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.