Monday, July 13, 2009

interesting op-ed pieces from Morton Gernsbacher

I see that neurodiversity ideologue and frequent Laurent Mottron/Michelle Dawson collaborator Morton Gernsbacher has a neurodiversity op-ed piece that she wrote. Not only does she have this piece but yet another piece out that deals with a similar theme. The first piece talks about how people might load a dishwasher with cutlery facing up rather than facing down. They would load it face up to clean what would become the dirtiest parts perhaps due to a germ phobia. They might load it face down due to a phobia of being cut. She also talks about analogies of which drawers people put their underwear in etc. She then goes on to talk about the interpretations of various brain scanning studies. The gist of her argument in the first piece is that the interpretations are subjective and that the brain studies might be measuring dysfunctions versus differences or compensations versus enhancements. It is all a matter of interpretation. The apparent insinuation can then be applied to persons with autism and other neurologic conditions. The reason that they might get different results on an fMRI scan than a typical person is not because autism is a disorder or a disease but that autism might merely only be a difference. One interesting example that she gives is a functional MRI study comparing how Americans and Japanese process faces. The two groups used different areas of the brain and modes of mechanisms to process the faces. This was due to cultural differences between the two groups and not due to a brain dysfunction among either American nor Japanese face processors.

In the second piece, she talks about how differences in brain imaging studies have shown how Women can have cortical thickening as opposed to men and in this case it can be considered merely a difference. However cortical thickening amongst autistics as compared to neurotypical controls is a dysfunction rather than a difference. The articles are trying to show that autism is not necessarily a disorder just because the brains appear different or function information differently.

One of the problems with the analogy of the second article that I see is that the techniques for measuring the brain with structural and functional MRIs are still too limited and primitive to detect anything other than superficial differences. Gernsbacher seems to conveniently forget this fact in her analogy. Does the fact that women and men have differences in cortical thickening and the autistics and nonautistics have similar differences show that autism versus nonautism is no more of a dysfunction of being a man versus a woman. Do the fMRI studies on face processing show a difference between autistis versus nonautistists is similar to differences between an American versus a Japanese? No, not really. Magnetic resonance imaging can measure some limited structural differences in the brain or which brain areas blood oxygen may flow to when doing certain tasks. However, they don't show how individual neurons work or which of them might be missing. They don't show differences in synapses or synaptic functioning that might account for the disabling factors of autism versus nonautism. They don't show a possible dysfunction in the sodium-potassium pumps in the neurons of autistics versus nonautistics. It is quite possible that at the deepest levels in autistic brains there are ionic differences in the functioning of neurons due to abnormalities of how much sodium versus potassium is in a neuron. The state of the art currently does not allow such comparisons to be made between autistic and nonautistic controls. It does not even allow the assessment of such things in living organisms period.

It is possible that this may be where Gernsbacher's analogy really falls flat. You could see the same differences in men vs. women as in autistics vs. nonautistics, but they could be there for different reasons. What if it were possible to scan for differences in individual neurons? Perhaps we would see no differences between men and women. Nor differences in the sodium-potassium pumps, blood-brain barrier functioning, etc. We might very well see these differences in autistics versus nonautistic controls. So, yes, in spite of the fact that superficial MRI scanning might find similar things in two groups prototypical versus nonprotypical they could mean very different things.

I also find Gernsbacher's analogies ironic in light of the fact of Isabelle Souliere's (someone whom Gernsbacher has collaborated with in the past) recent study showing the faster processing in the occipital lobes of autistics versus nonautistic controls. Souliere's was interpreting the findings that autistics were somehow superior in this endeavor and she put her own disingenuous spin with the media on her findings stating that she hoped it would not make persons underestimate educational potential in persons with autism. So, Gernsbacher and other Mottron/Dawson collaborators might not practice what they preach. On one hand it is just individual differences, on the other hand, it means that autistics in some respects are actually superior to neurotypicals. Sorry, my dear Morton Ann, but you can't have it both ways.

On a sidenote I once emailed Morton Gernsbacher asking about her essay stating in the title that autistics need acceptance and not cure. Though she may have never received funding from CAN or autism speaks, she has served them in an advisory capacity and has peer reviewed journal articles and research grants with them. I wondered why she would do this if she did not approve of a cure. She wrote me back a very nice/polite letter stating about how it was the duty of scientists to peer review and do editorial work of their colleagues and that she had not chosen the title of her article but that the media outlet who published her article had chosen the title with acceptance versus cure. In this article she claimed that persons with severe autism had made great contributions to the arts and science, yet neglected to give any specific examples. When I wrote Dr. Gernsbacher a follow-up email, querying what person with severe rather than mild autism could have possibly made great contributions to the arts and sciences she did not answer my email as she had previously the last one. I wonder why.

