Friday, September 26, 2008

Are all autistics connected with their computer?

I love this quote from Craig Nicholls in Jmag because it so much goes against the stereotype of the semi-verbal autistic geek who's only contact with the outside world is through his beloved computer:

"I don't have a computer ... I don't know how it works. I don't have a phone, I just write f#$%in' albums."

There's one thing that you need to keep in mind when reading stuff on the internet written by people who claim to have Asperger syndrome or autism, and when reading about autistic people who rely on the internet a lot for self-expression or for social contact or for work; these people (people like me) are not necessarily representative of all autistic people. There are plenty of autistic people who are far too busy making money and/or making careers or raising kids to be bothered with computers or the internet. There are plenty of autistic people who don't even call themselves autistic.

Reference

Valentish, Jenny (2008) As long as no one gets hurt … Jmag. Issue 19, July 2008 p. 38-42.
http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/jmag/issue_19.htm

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plagarism and Helen D; it was always a beat-up

I think it's so very funny that so much fuss was made (back in the 1990s) of what has been described as plagarism by Helen Darville/Demidenko in which she supposedly borrowed some words for a newspaper column from an item that was published on the internet. You can read the transcript of a story about Helen D. on the Sunday current affairs TV show that was screened in Australia in 1997: http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/transcript_163.asp
In this media interview the journalist harps on and on at Helen about alleged plagarism, as though it is an extraordinary sin. These days, any viewer of the ABC TV show Media Watch knows that it is a very common practice for journalists (yes, journalists, especially newspaper columnists) to "borrow" text and ideas from articles published on the internet. You don't believe me? Well have a look at this article published this year on the ABC's web site (yes, the web site of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation funded by the government): http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/22/2252608.htm?site=science&topic=human
Then have a look at this article by a different author, which could possibly have been published earlier than the above article: http://www.yourlittleprofessor.com/benefits.html
I detect a definite similarity between these articles, particularly in one paragraph. It's ironic that one of these articles mentions Helen D. and AS.

In a book that I have recently read the author observes that Helen D. has an extraordinary memory, apparently not a photographic memory, but still a remarkable one. This writer put forward a possible explanation for Helen D's supposed plagarism that it could have been a side-effect of her superior memory. Autistic savants are known to have incredibly accurate memory abilities, as do many less extreme cases of AS or autism. I am certain that Helen D. is on the autistic spectrum. Superior memory as an explanation for Helen's supposed plagarism is something that should be considered seriously.

Copyright Lili Marlene 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008


The List grows to 138 names

What do the “Tin Lizzie”, the autobiography An Angel at My Table, the chess “Match of the Century” between Fischer and Spassky, the Helen Demidenko affair, the 1970s TV series Botanic Man, whistleblowing that led to the Wood Royal Commission, the Richter Scale for earthquakes, the La Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, 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, the BitTorrent downloading computer program, 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 special theory of relativity and this silly blog that you are now reading all have in common? Yes, I know they are all works of original genius, but what else do they have in common?

The List now has 138 names in it.

Three very interesting and influential people who are the most recent additions to this list are Henry Ford, Deborah Locke and Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko.


http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2006/09/referenced-list-of-famous-or-important.html

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On today's The Book Show on ABC Radio National there is an interview with Pamela Gordon who is the literary executor and niece of the famous NZ writer Janet Frame. Ms Gordon was not at all pleased when a doctor gave Frame a posthumous diagnosis of high-functioning autism last year. I do not think autism is mentioned in this interview, in which Ms Gordon discusses her role, publishing and some of Frame's work. This show is repeated at midnight and audio can be downloaded.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko autistic?


