Saturday, February 18, 2012

autism in the workplace: Ne'eman's at it again

I've previously written about Ari Ne'eman, an individual in his early 20s who has never had paid employment. In spite of his total lack of experience working, he seems to feel qualified to give input on solving the problems of unemployment among persons with autism.

As I mentioned before, one of Ne'eman's solutions was to eliminate social pleasantry as a hiring criteria or use it to evaluate an individual's work performance. Any individual who has spent even the briefest time in any workplace knows having good social skills is necessary to be and stay employed. No employer or fellow co-workers are going to overlook poor social skills and be patient with an autistic person who shouts at them, makes inappropriate comments or gropes women in the workplace. As John Robison pointed out in the comments section, no amount of legislation is ever going to change this.

It seems that Mr. Ne'eman is at it again, giving a presentation at the autism works conference on how people with autism can get and keep jobs.

It appears, in spite of my blog post, he has not given up on this idea. He presents a concept he refers to as "social architecture", borrowing from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The analogy he uses is the legal requirement that ramps be required for persons who use wheel chairs and in the same vein, autistics poor social skills can be accommodated in the workplace.

However, this apples to hurricanes analogy indeed falls flat. Social skills aren't walking and mobility. There is no way that the autistics' faux pas can be accommodated for in the workplace as mentioned above. Ne'eman seems quite vague in how this can be done. He does not seem to provide any specific analogy for wheel chair ramps, because there isn't one. There is no treatment that can mitigate the persons social skills. All the wishful thinking in the world on Ne'eman's part isn't going to make society overlook them.

Another issue, is that lack of social ability is probably not the largest factor in an autistics' inability to obtain employment. The impairments that prevented me from concentrating on work also lead to my termination from various positions. The fact that I and others like myself are too impaired to get adequate education and training for most jobs is yet another major issue. Ne'eman and other members of ASAN with virtually no work experience don't address these issues at all in their programs to help autistics find and keep jobs.

Ne'eman is also developing a resume bank designed for college graduates on the spectrum. However, I wonder about the percentage of autistics who actually graduate college with a four year degree. I strongly suspect it's quite low. Even for those high-functioning enough to obtain this education, there may not be much on a resume that is of use as most of them are quite young and don't have much experience in the career they're trying to pursue. Ne'eman is approaching a variety of private firms and attempting to address the issues of social barriers---the only comment I have is good luck in that endeavor.

Also, the mortgage company Freddie Mac has apparently entered into an agreement with ASAN to provide internships for those on the spectrum, Interestingly, Ne'eman is claiming these internships are paid positions, which seems odd as usually interns are people who volunteer in order to get experience.

It's interesting the neurodiversity movement would pick an organization that with its encouragement of subprime interest loans to persons who could never afford houses likely helped caused the largest economic crisis since the great depression. This organization (along with its sister Fannie Mae)went broke and cost the taxpayers more than 170 billion bucks in a bailout that has never been paid back. Gee, ASAN, you sure now how to pick a winner. I suspect an association with Freddie mac would be a liability on someone's resume, not an asset as Ne'eman is claiming, though I suppose I might be wrong about that.

As an individual on the spectrum who had great difficulty in the workplace, I resent Ne'eman discussing issues which he himself has no personal experience or knowlege. I don't believe it's productive for individuals to put up a conference offering simplistic solutions to real and hard problems.

I wish Ne'eman would go out and get a real job and actually get some life experience and work experience before trying to propose remedies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Study finds autism affects motor skills

It was with interest that I read about a new study showing that autism affects motor skills. Claudia Hilton and John Constantino of the University of Washington studied many children with autism on standardized tests of motor performance. They found that motor skills were saliently lacking in the vast majority of children they studied.

This relates to my own life as I have fairly bad motor impairments myself. I did not learn how to tie my shoes until age 8, and had great difficulty in performing this. Though I can print somewhat legibly with great effort, I still have a handwriting impairment and my scrawl looks very much like "brain-damaged" writing. I still remember in the early 1960s when I saw a variety of handwriting tutors and had to have my recess taken away for a brief time to find time to give me extra help in this area. I also had tutoring in perceptual motor skills designed to help these problems but to no avail. I have difficulty wrapping presents and other fine skilled movements. However, my ability to type is more than intact.

