Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This is not a Parody of Dan Olmsted. This is Actually Him.

From Age of Autism:
Olmsted on Autism: Man Kills Ten, Self. Why?
Aluminum poisoning
By Dan Olmsted

It's way too early to conclude anything about the reason behind yesterday's rampage in Alabama, in which a man killed his mother, 9 others and himself. But it is not too early to point out a couple of facts.

First, the place he chose to end his life was the parking lot of a former employer, Reliable Products in Geneva, Ala.

Second, according to Reliable's Web site, "Reliable Products is the leader in louver manufacturing for the thru-the wall a/c and heating industry." All these products -- grilles, louvers, vents -- appear to be made of aluminum. Reliable is, in essence, an aluminum products manufacturing facility.

Aluminum, as we know, is toxic ...


What's the standard response in these situations? Oh yeah...



For background, see this post.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

AoA's Token Aspie Reacts to BRAINHE Study With Error-Filled Article

Anti-vaxers have a lot to be upset about lately. First, it turns out that Wakefield probably falsified his data. Second, they took a beating scientifically and legally at the Omnibus Autism Proceedings. Third, their attempt to counter-attack by recycling a weak vaccine injury case from 2007 and acting as if it were new and "hidden" did not bear fruit.

To top it off, they've recently come to realize that neurodiversity is actually studied by scientists and sociologists. To be clear, neurodiversity is not the opposite of anti-vaccination. One has little or nothing to do with the other. Anti-vaccination has to do with causation, science, autism quackery and public health. Neurodiversity is a social concept, essentially independent of causation, which is not exclusive to autism by any means. Anti-vaxers, nonetheless, see neurodiversity as a threat for various reasons that are beyond the scope of the post.

In my last post I wrote about the BRAINHE Project report on neurodiversity. There's one paragraph in the report that I think is worth quoting again.

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 reacted to this report, and I already discussed that. It's not surprising that AoA'ers would also react. To do that, they brought out their token Aspie, one Jake Crosby, who writes for AoA from time to time. I hadn't heard of Jake Crosby previously, but I guess we can add him to the short list of autistics who actively oppose neurodiversity, and who always happen to be high functioning.

Jake Crosby's article, titled "The Age of Neurodiversity," is filled with errors. I'm saying it's filled with errors because I'm giving Mr. Crosby the benefit of the doubt. I could just as easily have said it's filled with lies and misrepresentations. Any other major blog (or "internet newspaper") would be embarrassed to publish an article with these many inaccuracies. Let's go over some of them.

[Paul Offit] strangely cites two neurodiversity moms, Kathleen Seidel and Camille Clark for medical evidence, neither of whom have any medical background.


I've read False Prophets and my instinct was that Mr. Crosby was mistaken. I read it again just now, and at no point are Kathleen or Camille cited as experts who provide medical evidence. They are in the book simply to show that not all parents of autistic children are anti-vaxers.

He would simultaneously oppose any alternative therapy or pathological theory for autism, however effective or true, even if it is on the basis of what a few ND moms say.


I haven't seen any evidence that Dr. Offit would oppose any "pathological" theory of autism. Reading False Prophets gave me the opposite impression. As most doctors, he most likely sees autism from a purely medical perspective.

As to opposing "alternative" therapies that are "effective and true," that's an oxymoron. If a therapy is shown to be "effective and true," it's no longer an "alternative" therapy. It's simply a therapy. There's no evidence that Paul Offit would oppose therapies that are "effective and true." In fact, he seems to favor ABA because he's been led to believe it's effective, even though he is, in my view, mistaken in that regard (as high quality evidence on the effectiveness of ABA is lacking.)

In his final chapter, "A Place for Autism," Offit continuously touts the views of the five autism parents he dedicates his book to, the majority of whom believe in neurodiversity while the remaining have pharmaceutical industry ties.


Other than Kathleen and Camille, Dr. Offit's book features Peter Hotez, Professor of Microbiology and Tropical Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine; and Dr. Roy Richard Grinker, Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University. I don't know about Dr. Hotez, and doctors are obviously bound to have connections to the pharmaceutical industry (just as, say, the Geiers do) but I seriously doubt Dr. Grinker has such ties.

This is strange, as apparent confidence or career ambition does not dictate real success or happiness.


This is a perplexing statement. It does not make sense, first of all. If you have zero confidence and zero ambition, it's improbable you will achieve much, regardless of how smart you are.

More importantly, there's a significant body of science on the effects of self-confidence on success, failure and performance. Mr. Crosby might want to read up on that before making statements that are nonsensical.

After a closer look of the study, “Student experiences of neurodiversity in higher education: insights from the BRAINHE project,” I quickly noticed that not all the people in the study were autistic. For one, it was published not in a journal about autism, but dyslexia. In fact "Dyslexia" is the name of the journal. It was not even focused on autism.


This discovery is kind of funny. It shows that Mr. Crosby has no idea what neurodiversity is. As the word suggests, neurodiversity is about, you know, neurological diversity. It's not a concept that is married to autism. The fact that neurodiversity as a term was coined by autistics and is most often discussed in the context of autism is of interest, but ultimately immaterial. It's good to see that researchers are applying the term broadly, as they should.

This is how the researchers define neurodiversity:

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for many types of learning difference.


The study is about neurodiversity, not about autism. I'm not sure what's so hard to get about this.

Furthermore, this study does not contribute to how prevalent the idea of "Neurodiversity" is within the autistic community because this study examines six autistic people.


So? However prevalent the idea of neurodiversity is among autistics now, what the results of the study tell us is that it's in everyone's best interest for it to be more prevalent among anyone with a learning difference. From the study, it appears that the split on views is about 50/50 among those with learning differences.

Presenting it as if it reported that autistic students and graduates adhere to neurodiversity is a misrepresentation within the article that cited it.


The article that cited it was actually quite critical of neurodiversity. At no point did it make it sound like most autistic students adhere to neurodiversity. That's simply a fabrication. The following is what the article said.

According to recent research, people with autism who accept the neurodiversity platform have more self-esteem, and have more academic and career ambition that those who see autism as a medical condition with its array of disadvantages. In one study, students with autism who held the latter view more often applied for special assistance and monetary allowance through disabled students programs. Not surprisingly, most neurodiversity advocates with autism are high functioning, with little to no significant intellectual impairment.


I don't know if Mr. Crosby was pressured to produce his critique, and had a hard time coming up with proper arguments to refute the research in question. Either way, his critique is a complete disaster, and frankly, he should be embarrassed.

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.