Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dressing autism in a banana suit does no one any favors

Stafford County teen Bryan Thompson — Colonial Forge High School’s very own “Banana Man” — is free. The 14-year-old gained infamy after school officials suspended him for 10 days forrunning around the field at halftime during a school football game while wearing a banana suit. The principal recommended that Thompson be expelled. Thompson returned to school Sept. 26 after his 10-day suspension was shortened to five days. Banana Man’s 15 minutes, it would seem, are up. The question is: How much damage did those 15 minutes cause? “Autistic ‘banana man’ becomes cause célèbre” screams one blogger’s headline. “Autistic student cuffed & suspended for harmless ‘banana man’ stunt” shouts another. Business Insider proclaimed “Autistic high schooler suspended 10 days for ‘Banana Man’ halftime stunt.” Thompson’s behavior might have been harmless, but the coverage has been another story, because it unnecessarily evoked autism for a stunt that any class clown could have pulled. Did the family play the autism card to try to get school officials to lighten his punishment? Did the media trumpet that aspect of Thompson to make him a more sympathetic character or to call Colonial Forge school officials on what many thought was a gross overreaction to a benign disruption? It doesn’t really matter now. What matters is that at a time when advocates for children with autism are fighting for greater resources and trying to educate the public about a condition that affects 1 in every 110 children (1 in 70 boys), the headlines are pointing the public toward misleading perceptions of what autism really is. The autism spectrum is vast, but public perception of children with autism should not be of a boy gleefully traipsing around a football field in a banana suit. If anything, the more accurate perception should be of a child sitting in a cafeteria, alone and overwhelmed, wanting desperately to connect to one of the groups of friends around him, but almost always on the social outskirts.

 Click here to read the full article.


Infants at risk for autism could benefit from motor training

In a new study published in the journal Developmental Science, researchers from Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that early motor experiences can shape infants’ preferences for objects and faces. The study findings demonstrate that providing infants with “sticky mittens” to manipulate toys increases their subsequent interest in faces, suggesting advanced social development. This study supports a growing body of evidence that early motor development and self-produced motor experiences contribute to infants’ understanding of the social world around them. Conversely, this implies that when motor skills are delayed or impaired – as in autism – future social interactions and development could be negatively impacted.

 Click here to read more.


Teaching Teachers about Autism

This morning, I read an article online at Education Week titled, "Where Are the Autism Teaching Competencies?" (1) This commentary calls attention to the fact that only a few states have set forth autism competencies for teachers. What is most interesting is that a few states, both Virginia and California, have successfully this accomplished this task. Yet the majority of states haven't figured create or adapt currently existing autism teaching competencies. Why are Competencies Important?A parent or non-teacher may ask, "What does it specifically mean to me that my state has no autism teaching competencies? Why is this so important?" Simply put, it is important for schools to understand and utilize best practices when teaching children with autism. With no specific state autism teaching competencies, schools and teachers are left on their own to decide what is best practice and evidence based - if they are even looking at this issue at all.

 Click here to read the full story.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Learning to understand non-genius autistic people

And I am quite familiar with autism, as my youngest brother, Jonah, is on the autistic spectrum. There was a point in my life when I had to explain what autism was nearly every time I spoke about him. But I rarely have to do that anymore. As soon as I mention his diagnosis, acquaintances sigh with recognition, as if they know what that means. And, no doubt, they know more than they once did: autism awareness has never been higher, with one in 110 children born now diagnosed. But I wish I were still given the chance to explain. Too frequently, they follow-up with statements about his intellectual gifts — “Oh, he must be really smart then.” — a sign of the influence of the stories about those with high-functioning autism. I usually laugh, and respond, “ah, yes, he is smart.” But I don’t mean ‘smart’ in any way that society currently values. At nearly 16-years old, Jonah can’t count change or multiply. He has favorite books, but he flips through them too frantically to actually absorb the text. I swell with triumph whenever we have a conversation that lasts longer than 30 seconds, an actual exchange rather than repetitions of his favorite topics, which include pasta shapes, wheeled vehicles, and what we’re having for dinner that night. What I see as his ‘smartness’ is his view of the world, little influenced by the social and societal pressures that feed my own insecurities.

 Click here to read the full article.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism


The cognitive science of religion is a new field which explains religious belief as emerging from normal cognitive processes such as inferring others' mental states, agency detection and imposing patterns on noise. This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism). This view was supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.

Click here to read the article.


Lessons from the MMR scare

Please join BMJ Editor Fiona Godlee for a discussion of the stunning investigation she published earlier this year that revealed the MMR scare was based not on bad science but on deliberate fraud. The three-part series was produced by journalist Brian Deer, who spent seven years investigating Andrew Wakefields infamous study linking the MMR vaccine with autism, discovering Wakefield had been paid by a lawyer to influence his results and had blatantly manipulated the study data.

In an editorial accompanying Deerӳ report, Godlee and colleagues noted, Science is based on trust. Without trust, research cannot function and evidence based medicine becomes a folly. Journal editors, peer reviewers, readers, and critics have all based their responses to Wakefield's small case series on the assumption that the facts had at least been honestly documented. Such a breach of trust is deeply shocking. And even though almost certainly rare on this scale, it raises important questions about how this could happen, what could have been done to uncover it earlier, what further inquiry is now needed, and what can be done to prevent something like this happening again.Ԡ

Click here to watch the video.


Films About Autism

Autism Speaks provides a short list of films about or related to autism.



Where Are the Autism Teaching Competencies?

States are no strangers to classroom standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, the federal government required states to create teacher standards and place highly qualified teachers in every classroom. Nearly a decade later, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers spearheaded the initiative to create common-core standards to “allow teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them.”

Today, all but four states have adopted the common standards to improve math and English/language arts skills. We like both initiatives. Setting the bar high is a good thing for all involved. We are, however, disappointed to see so few standards set for teaching competencies for those working in special education classrooms, and, more specifically, for those teaching children on the autism spectrum.

 In 2010, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that an average of one in 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. According to the group Autism Speaks, government figures also estimate autism diagnoses are increasing 10 percent to 17 percent annually. Even with these alarming numbers, only a handful of states have adopted autism competencies that provide training for educators. We believe the need for standardized competencies is urgent. Here’s why:

 Click here to read the story.

 (NOTE: Although the article raises some very good points, note that because of the author's affiliation this could be considered an advertorial.)


Friday, September 2, 2011

ASD Outcomes in Adulthood

Below is a presentation given at the last IACC (Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee) meeting. Prof. Shattuck has done some excellent work in recent years. He’s one of the people looking into the areas I find critical and underserved. If you want to hear about research which can have a real impact on the life of this generation of autistic youth, you should set aside the time to listen to this talk. Prof. Shattuck is looking at the critical transition from school to adulthood. How well are autistic students making that transition (largely, not so well as it turns out). What are the factors that help make that transition successful? If we don’t look into these questions today the problems will only continue unresolved.
 Click here to watch the video.


Autism Talk TV - Ep. 16 - What's the Deal With Women, Fatherhood, andExecutive Functioning?

Click here to watch the video.