one’s main joy in life. Special interests are interesting. If Bentley was motivated in his interest by desire to make money from it, he failed, as he spent more on photographing snowflakes than he earned from this interest.

The intellectual originality of people with Asperger syndrome was first noted by Hans Asperger in his seminal paper written in the 1940s. Bentley displayed autistic originality in his snowflake interest. He eventually came to be known as the “world’s expert on snow” and he wrote a book about snowflakes. His unique collection of photos was used as a scientific and artistic resource by others. “He saw beauty where no one else had noticed it …” A common characteristic of autistic people, related to autistic originality, is that we are often self-taught people, or autodidacts. The picture book about Bentley mentions no mentor or teacher fostering his photography, so I can only assume that it was a skill that he taught himself.

Bentley’s interest could be categorized as systemizing. Prof. Baron-Cohen has theorized that autistic people are hyper-systemizers. Systemizing involves trying to discover or work with the underlying rules governing the natural world and technology. Scientists, engineers and computer programmers are systemizers. Bentley could be described as an amateur scientist and a technology innovator. As a child he “did many experiments with raindrops.” Bentley discovered that most snowflakes have 6 sides and are unique in design, and he theorized about how snowflakes form and factors determining the design of snowflakes. He also discovered a new technique in photography. Bentley wrote an article on snow for one edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which must have been a source of great satisfaction for a person who read encyclopaedias as a child. Like some other notable autistic people (such as pianist Glenn Gould and artist Henry Darger) Bentley had an unusual interest in the weather, and “kept a record of the weather”. At the age of 55 Bentley was elected as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

People who are not of the systemizer psychological type seem to believe that scientific, technological and nature-study type interests are dull, repetitive and emotionless experiences, but that view is only a reflection of their own (unavoidably negative) experiences of science, technology and the natural, non-social world. An autistic systemizer enjoying their special interest, whether it is observing the amazing diversity of snowflake shapes or experimenting with putting together different types of computers or computer networks, or simply looking at whatever the storm has left on the shore, must be experiencing powerfully motivating pleasurable emotions. If they weren’t, why would they keep doing what they are doing? My own personal experience of an autistic special interest is of the joy and wonder and anticipation of discovery, not second-hand, but one’s own discovery, and being in direct contact with the forces of nature, the scientific laws of the natural world, or fascinating and puzzling creations of the natural world. This is the feeling that I get when looking at Bentley’s photographs, and I’m sure he felt a similar feeling. “Eloquently passionate language” was used in the many articles that Bentley wrote about his work.

All autistic people are (relatively) socially isolated or socially uninterested. The picture book about Bentley implied that he studied snowflakes instead of playing with other children. There is no mention of Bentley marrying in any sources that I’ve read, so I must assume that he never married. He was “often misunderstood in his time,”

Musical talent is one of the group of talents that autistic people, particularly autistic savants, often have. Bentley had an unusual gift for music, playing a range of different instruments and composing.

Bentley might have had the autistic characteristic of being able to tolerate extremes of temperature, or having a sensory insensitivity or confusion with regard to sensing temperature. Wilson Bentley was known for going out in the cold weather to observe snowflakes. Bentley’s special interest was the theme of his life, and it was possibly the cause of his death. Snowstorms were events that enabled Bentley to find the snowflakes to make pictures. He died after falling ill with pneumonia following a six-mile hike in a blizzard in pursuit of snowflake photos.

Copyright Lili Marlene 2007.

Web sites, books and articles about or by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

Bentley, W. A. The magic beauty of snow and dew. National Geographic. 43 (1923), 103-112.

Bentley, W. A. Snow crystals. McGraw-Hill, 1931.

Bentley, W. A. and W. J. Humphries Snow crystals. (Dover Photography Collections) Dover Publications Inc., 1962.
[still in print]

Buffalo Museum of Science Bentley Snow Crystal Collection.
[this web site also includes an extensive bibliography and links]

Club 166 The advantages of being odd. Club 166. February 10 2007.
[a blog article about Bentley]

Jericho Historical society

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs and Azarian, Mary (illustrator) (1998) Snowflake Bentley. Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
[ A beautiful Caldecott Medal-winning picture-book biography for children]

Mullett, Mary B. The snowflake man. American Magazine. 99 (1925), 28-31.

Wikipedia contributors. Wilson Bentley. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed May 6, 2007.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I don't know why I didn't think to put this web site into my links list earlier. It's a really important issue.

APANA - Autistic People Against Neuroleptic Abuse

I've seen first-hand what horrible damage these drugs can do to people (any kind of people, not only autistic people). These drugs are sometimes given to elderly people in nursing homes and to psychiatric patients, and even to children, who have their lives ahead of them. Some (maybe all, I don't know for sure) of these drugs can cause permanent brain damage resulting in uncontrollable and crazy-looking movements. It's hard to believe that anyone can legally prescribe drugs that are known to cause brain damage and permanent disability, isn't it?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What do the Richter Scale, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Pokemon, the book Subhuman Redneck Poems, the first modern abstract paintings, Newtonian physics, the book Born Free, the song Get Free by the Vines, Microsoft Corporation, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, BitTorrent, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the transistor, Ireland's Constitution, the Blues Brothers, the Turing Test, the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Einstein's theory of relativity, the La Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, and this silly blog that you are now reading all have in common?