Helen Dale b. 1972, born Helen Darville, changed name to Dale to (reportedly) avoid discrimination in job interviews, literary pseudonym Helen Demidenko, Australian writer, P.E. teacher, winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1993 (at age 22), the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1995, and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 1995, as Helen Demidenko, all awarded for the novel The Hand that Signed the Paper. This novel, it’s author and the awards ignited a storm of controversy in Australia that inspired the publication of four books about the controversy. Helen clearly misrepresented her ethnicity, her surname and her past in her published writing and also in her public appearances, claiming to have a Ukrainian father (untrue), claiming to be a part of the Australian Ukrainian community (untrue) and claiming to have come from a deprived underclass suburb and high school (also apparently untrue). Helen's deception is a part of a long tradition of Australian writers and film-makers exploiting a cultural preoccupation with ethnicity and gender identity politics and multiculturalism by misrepresenting their own ethnic or gender identities. Helen was also accused of plagiarism in her writing, with some justification.

The enigmatic “Helen Demidenko” became a part of Australian popular culture. A measure of her fame/infamy is the fact that some men dressed up in drag as “Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine” in the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Her fame has faded considerably, possibly due to the fact that the height of her infamy pre-dated the establishment of the internet and is thus mainly reported by archival scholarly documents online, and the printed texts about the Demidenko controversy are now old.

According to an autobiographical article in Quadrant Dale was given phonics tuition and occupational therapy as a child for dyslexia and went from the bottom of the class to the top within 6 months. A number of writers have referred to a university medal awarded to Helen D. and she has claimed to have a very high IQ. Dale has expressed political views that could be categorized as right-wing. She has been involved with the Australian Skeptics. During the Demidenko affair she was defended by Australian poet Les Murray, literary editor of conservative journal Quadrant who himself has claimed to be autistic and considers himself a pariah from a leftist Australian literary establishment. Dale finds commercial law fascinating and is reported to be currently studying postgraduate law at Oxford.

Some quotes from Helen Dale:
“’Doesn’t play well with others’ was on my report card.”

“I didn't have that tendency to conform and I found it easy not to conform. I didn't scare easily. And it amazed to see that people who I respected, who I liked—would just fit in without ever really thinking about the consequences of what they did.”

“…. I saw the Waffen-SS tattoo in his armpit and I knew what it was. It's the kind of obscure thing I knew, but then I never picked up a Dolly magazine the entire time I was at high school.

“My journey through the upper reaches of the chattering classes as ‘Helen Demidenko’ was surreal.”

“I think that if people need to be told that that sort of thing is wrong, then maybe they don't have as sure a grip on their own moral sense as they might think they do.”

“I can't be responsible for other people's feelings.”

“Australian literature is burdened with a level of ideological conformity that would do East Germany proud.”

“Journalists have a remarkable talent for behaving like kiddy-fiddlers.”

“Thinking in this profession [law] is actually a good thing.”


About Helen Dale/Darville
Dale, Helen (2006) My life as a young Australian novelist. Quadrant. May 2006 p. 14-21.
http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2006/08/27/my-life-as-a-young-australian-novelist-quadrant-may-2006/#more-83
[article with comments, I found Dale’s explanation of why she chose to enter the world of literature, in comment no. 17, interesting]http://www.quadrant.org.au/magazine/archives
[not currently in Quadrant archives]Dale, Helen (2006) The Hand Behind The Hand that Signed. Skeptic. Autumn 2006 Volume 26 No 1. (journal of Australian Skeptics Inc.)
http://www.skeptics.com.au/journal/2006/2006.htm
[this is the same article as above, info given about childhood, family, the Demidenko affair, her treatment by journalists, “the chattering classes” and literary people at the time, and her life in recent years. Interestingly, Dale described a childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which was not explicitly mentioned. Another thing that strikes me as odd is Dale’s most negative description of her father in this article and in other media stories, compared with p.47 of the 1996 book by Prior listed below, which says that Dale/Darville’s father was reported in the press as being the same “Harry Darville” who was a candidate for the Greens in the 1993 federal election (winning 4.5% of the vote in Fadden), “and that Helen was his election manager.” I find it hard to believe that any political party would choose a person to represent them in an election who is as shady as the description of her father given by Dale/Darville in recent writings. In the All in the Mind radio interview listed below Dale/Darville gives 1996 as the date of her father’s appearance in court on a soliciting charge – running for federal parliament in 1993 and in court for soliciting 3 years later? If it is true it is quite a story. No mention of AS or autism in this article.]