Well all I can say is that Gernsbacher's editorials and the double standards that she and her colleagues have of applying interpretations to their own research trying to show how smart autistic people are and how great autism is must be another example of convoluted neurodiversity logic.

13 comments:

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

"Furthermore, I’ve occasionally visited homes whose inhabitants place their toilet paper with the free end in back (they say it provides optimal torque, increasing the distance between the plane of the paper being pulled and the axle support line)."

I've never read a more thoughtful and intelligent passage about toilet paper.

Anonymous said...

"In this article she claimed that persons with severe autism had made great contributions to the arts and science, yet neglected to give any specific examples."

Kim Peek? Stephen Wiltshire? Tito Mulkahveny (sp?)?

jonathan said...

Actually I did think of Wiltshire as one of the possibilities she might have been thinking of in terms of art. I don't know if his contributions to art could be considered great or not, but he is a talented artist. I am not sure what contributions Peek or Tito have made to either art or science. I am still waiting for a single example of a severely autistic person who has made a contribution to the sciences.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

"Tito Mulkahveny"

I'm suspicious of Tito's credibility since he communicates through rapid prompting. I've read criticisms where his rapid prompting communication is nothing more than FC in disguise.

I guess we could put "savants" on the list since they make nice circus shows. What contribution has Kim Peek made other than being medically interesting? Or any "savant" for that matter?

Stephen Wiltshire is a great artist, but, then again, so are all other artists who do exactly what he does and are not autistic. Many artists are hyper-realists and are not as nearly as famous as Stephen (and they actually may be MORE talented than he). Part of Stephen's fame is because he is autistic, not because of how "talented" he is. Just google "hyper realist painters" or something of the sort to get a glimpse. I saw another artist who only drew hyper-realist architecture, but he wasn't autistic. And he wasn't as nearly as famous as Stephen, either.

Anonymous said...

"so are all other artists who do exactly what he does and are not autistic." referring to Stephen Wiltshire

I was unaware there were other artists doing what he does. Can you name one for me?

Kim Peek contributed through cinema. Whether one considers cinema art, I don't think is up for interpretation.

Stephanie claims to be severe, I think? She does some really neat artwork. Many artists aren't discovered until their dead. What if one day the world decides Stephanie's art is great?

Donna Williams claims to be severely autistic and has a couple of best sellers. Yes, I know, stop laughing. I don't believe she has any form of autism.

Sciences? I'm not sure.

Tito (contribution was as a writer) has emailed me on several occasions. If someone is faking it, I think it would have shown up during the mini-documentary on him, but I could be wrong. Porshe Iverson certainly believes he is for real.

Morton's son is a talented videographer and he has severe autism.

Have you seen what passes for great art? Take a look at Jackson Pollock. Total crap in my opinion. Does his art take more talent than Stephanie's or Stephen's? Not in my opinion but his art sales for millions.

Here is a link to Jackson Pollock's art. Tell me this isn't talentless crap.

http://tiny.cc/Jn0HF

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"Morton's son is a talented videographer and he has severe autism"


Does he?

That's certainly the impression Michelle Dawson gave about Morton's son (and Amanda Baggs) to the Canadian Senate in 2006:

http://www.parl.gc.ca/39/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/soci-e/11eva-e.htm?Language=E&Parl=39&Ses=1&comm_id=47


But according to this article from 2000, Morton's son has a subtype of autism which Gernsbacher and Hill Goldsmith, her husband, named "Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia":

http://www.news.wisc.edu/5639


Morton's 12 year old son is currently a gifted, A-grade student in 12th grade at high school, and a neurodiversity activist who wrote this at age 10:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJK4SvQ3s4A&feature=channel_page


And here's an article he wrote last year about winning the High School Filmmaker Award from the Academies of Television Arts and Sciences:

http://my.hsj.org/Schools/tabid/115/view/frontpage/schoolid/294/articleid/241459/Default.aspx


What bothers me is that most people may not know that Drew Goldsmith is Gernsbacher's son, and that Gernsbacher's husband, Hill Goldsmith, also a professor at WU, have worked with Michelle Dawson on such papers as this...

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119423420/abstract


... with feedback from their son who has developmental verbal dyspraxia, not severe autism.

I think someone should ask the Gernsbacher family if they think verbal dyspraxia is a difference worth celebrating, and if there were a cure for this condition would they take it. I'm guessing Drew's answer would be yes, unless he didn't really mean what he said in that youtube video about wanting to speak better.

~ Watson

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

"Tito (contribution was as a writer) has emailed me on several occasions. If someone is faking it, I think it would have shown up during the mini-documentary on him, but I could be wrong."

