Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Left equals good. Art equals Left. Pop stars and artists are meant to be so original. So how come everyone has the same opinion?"

- George Passmore (one half of Gilbert and George)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gilbert and George try to explain

What a joy it was to watch Gilbert and George being interviewed by Edmund Capon, on the telly, on ABC1 this afternoon, on the TV show Big Ideas. I believe a longer version of this interview can be viewed through the Big Ideas web site. As I've written before, I believe these unique and eccentric artists and spouses must both be on the autistic spectrum (perhaps George more than Gilbert). In many ways they typify autistic talents and autistic lifestyles and autistic values. They seek tolerance for their eccentricities and non-standard sexual orientation, but in politics and manners there is a definite conservtism. Their art is highly original and sometimes shocking, and they place a high value on freedom and the rights of the individual, while at the same time their highly ritualized lifestyle appears to contradict all this. As Gilbert and George tried to explain, there is no paradox. A lifestyle that is the same every day is a lifestyle that makes room for as much intellectual freedom as anyone can enjoy. Intellectual freedom is not about where you are in space, where you go on holidays or where you are at any particular time of the day. Intellectual freedom is all about where your mind is. A very predictible and automatized day leaves the mind unoccupied by trivialities and the banal details of everyday life, allowing it the freedom to work on things that really matter, work that will perhaps be remembered long after one is lying in one's grave. Gilbert and George have gone a long way towards explaining why intelligent autistic people like to live ritualized, unchanging and rigid lives. Do you want to understand Asperger syndrome? Do you want to know why we do the things that we do? Don't waste your time with text books written by non-autistic people who can only guess. Just ask one of us.

Gilbert and George's Manifesto For Life
Big Ideas

My previous blog post about Gilbert and George

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Labels and drugs - lots and lots and lots of different ones - that's what young people need!

Judging by today's news stories, our modern developed countries show care and concern for troubled children and youth by creating a wide variety of psychiatric labels and psychiatric drugs applicable to young people, which is constantly reviewed and modified. You can call me cynical, you can call me a Luddite, but I've got a rather stong suspicion that this is not what the young people of today need.

Western Australia apparently still leads the nation in rates of prescription of ADHD drugs. How long has WA been the national leader in child psychiatric pathologizing? What is happening in Western Australia? I believe WA has a booming economy and also has many families in which a parent works away from home in the mining industry. Are West Aussie families so obsessed with earning buck that they are neglecting their kids? Someone has to ask this question. Readers from Western Australia please feel free to let me know what you think in a comment.

A new study by WA researchers has found a link between the use of such drugs and raised blood pressure and poor academic achievement in the kids on these drugs. The thing that really annoys me about some of the media coverage of this study is that the finding that these drugs do not improve academic performance is being treated as though it is new knowledge. This is not true at all. Many years ago I was most interested in the ADHD controversy in Australia, and I was surprised to read in some review or clinical guideline or position paper put out by a peak body in the profession of psychology (it could have been the Australian Psychological Society)that it is a well-established fact that ADHD drugs do not improve academic performance, based on the findings of credible studies. The drug apparently just make the kids behave better in class and sit still, which surely does not solve any problems from the child's point of view.

Did you see the story at the web site of New Scientist about a murder trial concerning the death of a 4 year old girl in the US? The mother reportedly gave the child an overdose of the psych drugs the child had been prescribed for "juvenile bipolar disorder". JBD is a very worrying recent fad in child psychiatric diagnosis. It is for good reasons that this diagnosis is controversial. I don't think it is as popular here in Australia as it is in the US, which is a good thing I'm sure. I have no faith that the proposed dignostic category that is being put forward in the US as a superior alternative to JBD as a diagnosis will improve the situation. Apparently the American Psychiatric Association are proposing a new category - Temper Dysregulation Disorder with Dysphoria (TDD). Here we have more labels and drugs for kids, when it is so obvious that what struggling families in the United States really need is a decent nationalised health care system (like the public health systems that all other civilized first-world nations have), a humane welfare system, a healthier economy (like the one we have in Australia) and a culture that values children's welfare more than wealth, and that identifies social problems in society and does not blame or medicalise the victims.

