Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to serious matters - "I am autism" - "We are furious"

I guess you have heard about the latest controversy in the world of autism politics? It is centred around the short video/film "I am autism" by a board member of Autism Speaks and a movie director, both of whom apparently have autistic children. It was shown at a big event in New York attended by "first spouses" from all around the world, including the wife of the UN Secretary General, and Therese Rein, wife of the Prime Minister of Australia. I wonder what Ms Rein thought of the blatantly negative and scare-mongering video. She has a close relative who was, by her account, clearly autistic as a young child, but who went on to lead a full and successful life, with apparently no help from biomedical quackery or intensive professional intervention, just inspired mothering. And then there's Ms Rein's famous husband. I can't think of any Australian politician past or present who is half as autistic as Mr Rudd. Not even Tim Fischer. Ms Rein is a smart lady. I'm sure she saw right through the Autism Speaks nonsense.

Anyhow, the extensive international network of people who do not believe that autism is an evil disease that destroys lives took offence at "I am autism". A shitstorm of outraged blogging has been raging for some time now. Members of a chapter of ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) took to the streets for a real-life, marching, placard-waving protest about this issue. There's a spoof video. There's a Facebook protest group. And now New Scientist has covered the story, so it must be big.

I've read the transcript at New Scientist's web site, and I've watched the full video via the Autism Speaks web site. The words are offensive (it's a poem, apparently). The video I thought was most ineffective, because it was mostly a load of emotional blackmail, and so over the top that any right-minded person would find it silly, and also because the pictures subverted the negative words. The narration told us that "I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, a birthday party, a public park, without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain." while we are shown a movie of a lot of presumably autistic people (mostly boys) who are generally sitting around or standing around in public places not bothering anyone, just minding their own business, or creating technically perfect sandcastles. In a way I'm pleased that Autism Speaks has released this offensive and ridiculous video. It has been such a public relations disaster that it must surely do real damage to this most disreputable organization.

New Scientist article about the latest Autism Speaks controversy:
'Poetic' autism film divides campaigners by Celeste Biever

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)

Whose Planet is it Anyway? (one of lots of blogs that have been covering the controversy)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The book that I've been waiting for ...

Did you know that Amazing Ben, who is famous for his Badass of the Week web site, has a book that is soon to be unleashed upon the world? Maybe you are wondering why I'm mentioning this new book in my blog, which is generally concerned with Asperger syndrome-related matters. Actually my blog has some major things in common with Ben's "Badass of the Week". I have in my blog a huge list of quite amazing, unstoppable and unusual famous people who have been identified as autistic. I've been compiling this list since 2005. Autism and Asperger syndrome are characterised as conditions resulting from "too much testosterone". Since 2004 Ben Thompson has been gradually, weekly, compiling a huge list of amazing, unstoppable and unusual famous people who clearly have too much testosterone.

It is no surprise that there are some famous people who are included in both my list and Mr Thompson's interesting and amusing compilation - Nikola Tesla, Paul Dirac, Charles XII of Sweden and Marie Curie. The Duke of Wellington was Badass of the Week in 2008. He would also be in my list if I could verify the existence of one journal paper. In 2004 American politician and retired professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was featured as a Badass of the Week but this article is not currently available. I've seen video of Mr Ventura rocking in a way that suggests that he might belong on my list as well. The Blues Brothers were Badasses of the Week in 2005. Dan Aykroyd is in my list. Moby Dick was Badass of the Week in 2005. This demonic white whale is the fictional creation of writer Herman Melville, who is on my list. Testosterone is an amazing steriod hormone.

My only reservation about this book is that I am not sure if it will include portraits any of the powerhouse intellects that I find most interesting. In any case, I expect it will be a highly educational tome.

Book details:

Thompson, Ben (2009) Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live. Harper Paperbacks (release date October 27, 2009).


Friday, September 25, 2009

A top time to go out!

I believe that there is some important football match taking place about now in Australia. This means you now have an excellent opportunity to enjoy Saturday shopping with much less overcrowding than is the intolerable norm for Saturday afternoons at malls and shopping centres. If you are a person like me who is indifferent to sport in all of it's forms and also has no desire to join a crowd just for the sake of joining a crowd, and you prefer the company of others who are similarly indifferent to sport and lack the "herdstinct", and you are currently single, and you also wish you were not single, today is your day to go out and meet like-minded people. You may wish to browse in a quiet book shop, search for useful items in a half-empty hardware store, enjoy refreshments in a cafe among empty tables, or relax in a deserted public library. Bliss!!! You will feel like King of the City as you watch tumbleweeds bouncing their lazy way along the main drag.

I have a word of warning - you may wish to stay off the roads today. During past Saturday afternoons of big footy matches I have found that there is a unusual level of dangerous driving and erratic and rude behaviour in public places. I believe this is due to people being drunk or on drugs, impatient to get to some social occasion, or psychologically ill-equipped to deal with irrational mass excitement. But for the most part this afternoon we will be able to enjoy an afternoon free of sheeple and fools, who will presumably be glued to their TVs or massing at social events. If only every afternoon could be like this.

P. S. Your next opportunity to enjoy this type of situation will be Melbourne Cup Day. I think it is held some time in the spring season.

