Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Autism beatup du jour

Did you see the story on the news tonight about the latest autism gene research breakthrough?


They say they've made a great leap forward in discovering the genes for autism!

Really? Another one?

They say it could lead to the developent of new drugs that will "correct" the "deficits" of autism!

Golly Gosh.

They say it could lead to identifying babies who might become autistic, and prevent that happening through early intervention!

You're kidding!

A whopping 65% of people with autism have the gene! That's around two-thirds of people affected with autism have the gene!


And 60% of people who don't have autism have the gene too!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

JB's, you've got me baffled!

Why are Little Richard's CDs stocked in the "Easy Listening" section at JB's? Easy listening? And why is Al Stewart's CD The Year of the Cat not kept in the Easy Listening section? I should look for Morrissey's CDs in the "Popular" section? I'd never thought of Morrissey as a popular type of guy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Have you signed the petition yet?

"The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has launched a petition to tell Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault to stop associating with anti-Autistic hate groups that try and write discrimination into the law. "

Link to the petition:

"Tell Tony Attwood to End the Hate: Autistic People Deserve Equality in Family Law and Relationships."

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (US)

Last time I checked I found no apology on Dr Tony Attwood's home page, and no apology on what appears to be Dr. Isabelle Hénault's practice's web page (mostly in French). Oh gosh.

As an Aussie, I must say I do feel ashamed that these capers have been going on here.

Here is a quote from the web page of the Australian clinic which Dr Henault has apparently practiced at and has an ongoing invovement:

"Dr Isabelle Hénault, is a psychologist from the University of Québec at Montréal, Canada."

Is she from the university or is it only the case that her doctorate is from the university? It's really quite an important difference. I'd have higher expectations of a professional who is currently appointed to an academic post at a university. I couldn't find a listing for her in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

I've noticed that Dr Attwood is described as "Professor Tony Attwood" at the web page of the aforementioned Australian clinic where he apparently practices. Is it really correct for an Adjunct Associate Professor to use the title of "Professor"? I couldn't find any listing for Dr Attwood in the Griffith University's phone book.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Very Sad News

I've just found out. The author of a blog that I have been recommending for years has passed away, a terrible loss for her family and a terrible loss for the online community of autism rights activists. Her online name was Alyric, and her posts were always most thoughtful and intelligent. Alyric's family are going to allow her blog to remain as a memorial.

Very Sad News
A Touch of Alyricism

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And now it is time for a public service announcement

And now it is time for a public service announcement

No Myths
Public Service Announcement at YouTube

No Myths
a web site about the public service announcement and the organizations behind it

Captioned version
at Overstream

My thoughts on it; I love it and I'd love to see it screened on TV. I'd like to say Good on you! to all of the people involved. I only have one criticism - I thought the music that started to play quietly around the middle of the video gave an emotional tone that somewhat subverted the main message of the video. To my ear the music (violin?) sounded rather serious and tragic, which goes against the spoken message in the video that
"Our lives are not tragedies."

There seems to be an unspoken rule in journalism, advertising and the mass media that autism is a subject that must only be spoken about, written about or depicted with great reverence and seriousness, as it is a tragedy, and any humour or light-heartedness in connection with the subject of autism or autistic people must be avoided, because autistic people have no sense of humour to appeal to, and all parents of autistic people suffer terribly and are actively soliciting sympathy, and autistic people should be shown pity as they are horribly disabled, and should also be treated with great gentleness, as they are fragile creatures. The effect of this black arm-band attitude towards autism can be heard in some radio interviewers who talk to autistic interview subjects as though they are speaking to pathologically shy imbeciles who wouldn't know a joke if it bit them on the backside. And there's also those tragic-sounding violins used as background music in videos about autism...

One welcome exception to this media rule that comes to mind is the brief interview with Aspergian musician Gary Numan on JTV that screened on ABCTV the other night. There was a brief reference to Asperger syndrome during the edited TV interview, but I thought the interviewer (Robbie Buck from Triple J) treated Numan pretty much like he would treat any other muso on that show. Both the interviewer and the interviewee smiled and joked during the interview, which was a major violation of the unspoken rules regarding the media treatment of autistic persons. But I've got to admit that I preferred to look at the old music video-clips of a younger Numan from his pre-social-skills days, the hard-faced alien type with bold black eyeliner. There's just nothing sexier in this boring old world than a hard-faced young alien type with a monotonous voice wearing a metallic jumpsuit and way too much black eye make-up. Perhaps I should stop now.

Actually, I think it's worth mentioning that in the complete radio interview Numan has some interesting things to say about AS, and he also mentions some of his most exciting moments as an amateur aviator.

Gary Numan - Interviewed
on Triple J (video, with no tragic violin music)

Audio of the complete Triple J interview

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Fascinating new article about the development of autism in my fave science magazine - does this tells us anything important about synaesthesia?