Another recent media story adds to my concern about the way that we are pathologizing and labeling the troubles of young people. Professor Patrick McGorry, 2010 Australian of the Year was featured on Monica Attard's Sunday Profile on ABC Radio National in January of this year. Attard asked the professor about the popularity of Borderline Personality Disorder as a diagnosis for troubled Austrlian young people. Prof McGorry acknowledged that BPD is a controversial diagnosis, then he went on to defend it's clinical validity. Based on his description of the symptoms of BPD, I thought it was a list of behaviours that one could well find in a troubled undiagnosed autistic teen, but you could accuse me of being overly focused on autism as a diagnosis. I do know one thing, though - BPD has been identified by more authoritative people than myself as a diagnosis that autistic people have in the past been incorrectly given. I refer specifically to Asperger syndrome authority Prof. Christopher Gillberg and author Prof. Roy Grinker.

It appears that there are good reasons why the journalist Monica Attard raised questions about BPD. One only needs to look at web sites of organizations that Prof. McGorry leads to see that there is a questionable emphasis on providing information about BPD (and a lack of comparable information put forward by these information services about autistic spectrum conditions). Check it out for yourself. I have included links below to Orygen and Headspace. Can you find any fact sheet at either web site about autism or Asperger syndrome? No? Any fact sheets offered about any personality disorder besides Borderline? No? But the Orygen web site does offer a fact sheet about BPD. This seems odd to me. And why no fact sheet about autism or AS offered by Headspace while a search on the term "Asperger's" at this web site retrieves 1000 results? I guess one could argue that autism is not a mental illness, and this is why these mental illness related web sites do not explicitly offer info about autism. I would reply that autism is often misdiagnosed as a mental illness, and is quite often co-occuring with mental illness, so info should be given if only for the purposes of differential diagnosis and self-diagnosis. And then I guess you could argue that diagnosis and differential diagnosis should only be done by qualified professionals, and mere laypeople do not need information applicable to these things. To that I would say something offensive. I guess we have got to expect that there will be, or is already, a boom in the rate of diagnosis of Borderline PD in Australia. More labels and pills. Just what what the young people of Australia need.

"Child psychiatric diagnosis on trial"
New Scientist

"Doubt over ADHD drugs"
The West Australian

"Professor Patrick McGorry, 2010 Australian of the Year"
Sunday Profile
ABC Radio National



"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"
Incorrect Pleasures (this blog)
Lili dispenses some free advice

Today's hot tip for managers and senior administrators from Lili Marlene - if you are impossible to reach by telephone or any other modern means of communication, don't be at all surprised when you find that you know jack-all about what is going on in the organization that you are supposed to be leading and administering.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reg Mombassa – autistic as anything?

Reg Mombassa
b. 1951, real name Christopher O’Doherty, New Zealand born Australian artist and musician. O’Doherty was a co-founding member, lead guitarist, vocalist and songwriter in the Australian band Mental as Anything which was most popular in the 1980s. He is also famous for his designs for the surfwear company Mambo Graphics, which are generally cartoon-like, vulgar, funny, disturbing and/or bizarre and likely to appeal to male adolescents. Some of O’Doherty’s Mambo designs were adapted as giant float displays for the Sydney 2000 Olympics closing ceremony.

O’Doherty enjoyed drawing since his early childhood, pictures with masculine themes such as warfare and weapons. He was anxious as a child and still retains a tendency to experience the unpleasant emotions. O’Doherty’s mother sold encyclopaedias and passed on her love of book-learning to her sons. Chris developed a fascination with history which lasted to his adult years. WWII and the American Civil War are particularly interesting to O’Doherty. During his high school years O’Doherty taught himself to paint by copying pictures in art books. He claimed that he generally learns best on his own. During his teen years O’Doherty was a “violence magnet” and got into the habit of heavy drinking. It is ironic that O’Doherty is famous for designs for a surfwear label, as he did not feel a part of surf culture in his youth, does not like the feel of cold water (quirk that he has in common with autistic savant artist Stephen Wiltshire MBE), does not enjoy visiting the beach and is generally not an outdoors type. O’Doherty also paints peaceful rural/outer suburban landscapes, and one could say his art turns the ordinary into something extraordinary.

O’Doherty completed a questionnaire about Asperger syndrome published in a newspaper, and found that he “came up fairly high on it” (p. 395) and he concluded that “...I think I’ve got a mild case of that...” (p.55). Dog Trumpet, the band which O’Doherty and his brother Peter are currently members of, has released a CD titled Antisocial Tendencies, and in 2005 O’Doherty had an art exhibition titled Recent Developments in Anti-Social Realism. O’Doherty habitually wears a shirt with a suit jacket, even in the bush.