I wondered if this was part of my autism as I had read about Stephen Wiltshire, Temple Grandin and others with extraordinary fine motor skills. To this day, I have never met a person, autistic or otherwise, who has a "fine motor coordination problem" as I have. I had read that autistic persons generally score higher on the performance part of the Wechsler IQ test than on the verbal portion. With myself, the opposite is true, where there is about a 40 point discrepancy between my relatively high verbal IQ and low performance IQ. Some studies, such as the ones done by the Mottron group and Uta Frith as well as others, show that at least some autistics have superior ability in the block design test on the Wechsler performance. I score in the retarded range on this. So, I have wondered if there was a subtype of autism involving poor motor skills. It would appear, from this study, that I'm not the only one.

The authors of this study speculate that the brain processes that give rise to motor coordination and social skills are controlled by a common area. It's possible that the frontal lobes are a candidate as they mediate the mirror neuron areas which could be involved in social judgement. In a previous post I wrote about parallels in autism and frontotemporal dementia which included poor social skills. So, I have to wonder if this could be key to the etiology of my problems.

Some of the motor and perceptual impairments I have also exist in adult patients with lesions of the right hemisphere of the parietal lobes called constructional apraxia. However, I might not have this as Eric Courchesne pointed out to me that adult lesions and developmental lesions might have different etiologies. When their research group did an MRI scan on me, they found I had hypoplasia of lobules VI and VII of the cerebellar vermis as compared to a normal control. This could explain my good typing motor coordination. Perhaps if the cerebellar damage occurs early enough it won't affect some of the autistics motor performance. However, in light of this recent study, I wonder if the cerebellum could be involved. Though, I'm not sure if it is involved in social judgement.

What Courchesne told me may have been slightly contradicted in a study done in the 1970s by Ralph Maurer and Antonio Demasio showing parallels between autism and problems in adult neurology patients with frontal lobe and basal ganglia impairments.

The basal ganglia are other brain areas that are involved in motor performance.

The reticular formation is another. In 1964, Bernard Rimland speculated that this area may be involved in autism. I don't think there is any empirical evidence to back that up.

It was somewhat of a relief to read about this study, as it means I may not be as atypical an autistic as I thought. Knowing about motor impairments may someday give me a clue to the etiology of my problems. I await further research.

Friday, February 10, 2012

interesting parallels between FTD and autism

It was with interest that I read an article in today's L.A. times about frontotemporal dementia. The man described in the article had a variety of social judgment impairment problems. When he stood in line behind a tattooed woman he said loudly, "Wow, that's a lot of tattoos." He would wander into property with no trespassing signs. This condition, also called 'Pick's disease', is similar to Alzheimer's in that it is caused by the buildup of proteins in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain resulting in the degeneration of neurons in these areas. Alzheimer's usually happens in the area of the hippocampus and surrounding areas where it affects memory. FTD happens in a different area of the brain, thusly producing different types of manifestations and symptoms.

Upon looking at yet another website. It appears that some other symptoms can be inability to speak, echolalia and lack of emotional warmth.

I can't help but seeing some of the parallels between this condition and autism. Of course, this may be superficial. Those who believe that mercury could be the cause of autism have tried to demonstrate that there are similarities between the symptoms of those two conditions. Others, such as Karin Nelson and Margaret Bauman, have disputed these showing there are differences as well.

I have to wonder if what is known about FTD could open the door into resolving the mysteries of the etiology of autism. I'm interested in knowing exactly what have caused the myriad of problems and disability that I've had in my life.

