Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thomas Armstrong's book on neurodiversity

Dr. Thomas Armstrong has a new book out with the offensive title Neurodiversity discovering the extraordinary gifts of autism ADHD, Dyslexia and other brain differences. This book has been given blurbs by two of the most august members of the neurodiversity movement, Ari Ne'eman and the grand dame of ND herself Kathleen Seidel.

I have just read the book and one of its most striking features is its predictability in certain areas. We are reminded that dyslexia would not be handicapping in an agrarian society, that in certain cultures schizophrenics would be shamans or medicine men, etc. It also deals with the flawed concept of conditions such as autism and schizophrenia remaining in the population due to evolutionary advantages. Like other nongeneticists Temple Grandin and Simon B-C, Armstrong neglects to take into account de novo mutations.

It deals with the idea that none of these multiple conditions would be disabling if one were to adapt to a certain environment, a concept that Armstrong calls 'niches'. We have the comparison of Spiders spinning webs and Beavers building dams as to how a person with autism or another neurodiverse condition can adapt to their environment. For example persons with autism are good with computers so they can move to the silicon valley and get an IT job. Armstrong claims that the prevalence of autism is greater in the silicon valley then in the general population. However we see that data from the CDDS contradict this notion. Of the 21 regional centers serving the CDDS in California we see that the San Andreas regional center ranked 9th out of 21 in the growth of autism prevalence, falling far behind the West Los Angeles regional center and the Lanterman regional center in central Los Angeles. Since the growth in the administrative prevalence of autism in the regional centers parallels the growth of the IT industry, these data could be considered relevant.

He steals Temple Grandin's thunder by listing jobs that are suitable for persons with various brain differences but neglecting to cite a single example of anyone with these conditions who was successfully employed in these occupations. This is in spite of the fact that Armstrong lists a 6% employment rate among autistics though I am not sure where he obtains this figure. This contradicts the 25% figure given by Joseph of the natural variation blog who also does not seem to know where he obtained his figure when questioned about it.

Amanda Baggs is also mentioned in the book Her "In my Language" video is extolled and she is compared to a professional percussionist. Computers and the internet are given as examples of successful niche construction on Amanda's part and Amanda is quoted as boasting that her caretakers would not be able to do what she does on the internet. However, Amanda's other video where she shows how much trouble she has with boiling water is not mentioned.

Armstrong states that for some reason that is not apparent to this blogger that Amanda's situation overturns tacit assumptions about autism. Interestingly, Armstrong neglects to discuss that Amanda up until she was a teenager had normal speech, went to a college for gifted children at age 14, had no behavior manifestations that would suggest anything remotely similar to autism as verified by many of her classmates and acquaintances. Apparently by a strange coincidence during a time when Amanda was ingesting in nearly daily doses of LSD for a lengthy period she had some sort of break and thought she was an elf and was diagnosed as schizophrenic rather than autistic. Then apparently was mysteriously diagnosed as autistic well in her 20s.

The studies showing that autistics have superior scores in certain tests such as embedded figures, block design, perfect pitch, etc. are also discussed. Armstrong implies that these studies refer to all autistic people and not necessarily a limited research pool whom would be considered high functioning. Also one wonders what sort of job or life skill or ability to adjust to the world high scores on these tests are correlated with. I score in the retarded range on block design so this would not apply to me. He gives savant musician Leslie Lemke, artist Stephen Wiltshire and Daniel Tammet's accomplishments as proof of autistic superiority, implying that just a few handful of people-these examples can be applied to many thousands if not more than a million worldwide.

He gives examples of how well suited an autistic person would be able to tell edible berries from a predator's eyes in a primitive society and how much rather he would be with someone constructing a spear or making a fire regardless of their social deficiencies. He does discount the possibility that motivational impairments might prevent these so-called systematizers as Baron-Cohen calls them from applying their skills. Of course exception to rule Temple Grandin is listed as an example of this. No matter that most persons on the spectrum are not like that and are probably not too employable.

