Saturday, May 23, 2009

Did you know that synesthesia experts Richard Cytowic and David Eagleman have co-written a new book about synaesthesia?

It's title is Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. I haven't read it yet. Our state library service is so hopeless that they might never stock the book, or at least take many months to provide a copy, so I might have to buy it.

And I'd like to point out that Wednesday is certainly not indigo blue coloured, at least not in my universe!

Link to interview with Richard Cytowic in the April 2009 edition of Scientific American Mind:

Link to a review of the book (by a synaesthete) at New Scientist:

Link to book at

Stanley Kubrick's Boxes

Did you see the documentary Stanley Kubrick's Boxes on the TV recently?

I believe this doco is going to be repeated this afternoon on ABC1. I found it fascinating for two reasons - it gives an insight into the mind of this great movie director by looking at the details of his life and the stories that his possessions tell, (Kubrick evidently loved to look at things at the level of detail as much as I do), and I also enjoyed counting the many eccentricities that Kubrick had in common with some people who I know. We found this most amusing (we actually do have a sense of humour).

Stanley Kubrick is one of the famous people included in my list of famous people who have been identified as autistic or possibly autistic. Professor Michael Fitzgerald has written about Kubrick more than once, identifying Kubrick as an example of Asperger syndrome and creativity, and Fitzgerald also asserted that Kubrick showed features of ADHD as a school student. While I don't agree with everything that Professor Fitzgerald has written about Kubrick or AS, I think there must be no room for doubt that Kubrick had AS.

In case you don't know, Kubrick was an American Academy Award winning film director and producer who was highly influential and innovative. He was considered one of the greatest movie directors of the 20th century. His works include Dr Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, which the kids and I regard as one of the best ever horror movies. Kubrick was a truly unusual, but not completely unique individual. He was known to collect obsolete personal computers and carry on telephone conversations lasting a number of hours. Sounds like some people who I know!

Link to ABC TV guide:

Links about the documentary:'s_Boxes

Published documents that discuss Kubrick and the autistic spectrum:

Fitzgerald, Michael (2006) Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and creativity. Autism2006: AWARES Conference Centre. October 4th 2006.

Lyons, Viktoria and Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) Asperger Syndrome - A Gift or a Curse? Nova Science Publishers Inc.

A referenced list of 138 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Friday, May 15, 2009

Did you hear the ABC Radio National show All in the Mind today?

Today's story was "Autism: genetics, early detection and the ethics of screening newborns". It will be repeated on Monday at 1.00pm and a transcript will be available on Wednesday, and you can listen and download audio over the internet.

One of the guests on the show is researcher Dr Hakon Hakonarson, who's recently published genetic study of autism was at the centre of an international media hype shitstorm a few weeks ago. I wrote about it here: in the post titled "Autism beatup du jour". New Scientist magazine reported the Hakonarson study here:

Link to the story transcript at All in the Mind:

Link to the All in the Mind Blog:

Link to the Hakonarson study at Nature:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some thoughts that come to mind after seeing the Australian movie Mary and Max

It's a pity that so much of the soundtrack is music that has been used as theme tunes for ABC Radio National radio shows, and it is also a pity that so much of the narration seems to have been taken straight from some dry old medical text about Asperger syndrome. I find this puzzling, because the autistic character Max is supposed to be based on a real autistic person. While the content of the narration is often clinical and unenlightening, the character Max really brings the movie to life. The other characters and the rest of the movie felt rather too forlorn or two-dimensional.

I became curious about this film when I saw a main character in this movie depicted as a supporter of the Aspies for Freedom activist group, who are opposed to the idea of a "cure" for autism/AS. Surely this is an interesting idea to introduce to a movie, but it was introduced at the wrong part of the movie. I think it is towards the beginning or maybe the middle of the movie that we see Max in a T-shirt with "Aspies for Freedom" written on it, as a part of the exposition, but it isn't till much later in the movie that the idea of self-acceptance becomes prominent. Max wouldn't have been wearing that T-shirt unless he had gone through most of that self-acceptance stuff already.

