Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Have YOU seen the light?

While I was listening to The Book Show on ABC Radio National this morning I was wondering what my fellow synaesthetes might think of the passage from a book that was being read aloud. It was the section from Brida by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho that has apparently been nominated for the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Literature Contest. It can be read in an article about the awards on the CBCNews web site titled "No bad sex please, this is literature." But after listening to the naughty bit from the novel I had to wonder, with that blinding explosion of golden light, just how bad could that nookie be? 

I'm sure Coelho's writing isn't the first literary reference to the naughtiest form of synaesthesia. What do you think Stanley in the Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire was talking about when he spoke with Stella about “..the way that we used to get the colored lights going…”? One literature study aid points out that there are sexual connotations here (well obviously), and it offers the interpretaton "that lights, when related to Stanley, are associated with positive images such as vibrancy, life and excitement." I think coloured lights might mean rather more than vibrancy and excitement to some people. ;-) I'm thinking, Nabokov probably isn't the only big name in literature who had or has synaesthesia. 

"No bad sex please, this is literature." http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/11/21/sex-literature.html?ref=rss

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I see that the famous synaesthete, autist and memory and language savant Daniel Tammet is bringing out a new book in January with the title:

Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind.


I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Labels incorrectly given to autistic people in the past

Misdiagnosed, miscategorized, under-investigated, mistreated and misunderstood: diagnostic, administrative, research, informal and historical labels that have been given in the past and/or in contemporary times to people on the autistic spectrum
(added to November 2010)

Intellectually gifted
(In a letter to the scientific journal Nature, Temple Grandin wrote “I give talks at many autism conferences. When the milder diagnosis Asperger’s syndrome became popular in the 1990s I started seeing many intellectually gifted children at these conferences. I told one mother that, before Asperger’s syndrome became widely accepted, her child would have received a label of ‘intellectually gifted’.” Of course, a child can be correctly given both of the labels of Asperger syndrome and intellectual giftedness, and many children are diagnosed as such these days.)
Right-brained children
Out-of-sync child
Synaesthesia/Synesthesia? (Anecdotes suggest that giftedness or special talents, synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome or autistic traits are three types of conditions that are found together in some young people, but it appears that possible autism in bright young students is often overlooked or discounted when a diagnosis is sought, with synaesthesia sometimes cited as the biological explanation for characteristics that might be regarded as autistic.)
Mental retardation
Learning disability
Emotionally disturbed
Schizophrenia – childhood type
Childhood schizophrenia
Schizophrenic syndrome of childhood
(label used by M. Creak in the 1960s (Edelson 2006))
Schizophrenia (autism was once very incorrectly thought to be the same as schizophrenia, and was later incorrectly thought to be a type of schizophrenia. Judging by the literature and anecdotal evidence misdiagnosis of autistic people with schizophrenia and it’s numerous sub-types has been very common. Some sub-types of schizophrenia include: paranoid, hebephrenic (disorganized), catatonic, residual, simple schizophrenia, “chronic schizophrenia”, “chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia”)
Childhood psychosis (label used by E. M. Creak for autism in the 1960s (Edelson 2006). This is a quote from a review of the book Autism and childhood psychosis by Frances Tustin; “The author describes her understanding of the etiology of autism, her technique in treatment, and her classification of all childhood psychotic manifestations as types of autistic behavior.” (Leonard 1975). Clearly psychoanalysts and other practitioners were once thoroughly confused about or ignorant of the difference between psychosis and autism. God only knows how a disciple of Freud would define autism!)
Infantile psychosis (label given in France to some autistic people, a misleading label because psychosis, in the currently used medical definition, is not a feature of autism)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Treatment-Resistant Chronic Mental Illness
Psychotic personality disorder
(an old misdiagnosis given to a person who was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, discussed in an online internet forum)
Borderline personality disorder (a misdiagnosis given to some autistic adults (particularly females), according to Grinker possibly also given to autistic children, according to C. Gillberg “borderline personality” is a term by which Asperger syndrome has previously been “alluded to”)
Schizoid personality disorder (a term by which Asperger syndrome has previously been “alluded to” according to C. Gillberg)
Schizotypal personality disorder (a term by which Asperger syndrome has previously been “alluded to” according to C. Gillberg)
Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) (this is a different category to Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) (symptoms of autism/AS and OCD overlap, and these conditions may be linked, has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Anancastic personality disorder (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Avoidant personality disorder (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Social phobia (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Endogenous depression
Affective disorder
General anxiety disorder
Dissociative Disorder
(has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Separation Anxiety (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Sensory integration dysfunction
Sensory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder
Non-specific developmental delay
Brain damaged
Brain dysfunction
MBD (Minimal brain dysfunction) with autistic traits
(a term by which Asperger syndrome has previously been “alluded to” according to C. Gillberg)
Obsessive compulsive disorder with brain dysfunction
Seizure disorder
Multiple disabilities
PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (including atypical autism)
(although this category is regarded as being a part of the autistic spectrum, it has been thought to be a diagnostic label less likely than “Autistic Disorder” or “autism” to cause distress to the parents of an autistic child when the child is diagnosed)
High-functioning PDD (a non-official term that Grinker claims some parents prefer their child to be labelled with rather than “autism”)
Autism in high-functioning individuals (a term by which Asperger syndrome has previously been “alluded to” according to C. Gillberg)
Infantile autism (term used by Kanner)
Early infantile autism (outdated clinical term)
Kanner’s syndrome
Infantile autism residual state
Childhood onset PDD residual state
Atypical pervasive developmental disorder
Emotional block
(has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)
Psychoneurosis (has been given to autistic people in misdiagnosis)