Armstrong then gives examples of the studies that two members of Laurent Mottron's research team, Michelle Dawson and Isabelle Soulieres showing how autistics could be lifted out of the intellectually impaired classrooms based on the published studies of these two exemplary researchers. He cites Dawson's study where autistics scored much higher on Raven's matrices than the Wechsler and Souleries' study where autistics are able to do Raven's matrices 40% faster than non-autistic controls.

He neglects to mention the methodologic problems of these two studies Dawson excluded autistics with known genetic conditions which would probably mean at least 10% of all autistics. If this percentage were applied to autistics with intellectual disabilities, the percentage would likely be even higher. There was a 12:1 male/female ratio in her study as opposed to 4:1 in the general population of autistics. At least some of these autistics were high functioning with nearly normal intelligence, even though there were some low functioning persons who scored much or at least substantially higher on the Raven's than on the Wechsler.

Though Dawson et. al. implied that their control group in the study was neurotypical, this was hardly the case. Rather than being representative of the general population of non-autistics they were a self-selected sample recruited from a newspaper ad whose average score on the Wechsler was 75th percentile, sorry but an average of 75th percentile of any population is certainly not typical. It presented a comparison of one atypical group to another atypical group.

To date, Dawson's work has not been replicated. In fact there are two at least partial nonreplications, one by Sven Boelte. Though some persons in Boelte's study did have a higher RPM score than Wechsler the effect was much less pronounced than in Dawson's study and was limited to lower functioning autistics with IQs less than 85. There was no effect on the higher functioning group. Kim Boddner has also done an IMFAR presentation showing that there is no difference on Wechsler's vs. Raven's in relatively high functioning autistics whose IQs are 85 or higher.

In spite of this Souleries, in an act of statistical legerdemain, based her study on the fact that this effect existed in high functioning autistics in spite of the two nonreplications. One reason, of course that Souleries did not use lower functioning persons in her research was likely due to noncompliance issues which would cause artifacts on an MRI scan, which was part of her study. She stated the superiority of Raven's versus Wechsler in higher IQ autistics as fact rather than a statement of contention. Her use of speed in the Raven's was also nonstandard as it is not a timed test.

Though the book clearly has a pro neurodiversity perspective, one wonders would at least one of the two blurbees, namely Ne'eman be happy with this book. The answer is no, because Armstrong does concede that autism, schizophrenia and other conditions do present grave problems for the individuals affected. We have seen from the meticulous documentation on autism's gadfly that Ne'eman most likely does not even believe that autism is a disability.

Armstrong also seems to deviate from some of the other tenets of the ND movement, at least as it applies to autism, though not necessarily some of the other neurodiverse conditions such as schizophrenia or affective "differences". He uses Howard Gardner's "Frames of Mind" book to show how different people can have different intelligences. He speculates that dysfunctions in the limbic system but other areas being intact in an autistic could lead to them having superior math skills yet significant social deficits. The ND belief is that autism is not limited to just some parts of the brain but that the autistic brain is hardwired from birth and that to cure a person of autism would be killing them as a human being. In fact neurodiversity hatemonger, the late "Alyric" once called me Jonathan I want to destroy myself Mitchell because of my longing for a cure for this horrible affliction.

He also writes some interesting things about special education, stuff about kids being bullied, having low self-esteem due to having to be in special education and the stories of physical abuse of children in special education schools. I experienced all these first-hand growing up as a special education student throughout the 1960s, so indeed this did resonate with me.

He discusses how special education should be changed so that the emphasis is on strengths rather than on deficits but is rather vague on how this could be accomplished. For example he just goes as far as telling how it would be good to tell a student how helpful they are in cleaning up a lunch room or how well they sing in a musical performance. He also advocates a "neurodiverse classroom" where instead of one teacher teaching an entire class there would be multiple teachers and aides and specialized accommodations involving specialized personnel to help with mobility or signing issues. Armstrong really does neglect to tell how the tab would be picked up for all these goodies given the fact that local school districts have such difficulty in providing funding for special education as it is and the nearly complete neglect of the federal government doing so, since contrary to popular belief the IDEA is an unfunded mandate with no legal obligation to provide funding by the federal government.