It is indeed a good thing that the anti-curebie, neurodiversity viewpoint is an important element of this movie, but the movie doesn't "sell" this idea, and I doubt that many members of the audience "bought" this idea, because the movie doesn't really tell us anything about what is enjoyable about being on the spectrum. Why wouldn't Max want to be cured? That question is not answered to my satisfaction. I don't think the creator of the movie understands much about the up-side of AS. This is understandable, as much of the literature about AS is little more than a listing of deficits, problematic scenarios, discomforts and some freakish features. For quite some time now I've been considering writing about the incorrect pleasures of the autistic life, just to redress this imbalance, but sadly I've been too busy enjoying life and getting on with things to find the time to do this.

I think the problem with this movie is that it is simply too negative, with just about every plot development a turn for the worse. It's not that the negative themes in the film are unrealistic, it's just that the negativity is too extreme, and not leavened with positives. I was surprised at how many of the stories in this film were ones that I have come across in real life. I do know a young lady who's childhood was a lot like Mary's. She chose her parents poorly, and grew up to be a heifer as a result of eating chocolate as a pastime. But I don't believe for a minute that all of her situation is due to family problems and low self-esteem. This girl also chose her genes poorly. In real life I have met a woman who's adult life is similar to Mary's story, but I doubt that that kind of thing happens often these days. I have seen a struggling friendship involving an autistic person which met with the same fate as the friendship in this movie.

A fun time will not be had in watching this movie, but I can recommend it as aversion therapy to correct the overconsumption of chocolate. The cocoa bean lost all of its glamour somewhere at the beginning of this movie. There is no cure for autism, but a cure for chocoholism can certainly be found here. I left the cinema with a craving for lean meats and salads.

Do I like the fact that AS has been an important element in a quite bleak and negative movie? No I don't. Do I like the fact that autism in general tends to be depicted as a serious or negative topic when it is explicitly named and explored in movies, documentaries and TV shows? No I don't. Do I find this hypocritical, as unnamed autistic traits are very often a central element of characters in comedy movies, TV shows and stand-up comedy? Yes I do.

P. S. Why is Max obese? Obesity is not an autistic trait. Did Max ever have a consultation with a geneticist?

P. P. S. I didn't need Max to tell me that interesting fact about turtles (it gives me a chill just to think about it).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Professor Baron-Cohen and ethical concerns about prenatal testing for autism - some fairly old articles from January 2009

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2009) Professor Simon Baron-Cohen: Autism is not cancer. January 14th 2009.

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2009) Autism test 'could hit maths skills'. BBC News. January 7th 2009.
[with link to audio of interview of Prof. Baron-Cohen on BBC radio show Today, and also a link to many thoughtful readers' comments on the article]

Randerson, James (2009) A prenatal test for autism would deprive the world of future geniuses. Science Blog. January 7th 2009.
[About the probable autism of genius physicist Paul Dirac and the ethical concerns re an autism prenatal test, has many readers' comments]

Rudy, Lisa Jo (2009) Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen on autism and prenatal testing. January 17th 2009.
[has some readers' comments]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Well blow me down! Today I was looking through the movies section of today's paper and what do I see? An advert for the Australian animated movie Mary and Max, and in it a picture of a character from the movie wearing an Aspies for Freedom T-shirt. I was taken aback. I saw something that reminded me a bit of myself in a piece of popular culture. When was the last time that that happened? 1976? I might have to go see the film, just out of curiosity.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Better late than never

I'm feeling rather ignorant and out of touch because I have only recently had a good look at an excellent web site about Asperger syndrome titled Inside perspectives of Asperger syndrome & the neuro-diversity spectrum. It is full of quotes from people who have AS from all over the world, and it also contains personal observations and good, sensible advice from the author, "a Swedish female diagnosed AS/HFA" named Inger Loreli. She also has synaesthesia. I will admit I have not read every word at this web site, but what I have read is very thoughtful and worthwhile. Good on you, Inger!

Inside perspectives of Asperger syndrome & the neuro-diversity spectrum