A variety of research has suggested that autism could be caused by problems in the frontal lobes of the brain, particularly the most recent autopsy study published by Courchesne, et. al. I wrote about this research and the relationship to my life about a few months ago. Also, the data from the mirror neuron research done by Marco Iacoboni, Mirella Depratto(sp?) and others have also suggested frontal lobe involvement. Based on other frontal lobe impairments this area of the brain could be considered a good candidate, as it is where Broca's area, which generates spontaneous speech is located. Also, the frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning.

I think the temporal lobes have been implicated in the etiology also but I'm not as familiar with this area. I do remember the Kluver-Bucy syndrome in monkeys whose temporal lobes were removed and the social problems and aggression it caused.

A problem with this line of thinking is that developmental impairments may be different than adult impairments. I asked Eric Courchesne about this when I first met him back in 1989. At the time, their research showing the hypoplasia of lobules VI and VII of the cerebellar vermis was making news. If the cerebellum were responsible for the problems of autistics, I wondered why they would have intact motor systems much of the time. His answer was that if the damage occurred early enough, it would not affect the motor abilities of persons with autism. Developmental lesions were different than adult lesions.

I have a bad handwriting and fine motor coordination problems, but my ability to type and do other types of motor activities is intact. These problems are sort of similar to the constructional apraxias of adults that have had lesions in the right hemisphere of the parietal lobe. A cerebellar impairment would not explain my ability to type fast unless what Courchesne said about the differences between developmental and adult lesions were true.

After I read Marco Iacoboni's book, I contacted him and wondered why if mirror neurons were deficient in persons with autism, why didn't someone with Broca's aphasia from a stroke develop autistic-like behaviors. I wondered if it were because developmental lesions were different than adult lesions. He responded stating that this could possibly be the case and also that the frontal lobes were just one part of the mirror neuron system so this could be a reason as well.

My disability has made it too difficult for me to apply myself and study neuroscience as extensively as I want to. Even if it didn't, I guess no one really knows exactly what causes autism.

The article about the frontotemporal dementia in today's times was quite intriguing. I was interested in reading about Stuart Bryant's problems. There did seem to be some parallels with autism, though I suppose it may not provide a clue about my problems or what is wrong with myself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Occupy neurodiversity: A younger generation autist comes up with a winner!

I'd like to give a shoutout to teenaged antineurodiversity blogger
Oliver Canby's latest post in which he draws an excellent analogy to the occupy wall street movement to demonstrate the problems that those of us who'd like a cure for our autism face.

Though I don't agree with all of Oliver's statements, particularly a call for violence if necessary, nor will I be contributing $500.00 to his cause or soliciting donations of my own, I believe this post deserves commentary.

For years some of the members of the neurodiversity movement have made the statement that most autistics don't want to be cured.
Wrong planet founder, Alex Plank has been at the head of the pack in this regard. He even has the motto "autism is good" on his website.

While I won't claim most autistics want to be cured or give an exact number of 99%, there are certainly a good many autistics who are not represented by neurodiversity. It is likely many of these who can't speak or head bang would like a cure.

Many persons on the spectrum are too low functioning or would not have the inclination to write a blog post trying to dispute neurodiversity. Many parents who are working hard, fighting for services and other help for their kids just don't have the time to blog and refute what the ND's say.

Many if not the majority of ND's are young college students or even younger teenagers who have time on their hands with very little responsibilities. They are not encumbered from being able to rant and rave and spread their evil message. So, though the numbers may not be exact, the analogy between the top 1% and bottom 99% rings true.

It is wrong for Alex Plank, Michael John Carley, Dawn Prince and others to speak on our behalf. They have no way of knowing what percent of autistics support neurodiversity and which don't. There is a good chance that a silent majority does believe autism is not a trivial condition and wish for a cure--including the majority of those on the spectrum themselves.

I have no job, can't get anything done during the day and have very little social interaction and I'm in the bottom 99%.

Though not easy, I'll do what I can to combat neurodiversity. Hopefully someday there will be a cure for autism or a way to prevent a child from becoming autistic. No, I'm not talking about abortion.

I hope the time will come when neurodiversity is exposed for the fringe movement that they are and the 99% of us whose impairments make it difficult to fight back will allow our message to be heard by the media.