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Saturday, February 24, 2018

ASD College Students: The Accommodations That They Prefer

This 2-year study investigated the accommodations and support services preferred by college students with autism spectrum disorder using sequential mixed methods non-experimental survey and semi-structured follow-up interviews. Students with autism spectrum disorder reported using both academic and non-academic supports with frequency (e.g. extended time on exams, transition program), using academic supports in line with other disability populations, and using non-academic supports connecting them one-to-one with a faculty member or coach as preferred (e.g. academic coach, counselor, faculty mentor). Findings suggest a need for university disability service centers, counseling services, and faculty to work together to develop systematic support systems for college students with autism spectrum disorder.
From the article:
Extra time on tests. Student interview comments corroborate the finding that extra time on tests was the top rated accommodation overall (83%). One student reported that
the extra time allows for careful reading of test questions:
I would probably say extra time on tests. With a lot of things I know that I could complete a test in a certain amount of time, but I always like double checking with things, because I know with a lot of my tests with my professors they would try to trick you with the wording of the questions. That’s the main reason why I take slow with tests.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Autistic People Do Not Lack Empathy

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the daily struggles of autistic people, including stereotypes and myths.

Sometimes political writers use "autism" as shorthand for things that they dislike.  (Google the term "political autism" and you will see what I mean.)  Such a practice is intellectually lazy and deeply demaning to people with real autism.

James McWilliams at Pacific Standard:
It's not often that an historian speaking to a church group ignites a controversy. But Nancy MacLean, a Duke University history professor, did exactly that when, in a recorded speech about her new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, she suggested that libertarians—or at least a subset thereof—were on the autism spectrum.
Reason's Robby Soave called MacLean's comment "decidedly unempathetic" and rooted in "remarkably bad-faith assumptions," an assessment which seems about right.
Scorned as they may be, the libertarians rightfully alluded to the real issue at stake here: The comment may have mischaracterized libertarianism, but it totally distorted autism.
The outdated association of autism with a lack of empathy comes largely from a British professor of psychopathology, Simon Baron Cohen. He coined the term "mind blindness" to describe an autistic person's inability to see the world through the eyes of another individual. The most debilitating feature of mind blindness, according to Cohen, is difficulty in reading people's facial and body language, which non-autistic people do to achieve a basic—albeit shallow—empathy.
But there are different sorts of empathy. As more recent research shows, having difficulty with social interaction, which could be fostered by mind blindness, doesn't preclude deep, or what's often called "affective," empathy. In Psychology Today, the psychologist Steve Taylor, hypothesizes that while autistic people may indeed be challenged when it comes to shallow empathy, they are quite adept at practicing deep empathy, an emotional reaction whereby a person enters the "mind space" of another, senses their feelings, and feels their pain or pleasure. It is in this direction that the research is flowing.

MacLean, for her part, regrets her error. More so, according to an email she sent to me, she appreciates the chance to have been pointed in a more progressive direction, at least when it comes to autism research. About her remark, she writes, "It was a long night and rather than take the time to find the right way to express what I wanted to say, I reached for a reference that was inappropriate and just wrong." And, she promises, "Having sought deeper knowledge about autism I have already learned my error about empathy and solidarity. I will continue to learn more going forward."
All of us, libertarians included, might seek our deepest empathy and consider doing the same.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trump Suggests Bringing Back Mental Institutions

For many years, many people with autism and other developmental disorders languished in mental institutions, some of which were snake pits.  JFK, whose sister was severely disabled, wanted to change things. 

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. In a 1963 message to Congress, he called for a reduction “over a number of years and by hundreds of thousands, (in the number) of persons confined” to institutions for the mentally ill and mentally retarded. He said that these persons should be able to return to the community “and there to restore and revitalize their lives through better health programs and strengthened educational and rehabilitation services.” Though he did not use the term at the time, JFK was calling for deinstitutionalization. Over the next several decades, more and more people with disabilities such as autism would stay with their families or remain in their communities instead of entering institutions. 
Institutions still exist of course, but they house fewer people than in the past. At the White House listening session on school shootings, Trump suggested that he would like to turn the clock back.  He also demonstrated a total misunderstanding of why many of them closed in the first place.
You know, years ago, we had mental hospitals, mental institutions -- we had a lot of them, and a lot of them have closed. They've closed -- some people thought it was a stigma. Some people thought, frankly, it was -- the legislators thought it was too expensive.
Today, if you catch somebody, they don't know what to do with them. He hasn't committed the crime, but he may very well, and there's no mental institution. There's no place to bring him.