Ironically Armstrong talks about combating "ableism" and implies that a large part of the problem for persons with neurologic impairments in the workplace is this prejudice. Though I don't deny prejudice does exist I had a disability that impaired my performance in the workplace, though I did work sporadically with marginal success. Though my intelligence was more than intact I could not be in a regular education classroom as a young child due to behavioral issues.

I have to wonder if Armstrong ever reads any of the neurodiversity blogs or the comments section of the blogs. I don't see how anyone who does so cannot come to an alternative conclusion that the neurodiversity crowd are among the greatest "ableists" of all. From the condescending ridicule I received from Alyric regarding my special education experiences, from the mocking of my mediocre college performance by hatemonger David Andrews who was the one who encouraged Baron-Cohen to write that despicable essay on how high functioning autism should not be considered a disability and Andrews trying to show how superior he was to me because I could not do as well academically as he did or get a masters degree and hang out my shingle and practice, even in a very foreign country like Finland as he has done. Don't forget the cheap shots at my celibacy made by "Socrates" who in spite of being unemployed and homeless seems to imply that he is God's gift to women. Last but not least is the vicious hate I receive routinely from Clay Adams who was able to serve in the Navy, be gainfully employed in various contracting jobs, often being the lead man on crews and was able to get married and support two children. Bigotry and ableism are certainly pervasive on many of the hub blogs past and present.

The bottom line is, whatever assets persons with autism allegedly have, the social deficits produce either a zero sum or negative gain in functioning. I think this is proven by the relatively high functioning persons who are part of the autism hub and various ND cliques. This is something for Armstrong to think about.


Unknown said...

Jonathan thank you for the heads up about this Neurononsense.

jonathan said...

you are most welcome, Harold

Anonymous said...

"We have the comparison of Spiders spinning webs and Beavers building dams as to how a person with autism or another neurodiverse condition can adapt to their environment."

LOL!!!! Exactly! Armstrong definately needs a lesson from my speech-language pathologist. :D

What Armstrong and others need to learn is that people from Neurodiversity sound as selfish and ignorant as the general population of the disabled this comedian imitates:

Unknown said...

Somebody likes to look for reasons to be contrary all the time. Way to go!

jonathan said...

Talking about yourself again, eh my dear Chelsea.

farmwifetwo said...

Somebody take the "Hub" and reprint it into a book??

The stereotypes are annoying... from one parent who's children are not savants in music, art nor computers. Just average.

Anonymous said...

"Somebody take the "Hub" and reprint it into a book??"

I was thinking the exact same thing. Perhaps Armstrong cannot find other ways to make more money due to his feigned psychology practice?

SM69 said...

Is there any mention of the proposed changes with the DSM-V in this book?

It is expected that many of the most brilliant AS/HFA people will no longer have a label. SBC will find himself at the end of his career contemplating a range of studies conducted on people who no longer have a diagnosis. Some have said that he would not even be seriously affected, opting instead for an early retirement and holding onto the view that he has contributed all he could to this field. Unless of course he suddenly changes side, endorsing what others the issues others have tried to raise as if they were is. His empire would allow this to happen. Similarly, the NAS is now endorsing dietary modification after claiming it has no benefit. People change side as they may fit.

I have not seen that many people in the autism field being sufficiently opened. Those parents you are referring to Roger are focused on vaccine issues because they are convinced this is what has happened to their child. And they are angry. And they will not budge until they receive a thorough, honest and convincing answer. That there are other types of autism is not a question they have really considered and are interested in. This is what a parent does isn’t it, to fight for your child?