P. P. S. Have a great day!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nine famous possibly autistic people who have been listed in Time magazine's list of the hundred most important people of the (last) century

Albert Einstein - also "Person of the Century" (some sources state he was ambidextrous, others list him as left handed)
Henry Ford (left-handed)
Bill Gates (left-handed)
Kurt Godel (handedness unknown)
James Joyce (possibly right-handed)
Charles Lindbergh (handedness unknown)
William Shockley (possibly ambidextrous)
Alan Turing (left-handed)
Ludwig Wittgenstein (handedness unknown)

Time magazine's 100 most important people of the century

A referenced list of 140 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

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recognition and apology for Alan Turing from UK Prime Minister

Alan Turing was an English mathematician, cryptographer and logician, a pioneer of modern computer science, and he played a major role in deciphering the Enigma code used by the Germans during WWII. Turing apparently helped to bring World War II to a swifter conclusion. He was also one of those eccentric geniuses who have been identified posthumously as being on the autistic spectrum. In 1952 Turing was convicted of "gross indeceny" after admitting to police that he had a sexual relationship with a man. The bizarre punishment/treatment was a choice between imprisonment or injections of female hormones which were thought to reduce libido. In 1954 Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest found it was suicide. The 1950s were certainly not "happy days" for this national hero.

A computer scientist started a campaign seeking an official apology for Turing and a posthumous knighthood from the Queen. A petition attracted thousands of signatures, with support from scientists and LGBT activists. On Thursday September the 10th Gordon Brown issued an official statement in which he wrote "... we’re sorry, you deserved so much better". I'm sure that many scientists and LGBT people are pleased that a famous person who's trials or talents they can identify with has been given posthumous recognition. As an autistic person I also feel pleased that something has been done to recognize a past injustice to one of our people.

The year 2012 will be the centenary of Alan Turing's birth, and many events are being planned to mark this occasion. I hope any events or writings that will be a part of this celebration will depict Turing realistically and in an unbiased way as an autistic person, rather than simply a martyr to autism or a "sufferer" of autism. I believe that the committee planning these celebrations should include at least one autistic person (formally diagnosed or not) who has an understanding of intellectually gifted people who are on the autistic spectrum. There is evidence that the autism of intellectually intact autistics could be more representative of the autistic phenotype than the different varieties of autism and autism-like conditions that co-occur with intelllectual disability (Leonard et al 2011), so any autism expert who's experience has been primarily with intellectually disabled autistic people will most likely not be able to add anything to our understanding of a gifted autistic historical figure.

Turing's story is a special story, because of his historical importance, his intellectual achievements (which are beyond my understanding), his amusing eccentricities, and because of the terrible personal injustice. It appears to be a story about the individual being rejected and crushed by society. Once or twice I've retold Alan Turing's story to teens, and the response is "Wow, you mean being gay was against the law?" I think this response shows why it is important to have these little talks. In the decade before our kids were born gay sex still was illegal here, and it wasn't so very long ago that divorce was considered a major scandal, and women were forced by law to resign from the public service if they got married. I often find myself telling the young ones horror stories about injustices of the past: Aboriginal people having their wages and children and land stolen by the government, severely limited opportunities for women, orphanage children made to work like slaves, life under Stalin, genocide in Europe, Africa and Asia. I tell these horror stories because I know children don't get taught a fraction of this stuff at school and I want the next generation to appreciate and guard the freedom and the rights that they have, to understand how it would feel to be the victim of gross social injustice, and to understand that injustice is a feature of every type of human society, a problem that we must all recognize and engage with.

Brown, Gordon (2009) Treatment of Alan Turing was “appalling” - PM. September 10th 2009.
[an official posthumous apology from the Prime Minister of the UK]

BBC News "PM apology after Turing petition"

Helen Leonard, Emma Glasson, Natasha Nassar, Andrew Whitehouse, Ami Bebbington, Jenny Bourke, Peter Jacoby, Glenys Dixon, Eva Malacova, Carol Bower, Fiona Stanley (2011) Autism and Intellectual Disability Are Differentially Related to Sociodemographic Background at Birth. PLoS ONE. Received: January 8, 2011; Accepted: February 11, 2011; Published: March 30, 2011.

O’Connell H., Fitzgerald M. (2003). Did Alan Turing have Asperger’s syndrome? Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. 20, 1, 28 – 31.
[a particularly well-written paper about a very interesting man]

A referenced list of 140 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
[Alan Turing is included in this list]

Breaking the Code (1996)
[TV dramatization of Turing's life directed by Herbert Wise with Derek Jacobi in the lead role]

Gelonesi, Joe (2007) David Leavitt on Alan Turing. The Book Show. ABC Radio National. August 30th 2007.

[an interesting interview in which the biographer said he believed Turing possibly would be diagnosed as AS if he were around today]

Gray, Paul (1999) Alan Turing: the Time 100: the most important people of the century. Time. March 29th 1999.

Hodges, Andrew (1983) Alan Turing: the enigma. Burnett Books with Hutchinson, 1983.

[a highly regarded biography]

Leavitt, David (2006) The man who knew too much: Alan Turing and the invention of the computer. W. W. Norton, 2006.