Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kim Bodner's RPM vs. Wechsler Study published. What does this mean for neurodiversity?

As many in the autism community know, about seven years ago, Michelle Dawson published a study suggesting that the intelligence of autistics had been underestimated.  She compared the scores of autistics on the Wechsler IQ test versus scores on the Raven's progressive matrices.  On average, the autistics' scores on the Raven's were considerably higher than their Wechsler.  By comparison, a control group of  non-autistic people had similar scores on the two tests.  The neurodiversity movement made much of this, claiming this proved that autistics' intelligence had been underestimated and it showed that "autistics were not write-offs" (Dawson's words) after all.  The media reported that intelligence had been underestimated in autistics.

Some years after this, I was interested to find out that two different research studies had seemed to fail to replicate her results.  Both of them had been presented at IMFAR (International Meeting for Autism Research) but had not yet been published in peer reviewed journals.  I read the brief presentations, but I was still uncertain about everything the studies would say if they were published in a journal.

The first one had been published by Sven Boelte.  I wrote to Dr. Boelte asking him if I could have a copy of the study  and he graciously emailed me one.  Like Dawson, he found that autistics scored higher on the RPM than on the Wechsler, but the magnitude was not as pronounced as in Dawson's study and it was only found in those with IQ's lower than 85 and not at all in autistic persons with higher measured intelligence.  In contrast to Dawson's optimistic statements and those of the pro-neurodiversity media, he gave the more guarded response that it was still too early to tell if intelligence in autistic people had been underestimated and more work needed to be done on the issue.

The other study was done by Kim Bodner, who I believe at the time was a graduate student working in Nancy Minshew's lab.  From reading about the IMFAR presentation, she seemed to be saying that she had found no differences in the scores of the RPM vs. the Wechsler in individuals on the spectrum with normal or near normal intelligence.  Though her study had not been formally published, I also wrote to her and cc'd a copy to Nancy Minshew.  I never received a response from Bodner, but Dr. Minshew wrote me saying she forwarded a copy to Ms. Bodner and they'd let me know when the study was published.  This was over four years ago.

Today, I was surprised to receive an email from Ms. Bodner out of the blue, sending me a copy of the .pdf study.  It took awhile, but eventually her study was published.  I'd wondered if it would ever be published and I found out today.  For anyone inclined to read the entire study, I've uploaded it here

She had studied four groups--autistic children (up to age 16) vs. age matched controls and adults on the spectrum (17 and up) compared to a control group.  She found that in the children with autism the RPM scores were higher than their performance IQs and slightly (but not much) higher than their verbal IQs.  The RPM's of the autistics were higher than the age and Wechsler matched controls but not much so.

The more striking difference was in the adult group where the RPM of the autistics was much lower than their Wechsler  scores and the scores of the RPM of the adult control group.  These findings don't seem to replicate Michelle Dawson's.

It must be emphasized that Bodner's study had the limitations in that there were only two girls in the 37 person children with autism group and 5 girls in the 48 person typical group.  The adult group (where the RPM was low compared to other measures) had a 25:6 male:female composition of the 31 autistic subjects which is probably representative of the ratio in the general population of those on the spectrum.  It would be curious as to how a representative ratio of males to females in the children's group would fare on the RPM.  Also, the autistic subjects were all relatively high functioning (meaning they had IQs in the average or near average range).

The results of various studies support that on average there are higher scores on the RPM than on Wechsler for lower functioning autistic children who have lower than average intelligence and less verbal ability.  But for the higher functioning more verbal autistic children, there does not seem to be any advantage on the RPM.  

For adults on the spectrum, the findings of various studies are less consistent.

If there is any advantage at all on the RPM, it is probably for the lower functioning children who would probably have life problems no matter what intervention or educational strategy is used.  I believe this is more evidence that the ND movement is mistaken that certain tests or abilities are not only superior in all persons with autism, but that this proves they have special strengths in jobs or any other endeavor. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is starting a business a solution to autistic unemployment?

As of late, there have been a few articles in the media I've located via entering "autism" as a search in Google news.  These pieces deal with entrepreneurship as one solution to the problem of autistic unemployment.  this article is one example, reporting on two different individuals on the spectrum that started their own business.

Yet another article which features the renowned Temple Grandin's photo as a lead-in, also extols supposed autistic strengths, such as the oft-repeated excellent attention to details that persons on the spectrum supposedly have.  The article claims this makes people with autism suited for various occupations, but is rather vague on what these specific professions are and how superior attention to details can help autistic people start their own businesses and actually make a gainful living.  One of the individuals mentioned in both articles has a son who started a yard work and landscaping company and apparently relies on an assistant to help him with this endeavor.  How yard work is suited for someone with attention to detail I don't understand.

