Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Nevertheless, There Are Differences Between Autistics Who Approve of and Disapprove of Neurodiversity

In a departure from the more scientific topics I usually write about, my latest post argued that autistics who actively oppose neurodiversity are generally high functioning. Obviously, my intention was to point out the non-rationality of using a similar observation to try to invalidate the views of autistics who actively favor neurodiversity.

That post had over 200 comments. I wasn't aware before then that Blogger starts to page comments at 200. The number of comments is surely the result of a fight that ensued with one troll in particular, but it was impressive nonetheless, considering this is not an active blog. (I've seen posts with more comments outside of Blogger, e.g. this one about Wakefield over at LB/RB, with 395 comments; Kev had to close the thread.)

Recently I went over to Jon Mitchell's blog to see what he's up to. In his post titled "Does neurodiversity help autistics with self-esteem?" we see that he's using exactly the "high functioning" argument I had discussed.

I pointed out to Jon Mitchell that he hasn't demonstrated the existence of the group differences between autistics who approve of and disapprove of neurodiversity which he believes exist. The group sizes make this difficult if not impossible.

What he did do is bring attention to a published report titled "Neurodiversity in higher education: Insights from qualitative research by the BRAINHE project." There are many findings of interest in this report, to be sure, but there's one paragraph in particular that I wanted my readers to be aware of. I would like parents of autistic children, specially, to read this paragraph and understand its implications.

13 of the participants viewed their neurodiversity as an entirely negative matter. These participants frequently used negative or medical terminology when talking about their labels which indicated that they felt in some way broken or damaged. Of the 13 students who had this view, 8 indicated low academic self-esteem and expressed confusion and uncertainty about their future plans. Participants who viewed their neurodiversity as a difference which included strengths were more likely to have higher academic self-esteem, to have experienced unpleasant epithets from teachers and to have a clear ambitious view of their future.


Jon Mitchell, as you might expect, argues that it's not the participants' worldview which causes them to have self-esteem, but something outside of that; more specifically he argues that those with low self-esteem are lower functioning than those with high self-esteem, and that functioning level is also what causes them to either accept or reject the ideals of neurodiversity.

To be sure, the report is not terribly scientific, and there's no discussion of control for confounding. Yes, the report is lacking in that regard. We can't completely reject Jon Mitchell's speculation about a possible confound.

Let me ask the following, however. Which is more plausible? Is worldview more likely to affect self-esteem, or is functioning level more likely to affect self-esteem? Do bright people always have high self-esteem, whereas not so bright people always have low self-esteem?

There is a lot of research on cultural influence in self-esteem, which I'm not really familiar with, but you can search for it. Leaving that aside, does it seem plausible that someone with the views of Jon Mitchell could ever have high self-esteem regardless of their personal situation, and still be autistic?

So yes, I think there are probably group differences between those autistics who favor and those who oppose neurodiversity. I haven't seen convincing evidence that functioning level is one of those differences. Self-esteem most likely is a difference. To some extent it's possible that self-esteem affects functioning level and achievement too.

18 comments:

  1. I thought you had the answer, it is attribution, half full and half empty bottles to put it another way.

    Thing is you can attribute bad luck to flaws in yourself, or you can attribute it to external circumstances you can't control, or you simply take everything as it comes.

    A little light reading on sociology and social psychology would bring up a wealth of studies.

    Hey it's not rocket science perhaps,it is as Comte put it the Queen of all sciences, whence came all the statistical techniques which were imported into experimental science later on.

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  2. Joseph, I don't really understand your interpretation of my arguments. I am wondering if you read my article "neurodiversity just say no" or even more germane to the point of low functioning versus high functioning embracing the ND POV my writings about the Freudian defense mechanisms of denial and reaction formation which could cause a (relatively speaking) lower functioning person to embrace the concept of ND.

    You appear not to have read some of my writings on the subject. As I said before, I do believe that some persons who might not be so high functioning might embrace ND as part of denial to make themselves feel better. Or turn autism from something hated to something they claim to love using reaction formation, so your statement about my views are not entirely accurate.

    I am not sure who the troll is that you are talking about. I guess you believe that it is either Billy Cresp or myself. Yet it is okay for David Andrews and Clay Adams to write abusive comments about me and about Billy out of the clear blue just because they don't agree with our point of view. They were clearly the aggressors on these posts.

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  3. I think you're right, Larry. That's probably what it comes down to: "causal attribution bias." That's really not related to disability at all. See, for example, homosexuality - same issues.

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  4. @Jon: I went and read your "neurodiversity just say no" article, out of courtesy. I don't think I had to.

    There you're basically arguing that prominent autistics who are part of the neurodiversity movement are not representative of all autistics.

    Again, irrelevant. Prominent pro-cure autistics are not representative either. Prominent parents are not representative of all parents, and so forth.