Dalley, Helen (1997) Helen Darville breaks her silence. Sunday. Ninemsn. June 8th 1997.
http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/transcript_163.asp
[feature story/interview on a current affairs TV show, I found the bit where they discussed Demidenko as a persona interesting, no mention of AS or autism]

Jensen, Erik & Harvey, Ellie (2008) The pain that may explain Helen Darville. Sydney Morning Herald. Smh.com.au May 9th 2008.
http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/the-pain-that-may-explain-helen-darville/2008/05/08/1210131165910.html
[“Helen Darville … suggests characteristsics of Aspergers syndrome may explain her aloofness.”]
Malcolm, Lynne (2006) Whatever happened to Helen Demidenko? All in the Mind. ABC Radio National. April 29th 2006.
[transcript of a radio interview, discusses her childhood, family, the Demidenko affair and recent life, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above), no mention of autism or AS]http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/mind/stories/s1622778.htm

*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an interesting account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer “friend” of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists, “What immediately caught my attention on this first meeting – apart from her striking appearance – was the way she totally failed to be absorbed into the group.” (p. 15), some unusual autistic behaviour (of Dale’s) described on p. 79, after reading this book I became convinced that Helen D. is/was autistic]Wheatley, Jane (2008) Reinventing Helen. Sydney Morning Herald. Good Weekend. May 10th 2008.
West Australian. WestWeekend Magazine. September 6th 2008 p.24-28.
[feature article, Wheatley claims she was considering whether Dale has AS before Dale brought up the subject, Wheatley appears to have summarized and accepted Dale’s description of her childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems from the Skeptic/Quadrant article, which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which I could find no mention of in this article, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above),]
Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Helen Darville. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Helen_Darville&oldid=237002952

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Redeemer Lutheran College. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Redeemer_Lutheran_College&oldid=232696788
[the college gives it’s side of some stories, and this seems to be confirmation that Helen Dale/Darville did attend this school]Wilson, Katherine (2006) The blogger formerly known as Demidenko. Crikey. September 11th 2006.
http://www.crikey.com.au/Media-Arts-and-Sports/20060911-The-blogger-formerly-known-as-Demidenko.html


Works by Helen Demidenko
Demidenko, Helen (1994) The hand that signed the paper. Allen and Unwin.
[the novel that started it all]RePublica: issue 3: Scarred for life. (1995) editor: George Papaellinas. Angus and Robertson.
[Other Places by Helen Demidenko is on p. 93-97, about a blonde Ukrainian girl who has won an award and fame, and is invited to make a speech at the outer-suburban Australian public high school that she graduated from. There nothing to indicate whether this is presented as an autobiographical essay or a fictional short story. This volume includes a diverse mixture of genres. There have been accusations that this story contains some content plagiarized from a work by Brain Matthews. I tried to check this out for myself but found that if his work had ever been stocked in our state public library system, it now appears to no longer be in stock.]

About the Demidenko Affair
Cultures of forgery: making nations, making selves. (2003) editors: Judith Ryan & Alfred Thomas. Routledge.
[includes a chapter about the Demidenko affair]
The Demidenko file. (1996) editors: John Jost, Gianna Totaro & Christine Tyshing. Penguin.

Manne, Robert (1996) The culture of forgetting : Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust. Text Publishing.

