Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is neurodiversity's 92% figure accurate?

One of the main tenets of the neurodiversity movement is that the desire to cure autism and research in that direction will result in prenatal testing and wide scale abortion of autistic fetuses.  They allege the goal of Autism Speaks, The Simon's Foundation and others is to use this to deliberately eliminate autistic people from the human race.  Amanda Baggs and her friends on have a tasteless cartoon showing an aborted fetus in a trashcan with the initials CAN embolded on it, indicating that Cure Autism Now, Autism's Speaks predecessor, had this goal in mind.  For this reason, ASAN's leader and Obama appointee Ari Ne'eman has called for a moratorium on all genetic research in autism. 

They cite a figure claiming that 92% of all fetuses with Down's syndrome are subsequently aborted.  Where does this figure come from and how truly accurate is it?  The main source for this statistic seems to be a study  from King's college in London done by Mansfield et. al using figures from the 1980s.  A few other studies have shown similar conclusions with percentages ranging from 80-92%.

According to one source I found,  there have been regional variations in some of the other studies done trying to answer this question.  The various studies have limitations in that they are done in just small areas in various parts of the world and may not be generalizable to all woman pregnant with Down's fetuses in the U.S.A. 

However, the 80-92% rate was not all Down's fetuses but just those who actually underwent prenatal screening.  The 80-92% rate is clearly a selective sample of woman who underwent testing because they would contemplated aborting the trisomy 21 child in the first place.

Bristol Palin, whose youngest brother has Down's, at one time also cited the same figure that activists in the neurodiversity movement use.  She recently corrected the record thanks to Amy Julia Becker, the mother of a Down's daughter who states:

I  just read Bristol’s post about babies who are born with DS being one of the 8%. I love the poem she includes, and I think her point is an important one. Still, I’ve learned recently that it’s an inaccurate number. It’s widely cited by many people, but it’s based on a single study from a single hospital in the 1980′s. Overall, it seems that about 70% of babies prenatally diagnosed with DS are aborted, and that the abortion rates vary greatly from region to region across the US. Moreover, lots of women don’t seek prenatal diagnosis, whether out of ignorance or because they don’t want to risk an amnio or because they don’t think the information is necessary. So out of all babies conceived with DS, 50% are actually born.

So, this figure that ND activists routinely trot out to bolster their crusade against a cure for autism is questionable.  I don't know the exact rate of all Down's syndromes babies that are actually aborted.  However, it's clear that it's not the 90 percent or more who just get the prenatal testing.  This is clearly a misrepresentation on Ne'eman's part and those who think as he does.

This is aside from the fact that autism is not Down's syndrome and they are two different conditions that prospective parents would likely take different attitudes toward.  I doubt there is any way that the ND movement can extrapolate  the true rate of abortion of autistics would be from whatever the number is for Down's is given the hypothetical that such a prenatal test for autism existed.

I realize that neurodiversity proponents will state that even a 50% abortion rate is high.  This is not to say that I believe that even coin-flip rate of abortion for Down's syndrome is acceptable, only that ND's should use accurate information if they want to engage in propaganda and fear mongering tactics.  

Bristol Palin corrected the record.  Perhaps it's time that Ari Ne'eman, ASAN and other ND proponents do so also.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New study shows high unemployment among young autists

According to a recent study by Paul Shattuck, one out of every three young adults with autism has no paid employment or college or technical education seven years after high school.  This contradicts what Joseph and"The autistic bitch from hell" have stated in the past where they claimed the Brugha study done in England showed there was no unemployment problem among autistics and they were employed in the same manner as non-handicapped people.  As well as Joseph's projected rate of 70% employment among autistics.  As well as other members of the neurodiversity movement who purport that autistics aren't a burden on the economy because autists Bill Gates and Stephen Spielberg are billionaires who contribute far more in taxes and revenue than most neurotypicals.   

The study used data from the 2007-2008 period, before the financial crisis hit.  Therefore, this study is likely a gross understatement of what the problem is today if current figures had been used.   