We have that a lot. Even -- if they caught this person -- I'm being nice when I use the word "person" -- they probably wouldn't have known what to do. They're not going to put him in jail. And yet -- so there's no -- that middle ground of having that institution, where you had trained people that could handle it and do something about it and find out how sick he really is. Because he is a sick guy, and he should have been nabbed a number of times, frankly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


In The Politics of Autism, I write:
There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connection. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”
Autism Speaks extends its deepest condolences to the community of Parkland, Florida, after last week’s deadly shooting rampage. As investigators search for motives, media reports indicated that the gunman had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. But an autism diagnosis does not explain this horrific act of violence. We know that speculation and misinformation about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities have hurtful and lasting consequences.
Many people with autism also have secondary health issues and, in some, that secondary condition can be a mental health condition. However, research shows that people on the autism spectrum do not have higher rates of criminal behavior than the general public. In fact, teens and adults with autism are more likely than average to be the victims of crime. Autism affects each person differently, and misconceptions can increase prejudice toward the vast majority who are peaceful and productive members of society. Together, we can increase understanding and acceptance of each person’s unique story – the challenges, interests, abilities and aspirations. This is a time to mourn with the Parkland community and to remember that words matter when discussing this heartbreaking loss of life and shattered sense of security.
From the Autism Society:
 The Autism Society of America extends our thoughts and prayers to the families of the 17 innocent adults and children who were killed and those injured in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We can’t imagine the grief and sorrow of all impacted by these shootings. We thank the first responders and teachers who were there to help students through this horrific tragedy.
Some media outlets and social media messages are suggesting the individual arrested for these killings may have autism. In some news reports, the reporting of his diagnosis may imply a linkage of an autism diagnosis and committing violence. No reliable research has found that a person who is autistic is more likely to commit violence than a person without an autism diagnosis. In fact, existing research finds that autistic individuals are more likely to be victims of violence than those without an autism diagnosis. There is no confirmation of the diagnosis of the individual arrested.
We ask that those reporting about this tragic event not suggest or imply any linkage of autism and violence. Implying or suggesting that a person who is diagnosed with autism is violent is not only wrong but hurtful to the over 3.5 million individuals living in the United States and any other individual with an autism diagnosis.
We again strongly encourage Congress and state legislatures to bring together experts on violence and develop a comprehensive and effective national response to stop these senseless killings.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Trump Budget Cuts

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the political aspects of science and public health. Many posts havediscussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  He also has a bad record on scienceand disability issues more generally.

The Autism Society analyzes the Trump budget's impact on disability programs. It is mostly negative.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bleach and Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss autism quackery.  One particularly dangerous "cure" involves bleach.

WDBJ in Indianapolis:
An Indianapolis father accused his wife of feeding their child bleach to help cure her autism, according to a recent police report.
The report says the mother was putting drops of hydrochloric acid and water purifying solution (which contains chlorine) in her child’s drink. The man says his wife told him she read about the mixture online in a Facebook group. The mother reportedly identified the mixture as the "miracle mineral solution.”
According to IMPD, the Department of Child Services is currently investigating the case and has removed the child from the home.
The miracle mineral solution claims to be a cure-all for anything ranging from cancer to hepatitis and even aids. However, health officials, including the FDA, have warned the product is little more than bleach.
Officials at the Applied Behavioral Center for Autism say it’s common for parents to search for home remedies to cure autism.
“Taking things into their own hands is something that many parents have done out of desperation, out of hope,” president and founder Sherry Quinn said.
Abby Haglage at Yahoo:
Myths abound in the autism world — and, thanks to the internet, those myths travel.
Whether it’s a company touting concentrated oxygen chambers as a cure or a doctor erroneously claiming the condition is caused by vaccines, the many misconceptions about autism cater to parents who are desperate for answers. At best, they muddy the truth about the developmental disorder that affects one in 68 kids nationwide. At worst, they put those kids in danger.
That’s what happened most recently in Indiana, when a mom allegedly gave her daughter drops of a “bleach-like” concoction that she read online was a “cure” for autism. According to local Fox news, the unnamed mother told her husband she got the idea from “a Facebook group” that referred to the liquid as the “miracle mineral solution” or MMS.
This “miracle mineral solution” is a myth that has existed for some time; it pops up regularly in online antivaccination discussions. For instance, MMS interpreted as “master mineral solution” is favored by a woman named Kerri Rivera, a controversial Chicago native who now runs a nonprofit clinic in Latin America that purports to “cure” autism. In 2012 at a yearly conference called Autism One, Rivera announced MMS as the “missing piece to the autism puzzle,” one that she claims allowed “38 children to recover in 20 months.” Her website now claims that MMS has cured 235 children, as of October 2016.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. The challenges are especially great for military families.

Many posts have discussed Tricare  a health care program of the Department of Defense Military Health System.  It Tricare provides civilian health benefits for military personnel, military retirees, and their dependents. Military autism families depend on it.

Dianna Cahn at Stars and Stripes:
Across the country, parents and providers say they are facing overwhelming obstacles to sustaining services under Tricare following the Jan. 1 reorganization that included merging Tricare East and Tricare South and changing out contracts for Tricare East and West.

Servicemembers and family members have reported difficulties connecting to online systems and hourslong waits to speak to customer service. Parents and providers said they learned more from each other in online forums than from attempts to reach their insurance representatives.

Meanwhile, providers say reimbursements are patchy; they are slow to be approved; many providers are being reimbursed at rates of less qualified professionals; and the management companies – Humana Military in Tricare East and HealthNet in Tricare West – are slow to correct errors or address problems.

The Defense Health Agency says it is aware of the problems, particularly in Tricare East, and it has established a joint DHA/Humana Autism Task Force to resolve issues. It also says many of the problems have been corrected or are being resolved. But providers say that while claims that do go through without error are being processed more quickly, many of the issues still persist – including frequent errors in processing, payment rates and full reimbursements.