The List now has 86 names in it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A question for Professor Simon Baron-Cohen

Director of the Autism Research Centre,
University of Cambridge

Maybe this isn’t news to you at all, but I’ve only recently found out that the man who is considered to be Australia’s most renowned living poet, Les Murray, has claimed a number of times to have some degree of Asperger syndrome in interviews in the last couple of years. After reading about Murray I’m sure he’s right. Apparently one of his five offspring has autism.

My question to you is; how does your female empathizer brain and male systemizer brain theory explain Murray’s harrowing experiences of bullying in high school? He was apparently particularly psychologically bullied by his female age peers, which appears to wildly contradict the stereotype of inherent kind empathy in girls which you depicted with the character "Hannah" on pages 18 to 21 of your popular psychology book The Essential Difference. This is how Murray’s school bullying is described in a recent press article:

When he turned 16, Murray went to Taree High School where he experienced bullying and emotional humiliation at the hands of fellow students of such callousness that it has haunted him all his life. For two years he was addressed constantly by cruel nicknames. “The sexual fool was how (the) girls loved to see Murray,” Professor Alexander writes in Les Murray: A Life in Progress. “I used to have strings of 16-year-old girls hanging after me screaming with laughter and provoking me into making more of a fool of myself,” Murray recalled.

Murray is a long-time sufferer of clinical depression, not surprisingly.

Dear professor, are you sure that you know what dear little Hannah gets up to when she is at school?


Baird, Julia (2006) Les Murray: the poet who helped save the Snowy. Sunday Profile. ABC Local Radio. June 4, 2006.

Moran, Rod (2007) Murray’s troubled waters run deep. The West Australian. Weekend Extra, page 4, February 10, 2007.

Potts, Robert (2004) The voice of the outback. The Guardian. May 15, 2004.,12084,1216273,00.html

Wootten, William (2006) Salt, land and tears. The Guardian. October 21, 2006.,,1927616,00.html

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Book debunking autism epidemic nonsense reviewed in Time magazine

On page 61 of the January 22 2007 edition of Time magazine, (which is on the shelves of newsagents and supermarkets and servos in Australia right now), you will find the article
"Is the autism epidemic a myth?" by Claudia Wallis
You can read it here anyway:,9171,1576829,00.html,8816,1576829,00.html

The brief article is a review of the new book "Unstrange minds: remapping the world of autism" by Roy R. Grinker. The article explains point-by-point some reasons why a person who is an autistic child in the US in the present day is much more likely to get diagnosed as autistic than were Americans who were autistic children decades ago. While there are many people who have an interest in pretending that autistic adults just don't exist in any substantial numbers, the plain obvious truth can't be ignored forever.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I’ve just realized something about infant speech development

I’m a mother of a few kids. I probably should know a lot about the speech development of children by now, but I’ve just realized that all these years I’ve apparently been harbouring a major misunderstanding about the speech development of babies. I always thought the important thing about speaking and speech was the correct use of words (from the language that one is raised in) and the appropriate use of these words to transfer meaning from one person to another, and back again. I always thought speech was about accuracy and the transfer of meaning, but apparently the earliest speech development of babies has nothing at all to do with meaning or content.

The first hint that I’ve been making an apparently incorrect assumption came during discussions with an infant health nurse during our baby’s standard developmental checks. She kept insisting that it is of huge importance that the baby be making lots and lots of babbling and “jargoning” noises, which are strings of utterly meaningless sounds in a pattern that at a distance might sound to the ear like enthusiastic and expressive speech, but when analysed, is pure nonsense, just a random string of phonemes (English language phonemes). I thought it was more important that our baby had already appeared to say a few meaningful words to refer to things and people in baby’s environment, but the nurse remained fixated on the question of whether baby was coming up with enough excited gibberish.

I picked up an old edition of a baby manual that I may have read years ago, I don’t remember. I was sceptical about the advice and predictions in this baby manual when it was new, and with the wisdom of hindsight I’m all the more sceptical. It describes all manner of good and undesirable toddler behaviours that I’m sure our older kids never did (such as lying in toddlerhood), and it describes many practices and problems that we never experienced. In the text I found confirmation of the things that the baby nurse had been saying. According to Penelope Leach “There is no particular point in trying hard to identify your baby’s first words. It does not matter whether he uses any or not at this stage. His expressive, fluent varied jargon is an absolute assurance that he is going to speak when he is ready.” Leach goes on to explain that babies typically get the idea of using a particular word to refer to a particular object later in their speech development. So according to the experts, being able to speak fluent nonsense, (or baloney or bulldust, whatever you wish to call it) in a social, expressive manner, as though you want to be a part of the social world of speech but have nothing to say that is meaningful or makes sense, is the precursor to the development of what is generally considered speech. Might this explain why so many autistics are so late in their speech development?