The ND people are not able to see autism in any other ways as a romantic concept. That autism could be associated with severe debilitating issues and inability to function unassisted is also not something they want to consider. Every time they are reminded of this reality, they turn away, pretending there is no problem.

As for those endorsing the Gadfly’s views, perhaps, we could say, they do not appear to appreciate that to promote of positive image of autism, as long as it remains realistic, actually has many positive benefits to the individuals and their family.

And amongst all of these, there are those who are adamant that their own theory is the one that is correct and explains it all. Genetic, broca area, mirror neurons, amygdala, brain stem, hippocampus,organophosphate, methylation issues, oxydative stress, auto-immune, heavy metals etc etc.

The Autism Carnival.

Anonymous said...

"It also deals with the flawed concept of conditions such as autism and schizophrenia remaining in the population due to evolutionary advantages. Like other nongeneticists Temple Grandin and Simon B-C, Armstrong neglects to take into account de novo mutations."

...and neglect to take into account arranged marriages (enabling people without social skills to still reproduce), customs of telling one's kids to stop caring about friendship and shut up and study (creating a home environment in which having social skills and wanting to make friends is a disadvantage), strict hierarchies based on ancestry (enabling people to get rank and power regardless of whether or not they have social skills), etc.

Anonymous said...

"and how much rather he would be with someone constructing a spear or making a fire regardless of their social deficiencies."

Not even if that someone were deficient in the area of social skills he or she would need to not stab him with that spear or set him ablaze with that fire?

SM69 said...

Kev, I will certainly not be involved in discussing issues of vaccination here. I respect your views, and suggest you consider being tolerant of the one of others. Are you afraid that opinions could be diverging? Autism is such a varied range of conditions with no one single answer to it, views are better represented as global and inclusive with tolerance and knowledge.

Autism can be associated with very severe difficulties and to ignore this reality has no benefit what so ever. What we want is a positive attitude and the right services in place. Show me any ND people or group able to put in place true support and services to autism towards all their ASD people and I’ll reconsider the view that overall a lack grounded realism is unhelpful.

SM69 said...

A further thought on the view ND has on autism. Why not promote a positive image that is real? Why should there be attributes shared by so few to represent autism, savant skills, higher intelligence etc? Surely real views are more likely in the longer term to offer real assistance. Propagating clich├ęs can only bring deceit. Autism should represents itself for what it is. Equally those working with autism should not solely focused on the high functioning cases. I can recall meeting both workers and professionals who are so proud of working with autism, yet, evidently, they show total disrespect if not disdain to those who are more affected and challenging.

The ND/ ASAN movement could get inspired by what ARC does for example, that would be a little more helpful in my views.

jonathan said...

Maybe you could provide an example of me (for example) ignoring this reality?

I know Kev asked Lorene and not me, but I hope he does not mind if I give him the Ari Ne'eman example:

Yes, we are autistics living in a neurotypical society. Undoubtedly, that brings about certain pressures and problems. But if we are to demand equal legitimacy, if we are to assert that a “cure” is not only unnecessary and undesirable but also morally reprehensible

The belief was that anyone society labeled "disabled" could only go so far. Sadly, these misconceptions had the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecies. When the expectation is that people of a certain type can only reach so far, they are not provided with the same challenges and opportunities that educators give mainstreamed students....

We should recognize what diversity of neurology has contributed to the human race and what it can bring to the future. Difference is not disability and someday, I hope, the world will recognize that those who think in different ways should be welcomed.

After gadfly called out Ne'eman on these words when Kev's friend Sullivan was claiming Ne'eman never said autism was not a disability, Ne'eman edited his essay and then later deleted altogether from the ASAN site.

Sullivan has supported Ari Ne'eman for confirmation to the NDC and IACC, as do most members of the ND movement. This says it all to me. It is very clear that ND does not believe that autism is a disability (at least by association with Ne'eman) that autism is a sociologic problem and not a medical one.

jonathan said...

Also Ne'eman has said that curing autism would be morally reprehensible, so apparently providing a cure for this medical condition that Kev acknowledges causes so many problems is a bad thing.