Temple Grandin has weighed in, stating that if more autistic people are allowed to develop their talents and interests, they can start their own business.  Autism Speaks has had town meetings where they've encouraged people on the spectrum to start their own businesses.  This is interesting from an organization almost completely lacking in transparency as to whether or not they employ people on the spectrum in their organization.(I  realize Kerry Magroo and perhaps one or two others are exceptions to this rule).  

A short time ago, I wrote  a blog post where I discussed one of the possible origins of the "attention to details" mantra and why it may not actually be valid for most persons on the spectrum, let alone assisting them in employment.

I've actually had first hand experience with this as an individual on the spectrum who has attempted to start my own business.  In the mid eighties, after I'd been forced to resign from my clerical position at the local phone company, I attempted to start a typing and word processing business.  I lived close to UCLA at the time (I've since moved) which was a prime location for this set up as there are a number of college students who would be potential customers.  I advertised in the daily bruin (UCLA paper) and other places and had some customers.  Though some people were satisfied with my work, others weren't and I lost some clients.  The students usually waited to the last minute before their papers were due to finish them, so the turnaround times were horrendously short.  In addition to the dissatisfied customers, having to accommodate the people was tremendously aggravating and it was far more stressful than having a job with regular hours.  I had a really tough time and finally called it quits and started learning medical transcription around 1986 which I worked in sporadically from about 1987-1988 to about 2006.  My supposed "attention to details" did not help.

Aside from having a disability that might make this difficult, how do non-handicapped people typically fare when starting a business?  I had a friend who was a tree surgeon.  In fact he learned the trade from his father who had a successful tree company starting when he was quite young.  In his twenties, he decided to start his own business.  He had a very hard time, it took him quite a while to establish a clientele and he had trouble paying a lot of his bills.  Many times he contemplated whether it was worth doing and whether or not he should just drop his business and go out and get a job.

Eventually he was able to establish a reasonably successful tree company, but it took several years of capital investment and hard work.

According to oft-cited statistics80% of all businesses fail within the first 18 months of their existence.

Starting a business requires hard work, capital outlay and probably excellent social skills (which are saliently lacking in most autistic persons).  It is really tough going for a non-handicapped person.  Is it realistic for most autistic people?  Gadfly doesn't think so.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Organizations to boycott if you don't like neurodiversity and ASAN

Recently, people who did not like the vaccine causes autism movement urged a boycott of Chili's restaurants when they created a fundraiser to help one of their organizations.  The backlash was so great Chili's was forced to cancel their fundraising event. 

Those who don't like Autism Speaks (most of whom have some affiliation with neurodiversity and or ASAN) have suggested boycotting organizations that support AS such as Lindt Chocolates.  Over five years ago, I wrote a blog post mentioning other organizations they could boycott if they did not want to support AS. Recently supporters of a boycott Autism Speaks Movement have asked Big Bird and the rest of Sesame Street to end their partnership with AS.  To the best of my knowledge though, no one has suggested boycotting Wrong Planet, Alex Plank, Jack ("Cubby") Robison, Michelle Dawson, or Laurent Mottron and his other affiliates for accepting funding from AS. 

In my previous blog post of a few days ago, I pointed out that ASAN (The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network) had posted their 2011 and 2012 990 tax forms on line and Ari Ne'eman's substantial salary increase.  I neglected to mention the various organizations that have donated money to ASAN and the one other one who has enlisted high school dropout John Robison to teach a course on Neurodiversity on their faculty: 
1. Dan Moreno Foundation
2. Cafe Press
3. Mitsubishi Corporation
4. The arc (charity giving sizable donation to ASAN)
5. Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation.
6. Enterprise Service and Technologies.
7. William and Mary College (not necessarily relevant to ASAN but gives a course on neurodiversity with high school dropout John Robison being one of the adjunct professors)
8. University of New Hampshire
9. Oregon Health Sciences University
10.Special Hope Foundation.
11. The HSC Foundation. 

These are all organizations that should be boycotted or not have money donated to them or products purchased from if you want to crusade against ASAN and the neurodiversity movement.  There may be others that I don't know about and I will post them if I find out about them.  I know I won't be purchasing products made by Cafe Press or Mitsubishi again.  I'm not sure if it is worth contacting any of these organizations and asking them not to partner with Neurodiversity in the future as some of these probably gave ASAN one time donations and may not do so in the future.  Apparently, from reading their 990's, their donations dropped off tremendously in 2012 but they made up their revenue by making nearly $200,000 in "contract services" in 2012 whatever those are.  So this is the list if anyone is interested.