(stands for “Funny Looking Kid”, a disrespectful code term used between some doctors)
Developmentally disordered (term used by Downs)
Idiot savant (an outdated and insulting term, is still widely used today but usually with quotation marks, a misleading term because autistic savants are not necessarily intellectually disabled)
Idiot (a term that was used to describe “Blind Tom” Wiggins, an African-American blind autistic musical savant and composer who lived in the 1800s. This was a term used to describe autistic savants before the term “idiot savant” came into usage (Sacks 1995)
Autistic psychopaths (term used by Asperger, very misleading because autism is IN NO WAY related to the condition that is currently known as psychopathy or Antisocial personality disorder)
Psychic disharmony (a ridiculous label given in France to some higher-functioning autists)
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) (misdiagnosis given to some autistic children in South Korea, a mother-blaming diagnosis)
Attachment disorder (misdiagnosis given to some autistic children in South Korea)
Nidiniil geesh “state of unawareness” (term for autism used by Navajo Indians)
“Masturbation” (in centuries past masturbation was regarded as a mental disorder or a cause of mental disorder or disability, and was associated with the theory of “degeneracy”, which was associated with negative eugenics theories. According to Rhodes (Rhodes 2000) this was the diagnosis given to artist Henry Darger when he was committed to the Lincoln Asylum for Feebleminded Children in Illinois in 1904 at the age of 12, from which he later escaped. Darger has recently been identified as possibly having been on the autistic spectrum (MacGregor, 2002).)
Othello syndrome (?)
Wild children (?)

Feral children (?)
Blessed fools (?)
Mute (?)
Hebephrenia (?)
Epileptiod personality (?)
Epileptic personality (?)
Interictal personality disorder (?)
Geschwind syndrome (?)
Bear-Fedio syndrome (?)
Waxman-Geschwind syndrome (?)
Gastaut-Geschwind syndrome (?)
Interictal behavior syndrome of temporal lobe epilepsy (?)
Temporal lobe epilepsy personality syndrome (?)
Dostoevsky syndrome (?)

“Autistic adults may be labeled (sic) as being simply odd or reclusive, or may carry a psychiatric diagnosis such as obsessive compulsive, schizoid personality, SCHIZOPHRENIA or affective disorder or be labelled as mentally retarded or brain-damaged.”
A quote from page 220 of The Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders and Birth Defects. 3rd edition, but James Wynbrandt and Mark D. Ludman, Facts On File, 2008.


Attwood, Tony (accessed 2007) Diagnosis and assessment: archived papers.
[includes articles by Prof. Michael Fitzgerald and Lawrence Perlman]

Dossetor, D. R. (2007) 'All that glitters is not gold': misdiagnosis of psychosis in pervasive developmental disorders--a case series. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2007 Oct;12(4):537-48.

Edelson, Meredyth Goldberg (2006) 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.

Gillberg, Christopher Clinical and neurobiological aspects of Asperger syndrome in six family studies.
In Frith, Uta (ed) Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Grandin, Temple (2004) Label of ‘autism’ could hold back gifted children. [letter] Nature. 22 July 2004, vol. 430, p. 399.

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

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

Leonard, Marjorie (1975) Autism and Childhood Psychosis: review. Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 1975 44. p.282-287.

Litman, L.C. (2000) Re: Dr. RG Schnurr: Othello Syndrome or Variation of Asperger's Disorder? (letter) The Bulletin (Canadian Psychiatric Association). October 2000.

Litman, L.C. (1999) Case of Othello Syndrome. The Bulletin (Canadian Psychiatric Association). October 1999. volume 31, number 5.

