Caltech researchers believe they have evidence that those with high functioning autism (HFA) don’t seem to care what other people think of them. This lack of “theory of mind,” or the capacity to know what others think and feel is not a new premise.
In their recent experiment, Caltech researchers had those with HFA and neurotypical individuals make online donations to UNICEF alone in
a room and then with other people watching them.
Cognizant of their social reputation, neurotypical individuals donated more when being watched, while those with autism gave the same result
regardless of who was observing.
In a control experiment, both groups performed better on basic math skills while being watched.
The study, which is documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that “in people with autism, the presence of another person is indeed registered, and can have general arousal effects .. what is missing is the specific step of thinking about what another person thinks about us.”
The researchers regard this lack of “theory of mind” as meaning those with autism can’t figure out their social reputation, the skill that psychologists claim motivates people to be nice to others.
Personally, I don’t buy it. The inability of individuals with HFA to understand how others perceive them is NOT the same as them not caring what others think. High functioning individuals are hypersensitive to their own social awkwardness and isolation. Having difficulty navigating social scenarios is a far cry from not caring about the impact they make on others.
As for them giving the same amount to UNICEF with or without being watched, that’s a breath of fresh air. Individuals with autism are genuine. Yes, it gets them in trouble at times, but it’s also part of the beauty of their condition. You can trust what they say, because they are brutally honest. Sometimes the unvarnished truth stings, but their compliments are worth their weight in gold.
Do people really have to be socially constrained by the opinions of others in order to learn to be nice? If you want to be liked, you learn to be likeable, but the implication that high-functioning individuals will be less nice because they are unaware of the social reputation is not credible to me, and I have two extremely kind high-functioning sons to prove it.
This is one of those cases where researchers drawing conclusions peering from the outside looking in on autism
overreach and end up putting a negative spin on what could be positive results.
The Indiana Court of Appeals dropped charges against a special education teacher in connection with her restraint of 12-year-old boy with autism. When the student began striking himself in the classroom, she and her aide taped socks over the boy’s hands, used orthopedic belts to tie his legs to a chair, then tipped the chair onto its back on the floor. Just trying to visual that is disturbing. Imagine the child’s terror! The boy is going to be that much more unruly after being traumatized by their reaction.
Originally charged with confinement, battery and neglect, the Appeals Court called the action necessary to protect the student and others in the classroom. The court declared that the teacher’s actions fall under qualified immunity which grants legal protection “with respect to a disciplinary action take to promote student conduct … if the action is taken in good faith and is reasonable.”
Autism advocates are rightfully concerned about the message this sends to teachers. The local news account said that “The Perry Township School District was unable to provide a copy of the district’s seclusion and restraint policy." That’s because it doesn’t exist. A quick survey of state by state laws shows that Indiana has no clear policies on restraint and seclusion in the
classroom, making this ruling a doubly-dangerous precedent. Indiana is one of the remaining states that allows corporal punishment as well.
The teachers union hailed the decision as a victory in the fight to protect teachers in the classroom. Sadly, the teachers should be armed with more classroom support and better autism training, not granted immunity for what would be considered assault in any other context.
In viewing threads of local news accounts, a reader stated that the boy never should have been placed in that classroom as his autism was too severe and the teachers had no training in dealing with someone with his issues. They cited the common cost cutting move of schools combining classrooms that should be separated according to level of need.
Sadly, there is still no national policy governing restraint, confinement, use of aversives and corporal punishment in our nation’s schools. Cases like these only point out the necessity of have a clear and uniform law protecting our children when they are at school from the adults who are supposed to be taking care of them.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Let it be so.
There’s a new theory for the autism epidemic that hearkens back to the “refrigerator mother” theory that autism is caused by cold, withholding mothers. The Albany Times Union reports that Dr. Gabor Mate believes that parental stress, especially the mother’s, causes developmental disabilities. The author of four books that explore the connection of mind, body and stress, Mate asserts that, " The electrical circuitry of a child’s brain is programmed by the mother’s emotional
Research does, in fact suggest that childhood trauma influences a child’s developmental success, affecting both their mental and physical outcomes well into adulthood. Careful not to fault individual parenting, Mate points to the modern society’s family structure of overworked parents and overbooked kids as an indication that the “it takes a village to raise a child” model is extinct, leaving troubled kids who are then medicated when they have problems. The doctor goes on to offer tips about effective parenting, like “Don’t parent when you are feeling hostile. Wait for your heart to open up” and “Catch your children ‘being good’ and give them positive attention.” It’s a bit disingenuous to not blame poor parenting, then proceed to give parenting tips that are less than a revelation.