According to an article in the latest New Scientist, 2 year olds with autism have been found to show a particular interest in looking at movements that are synchronized with sound, while they are conspicuously uninterested in looking at what might be interpreted as biological movements. Two thoughts came to my mind upon reading about these apparently fundamental behavioural differences between developing autists and neurotypicals. Firstly, I wonder, is the autistic preference for looking at movements synchronized with sounds one of the most basic behavioural differences in toddlers that gives rise to the systemizer-type brain? Does this autistic inborn preference to look for mechanical movements lead to the development of superior mechanical and technical intelligence? Unlubricated inanimate objects often make a noise during movement while hard, dry surfaces rub together, but animals and people do not make scraping or squeaking noises during movement as we have sealed joints that are biologically lubricated, so it appears that the autistic toddler has a brain that is primed to develop into the brain of an engineer, but not a person who deals with other beings. This discovery fits in beautifully with the research done years ago by UK autism expert Prof. Baron-Cohen and his team who found that autistic kids are more likely to have an engineer for a dad or grand-dad than non-autistic kids. It all makes sense to me - the daughter of an engineer who has most of the features of Asperger syndrome and synaesthesia too, and who find herself inexplicably drawn to watching the wheels of motor cars when they are travelling at around 50 km/h.

Another thought struck me too. It could possibly be a clue that current thinking about synaesthesia is fundamentally wrong. Autistic kids are drawn to looking at movements that are synchronized with sound. That means autistic kids are wired to pay attention to sensory input that is like the experience of synaesthesia; these kids apparently preferentially expose their brain to sensory input in which sound and vision are simultaneous. I found this idea very reminiscent of the recent discovery of motion-sound synesthesia by US lecturer Melissa Saenz, reported in New Scientist in August 2008 (I experience this type of synaesthesia). Could this new discovery about autistic toddlers be an explanation of how synaesthesia develops in the young brain? Does this explain the recently discovered genetic link between autism and synaesthesia? Does synaesthesia (sometimes? always?) develop from autism in the very young brain? Is synaesthesia not the result of genes specifically" for" strange brain wiring? Is synaesthesia, with its differently-developed physical brain structures, just one of many developmental side-effects of autistic development? Did all synesthetes show signs of autism in their earliest years of development?

Whether or not my speculations point towards the truth or nonsense, one thing is certain - this research shows us that autistic toddlers have the inborn neurological potential to develop skills that non-autistic children apparently are not gifted with. Any form of "early intervention" or "therapy" that successfully makes autistic children develop more like non-autistic children could potentially DESTROY, CRUSH or IMPAIR the inborn special potential of autistic children to develop specialized, important and useful systemizing abilities. If I had an autistic child and I was being told that my kid needed to have special treatment for autism, I'd want a rock-solid promise based on hard scientific evidence that such intervention would not steal my child's special potential to develop superior systemizing skills. I'm sure that there is no "autism therapist" operating anywhere in the world who can give any such assurance.


Pearson, Aria (2009) Toddlers with autism see a different world. New Scientist. April 1st 2009. Issue 2702.

Motluk, Alison (2008) Screensaver reveals new test for synaesthesia. New Scientist. August 4th 2008.

Copyright Lili Marlene 2009.

Friday, April 03, 2009

March has been a very colourful month for one English synaesthete writer

I've only just found out about the Julie Myerson controversy. Some people are calling it a witch-hunt. Others are characterizing it as a fair reaction to a form of child exploitation. If you want to read about it see the references section with links below. My thoughts on the controversy:

It's interesting that so many people are happy to deal the harshest criticism to Julie Myerson for writing about her own children and benefiting from this writing, while I rarely read the slightest objection to the dozens of parents of autistic children who churn out top-selling family memoirs centred their autistic children's lives. I can't imagine how any of these kids could live down this type of fame. I guess people assume that the futures of these children are not worth protecting, because they assume that such children have no futures. We need to be very careful what we write about young people who can be identified, as they have their lives ahead of them.

For many children, their parents' jobs bring perks and also disadvantages. The offspring of parents who own a fish and chip shop might well expect to spend many a hot, unpleasant hour lifting wire baskets of fried foods out of hot oil. The offspring of a miner might see their miner mum or dad only every other week. If Dad is a muso or a tradesman or a technician, expect noise at home and perhaps burnt feet from stepping on a soldering iron. If one's parents are famous, expect your privacy to be compromised. If mum is a writer, expect to be written about. It's much better than having parents who have no jobs at all.

Was the Myerson's son's privacy destroyed by his mother's writing? How much privacy does anyone really have in the UK, a place that is famous for its high coverage by camera surveillance and DNA databases? The Myerson's are high-profile people and people gossip about the personal problems of famous people. How much privacy did the boy really have to start with? Not much, I'd guess. Parents who are having serious problems with their teens or children need to be able to tell their story, in some form through some medium, in the hope that they might receive support from other parents or others who understand or sympathise. This can be an ethical minefield.

Regarding the Myerson's son, I'm surprised that it appears that there hasn't been any exploration of the possibility that the errant son's bad behaviour could have been as much due to the influence of some anti-social youth sub-culture as due to the influence of a drug.