SM69 said...

Hi Kev

I am glad Jonathan answered for me, because I was going to say, anyone here please step in! There are many examples that have been reported on various blogs to suggest that ASAN disregards those ASD people who are more affected, and are not opened to a true and positive support to this community as a whole. Their position on the JRC issue is also of some concerns. Same report on the Autreat group/ Jim Sinclair which Jonathan covered recently. I have also met with Jim Sinclair and can confirm that he is not interested in providing true help to autistic people, but rather to promote this idealistic view of what the condition is, another way of being, a personality trait. This brings me to our most famous or infamous UK autism researcher, SBC, who also is totally ignoring the lower functioning side of the spectrum. And what should we say of the NAS...? Have a look at their magazine and you'll get the answer. So examples are numerous and many AS people and parents of more affected children have been involved in various disputes on this issue.

Regarding the vaccine stuff, I actually did not really raise it. I only said there parents who Roger criticised have concerns and they want answers, honest and thorough. I have heard their stories and they are indeed concerning. Anyone who is non-bias and open-minded should actually pay attention to these. But I agree, anyone, (irrespectively of the topic, religious, what ever) who is extra focused on one narrow issue, disregarding the broader picture and propagating views that are not fully established, or merely their views, as these were absolute truths is somewhat irritating and not really all that helpful. But I can excuse this, in the case of these parents, because I know what they have experienced, and it equals to a trauma. And that does not get healed without major repair being done. Do, you see what I trying to explain?

SM69 said...


Funny exchange developing here… you do or do not want to talk about it? Because you have even though you said you have not… or should we summarize this with this question: do you know, that I know, that you know? Are we talking about anything that is important here? I am afraid no, arguing for the sake of it. So what?

I don’t need to explain what I said, it was pretty clear, and I don’t think we have failed to answer your questions on the ND crowd. Maybe they have, at times, when it was politically beneficial, acknowledged that autism can be a difficult condition, but more often than not, when autism is not so shinny, they turn a blind eye and they don’t really care to represent the voice of the fuller spectrum. They don’t want to look at what these other autistic people might need. They look very narcissistically at their own image, and the glossier the better.

But if you think the ND views has helped autism in some concrete and measurable ways, perhaps you can tell us how?

Kent Adams said...

Kev stated: "Regarding people from ND saying that autism is not associated with severe difficulties/disabilities I ask you simply to provide a quote/evidence etc that this is so. Since you believe it so sincerely, "

Would you like me to supply you with the quotes, how about some audio and video of Ari Ne'eman saying this exact thing or perhaps just an easy link to an Autism Hub approved blog?

SM69 said...

Hi Kev

Since you want to know my opinion on vaccines, why don't you confirm your identity, so we play fair?


Kent Adams said...

"Sure Kent, that'd be great.

Lorene, my name is Kev Leitch. I own and run Left Brain/Right Brain"

Before I post what you want, send me an email from your youtube account to mine. I believe you are an imposter.

Kent Adams said...

Kev, I'd be happy to supply you with the outtakes of my interview with Mr. Ne'eman. Send me your private email through YouTube and I'll send you a link to view a the private video.

SM69 said...

Thanks Kev

Yes you are the person I thought you were. First of all, let me complement you for your entertaining briefly appearing Xmas video. That kind of thing is always fun ☺!

So, in response to your question: No I don’t want to talk about vaccination issues.


But since you have asked, I have written a post on my blog that address your queries.

Kent Adams said...

"If thats wrong then post what you have publicly for all to see."

I was requested that this not be made public by Ari (ask him yourself), therefore the private link.

I guess you are simply an imposter. I'm through with this thread as we have hijacked it which is unfair to Jonathan.

Kev/Santa Baby, (if this is you) go back on your meds. You're having a manic phase and do something about your website. Worst coding job I've ever seen.

Kent Adams said...