Dr. Mate concedes that he has no proof for his theory of rising autism (ADD and obesity as well), “but nothing else makes sense”.
With all due respect, many other things make sense as factors in the rise of autism — environment toxins triggering genetic propensities for instance. I guess in this case, a mother’s depression would count as an environmental toxin, but it’s hard to swallow the notion that alone causes autism. I know plenty of parents, myself included, who have sacrificed a great deal to be present for our children and the kids were still on the spectrum. Were we too stressed out, too depressed in the midst of our efforts? Geez, we’re all just doing the best we can.
Dr. Mate could make his useful points without going overboard. Parents are going to end up depressed because they’re depressed, thinking they are putting their child at risk for autism. Dr. Mate could well end up inducing the stress he claims to want to alleviate.
After customers complained that he was “behaving oddly,” police were called to the store. Apparently, the young man was running in the aisles and not staying in the store proper. Confronted in an “Employee Only” area and told to leave or he’ll be arrested, 28-year-old Blake Wimberly refused, stating that he needed to call his mother. He also told the officers he was autistic, displaying his medical alert bracelet. Officers nonetheless arrested him for criminal trespass and took him to jail, an action that was totally at their discretion. His mother was in the shower when the police station called and no one answered when she returned their call. Blake was in custody for twelve hours.
Even before this episode Blake suffered from a paranoid fear of the police, which was at times crippling. Now one wonders if it wasn’t a premonition.
What, pray tell, is the use of a medical alert bracelet if it’s only going to be ignored? Why instruct people with disabilities to disclose their condition to officers if the information is treated with indifference? Clearly, the officers should’ve let the docile young man call his mother, who would’ve come to the store and taken him home. Oddly, Blakely is a former employee of that store. Was there no one working who knew and remembered him who could speak on his behalf?
Blakely’s mom is planning to sue the police over the incident and rightfully so. Her son’s fragile mental health was seriously eroded by the trauma of his arrest. He maintains he was treated badly at the station and there’s every reason to believe him.
It seems as if nary a day goes by without some fresh news of the colliding worlds of law enforcement and autism. It’s regrettable when the officers don’t know the person they’re dealing with has autism.
A new study published at www.plos.org finds that traditional IQ testing likely underestimates the intelligence of individuals on the autism spectrum. The common perception that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by uneven intellectual profiles and concomitant impairment can now be ascribed to the bias of the test itself.
Researchers administered the standard Wechsler IQ test and another test called Raven’s Progressive Matrices which addresses reasoning, novel problem-solving skills and high-level abstraction. Two groups took the tests, an Asperger’s and a neurotypical group. While scores for the neurotypical group were about the same regardless of the test, the individuals with autism scored much higher on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices.
Researchers found these further results:
“Interestingly, Asperger participants’ performance on Raven’s Matrices was associated with their strongest peaks of performance on the traditional Wechsler Intelligence test… A previous study by the same group found very similar results for autistic individuals as well, whose peaks of ability are perceptual, rather than verbal as in Asperger individuals.”
The conclusion reached is that pockets of abilities attributed to ASD people are actually indicators of their general intelligence, the true norm, rather than an aberration.
This study affirms what most parents of children with autism already know — schools favor the neurotypical child, and children with autism often aren’t seen clearly by educators. Hopefully, new tests will be made to fairly assess autism IQ and new educational modalities will be created to deliver information to our children in a way that honors their unique processing style.
The paradigm shift is a refreshing focus upon the strengths of ASD children rather than their weaknesses and the acknowledgment that while atypical, autism intelligence is also “genuine, general and underestimated."
A shocking story out of Texas reminds us of the need for a federal law banning the use of aversive measures in educational settings. Children with autism at Exley Elementary School in Katy had cotton balls soaked in vinegar put in their mouths as werewas forced to go on a treadmill longer and faster as a form of punishment. Incredibly, no laws exist to prohibit these and other nationally reported tactics such as being denied food and water, spraying students in the eyes with lemon juice, force
feeding and shaving cream being put in the mouth.