Manne, Robert (2005) Left right left: political essays 1977-2005. Black Inc.
[includes material from his book about the Demidenko affair]
*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer friend of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists]*Riemer, Andrew (1996) The Demidenko debate. Allen and Unwin.
[described as sympathetic to Helen D, but even-handed, there is a lot of stuff in the afterword of this book that I believe supports the proposition that Helen D. is/was autistic, including her explanation on p. 263-264 of why was so fascinated with the Ukraine. Some quotes from this book; “She has always had a strongly visual imagination …” “She was the school freak: bookish, brainy, the loner …” “…the thought strikes me not for the first time that she might well be an intensely committed and obsessive writer…” ]Warren, Agnes (1995) Why it took the media so long to write a story about the life of prize-winning author Helen Demidenko. Media Report. ABC Radio National. August 24th 1995.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/mediarpt/mstories/mr240801.htm
[“a language therapist” associated with Dale’s high school is mentioned as one of the people who identified “Helen Demidenko” as Helen Darville]
Who's who?: hoaxes, imposture and identity crises in Australian literature. (2004) editors: Maggie Nolan & Carrie Dawson. University of Queensland Press.
[essays]

Link to a photo from the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine
http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn3118092



Just when I'm sure that the number of new additions to my mammoth, huge, amazing "famous aspies" list is trickling to nothing, and the possiblities for new names have pretty much dried up, I hear about some more thoroughly fascinating and impressive people who are apparently situated neurologically somewhere along the autistic spectrum.

I just can't believe the contrast between the two Australian women that I am researching with the aim of adding them to my list. One is a pillar of our society who stands for truth and integrity, the other lady achieved national infamy at the tender age of 23 due to her ... ???creativity in autobiography? ... fictional behaviour as an author of ... fiction???

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Asperger syndrome on the radio

Asperger syndrome on the radio

Today I listened with much interest to the ABC Radio National’s Science Show. It was the soundtrack to Stephen Ramsay's film, Oops, wrong planet. The show is repeated on Mondays at 7.00pm and audio can be downloaded. Here’s a link:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2008/2359536.htm


I found it very interesting, and the picture of AS painted in it is generally a positive one, but there were also plenty of highly questionable and wrong ideas presented. I hated the title of this story on the Science Show “Living with Asperger's”. This “Living with …” as a title of media stories is often given to accounts of media stories about dreaded and unpleasant diseases; “Living with breast cancer”, “Living with colon polyps”, “Living with HIV/AIDS” etc. Obviously it is offensive to refer to Asperger syndrome as though it belongs within this class of conditions. You have been told! It also goes without saying that the use of the words “suffer” and suffering” with reference to people having AS is offensive to many people who have AS. I guess we have here a simple lack of caring about such social niceties when it is only autistic people who have a healthy level of self-esteem who are likely to take offence. There are only about 10 of us in the whole of Australia, so why worry about us? The title of the film that this story is taken from is also a tedious AS cliché “Oops, wrong planet”. Oh yes, the old aspie as alien stereotype, again. My sides are splitting.

I also wondered what the sources of information were for the claims that Woody Allen and Peter Sellers both “suffer/suffered” from Asperger syndrome. In the blurb of the show it said they have it, it doesn’t say they might have it. Maybe I missed something while I was trying to listen with the noise in our house.

I don’t buy Prof. Alan Snyder’s explanation of why autists are often whistleblowers. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of this Sydney-based academic. Prof. Snyder said something to the effect that autistic people don’t see the forest for the trees. I guess his idea is that therefore we tend to focus on the corruption while not seeing the broader social network behind the corruption and not predicting the social consequences for ourselves. Snyder’s theory is most likely based on the “weak central coherence” theory of autism, which does describe an important aspect of autism (the ability to see the whole picture without any mental editing out of details), but I am sure this theory of autism is no longer regarded by many experts as a comprehensive explanation for autism. My explanation for autistic whistleblowing is very much contrary to Snyder’s. I think neurotypical people fail to see the forest for the trees when they are within a network of corruption, because they are blinded by their obsessive focus on the social dimension of their environment. They are often convinced and fooled by the social excuses and social smokescreens that are used to cover up corrupt behaviour. Corporate psychopaths are experts at playing the social dimension of their work environment like a fiddle, in order to hide or excuse their self-serving, corrupt and illegal behaviours. NTs fall for this stuff much more often than they wish to admit. Conning an autistic person is a quite different task, and I’m not going to explain how this is done, for obvious reasons.