People still believe that Amanda Baggs and facilitated communication are real, so of course people believe Tito.

I've seen artists who do what Stephen does that I've reached through artist portals. Unless someone has an obsession in art, like I do, you don't really know HOW MANY artists are out there and what exactly they do. I can't name them off of my head and it will be difficult for me to track them down again, but I will try.

"Kim Peek contributed through cinema. Whether one considers cinema art, I don't think is up for interpretation."

He was the "inspiration," and whether or not he "contributed" is debatable. I mean, someone could have completely made up that story without Kim Peek as well.

"Stephanie claims to be severe, I think? She does some really neat artwork. Many artists aren't discovered until their dead. What if one day the world decides Stephanie's art is great?"

I always say I'm high-functioning. My autism is "severe" but I have a high IQ, hence HFA. It would be nice to pull a Van Gogh, though.

"Morton's son is a talented videographer and he has severe autism."

I've never heard of him but will look.

"Have you seen what passes for great art? Take a look at Jackson Pollock. Total crap in my opinion. Does his art take more talent than Stephanie's or Stephen's? Not in my opinion but his art sales for millions."

This is why art is subjective. Personally, I like his art, not for what it looks like but for what it means. It might LOOK like crap but once you understand the stories behind them, the ideas and inspirations, they are actually quite interesting. And looking at it online and seeing it in real life is much different. I believe many of his paintings are about 10ft x 10ft or something of the sort.

There is one called Autumn Rhythm that I really love. Basically, it is one of those "drip" paintings but he attempted to recreate the experience of leaves swirling around a person or the moment you jump into a leaf pile (like when you were a kid). It looks like a mass of chaos and crap until you learn what his objective was and then it becomes interesting.

Also, Pollock was quite able to paint realistically, so he wasn't completely talentless.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

A few non-autistic artists like Stephen Wiltshire (that aren't as nearly as famous as he since they are not autistic):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/keiths_pencil_art/

http://neildouglas.deviantart.com/gallery/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27769519@N08/ (he has other photos mixed in with his artwork)

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

Another artist like Stephen Wiltshire who doesn't say he's autistic:

http://stefanbleekrode.exto.org/

His bio is interesting, pretty much like Stephen's; but he NEVER states he has autism or is a "savant." So, we have to conclude he is neither...just a talented artist.

"I am Stefan Bleekrode, 22 years of age, and for more than a decade I'm drawing. Six years ago I started to paint as well, mainly to express my interest in the urban environment. I'm fully self-taught and nearly all images presented on my site are painted from memory. At the age of ten I started to draw imaginary cityscapes. After a visit to Paris and to several Belgian cities, I became almost obsessed with architecture and all other aspects that make up the complex environment we call a city. So I needed a way to express this. The birds-eye view line drawing seemed ideal and since then I've refined my ability to draw perspective, architectural details etc. From little towns by a river my drawings became world class cities comparable to Paris or London. In those years, focusing mainly on drawing, I resented painting for a long time. During a visit to Rome I discovered the seemingly endless oppertunities painting has to offer. For some time my painted work was strongly inspired by Edward Hopper. I think one can clearly see his influence in several oil paintings I made in 2003- 2004. After having abandoned painting for some time I rediscovered it and began using watercolors. In particular the 'Dry Brush' method - applying watercolor paint dry on a dry ground. My images are composed of many impressions found, occasionally in nature but mostly in cities such as London, Paris and Liege in Belgium. My paintings don't usually resemble actual places although they certainly present the same atmosphere I found there. Still, though, I always make sure people can recognise these places. The paintings are my highly personal view of the world around me."

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, none of the artists from what you referenced does what Stephen does from what I can tell. None of them claim to be able to draw a city down to the last detail from a 30 minute viewing. Sorry, but your either confused about what Stephen does or you think drawing realistic paintings is the same thing. Unless these artists are claiming to be able to draw an entire city, with photographic detail after only looking at it for 30 minutes, then its not the same thing. In fact, I think I could draw and paint everything you referenced. None of it was very impressive to me.

Tito is for real, Amanda Baggs is not. Tito's history is well documented and public. Is yours?

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

My history is well documented, but not public; I don't want it to be. I don't want to be made a "research" subject.

I've read much about not only "Tito" but about many others like him. Obviously, anyone like Tito is going to be properly criticized and I've read criticisms where Tito's communication through rapid prompting is nothing more than FC in disguise. I have every right to be skeptical since Tito's claims are not much different from FC's claims.

Stephen is also older than these artists, so of course he will have more work. But they really look the same to me: architectural drawings/paintings. His are not any "better" than the ones I gave you; you just think they are. Every artist has his/her own style so, obviously, they are not going to be EXACTLY the same.

