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In a verdict that will serve as another likely nail in the coffin for an autism theory, a federal vaccines court threw out three cases last week that dispel a belief that thimerosal — mercury-containing preservative — causes autism. I have previously covered this controversy: Some people believe vaccines with this preservative can cause autism, a complex neuro-developmental disorder. Yet piles of scientific research disprove this theory. Earlier rulings on this matter have been sent to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and that’s where these three cases are likely to end up. But not even case dismissals help us to better determine the real origins of autism, which affects 1 in 110 children. Autism today remains a tangle of environmental and genetic leads, but nothing conclusive. Those who are most affronted by this verdict are, obviously, the more than 5,300 parents who had filed claims with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ... keep reading »
While I can only hope that the recent retraction of a 1998 study that claimed the vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could increase children’s risk of developing autism will close the door on this staunchly held belief, I’m afraid the myth still will prevail. In a statement explaining its retraction, The Lancet, a British medical journal, which published the study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, said, “it has become clear that several elements are incorrect … in particular, the claims in the original paper that children were ‘consecutively referred’ and that investigations were ‘approved’ by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false.” To parse that out for you, the main issue with the Wakefield study was a misleading breach of ethics. Specifically, Wakefield wrote that the 12 children in his case report were referred to his clinic with stomach problems; actually, the children were part of a lawsuit ... keep reading »
There is an excellent opinion piece in the February 9 edition of The New York Times arguing against my position that Asperger’s syndrome, or AS, should be placed outside the autism spectrum. Here’s my take, based on my experience writing about autism and having a family member with the disorder. Long considered a high-functioning form of autism, Asperger’s is characterized by having difficulty interacting socially, repeating behaviors, and delayed motor functioning. However, Asperger’s has until recently maintained a separate diagnosis from autism, a complex neuro-developmental disorder defined by impaired social interaction and other behaviors. Beginning with the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) in May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has recommended a redrafted diagnosis to include both labels. The new criteria require that the symptoms begin in early childhood, deficits be measured in social interaction and communication, and there are repetitive behaviors ... keep reading »
I doubt I’m alone in saying I need another tearjerker, disease-of-the-week movie like, well, a hole in the head. Good thing HBO’s recent biopic, Temple Grandin, is no such thing. Sweet, studied, and poignant, Temple Grandin isn’t about overcoming a handicap, but instead it shows us how to look at the world differently and succeed. The movie’s protagonist, Temple Grandin, is a graduate student who has Asperger’s syndrome, a complex neuro-developmental disorder defined by impaired social interaction and other behaviors. Symptoms of Asperger’s and autism can include thinking of the world in a highly visual way (Grandin herself likens it to Google Images), which lends itself particularly well to the silver screen. In fact, the diagnosis has recently been re-classified as part of the autism spectrum disorder. Were this just a tale of one woman just overcoming a diagnosis, I’d probably start to reach for the remote. However, ... keep reading »
On a panel with social media innovators and educators, Andy Carvin (@acarvin) moderated a discussion on the different social media channels available to students and others. Carvin is a social media strategist for NPR and the author of EdWeb: Exploring Technology & School Reform. Other panelists included Steve Hargadon, founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network; Lee Rainie (@lrainie), director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a think tank that studies the social impact of the Internet; and Michael Levine, executive director, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which supports research and investments in media technology for young children. The panel began with an excellent slideshow on how teens use technology today. Some examples: 14% of online kids blog; 54% read blogs; 55% use wikipedia; and 73% use social networks. You can view it here. (Thanks, @lrainie!) As brilliant as all these guys are, there was, unfortunately, not much discussion on assistive ... keep reading »
At the upcoming 2009 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference, it’s no surprise that the agenda hinges on new and emerging technology trends. The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI), which hosts the conference each year, was smart to include the much-anticipated topic of social media, and those attending will hear from experts such as Steve Hargadon, founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network, and Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit think tank hat studies the social impact of the Internet. The conference will be held at The Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. Nov. 16-17, and the first day is packed with panels. After a lunch keynote by Kareem Dale, President Obama’s Special Assistant on Disability Policy — the highest ranked spot ever created by a President on disability issues — guests will have to make a tough choice about which breakout sessions to attend. Among ... keep reading »
In WIred magazine’s The Smart List: 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World, entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne says more companies should recruit autistics. Thorne, whose youngest son was diagnosed with the mysterious developmental disorder, says that in some jobs, an autistic person’s preternatural capacity for concentration and near-total recall can be more valuable than having good people skills. In Sonne’s native Denmark, as elsewhere, autistics are typically considered unemployable. But Sonne worked in IT, a field more suited to people with autism and related conditions like Asperger’s syndrome. “As a general view, they have excellent memory and strong attention to detail. They are persistent and good at following structures and routines,” he says. In other words, they’re born software engineers. According to the article, in 2004, Sonne quit his job at a telecom firm and founded Specialisterne (Danish for “Specialists”), an IT consultancy that hires mostly people with autism-spectrum disorders. Its nearly ... keep reading »
For students with learning disabilities, applying to college is a daunting task. An article in the New York Times’ blog, The Choice, reports on a Nacac conference, “Supporting the Transition to College for Students with Learning Disabilities,” where educators tried to answer some of the nettlesome questions for high school counselors trying to guide students with disabilities — including dyslexia, ADHD and Asperger Syndrome — toward supportive colleges where they might thrive. While the Nacac conference was geared to high school counselors and college admissions officers, there was plenty of useful material for parents, too: * The Association on Higher Education and Disability found that just 28 percent of students with learning disabilities graduate. And only 25 percent of students with disabilities take advantage of the services available to them on campus. * Catherine Axe, the director of Disability Support Services at Brown University, said that it was illegal for colleges to ... keep reading »
Last night I saw the opening of Adam at the Angelika Film Center in New York. This movie gives a raw and amusing look into the peculiar life of a 29-year old man with Asperger’s syndrome who falls in love. Adam (Hugh Dancy) has never been outside of New York City. Both his parents are dead. He eats cereal for breakfast, goes to work, then comes home and eats dinner, to give you a sense of how he craves routine. When he meets his next-door neighbor Beth (Rose Bryne), sparks fly, but not in the way you’d expect. Because of his Asperger’s, Adam lacks the requisite social skills to recognize charm and other innuendo that usually accompanies flirting; a light touch on the arm, an extra-long glance, an opening to ask her out — all fall flat. Instead, Adam shows Beth his home-spun planetarium, set against the backdrop of his shower curtain. As ... keep reading »
President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 includes increased funds for employment assistance for people with disabilities as well as autism research and awareness, among other programs. The budget proposal includes $11.5 billion for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is in addition to the nearly $5 billion already set aside for IDEA in 2010. Another $11.6 billion would be applied to decrease the backlog of disability claims at the Social Security Administration. Other disability-related programs would also benefit from the proposal. On the health front, Obama will seek more than $140 million for autism research funded through the National Institutes of Health, and $125 million to provide mental health care to kids and teens with emotional disorders. For employment, Obama will ask for an increase of $10 million for the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. Separately, the budget includes $145 million ... keep reading »