There's another important factor that makes so many neurotypical people fail miserably to act on corruption in the organizations that they are involved with. This is the idea that to be a "team member" is an important moral virute, regardless of how corrupt or slovenly the activities of the team, and to choose to not become a team player or to choose to defect as a team member is immoral. Whistleblowers look like a#$%holes and aspies look like psychopaths in the eyes of people who hold such beliefs.

I believe a person needs to have the ability to see beyond the social dimension of their environment, as well as being able to understand what is going on socially, to be a fully effective moral agent. Most people can’t do this, they have both feet in only one camp. An autistic person who is not blinded or morally paralysed by their membership of the social scene might be the type of person who can and will speak out about corruption. And if you don’t enjoy your job and resent the stupidity of your boss and hate your bully co-workers anyway, it would be all the more fun, really.

We shouldn’t forget that many whistleblowers do what they do simply out of sympathy for the victims of wrongdoing, and to prevent more wrongdoing, and this behaviour should need no explanation. I think is is also obviously true that people of all types learn from life experiences, and some autistic people are always outsiders in organizations because they have missed out on normal social learning, rather than having any significant lasting organic disability. Many autistic people are denied the opportunity to learn about the social aspect of life because they are systematically excluded from all of the most important life experiences; as a child many kids with AS have to be homeschooled to escape from extreme schoolyard bullying or because the teaching does not accomodate their different educational needs. Later in life many are excluded from social networks (particularly social networks dominated by women) and some are even excluded from their families of origin, or find that they must escape their families because they are abusive or refuse to accept their difference. Marginalization in the singles market is a common experience, and many well-educated and well-qualified autists are totally excluded from the workforce because they don't smile nicely during job interviews. It's a scandal, and nothing is being done about it in Australia.

It was interesting to hear on his documentary a plain and explicit explanation of why James Watson (of DNA and Nobel Prize fame) is so motivated to discover and exterminate the genes for autism. It is for highly personal reasons; he has still not come to terms with the reality of having an autistic son. Does Watson have too much empathy or not enough empathy? It’s none of my business, I guess. I don’t share Watson’s negative view of the autistic spectrum, but I am interested to know what his motivations are. It’s obvious where his son got his autism genes from.

I didn’t hear all of the doco due to noisy kids, but what I did hear was worthwhile. I’d like to thank Stephen Ramsay (an Australian who apparently has AS) for making the documentary in the first place and I’d also like to thank Robyn Williams for broadcasting it on his radio show.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Asssortative mating and personality psychology: what every marriage guidance counsellor needs to know about but probably doesn't


I'd like to direct your attention to this research study that was first published online a couple of months ago, and has been reported on in New Scientist:

"Only the congruent survive – Personality similarities in couples"
Authors - Beatrice Rammstedt and Jürgen Schupp
Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 45 Issue 6 October 2008 p. 533-535.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01918869

This study was done on a German population, but I think it's results are applicable to normal people as well. I find this study's results interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think it confims my interpretation of some of the findings of an autism-related study that was done by J. Constantino and R. Todd, which I wrote about in my blog article dated March 4th 2007 "Have autism researchers discovered something very interesting about human relationships and autism as a form of human diversity?"
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2007/03/have-autism-researchers-discovered.html


Secondly, this study highlights the importance of assortative mating in relation to the "big 5" dimensions of personality. I don't think it is much of a leap of logic to argue that this effect is also very much relevant to relationships and the autistic spectrum. Other writers have argued that the personality dimension of "agreeableness" is associated with AS/autism, and this was one of the dimensions that were found to be associated with assortative mating. I would be most surprised if the other personality dimensions that were found to show a high degree of congruence between spouses, the dimensions of "conscientiousness" and "openness", were not also associated with AS. What does this mean? Well, I think it means if you have no personality traits that are autistic or are anything like autistic, you'd be well advised to not look to an autist as a suitable marriage partner, and likewise, a person with Asperger syndrome might be wise to consider the geeky, the technical and the "aloof" as likely partners for life. I'm sure this stuff does not need to be explained to most people anyway, and that's the point of the research; that people tend to pick similar partners naturally, and it's a very sensible thing to do. It is good to be congruent.