Outraged parents, Carol and Bill Rutar, point out that if an adult did this to a child, he or she would be arrested and if this happened to a neurotypical child in a general education setting, there would be a public hue and cry against it. At this time, Exley Elementary is now under investigation. The principal would only go so far as to say that “a treadmill was used” and “vinegar was introduced." While the school will obviously not be in any legal trouble, hopefully the negative attention will lead to aversives being banned. But Texas still allows corporal punishment in schools, so the children with autism may just get paddled instead.
When my son with autism was in fourth grade, he habitually got thrown out of his classroom for stimming behaviors such as tapping his pencil. Then he was confined to a closet-sized room and forced to forego both lunch and recess to complete the work he missed while he was sobbing in the hall. Unfortunately, this is but one example of the barbaric treatment he has suffered at the hands of the school system. After so many years and so many incidents, I am home schooling him for high school.
Much progress has been made in autism awareness, but ignorance is still deeply rooted in our educational systems, which lags shocking behind current best practices for autism. National legislation is desperately needed to combat the horrible things that can happen to our children when they go to school.
It’s common knowledge that adult individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are chronically underemployed or unemployed. But shockingly, a 2009 U.S. Department of Education survey found that the employment rate for young adults with autism was at the same level as that for deaf-and-blind young adults and even below that of individuals with blindness alone, learning disabilities or traumatic brain injuries.
In the midst of this dismal reality, some progress is being made.
Yet another company hiring individuals with Asperger’s for computer tech jobs is finding success, this time in Highland Park, Illinois. Aspiritech draws inspiration from the Danish company called
Specialisterne, or “the Specialists” which seeks to find tech employment for a million individuals on the spectrum through its global chapters. NonPareil,
an autism non-profit tech training center in Plano, Texas is still another program we’ve recently reported on that plans to provide living quarters and jobs to high and lower functioning individuals as the company expands.
Organizations such as Aspiritech, The Specialists and nonPareil harness the intense focus, love of repetition and detail-oriented nature of individuals with autism to great effect. The companies’ prestigious clients are uniformly pleased with the results of hiring ASD companies.
Dan Tedesco of Shelton, Conn.-based HandHold Adaptive, used Aspiritech to test an iPhone application, noting, “There is a pride in their product you don’t usually see in this type of work” and that “they exceeded his expectations.” He found their prices competitive and appreciated being able hire within the U.S.
Many of Aspiritech’s software testers were adults when they first learned they were on the autism spectrum, missing out on the tremendous strides in autism in the course of their lifetime. Aspiritech gives them a safe and understanding work environment and also helps them forge needed social skills by teaching the 20- and 30-somethings how to work together and taking them on organized outings in the community such as bowling and dining in restaurants.
Right now, the company’s revenue is 60% donations and 40% revenue from clients, an equation they hope to keep rebalancing — in the immediate future, they seek 50/50 revenue. Employees are paid $12 to $15/hour, with the appreciation that they are learning job skills that will prepare them for bright futures within the tech industry.
I’m thinking there should be a humanities equivalent of these kind of job initiatives. Not everyone with autism is a techie. I would love to see equivalent programs for careers in the media and arts.
Stafford, Virginia brings us a ridiculous story of a fourteen-year-old boy with autism who was taken away in handcuffs after attempting to win the hearts of classmates by dressing up in a banana suit and running across the field during halftime of a football game. Later released to his mother without charges, his high school principal settled on a punishment of ten days suspension while backing off her initial impulse to expel him.
Students rallied around him by wearing “Free Banana Man” t-shirts, which the principal immediately banned. That’s when the ACLU stepped in over the violation of freedom of speech. A flood of negative press ensued and compelled the school to apologize for the infringement of students’ civil rights and lift the remaining five days of Bryan “Banana Man” Thompson’s suspension.
However, Bryan is still on probation for the remaining five days and the principal has expressed concern that he will be a disruptive force at school since he has so many new friends and supporters.
A socially isolated teen suddenly having new admirers? The horror!!
Bryan’s mother is rightfully nervous about him being under the microscope upon his return.
The location of Stafford, Virginia rang a bell for me. It’s the town where Neli Latson, another teenager with Asperger’s,
was racially profiled as he sat outside waiting for the public library to open. Neli remains in jail for assaulting an officer who suddenly threw him over the hood of a squad car and tried to cuff him after
he wouldn’t tell him his name. His mother is still working feverishly to secure his release from prison.
