Sunday, July 17, 2011

Will research into mathematical ability be the salvation of autistics?

Gadfly has just read a shout-out by neurodiversity ideologue Michelle Dawson. Apparently, some researchers at Stanford University have received a research grant funded by the NIH to study mathematical skills in high functioning autistic children. Naturally, Dawson neglects to state that these are all high functioning individuals in the study. she quotes the studies objectives:

"The long-term goal of our research is to better understand mathematical, analytic and logical reasoning abilities, and their neurobiological bases, in children and adults with autism. Our proposed studies will provide the first and most detailed analysis of mathematical skills and problem solving abilities in children with autism. Characterizing potentially intact cognitive abilities and areas of relative strength in children with autism is profoundly important not only for defining and more fully characterizing the nature of autism but also for facilitating academic and professional success." (emphasis added)

In reading the source further from which Ms. Dawson quotes the researchers state about autism:

However, its altered developmental trajectory can also lead to cognitive strengths, particularly in the domains of mathematical and analytical problem solving.

The researchers then go on to contradict themselves stating:

Despite its importance, numerical and mathematical reasoning is a grossly understudied cognitive domain in ASD. Here, we propose to initiate the first systematic study of mathematical cognition in children with ASD, focusing initially on children with High Functioning Autism (HFA)

It is true, a small percentage of autistics have mathematical savant skills, but there is no evidence that this is the general case. I do know of the various studies of the raven's matrices done by Dawson and friends in which the control group was not a sample drawn from the general population but a self-selected sample of all males with IQs in the 70th percentile. I have seen that there are some studies showing sex differences in scores on raven's matrices, but i can't recall where. Also Isabelle Souleries study in which she engaged in a non-standard use of the Raven's as a timed test and only used high functioning individuals. No one, as far as I know have replicated their work on the Raven's with the higher functioning autistics. Sven Boelte's work has shown increases in lower functioning (those with IQs less than 85) scores in the Raven's but no effects in higher functioning. Kim Boddner's work (though not yet published but an IMFAR poster) has shown no effect of Raven's versus Weschler in higher functioning autistics.

I also know of the studies involving "attention to detail" whatever that means, superior scores on the embedded figures tests, and superior scores on the block design test of some autistics, though admittedly have not read these studies.

This is similar to the claims that Mottron made to secure his nearly half million dollar grant from autism speaks. That the results of his research would benefit autistics in that they would result in better employment and academic opportunities and better parenting for those with autism. To date, I have seen no evidence to suggest his work has resulted in these benefits for those with autism.

I suspect the Stanford researchers don't have autism themselves, have never spent a day in a special education school and have not been fired from multiple jobs. So, they really don't know what causes autistics to have these problems. Their claim that somehow these math abilities can be harnessed in these kids and help mitigate the problems of autism is offensive to me. Assuming mathematical strengths could be utilized, it is still not going to solve the behavioral and social deficits that exist in autism that would prevent them from achieving their academic potential in a regular education setting or help them with the behavioral and social problems that would impair their ability to get and keep a job.

Since apparently, this question has not yet been studied and as far as I can tell the authors show no evidence that high functioning autistics in general have these abilities, I will only be able to await and see the results of this study and the fruition it will bring.

Gadfly is happy to report though that some good may actually come from this study. Dawson writes:

Wonderful. Maybe I can retire now.

Yes, Michelle, please do. Then we won't have to be exposed to the mammoth chip you have on your shoulder when anyone dares to disagree with you. We won't have to hear about autistics are not write-offs because of the research you and your buddies do and all the other baloney. Also, maybe your buddies, Souleries, Mottron and Gernsbacher can retire along with you, then maybe we can get funding of some sane people who will actually try to mitigate or even cure this horrible disorder.


farmwifetwo said...

My eldest son's A's in math come from a Mother with a BSc in Engineering and a homeschooled during the summer redo of the Gr 3 curriculum.

No savant here... just a decent education by his Mother to fill in the holes left by the school system.

Roll's eyes....

Socrates said...

Save y'all a lot of huffin' an' a puffin' and a researchin'.

autistic traits --> good
autism --> bad.

Asperger said it all in 1943.

SM69 said...

I think this sort of research is more important to the field of cognition than it is to autism.

yes well summed up:

autistic traits --> good
autism --> bad.

..."In many cases the social problems are so profound that they overshadow everything else. In some cases, however, the problems are compensated by a high level of original thought and experience. This can often lead to exceptional achievements in later life."

Incredible that we still do not have any sort of prevalence studies regarding the various Autism sub-phenotypes. It is too convenient to lump all of these conditions together and the DSM-V will not help resolving this problem, other than it will cause the most successful and vocal AS people to desert the label all together. Perhaps we can then have more peace and focus on the more affected people.

This grouping of conditions under the A word is an oversimplification that gives a false sense of truth, it gives the illusion to these researchers, SBC included to actually work on Autism.

Kaj B. Genell said...

I Agree with SM69. While one cannot wait (!!!!) for science, - since one is living ( more or less ) here and now. It is extremely difficult to try to advice science too. I am a sceptic as to how science should be able to fix my day, as to how I should fix science tomorrow, and sceptic to anything should fix anything but the smallest of hints ...