About Reg Mombassa (Christopher O’Doherty)

Kaye, Lorien (2010) 100% creative: uncovering Reg Mombassa. Age (The Melbourne). January 30th 2010. 1st edition section A2 p. 21.
[a short review of Waldren’s book in which Kaye criticises Waldren for not paying enough attention to Mombassa’s claims about Asperger syndrome and his “melancholia”.]

Keenan, Haydn (director) (2006)
Golden sandals: the art of Reg Mombassa.
[a 26 minute PG rated documentary about Mombassa featuring animated versions of his artwork, broadcast on SBS in 2007]

L’Estrange, Sarah (2009) Off the shelf with Reg Mombassa. The Book Show. ABC Radio National. February 15th 2010.
[famous Australians discuss their favourite books in this regular radio series]

Reg Mombassa’s Web Site

Thompson, Peter (2007) Reg Mombassa. Talking Heads. ABC TV. July 23rd 2007.
[transcript of this interview available, no mention of AS or autism]

Waldren, Murray (2009) The mind and times of Reg Mombassa. Harper Collins, 2009.
[A detailed and personal biographical and art book including history of the band Mental as Anything, featuring a lot of eye-catching art and photographs. Asperger syndrome mentioned on pages 32, 55 and 395.]

Waldren, Murray (2009) High anxiety. Weekend Australian. Review. October 24-25th 2009. p. 6-7.
[an extract from the book, illustrated with Mombassa’s art, no mention of AS or autism]

Extra Reference

Philby, Charlotte (2009) My secret life: Stephen Wiltshire, artist, 34. Independent. January 24th 2009.

Some Reg Mombassa/Chris O’Doherty quotes

“I’ve always been a total nerd.”
from page 38 of Waldren’s book

"... I'm sort of anxious about the world. I'm more frightened about humans than anything else, I think. They're the most dangerous, and violent, and irrational creatures on the planet, I think."
from the ABCTV show Talking Heads.

“... I like ordinary things. I call it the aristocracy of the normal.”
from the Talking Heads interview

“As far as exercise goes, I consider putting my trousers on a form of extreme sport.”
from the Waldren article in the Weekend Australian

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Drugs or neurology?

If you have a keen interest in the late Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd fame, or you are more interested in the relationship between synaesthesia and creativity, you may wish to have a look at my discussion of Barrett's synaesthesia in my list of famous synaesthetes. I've found more evidence which I believe adds to the case that Barrett was a natural synesthete. This is probably good news to those of us who have argued that natural developmental gene-based synaesthesia contributes towards creativity, because Mr Barrett certainly was a great example of a person possessed of a highly original creativity in music. My discussion is probably bad news to the many people who believe that creativity can be enhanced by the use of mind-bending drugs. Mr Barrett certainly used a variety of drugs during a specific period of his life, but one could argue that the importance of this drug use as contributing towards his creativity and his withdrawal from public life has been over-stated.

I'm sorry son, those pills and those funny cigarettes most likely aren't going to help you to write a hit song. It might be that a goodly helping of autistic obsession and autistic originality, combined with a synaesthete's ability to make innovative connections between ideas is what you need. Or perhaps what you need is solid work ethic combined with years of musical training and a bit of natural talent.

Fifty famous synaesthetes or possible synesthetes: a list with references.
Proof that Lili Marlene is not completely bereft of social sensitivity

The other day is was stuck amongst a large, dense crowd of people dispersing from a well-attended but rather befuddling concert. I knew that my hubby would most likely be trying to meet up with me, a difficult task considering the volume of seething humanity walking about quite aimlessly. I started looking around for a highly visible landmark that I could move towards, then phone my other half on my mobile to arrange to meet there. Then I got his call. I then noticed that I happened to be standing beside two obese young ladies consicuously sitting on the ground together, with clear space all around them. Did I say to my husband to meet me next to the two fat chicks? No I did not. I am civilised. I have empathy. I am polite. I came from a good family. But the thought did cross my mind.

You know you are too big when people consider you to be a geographical landmark when you stay still for any length of time.
"Autism is used too much as an excuse for bad behavior."
- Temple Grandin

Link to the MSNBC article from which this quote was taken:

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Just a thought

I just thought of a great idea for names for twin baby girls in which one is chubby and one is scrawny - imagine two lovely daughters named Bouba and Kiki. I'm great at thinking up baby names. I should write a book.