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that both Neli and Bryan are African American, making for some unsettling coincidences in relation to unusually harsh punishments for minorities on the autism spectrum in Stafford.
Bryan’s mother suggested that Banana Man become the school mascot, as he brought so much joy to the crowd during his brief debut, but I doubt the principal will have the good sense or grace to allow it.
Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PDA) is the term for an obsessional avoidance of the ordinary demands of everyday
life. The child with PDA exhibits a level of social understanding and ability that makes them able to be manipulative in their avoidance. Coupled with a capacity for imaginative play, early appreciation was that PDA was a stand alone diagnosis. More recently, however, clinicians recognize it as a feature of autism spectrum disorders.
Children with PDA require a different approach, particularly in the educational environment. The school environment, with its incessant demands and expectations and concomitant system of rewards and punishment, is a minefield of anxiety for the PDA student. Educators need to be less openly demanding and more negotiating, abandoning the tenet of uniformity in dealing with all students. Flexibility is required, as classroom expectations need to be modified according to the child’s given emotional state and situation. Rather than being head-on in their dealings, teachers need to be oblique, avoiding a clash of wills. A relationship of trust and respect between the teacher and student is the cornerstone of success.
Learning about PDA rings like a bell for me personally. My fifteen-year-old son is the perfect embodiment of this condition. His tumultuous educational experiences are a direct product of teachers being unwilling and/or unable to modify their approach to him based upon his extreme anxiety around everyday demands of school life. Almost with out exception, his teachers felt the best course of action was to face him down over work expectations, thinking this would lead to the “extinguishing” of his behaviors. What it lead to was more and more explosive behaviors and the triggering of his dangerous Crohn’s symptoms. As I write this, he is going to high school online because of the failure of yet another school placement.
Counter-intuitive to the training and beliefs of educators and administrators, it’s going to require a lot of work to bring our schools up to speed on PDA. Even the teacher in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where my son was twice confined for his anxiety, left him convulsing on the floor for an hour when he refused to do a math worksheet.
There is real urgency to this problem. Educators need to realize that individualizing their approach to a child with PDA is not a capitulation to that child’s manipulations, but the honoring of their distinct and very real condition.
A recent study from the University of Boston suggests that individuals with high-functioning autism are more likely to be atheists and to reject organized religion in general.
Data garnered from autism forums and surveys of individuals with Asperger’s syndrome found that those respondents to be largely atheist, followed by having their own system of beliefs, then agnostic, then lastly Christian and Jewish. Speculation is that the high-functioning person’s penchant for logical reasoning and concrete thinking, and their discomfort with metaphor and figures of speech account for the findings.
When asked for comment, Caroline Hattersley, a spokesperson for The National Autistic Society somewhat defensively said, “Autism affects people from every sector of society and people with autism represent the full range of religious and non-religious
One factor blatantly absent in this study is whether or not the respondents were raised in households where going to church is a regular part of their lives. Many families would actually like their children on the spectrum to attend church, but cannot find a place of worship willing and able to take their children into the fold.
Congregations must be educated in autism and have the forbearance to appreciate that disruptions can and will occur. Some strides are being made in modifying church services, assigning shadows to help a child through the service and/or creating special services for the developmentally disabled.
I heard of one Lutheran church that hosts an autism service which is half as long and offers a visual prompt program to follow. Here in Seattle, a church my son and I went to had stations where you engage in different activities like dropping a stone into a bowl of water to symbolize releasing anger or writing a prayer on a strip of cloth, then communally weaving the pieces together. He loved the interactive nature of the experience and came away in high spirits.
With twin teenaged high-functioning sons in my house, we have many lively religious and political discussions. My second son, who is a scientist at heart, particularly exhibits this Mr. Spock-ean propensity to spurn anything that is not logical. In fact, the last time he ever went trick or treating, he costumed himself as that Star Trek character. He approaches the subject of religion with a demand for proof.
In my mind, God made our kids with autism and values and loves those whose neurological biases render them outside the mainstream of society’s legalistic and religious tenets.
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Autism strikes a family’s heart, soul and wallet. Estimates by The Autism Society puts a lifetime of care for an autistic child at $3.2 million. Autism parents know firsthand the brutal toll to the family coffers of therapies that can run $40,000 to $50,00 per year. Families tangle with insurance companies, invariably ending up with […]