    You argue you're more representative than most neurodiversity advocates, apparently because you were in special education, you're male and had speech loss around age 2.

    Why are you as one data point important? What does it tell us statistically?

    Is it even true? That's not clear to me. You said yourself you're unlike other autistics in things like block-design tasks. So you have to admit that in some areas you're the opposite of representative.

    Also, I should note there's probably a reason why you see parents who are pro-ND autistics, and you don't see that many parents who are anti-ND autistics. The anti-ND autistics in that situation would never admit to being autistic. (For example, it's been speculated John Best is, and there's a funny anecdote about that.)

    I am not sure who the troll is that you are talking about. I guess you believe that it is either Billy Cresp or myself. Yet it is okay for David Andrews and Clay Adams to write abusive comments about me and about Billy out of the clear blue just because they don't agree with our point of view. They were clearly the aggressors on these posts.

    It was Lurker. Look, I know David Andrews' writing style is not what you might call PG-13, but there's a difference between being a troll - one who is actively trying to derail a post and the subsequent discussion - and those who take on the troll.

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  5. "...as part of denial to make themselves feel better."
    That speaks volumes about your hatred (and self-loathing) towards people with disabilites, doesn't it Jonathan?
    I don't think people need to deny their disability, to feel better about themselves, but question the social norm that says you're less human with a disability.

    I also have a problem with this rethoric of "pro", or "anti" ND "movement", as if there was a war and Autistics are all split over this issue.
    As far as I can tell from knowing many Autistics IRL, most just share a pragmatic view, that since there is no cure, it's best to just get on with life and make the most of it.

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  6. Joseph, yeh the John Best speculations are funny, he always reminds me of those very aggressive homophobes, who just live in denial of their own (homo)sexuality.

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  7. Jonathan said:

    "Yet it is okay for David Andrews and Clay Adams to write abusive comments about me and about Billy out of the clear blue just because they don't agree with our point of view."

    Jonathan, don't try to tell us about "denial and reaction formation" until you deal with them in yourself.

    I've told you previously that I haven't done any of this out of hatred for you, rather, I'm trying to help you to see...

    Recently, you said that your mother taught you manners, and I responded with "I can see it all now - "Sit up straight! Don't slurp your soup! Don't scrape your fork on your teeth! I don't want people to think I'm raising an animal!"

    Your quick and angry reply showed that I had "touched a nerve", and the tableau I set forth was correct. That's called a "tacit admission".

    And I think we've established, without your explicit admission, that you're an only child still living with your mother. It's okay, it happens, I'm not condemning you for that.

    I'm sorry about Timelord calling your mother a "witch", that was uncalled for. But you cannot deny that she has, and has always had, enormous influence over you.

    I already got your tacit admission that you learned your attitude about autism being a "horrible disease that needs a cure" from your mother. You didn't come to that conclusion after "suffering with it for 50 years", you learned it from her before you were five.

    I'm not even going to say that your mom was one of those weird women who actually "encourage" dependency, it may be that she only assumed that she would always be responsible for you, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I won't even speculate on the many, many negative things you must have heard from her that you would never be capable of - so many things. I don't know about the results of studies of what causes low self-esteem in others, but you my friend, my fellow autistic, you learned it from your mother.

    I left mine when I was 14, and overcame much, but will always carry some emotional scars.

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  8. We've all been waiting for hours, Jon. What can we infer by your silence? Y'know, silence is also a tacit admission; in fact, that's what "tacit" means:

    1. understood without being openly expressed; implied: tacit approval.
    2. silent; saying nothing: a tacit partner.
    3. unvoiced or unspoken: a tacit prayer.

    That you haven't denied anything implies that there's nothing you can deny. No argument against what I said.

    It could mean that you're thinking about it. That would be good. You just might have an epiphany.

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  9. Clay: I have a sister, I have not lived with my mother in nearly 25 years and the umbilical cord was cut over 53 years ago. I did not respond to you in anger, only pity. You are cleary intoxicated with hatred and bitterness given your behavior towards me in the last year. Or perhaps John Best was correct and you are suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease and that is the reason for your inappropriate behavior. If that is the case, like John Best I will pray for you.

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  10. That speaks volumes about your hatred (and self-loathing) towards people with disabilites, doesn't it Jonathan?

    Miss Gonzo: If anyone has expressed immense hatred towards people with disabilities and their families it has been those in the ND movement.

    since there is no cure, it's best to just get on with life and make the most of it.

    Surprise surprise, I agree. However, that does not mean a cure won't be found at some point in time and even if it is too late for those of our generation, ND still wants to villify autism speaks funding research to find that cure so other generations don't have to suffer as do the current generation of many autistics. So your view is not consonant with the behavior that the ND movement practices.