MacGregor, John M. (2002) Henry Darger: in the realms of the unreal. Delano Greenridge Editions, 2002.

Mental health and behaviour disorders: common mis-diagnoses and co-morbid conditions. (accessed 2007).

Nylander, Lena and Gillberg, Christopher (2001) Screening for autism spectrum disorders in adult psychiatric out-patients: a preliminary report. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. Volume 103 Issue 6 p. 428-434, June 2001.

Perlman, Lawrence (2000) Adults With Asperger Disorder Misdiagnosed as Schizophrenic. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 2000, Vol 31, No. 2, 221-225.

Rhodes, Colin Outsider art: spontaneous alternatives. Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Ruth, M. and Ryan, M.D. (1992) Treatment-Resistant Chronic Mental Illness: Is It Asperger's Syndrome? Hospital and Community Psychiatry. August 1992. 43, 807-881.

Sacks, Oliver (1995) An anthropologist on Mars: seven paradoxical tales. Knopf, 1995.

Schnurr, R. G. (2000) Othello Syndrome or Variation of Asperger's Disorder? (letter) The Bulletin (Canadian Psychiatric Association). October 2000.

The alt.support.autism FAQ: definitions: autism and related conditions. (accessed 2007).

Walton, Henry (2003) Henry Darger: in the realms of the unreal by John MacGregor. The British Journal of Psychiatry. (2003) 182: 85

Wobus, John Autism FAQ – History (accessed 2007)

Wolff, Sula Loners: the life path of unusual children. Routledge, 1995.
[Wolff acknowledges that the children described in her book as “schizoid” resemble the group of autistic children described by Hans Asperger in his famous paper]

copyright Lili Marlene 2008.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Christmas to me: Santa please leave a copy of The Frog who Croaked Blue in my Christmas stocking.

Details of the book:
Ward, Jamie The Frog who Croaked Blue: Synesthesia and the Mixing of the Senses. Routledge, 2008.

In between the many demands on my time from the domestic front, I have been grabbing moments here and there to read this most informative, up-to-date and enjoyable book by Dr Jamie Ward, a senior lecturer in a UK university and a synaesthesia expert. At first I had borrowed this book from a library, but then I decided it will be an early Christmas gift to myself. This paperback looks slim, but a lot of information is packed inside it’s covers. I thought I knew a lot about synaesthesia, but I’ve found that this book has broadened my knowledge on the subject while placing it within the context of the psychology of humans in general (synaesthete and non-synaesthete). I can now understand why synaesthesia is studied by academics who hope to understand more about the way all people think. I’ve learned more than I ever really wanted to learn about the psychology of perception, and it’s been no effort because this book is a joy to read. It has been written for a popular readership, but Ward has avoided the common practice in pop science books of waffling on too much with tenuous analogies and drawn-out explanations that try too hard to make scientific concepts entertaining and easy to grasp. Jamie Ward has also avoided the trap of making speculations or assertions that go beyond the current state of scientific knowledge. He’s clear about what we do and don’t know, while at the same time he clearly knows what he’s writing about. Ward has a gift for giving the reader the facts in an order that makes sense, in a way that is as simple and as clear as it needs to be. I guess the fact that I have a strong interest in the subject matter does have some bearing on the way I feel about this book, but I’m happy to compare Jamie Ward with best-selling scientist-writers such as Richard Dawkins and Judith Rich Harris.

While reading this book I’ve learned why people often hear better after they have put their glasses on, and I’ve thought up a rather horrible practical joke that one could play on the synaesthete who “tastes” words who is described on page 43 (just repeat the word “six” until he feels sick).

There’s just one thing that I believe was not adequately explained in this terrific book. On page 8 Ward explained that research teams in Dublin, Cambridge and in Texas are all trying to find the genes for synesthesia. They are making a serious effort, rubbing DNA off the insides of cheeks of synaesthetes and their kin. Well, if synaesthesia is not considered to be a disorder or an illness, why are these researchers busting their buns to identifiy the specific genes that give rise to syanesthesia? If they only wanted to establish whether or not synaesthesia has a genetic basis, surely less intrusive forms of research could answer that question. Why do they need to know exactly which genes? I wonder.

Web site of the book:


Copyright Lili Marlene 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Did I miss something, or did Obama forget to mention Hillary Clinton in his victory speech?

Today's events have restored my faith in Americans. Here in Australia voting in federal elections is compulsory, so our election results are not as influenced by the level of voters' enthusiasm. Australians are notoriously apathetic, so this is a necessary evil. I'm pleased that so many Americans have made an effort to vote. I hope the people of the USA will get the government that they deserve in January 2009, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.