Thursday, July 30, 2009
Being ordinary does have it's privileges
I've noticed that Bev at her blog Asperger Square 8 has put into print a brilliant idea, with her "Neurotypical Privilege: A working document". The comments section is bigger than Ben Hur!
A compilaton of contributions to her list of can be found at
"The ever-expanding list of neurotypical privilege"
Friday, July 24, 2009
A blogger named Tera has done a fantastic job of writing, in two parts, a transcript of the recent interview between Ari Ne'eman, Tony Attwood and interviewer Sharon DeVanport that was broadcast on the internet by the Asperger Women's Association. Tera has published these transcripts on her blog Sweet Perdition. Thank you very much for your contribution of time and effort, Tera!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I've just had the chance to listen to the interview on AWA with Dr Tony Attwood and Ari Ne'eman, and Dr Attwood once again totally FAILED to salvage his reputation as an advocate for people with AS in my eyes. I didn't expect otherwise really.
Dr Attwood has always written from the point of view of a neurotypical person who considers AS and autism to be a problem that just happens to sometimes bring interesting gifts. This isn't really the way I see AS. This isn't the way I see myself or my family members or my spouse. I think a lot of neurotypical people think the way they see AS is the same as the way people like myself see it. This is wrong. I don't look at myself or kin as being above the line of normal standards and below the line in different areas. We are simply slightly different types of creatures. Our values and pleasures and perceptions are evidently somewhat different from those of the theoretical average person. But the way people like Dr Attwood see the world of people is completely grounded with their concept of averageness and normality, characteristics that these people appear to value highly. We never cared a tinker's cuss about what is the norm or the mode, or being ordinary. But people like Dr Attwood always have an intuitive knowledge of where that invisible line at the middle of the bell curve is situated. They know their means, medians and modes as though their lives depend upon it, because their minds are genetically programmed to unconsciously and automatically follow majorities, power-brokers and the most influential ideas and fads. What we have here are a serious clash of values and quite incompatible ways of viewing humankind. This should come as no surprise to anyone. What did you expect?
Friday, July 17, 2009
I've recently found out about a book, Create your own economy written by Tyler Cowen, which apparently explores some very interesting ideas about the autistic spectrum. It was released this month. I'm trying to get hold of a copy to read, but as I live in Australia where we have a book retail market that is subject to restrictive laws, I have no idea how long this will take. The author of this book is a professor of economics at an American university.
I found out about Prof. Cowen and his book by reading an excellent recent article by him in The Chronicle Review (details below). In this article Cowen described some instances in which harmful and incorrect anti-autistic beliefs held by university academics have offensively found their way into their published books and writings. Cowen has also shared some fresh and positive ideas about the autistic mind and how it fits into higher education. Prof. Cowen is a former colleague of Prof. Vernon L. Smith, who won a Nobel Prize in economics in 2002 and has since then openly discussed what it is like to have Asperger syndrome. I guess this might be one reason why Prof. Cowen swam against the tide and formed a positive view of the autistic spectrum. I recently wrote about Prof. Vernon L. Smith and his autobiography.
While Prof. Cowen's new book appears not to be predominantly about autism, I expect that it will include more fresh thinking about the spectrum, based on what I have read in reviews. Here are some quotes from reviews:
"Cowen spends a great deal of time dispelling autism's societal stigma, arguing that mainstream society is reaping benefits from mimicking autistic cognitive strengths."
"Cowen's book can be read as an appeal, that, for the sake of society at large and the individuals in particular, we should embrace neurodiversity, or the different ways in which our brain is wired."
Details of the book:
Cowen, Tyler (2009) Create your own economy: the path to prosperity in a disordered world. Dutton Adult, July 2009.
Link to the book's web site:
Link to an interview of Prof. Cowen about his new book, by John J. Miller, at National Review Online, in which Prof. Cowen discusses his own autistic characteristics:
Video of book forum (1hour 10 minutes) at the Cato Institute on August 4th 2009:
An interview about the book with Matt Welch on Reason TV on YouTube:
Cato Institute daily podcast:
Link to book's page at Amazon.com:
Link to book's page at Penguin.com (USA):
Link to book's page at Penguin Books Australia (Australian publication date September 28th 2009, in hardback):
Link to a review of the book at a blog:
Details of a most interesting article by Prof Tyler Cowen:
Cowen, Tyler (2009) Autism as academic paradigm. Chronicle Review. July 13th 2009.
Link to eSpecial Thinking differently by Tyler Cowen and Temple Grandin at The eBook Store:
Link to Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok's blog Marginal Revolution:
Link to Tyler Cowen's personal web page:
Thursday, July 16, 2009
In case you didn't know, and in case you are still interested, here are some more items of interest, of an audio interview nature, in the ongoing grievance involving ASAN, Ari Ne'eman, Dr Tony Attwood, Dr. Isabelle Hénault, FAAAS and other parties.
I have found out about a podcast of a telephone interview dated July 13th 2009, of Dr Attwood by Donna Williams. This podcast can be found at Williams' Oddpod.
I have also found a two hour interview dated June 30th on BlogTalkRadio hosted by the Asperger Women Association (AWA) with Ari Ne'eman, founder and President of ASAN. Ari discusses ASAN, why it is needed and what it does, and the Attwood/FAAAS controversy. Mr Ne'eman starts talking about the petition at around 55 minutes into the interview.
AWA radio has an upcoming interview with Dr Tony Attwood scheduled for July 22nd 2009 in which he will discuss the controversy, FAAAS and CADD:
Dr Isabelle Henault was also targeted by ASAN's petition, but I can't say I've heard much about her or any resonse of hers of late.