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  11. Joseph, I don't think I said I was a completely representative autistic (assuming there is such a thing). Only that I have more in common than most of the visible ND proponents due to my maleness, having been in special ed. etc.

    True, there are a number of ASD persons who don't have my perceptual motor impairments, but I don't believe the autistics who do well on the block design are representative either. It seems that in most published research studies aside from the logistically difficulties of recruiting research subjects, there are compliance issues that might mean lower functioning (and other types are excluded) from being subjects in the research that is being published in the literature. So Laurent Mottron and Simon Baron-Cohen's statements about block design, attention to details, etc. really do not apply to the vast majority of persons diagnosed as autistic.

    I have speculated about Best being on the spectrum also as well as the irony that you and other people would ban him from your blog which would be inconsistent with the ND philosophy of acceptance of all autistics. Interesting that Andrews is a commenter here in good standing in spite of his profane vitriols but not John Best.

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  12. @Jon: You make it sound as if Laurent Mottron and SBC are the only ones who have published findings on the block design peak. That's actually one of the best replicated findings in autism science.

    I have speculated about Best being on the spectrum also as well as the irony that you and other people would ban him from your blog which would be inconsistent with the ND philosophy of acceptance of all autistics. Interesting that Andrews is a commenter here in good standing in spite of his profane vitriols but not John Best.

    If John Best had been banned because he's autistic, you'd have a point. That's absolutely not the reason he's banned, however. Note he's banned not only in this blog, but in most of the blogs he's actively participated in.

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  13. "Interesting that Andrews is a commenter here in good standing in spite of his profane vitriols but not John Best."

    Because I am qualified. And you are not.

    Get over your petty jealousy . Now.

    Or shut the fuck up.

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  14. Jonathan said:

    "Clay: I have a sister,"

    Glad to hear it, finally, but you could have said so before.

    "I have not lived with my mother in nearly 25 years and the umbilical cord was cut over 53 years ago."

    Another thing you could have mentioned before this, if true.
    Just wanted to get an understanding of you.

    "I did not respond to you in anger, only pity."

    Here it is:
    "why don't you practice what you preach clay? Why don't you do something to make your life better instead of being abusive to people because you loathe yourself so much?"

    Sounds angry to me. Irrational. My life is fine, thanks. No worries.

    "You are cleary intoxicated with hatred and bitterness given your behavior towards me in the last year."

    1. I don't drink.
    2. I don't hate you.
    3. I've no reason to be "bitter" towards you. You've done nothing to me.
    4. Only since Christmas.

    "Or perhaps John Best was correct and you are suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease and that is the reason for your inappropriate behavior. If that is the case, like John Best I will pray for you.

    1. John Best has never been right about anything.
    2. What's the reason for your illogical, irrational support of those who wish to eradicate autism, while telling contributors they only want to help us?
    3. Do you really not understand that the only possible "cure" would be pre-natal tests and abortion?
    4. Do you hate yourself/your life that much?

    PS. Nice to see we're finally on a first-name basis. :-)

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  15. Anthony Cole3/29/2009 4:23 PM

    Hello Joseph

    I'm a 56-year-old male who has only lately realised I'm autistic. Over the last couple of years I've been reading some text books and heaps of peer-reviewed papers on the subject trying to grasp what is the present state of evidence-based knowledge. I think I've fairly well got my mind around that. Now I am gingerly dipping my toe into the autism blogosphere and it is dawning on me that there is a political controversy along the lines of the "deafness: disabled or different?" debate which erupted a decade ago. Initially I was thinking this is all a bit trivial. But I suppose the power in the debate stems from the allocation of funding.

    Is there a book or web page you would recommend that might bring me up to speed on the issues and players? I'll check back here in a day or so, or you can email me if you like. My user name is ahcole and the at part is at student.ecu.edu.au

    (I've just left the same request at Jonathan Mitchell's blog, but would be very interested to hear from both of you.)

    Cheers
    Anthony

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  16. Hi Anthony, and welcome. I'd recommend you read some of the Hub blogs. You've probably been doing that already.

    There are not that many books about autism that have to do with disability politics that I know of, unfortunately. However, there are some books that have been very influential, like "Through the Eyes of Aliens" (Jasmine O'Neill). Of course, Jim Sinclair's essay "Don't Mourn for Us" is required reading (although a bit dated by now perhaps.)

    If you want to read about autism quackery (a side show altogether, but one that comes up a lot in online debates) you should read a book like "Autism's False Prophets."

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  17. Anthony Cole3/29/2009 6:14 PM

    Hi Joseph

    No, I haven't been to the Hub yet. I'll check it out now. And I haven't heard of those other references either, so that's all good fodder.

    Thank you very much for your help.

    Anthony

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