P.S. If you are wondering what the "big 5" dimensions of personality are, or would like to know more about this fascinating subject, I recommend this most readable and scientifically credible book by a UK academic:

Nettle, Daniel Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are. Oxford University Press, 2007.

http://www.amazon.com/Personality-What-Makes-You-Way/dp/0199211426

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=vk1kXARv1-IC&dq=daniel+nettle+personality&source=gbs_navlinks_s


P. P. S. There is apparently an interesting scientific phenomenon related to assortative mating to do with facial resemblance (see paper below). It's interesting but I'm not sure how robust the science is. I certainly have noticed many couples who have similar-looking faces. I wonder if such similarity is associated with narcissistic personality traits? I wouldn't be surprised.

Alvarez, Liliana, Jaffe, Klaus Narcissism guides mate selection: Humans mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an algorithm of “self seeking like”. Evolutionary Psychology.human-nature.com/ep – 2004. 2: 177-194
http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep02177194.pdf

Monday, September 08, 2008

I knew it!

I always thought there was something very odd about that Helen Demidenko lass. I found her presence in pretence oddly cold and, with the benefit of hindsight, unconvincing. Apparently others also sensed some interesting difference, and some still do. I saw a recent interview on TV with Helen D, and she seemed a lot more confident and much less lost, but once again I thought there seemed to be an unsusal disconnection between the way she viewed her own public persona and the way she actually came across. She seemed to think a quite terrible attempt at a foreign accent was convincing. It wasn't, well, not to my pedantic ear it wasn't. I was also struck by her apparent aloneness. Still an outsider after all these years? Was she born an outsider? And now today I read an article about this still-enigmatic martyr to the Australian literary establishment in which she describes an aspect of her personality as "aspy". And which Australian literary giant defended her during the height of the controversy? Les Murray, who has claimed in many media interviews to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum himself. Does it take a person who doesn't know or doesn't respect the unwritten rules, who transgresses the unwritten rules, to show us how stupid or powerful the unwritten rules are? Is that what happened during the Demidenko controversy?
It just isn’t good enough to call this problem Asperger syndrome and forget about it

I was alarmed at what I heard on this week’s edition of the ABC Radio National show All in the Mind. I have already read in an Australian social science journal that cases of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) are being misdiagnosed as Asperger syndrome (AS) in Australia, and this was amply confirmed by today’s show. It appears that clinicians are deliberately incorrectly diagnosing children who have FAS with autism or AS to give these kids better access to the services that they need (and access to some services that they apparently don’t need as well). This is how I interpreted what I heard on this programme. The written transcript is not yet available to read. I find claims of autism misdiagnosis to be most believable in light of what I saw on the ABC TV show Q & A the other night. A mother of a disabled child was complaining that her child, who I gather has some very rare condition, is excluded from the new government programme of services for autistic children because the child is not autistic, even though the parent thought such services could be beneficial to this child. It is easy to imagine that other parents in a similar position might go doctor-shopping for an autism spectrum diagnosis. Quite a while ago I watched a documentary on TV about a boy with FAS who was adopted from Africa by a UK couple. I recall he was given FAS as a formal diagnosis, but I think his adoptive mother said in the documentary that she advised his teachers to treat him as though he had AS. There was a section of the doco which was supposed to show the boy having an autistic-type sensory overload episode in a train station. I thought the boy just looked lost, nothing particularly autistic about his behaviour.