Hey Santa Baby,

Show some class and get Ari's permission. I have some juicy bits with Ari talking smack about you and others. All you have to do is show some class and get him to approve the release of this information. Or are you scared to be handed your ass?

I emailed Ari asking for permission. He has denied it.

SM69 said...

And no discussion about vaccines? OK :)

But did you realize I wrote a blood post for you on my blog and it took me 2hr to write the damn thing. and I did this because Jonathan does not like my long verbose writing and I thought I should not offend him with more. Heck, you've got to read the bloody thing!

Kent Adams said...

And I'm really sorry my coding offends - maybe you could point out a section which is particularly bad?

The entire template, which you appropriated and tried to make your own has errors throughout it and doesn't load efficiently. I expect that you can adequately test it against various browsers. Or perhaps not. Call an expert if you are having problems.

Meantime, back to your vaccine talk, while your daughter languishes with her disability and you as a man and father do very little to enlighten the world short of your Jenny McCarthy posts and your standing feud with another cult, the Age of Autism.

SM69 said...

My post does no fit within the gadfly requirements in lenght and the links are not maintained with a straight copy paste. To visit my blog is just one click away-

I understand you prefer declining a dialogue. It does not exactly suprise me or bother me in any way.

Kent Adams said...

"I understand you prefer declining a dialogue. It does not exactly suprise me or bother me in any way."

Mr. Leitch is still stuck in the anger stage of the 5 stages of grief. He isn't quite ready yet to dialogue with anyone. He heavily scrubs the comments on his blog yet feels comfortable calling people names when they cannot respond. He is less mature than my 7 year old ASD child.

SM69 said...

As for as Ari Ne’eman’s interviews, you are wrong here again. I have watched some of these on YT and I am afraid, you have not got the full picture either on him, or ASAN or the ND movement. Ari is a politician, that’s all. If he cared for low functioning people, for autism as a whole, it would be obvious in his actions. If autism was seen in his eyes as a serious condition, he would be acting a lot more clearly towards improving it, detection diagnosis, intervention, services. What he is doing exactly? None of that, the ND ideas are insufficient to help autism.

One thing you have in common with him, though as a politician, he has a lot more style and subtleties to his persona that you could ever get, but one thing you both do routinely, is to distort the reality of autism, and to go quite aggressively to remove, and even destroy dissident opinions that challenge your views.

I think you presented as a much more likeable person in this Santa baby video of yours, though admittedly that too was rather ridiculous, but maybe you missed a life opportunity there, maybe, at least that way, you would have been amusing others.

SM69 said...


Having had the opportunity to visit your bogs, may I ask, what exactly do you do in autism that helps? It is not transparent at all.

What is it that you have not yet understood?

That there are services out there, interventions and treatments that help autistic people? You have not got any of that, and I can only guess that the main reason is that somehow, you have been incapable of providing this to your daughter. To cover your guilt of missing supporting her, you have to distort the reality of what can be achieved today. Of course, in addition, you might also present with the typical characteristics of having highly restricted interest with some difficulties in seeing the fuller picture. This is combined with some limitation in social communication skills.

Kent Adams said...

So far all you've done is make up a story you can neither reference nor establish as in any way true

Your logic is odd. I told you the delivery method I can use, but you refuse it, but continue to comment on it. I suppose you don't want to see it, hear it etc. That's up to you.

"As for anger, not me Kent :) you stir up a tired kind of indifference in me :) "

I don't think that's true. If you were indifferent, you wouldn't be continually checking this blog so you can have the last word. You wouldn't be scrubbing comments ( hiding like a coward.) You'd verify that I've been instructed (by implied threat) not to make this material public. You have Ari's email. Email him and get his permission then all is good. I know for a fact Ari reads this blog. If he wanted to dispel this, he could have simply emailed me or given the go ahead.

In the time it took you to type all these comments, you could have viewed and listened to the tapes long ago. There is a reason you haven't. Its anger. Its the manic cycle your going through. See a doctor.