Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dr. Lindsay Oberman's interesting timeline

Lindsay Oberman is a ph.d. brain scientist with an interest in doing research on mu wave suppression in autistic children. Mu waves are electroencephalographic signals that are abnormal in some instances in persons with autism. I have discussed this work in a previous post so I won't go into all the details of Dr. Oberman's work.

Dr. Oberman also writes a blog sponspored by Psychology Today magazine in which she posts entries from time to time. She wrote a blog piece which I responded to and just now Dr. Oberman has responded to my response. I was somewhat disillusioned what seemed to me to be her somewhat positive take on the neurodiversity movement in her post and wrote a comment on her blog.

I am an autistic man who wants to be cured, though I don't feel it is probable that there would be a cure in my lifetime. However, if your work on mu wave suppression could lead to an autistic person being able to control their mu waves and this helping them to function better even in leiu of a cure I would certainly be in favor of that. What is ironic about one anti-cure autistic, Michelle Dawson, is that she works with a group that receives funding from autism speaks and has not resigned from the group in protest. None of these autistics who are against a cure for autism seem to mind money coming from an organization where the people raising the money, organizing the walks, etc. most likely long for a cure.

Dr. Oberman replied with the following after captioning her post that she respectfully disagreed with me:

believe that we will find a "cure" or atleast much more effective treatments for autism in the next 10-20 years. There are many very hard working and dedicated scientists whose line of research is just that. My line of research however, is much less "controversial". I do not claim that there should or should not be a "cure" but rather to understand the mechanisms that lead to one person to develop autism while another does not. What processes develop differently in the brain of someone with autism compared to someone without. This is my main interest and though with this knowledge, we can also begin to develop more effective treatments aiming at the cause rather than the symptoms, it also provides a better understanding as to why one person develops autism and another does not, which is important information in and of itself.

I feel this is a good way of looking at things, so I suppose she does not totally subscribe to a neurodiversity point of view. What is of most interest is her optimistic statement which seems to me to be implying that some major breakthrough could happen as soon as ten years from now. Of course I guess I will find out if I am still living in ten years from now and even still living in twenty years from now which is a distinct possibility though not a guarantee set in stone. There is an old Danish proverb Death does not blow a trumpet.

What intrigued me about this saying is that when I first became a research subject for Eric Courchesne's group and just before I had my first MRI scan, I met Rachel Courchesne who was his wife at the time. I asked her if she felt that the research they were doing could at some point perhaps translate into better treatments for persons with autism even if not a cure. She stated that she believed that in 20 years, there was a good chance the research they were doing could translate into better treatments. A similar timeline to Dr. Oberman's but not quite as optimistic as her ten year leeway. Ms. Courchesne made this statement to me in April, 1989 exactly twenty years ago. Twenty years and much more diagnoses of autism later, this prediction did not come to fruition. ABA is still the treatment of choice, gaining huge ground in the U.S.A., particularly since the 1991 legislation adding autism as an eligible category to receive services under IDEA. There do not seem to be any advances at all.

I concede it is certainly possible that if in theory autistic persons could learn to control their mu waves with neuro/biofeedback perhaps some autistics could be helped immensely from this treatment. The problem with Dr. Oberman's work per se, is that her recent study only had 9 subjects, all of whom were males and all of whom were at least moderately high functioning. It is likely she had to exclude fairly low functioning persons from her work, because they would not have the necessary compliance to sit still and have valid brain wave measurements taken. Dr. Oberman did the right thing and conceded the limitations of her study in her paper, acknowledging the work might not be applicable to female autistics or lower functioning male autistics.

I wonder if Oberman's prediction will come true. I guess in ten years' time if I am still alive and I still have this blog I can write about it again. Time will tell.

1 comment:

T. said...

just found your blog in a search I was doing on high school exit exams for special needs kids, and I am glad I did. It is very informative and I have subscribed.

I have 3 children, all with varying degrees of high-functioning autism. like the way you write and analyze the various issues.

Thanks!
T.
Send Chocolate, a blog about living with kids who have autism