Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Autistic Bird

On a lighter note, if anyone thinks that autism does not occur in nature, check out this description of the Bowerbird from Wikipedia:

This bower is a U-shaped structure of sticks and leaves into which the male places a variety of objects he has collected. These objects--mostly blue or violet in colour--may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items. The bird will spend hours carefully sorting and arranging his collection, with each thing in a specific place. If an object is moved while the bowerbird is away he will put it back in its place. No two bowers are the same, and the collection of objects reflects the personal taste of each bird.


  1. I love bower birds and also blue things.

    Ever hear of an autistic parrot?

  2. I know someone who claims his parrot is autistic. The only parrot I know personally is not very autistic, although he's certainly very bright and very alien.

  3. Bowerbirds certainly do seem autistic in the way they collect things! They're trying to impress the females, though, and that's not what autistic men are doing with their collections.

    (abfh has a mental picture of a teenage aspie putting his collection of Yu-Gi-Oh cards in his window to attract passing girls)

    I suppose it's possible that, at some time in the distant prehistoric past, women might have been attracted to men who had interesting collections.

  4. I know someone who claims his parrot is autistic.

    Evidently some parrots suffer from echolalia :)

  5. This is the only case that I'm aware of:

    Research report
    Stereotypies in caged parrots, schizophrenia and autism: evidence for a common mechanism

    Joseph P. Garner, , Cheryl L. Meehan and Joy A. Mench

    5 June 2003.

    Spontaneously occurring abnormal behaviors in animals have recently received considerable attention, both in veterinary medicine and as a potential model for abnormal behavior in several human mental disorders. Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive, unvarying, and functionless behaviors that are often performed by captive and domesticated animals housed in barren environments. They closely resemble the stereotypies of autistic and mentally retarded patients, stereotypies of unmedicated chronic schizophrenic patients, certain classes of simple tic in Tourette’s syndrome, and several drug-induced behaviors. However, evidence for a common mechanism has been lacking. Stereotypies in human mental disorders are indicative of profound brain dysfunction involving the basal ganglia, and are associated with pervasive voluntary-motor impairments and psychological distress. Here we show that stereotypy in captive Orange-Wing Amazon Parrots (Amazona amazonica) is correlated with poor performance on the same psychiatric task (the ‘gambling task’) as stereotypy in autistic and schizophrenic patients. The task measures recurrent perseveration—the tendency to inappropriately repeat responses. Thus, the more stereotypy a parrot performed, the more likely it was to inappropriately repeat itself from trial-to-trial on the task; and the more rapidly it made repeated, but not switched, responses. These results parallel the executive motor impairments seen in human patients, and therefore suggest that, like in human patients, stereotypy in caged parrots reflects a general disinhibition of the behavioral control mechanisms of the dorsal basal ganglia. If this result holds true in other laboratory species, stereotypic animals are likely to be of questionable utility in behavior, neuroscience, and neuropharmacological experiments. In humans, stereotypies and obsessive–compulsive behaviors are considered to be mutually exclusive categories of behavior, with different neural substrates, and different treatment strategies. These results, therefore, suggest that the pharmacological treatment of stereotypies in veterinary medicine based on the assumption that they are equivalent to human Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder may be inappropriate. As stereotypies in captive animals develop in response to the captive environment, these results also emphasize the role that the environment may play in eliciting or exacerbating stereotypy in human patients. Finally, by parallel to human patients, there is a potential psychological distress in animals showing these behaviors.

    Author Keywords: Stereotypy; Striatum; Basal ganglia; Psittacine; Gambling; Experimental validity

  6. a couple people I know believe that their cats are autistic...I wouldn't rule that idea out...

  7. >Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive, unvarying, and functionless behaviors that are often performed by captive and domesticated animals housed in barren environments.

    I'm an Aspie. And the description above is a fair description of my childhood (adopted by people who were neither intelligent nor pleasant).

    I developed both OCD and echolalia, also whenever I was irritated mentally (which was 80% of the time at home) my skin would itch and my furious scratching would worsen my excema.

    I'm still an aspie, however when I finally escaped my 'parents' the excema, echolalia and OCD vanished. And now I think about it, only the excema ever manifested itself at school. But then I liked school. It was full of nice people and imteresting things.

    I'd say the captivity hypothesis is a good one, from my perspective.

  8. I have been around autistic children my entire life. i'm 37 now and know my 1 year old love bird is autistic..i have his 2 year old aunt and can see the same characteristics in humans now in my love bird..his aunt is not autistic.. he is very difficult to care for. he doesn't understand things like his aunt and my other birds do. he stares into space all the time and is just not in there most of the time..he has no idea what is going on around him most of the time. i have no idea how to make his life fun. i do spend more time with him than i do the others. he gets special treats when i see he has figured out something that should have been easy but has taken him a long time to get it. i feel bad for him b/c he can't talk to tell me what he wants..he gets mad very easy.or frustrated easy...I DO LOVE HIM..probably more than my other birds..i knew he was going to be special. he takes a lot of time..