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.