Autism speaks apparently helped partially fund this study.  Autism speaks executive Peter Bell weighed in as well.  This person, if I am not mistaken has a 19-year-old son on the moderate and severe end of the spectrum and the family is spending money and time preparing him to face the cruel world.  Peter Bell maintains a friendship with John and Jack Robison and Alex Plank and helped fund Autism talk TV.  Plank has stated that it's a good thing Mr. Bell's son is crippled and sick, so I wonder why Bell would maintain a friendship with these people and help fund this endeavor that does nothing to help persons with autism. 

Ari Ne'eman, an individual in his early 20's who has never had paid employment has stated the solution is to eliminate social pleasantry as a criteria for hiring people and evaluating their job performance.

This is a problem that unfortunately leads to no quick and easy fix.  I wish I had a solution myself, but unfortunately I don't.  I had to struggle in the workplace myself and after nearly twenty-eight years of hell I had to retire at a young age.

How the ND movement can say autistic people are fine the way they are and how this is not a problem I don't have an inkling of a clue.  I know.  My authorship of this post proves that I am against human and civil rights for persons with autism, as are all other persons who oppose the neurodiversity movement and long for a cure.  I realize I'm violating the civil and human rights of autistics by even writing this post.  So it goes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do I have too many Von Economo neurons

Today, I read an interesting post in the neurocritic's blog about a type of brain cell called a spindle cell or Von Economo cell. The blog entry stated that one of the areas these cells are located in is in the frontal area of the brain.  Recent research has indicated an excessive number of neurons in the dorsofrontal cortex of some postmortem autistic brains.  Also, apparently, there is destruction of these cells in frontotemporal dementia.  In a recent post, I wrote about parallels between FTD and autism.  

Naturally these made me wonder if these cells might somehow be involved in autism.  I asked the neurocritic and he replied:  jonathan - There have been speculations that VENs might be involved in autism, but conflicting studies have found greater, fewer, or the same number of VENs. Kind of hard to interpret that. Allman et al. said:

"There are many features of autism that suggest that the VENs may be involved in this disorder. An initial stereological study of the number of VENs in area FI in four autistic subjects plus controls did not confirm this conjecture. However, a second stereological study of VENs in dorsal ACC in nine autistic subjects plus controls found that the autistic subjects fell into two groups, one with significantly higher numbers of VENs than controls, and the other with significantly fewer VENs than controls. Thus the controls occupied a middle zone with little overlap with the high or low VEN autism groups."

When in doubt, postulate distinct subgroups.

Until recently, it was believed that these cells only existed only in humans along with a few other highly evolved primates.  Neurocritic's post dealt with a recent finding of these cells in a lower primate, macaque monkeys.  It has been subsequently discovered that these cells are also found in elephants and some whales, apparently only in larger mammals including at least some primates.  These neurons develop late.  They are small in number at the 35th week of gestation.  At birth, a person only has 15% of their final total number of VENs.  They continue to grow in the brain up until about age four, coincidentally during the time of the first onset of autism or the time during which at least a partial recovery from autism can be made (as was the case of myself around the age of four, when I regained my speech).

The fact that various findings from studies of these cells in autism is mixed, does not preclude the possibility that a problem with these cells, e.g. too few, too many or problems with formation and migration could be involved in at least some cases though not necessarily all.  in an article by the courchesne group , mention is made of two different studies in which 53% and 58% more voneconomo neurons were found in autistic brains versus controls respectively.

John Allman of Cal Tech speculated that VEN's found in the frontoinsular cortex and the anterior cingulate relayed outputs to portions of the frontal and temporal cortex where theory of mind and other social decisions are made and propose the possibility that impairments in this area may be responsible for social deficits found in autism.

He reports an MRI study in which the area containing VENs in the anterior cingulate gyrus is reduced in volume compared to matched controls.  tensor diffusion studies also showed white matter abnormalities in some autistic subjects.  This also might be consistent with recent work of Courchesne showing excessive growth in the dorsofrontal cortex as well as the recent genetic study using this data.  However, Courchesne stated in the above-linked paper that VEN's accounted for too low a percentage of all neurons in the frontal lobe to be totally responsible for all of the brain growth.

So, in my desire to finally uncover the etiology of my problems and the reason for my immense suffering, Von Economo neurons may be yet another leaf to be unturned.