Yes, what makes Stephen "interesting" is that he can make a drawing after viewing a city for 30 minutes. But his art is no better or worse than any other artist that does what he does. He's "medically" interesting, not artistically.

Someone was trying to prove that he made/will make a significant contribution to the arts and I am saying that his "art" is popular because he is a "savant" not because of how "great" it is. The examples I gave are not different from the *type* of art he does; how someone completes a piece of art is really irrelevant to the completed piece of work. Some great paintings have taken years do to, but people still consider them "genius." It really doesn't matter HOW it is done. Really. For the sake of art, it doesn't. To be "interesting," yes. But not for art's sake.

"In fact, I think I could draw and paint everything you referenced."

Than can you provide proof?

This man sounds pretty impressive to me, considering he is not autistic or a savant:

"I am Stefan Bleekrode, 22 years of age, and for more than a decade I'm drawing. Six years ago I started to paint as well, mainly to express my interest in the urban environment. I'm fully self-taught and nearly all images presented on my site are painted from memory. At the age of ten I started to draw imaginary cityscapes."

Anonymous said...

""In the book, Strange Son, we read that Tito can write letters-but only does so intelligibly when his mother is present. Over and over, we find that Tito can't answer questions that his mother doesn't know the answer to. The mom's reaction to these embarrassments was to limit the topic of "conversation" to things she already knew the answers to or having Tito write content-free poetry and musings about the autistic experience. We also read that when someone included a message-passing validation in one of the many testing protocols, Tito failed completely. His mother's reaction was not to investigate further, trying to figure out where Tito's skills ended and influence took over. No. She made sure such things were never done again. Author Portia Iversen then labeled the procedure an "inquisition." A message-passing test is about as benign a thing as one can do. It is hardly an "inquisition." When Iversen's own son failed to correctly answer questions his mother didn't know the answers to, those failures were noted-then rationalized away. In the end, the objective empirical evidence that these two young men do not seem to be able to do what is claimed of them is discounted in favor of simply believing that they are two more hidden geniuses discovered through a variation on the facilitated communication formula. But because of the myth of the hidden genius, thousands and thousands of readers believe it too. The faith is so strong that RP is completely real that Iversen doesn't even have to hide the fact that she's really doing FC, complete with laminated FC-style letter boards being held in the air for kids to point to just like you will see at the FC meetings. "

"Rapid prompting is just FC-but looks like something else because the child's hand is not held and the prompting is hidden in what seems to be real literacy training. But because the proponents of RP simply dismiss the problem of influence, and do nothing at all to protect against it, it will inevitably occur. The RP people don't even give influence the lip service that the FC people do. A combination of pure faith in the process and a disdain for validation rivaling that seen in the FC community means that no one will check to see if the child's typing is real, influenced, or something in-between." "

"Iversen turned out to a lovely person, who shared more than two hours of her time to talk about her experiences, her hopes and her concerns. So far, she says, the scientific community has not leaped into deeper exploration of the phenomenon she describes in her book; the reason, she says, is skepticism.

That skepticism seems reasonable, since Tito, the autistic poet, has so far been unable to communicate at all when his mother is out of the room - and neither Tito nor Dov seem to be able to initiate or maintain conversation without a prompter available. These realities certainly raise questions in the minds of scientifically minded readers. While Iversen is absolutely certain that Soma's method is legitimate, even researchers affliated with Cure Autism Now have apparently passed on the opportunity to dig deeper into this apparently miraculous technique."

Mary Ann Harrington said...

Whether you speak of FC, Rapid Prompting, Supportive Typing or semi independent typing where the person with severe autism hits the keys with a partner nearby. I have done them all and being involved in the process has opened me to the extraordinary as whispered voices fluent and smooth
are heard simultaneously as they are typed upon a page.

Perhaps it is a merging of energy systems desiring an electromagnetic field where random thoughts coalesce and join neurological pathways currently in place for expression. It may be determined by what was and what continues to be in place. Unresolved issues of adorned structures can and will respond to to past thinking until a shift in belief creates an expanded form of reality.

A union between such partners can create a stream of thought beyond current levels of acceptance but not beyond those who have experienced the process. In truth with an open heart and an open min, It changes who you are. As a conspirator in messages transcribed, you become limitless in your assumptions of the magnitude of consciousness as described by the autistic mind that accesses these expanded fields at will and shares them with you. No one can limit you once you let go of all past assumptions and just transcribe what you hear and they type.

The only thing in question is authorship. It is shared, interdependent, expansive and awesome. It is not meant to be constrained by fitting the parameters of our currently acceptable limited way of thinking.

Instead of disproving, let catch up!