It’s high time someone raised a strong objection to anything and everything being diagnostically lumped together with AS purely for pragmatic reasons, or by mistake, or stuffed inappropriately into the autistic spectrum. This betrayal of basic scientific principles by people who call themselves professionals must end. While it is a doctor’s duty to do the best thing for patients who have FAS, and she may believe the best way to give such patients access to services is to misdiagnose them as autistic, but these clinical lies must surely have many bad consequences for the general community, and for all of the individuals involved. There are many reasons why sloppy or incorrect diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions is a harmful practice, and must stop:

1. Serious problems shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. If FAS is being underdiagnosed in white populations, bums need to be kicked and people need to be warned. If FAS is being overdiagnosed in indigenous populations that is racism. Social workers must no longer be allowed to turn a blind eye to women who booze their way through pregnancy after pregnancy, creating new families of impaired people. We all know it happens, and we all know it is a disgrace that Australian society does nothing to stop it from happening. The autistic spectrum shouldn’t be abused as a conveniently mysterious set of diagnostic categories that can be applied to the children of parents who wish to avoid facing up to the causes of their child’s condition, be it alcohol or inherited factors.

2. The misdiagnosis of FAS or other conditions as autism, AS or ADD throws a shadow of disrepute over paediatics, paediatricians, other health professionals who make misdiagnosis, the autistic spectrum and ADD. How the heck can an articulate child who has significant difficulty with maintaining a focus of attention as the result of FAS, ever be given a diagnosis of autism, which is a condition characterized by speech and/or communication difficulties and relative cognitive strength in the ability to focus attention and maintain attention? Such a diagnosis invites scorn and ridicule.

3. Misdiagnosis must surely foul up research into autism and AS and skew the clinical profile of the autism spectrum. I am sure most autism experts by now are aware that there is so much heterogeneity among their “patients” that this presents many different problems in their clinical practices and research. I’m sure this is one reason why they are so keen to identify the “genes for autism”.

4. Misdiagnosis could confuse and mislead professionals and ordinary people who come into contact with people incorrectly given autism spectrum diagnoses. I could imagine a teacher might have a bad experience trying to teach a class that includes a student with FAS or some type of brain damage incorrectly diagnosed with AS, who displays behaviour issues but no trace of the cognitive strengths in systemizing or specialized talents that are thought to be associated with AS. She might find that everything that she has read about autism has failed to help her to help her student. She might feel very frustrated. There might be confusion and conflict in her dealings with the parents of this student. She might conclude that it is a waste of time learning about things such as ADD or AS, and gain a bad attitude toward these conditions, and the people who are supposed to have them.

5. Everyone deserves and needs a correct diagnosis, even if that means being told they have brain malformation because of something that their mother did, or have such a rare and unknown genetic syndrome that the world of medical science can offer them little information. I am sure this must be better than being offered incorrect information, a place within a community in which one doesn’t really belong, bad advice or false hope.

6. Some people attach a great amount of emotional significance to knowledge of the origins of medical and developmental conditions. Some people might be devastated to know that they, or their child, has a condition that is the result of drinking during pregnancy. Some people might be devastated to know that they, or their child, has an inherited condition. Some might be comforted or relieved to know such things. If it matters a lot to people they deserve to know the truth.

7. I consider it to be something akin to an insult to be told that I have the same condition as people who have had their brains damaged or malformed by events such as encephalitis in infancy, hypoxia during birth or prenatal exposure to toxic substances such as alcohol. It’s not that I think badly of people with these conditions, it’s just that I do have a negative attitude towards brain damage, especially in cases in which it’s most obvious manifestation is aggression or impaired cognition.

Link to the radio show All in the Mind:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2008/2352982.htm#transcript

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I guess the latest bit of fun in pop psychology must be the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI)

http://www.thetimeparadox.com/surveys/

Is it really much more than a measure of the personality psychology dimension of "conscientiousness", mixed up with attitudes resulting from life experiences? I guess I'll have to read the book.

Every time I see a photo of Professor Zimbardo I can't help wondering whether he should be pulling a rabbit out of a shiny black top hat rather than writing psychology books. Does he lead a double life as Zimbardo the Magician? I'd have trouble keeping a straight face if I had to sit through one of his lectures. I'm so immature and I'm so old.