The fact that so many people have dismissed the Myersons' concern about the new and potent forms of cannabis just goes to show how abysmally low social standards have fallen in the UK. Compared to Australia, the UK has a much higher level of public housing dependency, and residential property values and the economy in the UK are apparently in much worse shape than ours. I don't know whether Brits are aware that many Aussies look down on people from the UK, because of the attitudes that many Brits show towards the welfare state, violence, alcoholism and the drug culture. In the Australian city where I live there is a handful of geographically diverse suburbs in which British migrants tend to congregate. I'm sure it is no coincidence that these same suburbs have low property values, high residential real estate turnover rates and high levels of violent crime. There's one thing that I know for sure; I'm glad that we don't have young Mr Myerson as our next-door neighbour.

Julie Myerson b. 1960, English novelist, columnist, non-fiction writer and a regular panellist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, married to playwright and journalist Jonathan Myerson. In 2003 Myerson wrote about her coloured word synaesthesia in an article that can be read at In March 2009 Julie Myerson has been at the centre of a controversy in which ethical questions have been asked about her writing about her own offspring. Myerson wrote the book The Lost Child about her son Jake's alleged use of a potent form of cannabis and the decision to evict him from the family home. Following the extensive press coverage the publishers have decided to bring forward the publication date of the book. Myerson has also written an anonymous column titled Living with Teenagers in The Guardian, which was reportedly axed when one of the children's school friends identified the family. The press have reported that Myerson's angry, troubled and apparently intelligent son Jake is changing his name. Another media story has reported that he has spent some time studying literature. It seems possible that Jake might one day become a writer, which is possibly a cause for concern for other members of the Myerson family.

References about Julie Myerson
Julie Myerson. (accessed 2009) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Myerson, Julie (2003) I see words as colours, hypnotic collisions of sound and meaning. October 14th 2003.

[Myerson writes about her coloured word synaesthesia and the advantages it can bring, and also writes about some other contemporary literary people who may have synaesthesia]

Robertson, Lynn C. & Sagiv, Noam (2005) Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, 2005.
[identifies Myerson as a synaesthete writer on page 25]

Biographical writing by Julie Myerson
Myerson, Julie (2006) Not a Games Person. Yellow Jersey Press, 2006.

[A brief memoir about an anxious girl who hated doing school sport]

Myerson, Julie (2008) Living with Teenagers. Headline Review, 2008.

["Based on Julie Myerson's anonymously published newspaper column about the trials of a middle-class family." The 2008 edition published with an anonymous author, the 2009 edition published with Myerson as the author]

Myerson, Julie (2009) The Lost Child. Bloomsbury, March 20 2009.
[The book at the centre of the controversy]

Myerson, Julie (2009) Julie Myerson: Telling my son Jake to leave makes me want to die. March 7th 2009.

[extract from the book The Lost Child]

About the Myerson family memoir controversy
Craig, Amanda (2009) The Lost Child by Julie Myerson. TimesOnline. The Times. March 13th 2009.

Koval, Ramona (2009) The Julie Myerson controversy. The Book Show. ABC Radio National. April 3rd 2009.

[listen to this radio report over the internet]

Leitch, Luke (2009) Julie Myerson's family revelations were far from her first. TimesOnline. The Times. March 11th 2009.

Muir, Kate (2009) Why Julie Myerson and James Frey upset us. TimesOnline. The Times. March 14th 2009.

Myerson, Jonathan (2009) This is an emergency. The Guardian. March 10th 2009.

Myerson, Julie (2009) The Lost Child. Bloomsbury, March 20 2009.
[the book at the centre of the controversy]

Myerson, Julie (2009) Julie Myerson: Telling my son Jake to leave makes me want to die. March 7th 2009.

[extract from the book The Lost Child]

Power, Brenda (2009) Warning: addiction to oversharing can harm your kids. TimesOnline. The Sunday Times. March 15th 2009.

Wardrop, Murray (2009) Jake Myerson brands his mother 'obscene' over drug addict claims. March 7th 2009.

The controversy in The First Post
Jake Myerson changes his name. TheFirstPost. March 23rd 2009.,2124,jake-myerson-changes-his-name,78515

Julie Myerson book row escalates. TheFirstPost. March 9th 2009.,2066,julie-myerson-book-row-escalates,76551

Julie Myerson lied to her publisher. TheFirstPost. March 12th 2009.,2083,julie-myerson-lied-to-her-publisher,77089

Julie Myerson’s son denies stoner claim. TheFirstPost. March 3rd 2009.,2042,julie-myerson-son-jake-denies-stoner-claim,75895

Why Julie Myerson threw out her son. TheFirstPost. March 2nd 2009.,2038,why-julie-myerson-threw-out-her-son,75722

Synaesthete authors who have written controversial novels

Eleanor Dark - Australian author of Prelude to Christopher. This ALS Gold Medal winning novel was one of the first Australian novels to have a modernist style, and it tackled controversial subjects such as eugenics, sexual morality and pacifism.

Julie Myerson - English author of The Lost Child. The shit really hit the fan in March 2009 in the UK regarding this book and the ethics of writing about one's own family members.

Vladimir Nabokov - Russian-American author of Lolita, a best-selling tragicomedy novel about paedophilia that was banned in France in the 1950s.