I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer to watch the documentary titled Fairweather Man and ask myself "Was that eccentric and reclusive Australia-based genius artist with the completely out-of-control toe nails on the autistic spectrum, OR WHAT?" I'm not the first blogger to make such speculation about the late Ian Fairweather, and I'm sure I wont be the last. I thought the anecdote about the hammer and the nails was priceless.
Link to promo about the documentary:
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I don't know how I missed noticing that one of the living people in my list of famous autistic people, a Nobel Prize winner no less, has had an autobiography published. A quick search of the book on Amazon suggests that the author does write about Asperger syndrome. Professor Vernon L. Smith was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. In 2005 he spoke out publicly about having Asperger syndrome. I am grateful for the courage shown by the famous and not so famous people who have openly disclosed that they are, or suspect that they are, autistic. I believe this type of media coverage helps to remind the public that autistic people are real and unique individuals, not just faceless "patients" described in dusty old textbooks. Here are the details of Professor Smith's autobiography:
Smith, Vernon L. (2008) Discovery - a memoir. Author House, 2008.
And more information about Prof. Vernon L. Smith:
Breit, William & Hirsch, Barry T. (2009) Lives of the laureates: twenty-three Nobel economists. 5th edition. MIT Press, 2009.
[Vernon L. Smith is one of the economists covered in this edition of this book of autobiographical essays.]
Herera, Sue (2005) Mild autism has ‘selective advantages’: Asperger syndrome can improve concentration. MSNBC.com. February 25 2005.
[includes a link to a TV news story interview with Prof. Smith and his wife in which they discuss AS]
Monday, July 13, 2009
I didn't know that. He was popularly known by the name Blind Tom Wiggins, and he was a black, blind autistic musical prodigy/savant who had an amazing talent for music and imitation of sounds. He wasn't just a human pianola, he could perform music brilliantly and he was also an accomplished composer. He was hugely popular and successful as a touring musical performer, but sadly he was also a slave, so his extraordinary talent made someone else rich. An Australian author, Deirdre O'Connell, has written a biography of Blind Tom, and you can hear her interviewed yesterday on Australian radio through the internet (see below). You Americans have some interesting history!
Some stuff about Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins
AfriClassical.com (accessed 2007) Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (1849-1908): African American Pianist and Composer: A Blind And Autistic Slave Was A Musical Genius. AfriClassical.com
[a detailed biography, a list of works by Wiggins and a bibliography, includes details of Oliver Sacks’ writings about Wiggins and his case that Wiggins was an autistic savant]
[a web site that promotes O'Connell's biography, but there's much more to it than that]
LoPresti, Linda (2009) Blind Tom: a lost musical genius. The Book Show. ABC Radio National. July 13th 2009.
O'Connell, Deidre (2009) The ballad of Blind Tom, slave pianist: America's lost musical genius. Overlook Press, 2009.
Sacks, Oliver (1995) An anthropologist on mars: seven paradoxical tales. Knopf, 1995.
[Wiggins’ as an autist is written about in the chapter titled Prodigies in this book]
Oh, and by the way, did you know that Thomas Wiggins is one of the 138 famous people in my list of 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 (how's that for a mouthful?). Now I'll have to add more stuff to the references section of my list. There's no rest for the obsessed!
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Associate Professor Christopher J. Ferguson has written an article titled "Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius". By Jove, what could you possibly mean by this professor? That the kiddies down the road who spend their school holidays getting busted for trying to shoplift chocolate bars might not have what it takes to get a PhD one day? Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is nothing more than a socialist's fantasy, with no scientific basis? But so many school teachers appear to respect that idea. Perhaps they feel that they have to be seen to be supporting that idea? Perhaps we are no longer obliged to pay lip service to such nonsense anymore?
I know that the special skills of savants (generally autistic) have been cited as evidence supporting the theory of multiple intelligences, as savants have been characterized as having isolated cognitive areas of brilliance set against a background of abysmally low general cognitive ability. This is the tripe that I was taught many years ago as a first-year uni psych student (in fact, the "idiot savant" was the only mention of the entire autistic spectrum that I came across during my years studying psychology at what is regarded as an elite university). Because the special talent of a savant appeared to be one distinct area of much higher intelligence, this was taken as evidence that human intelligence could be broken down into separate modules. But there are many problems with the idea of the "idiot savant" and it's use to shore up the idea of multiple intelligences. Firstly, it is now known that standard intelligence tests do a poor job of measuring autistic intelligence, as much of the content of these tests require social and communication skills. So we can't be sure that those so-called idiot savants were really as idiotic as they have been described in the past. Another problem is the controversy about what is the basis of savant skills - are they the result of years of sharply focused interest and repetitive work, or are they mysterious, innate brain-based gifts? Are savant skills the result of extraordinary motivation or extraordinarily unusual brains, or a combination of both? In his radio interview and his article, Associate Professor Ferguson has claimed that "the theory of multiple intelligences fundamentally conflates intelligence and motivation". I would argue that just as some of Gardner's categories of intelligences are more the result of specific motivation than specialized cognitive gifts, savant skills could be as much the product of application and enthusiasm as freaky cognition. It's a pity Ferguson did not mention autism or savants in this piece, because I believe the autistic spectrum is an area that any theory about human intelligence needs to address, but it is still worth a read.
The article in The Chronicle Review Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius
(If you have been reading Daniel Tammet's latest book about how everyone can learn to be a genius, you may wish like to read this article to get that saccharine taste out of your mouth)
Chris Ferguson interviewed on Counterpoint on ABC Radio National: