Judge Rotenberg Center – Close it Down!

Shock Tactics is yet another detailed account of the abuse carried out on people at the Judge Rotenberg Center. Over half the inmates at this institution are wired to a device called the GED that delivers painful electric shocks at the push of a button. At one time the use of electric shocks on severely disturbed children was given dubious justification by the life threatening severity of their self injurious behaviour. Better GED than dead as it were. The reporter, Jennifer Gonnerman, gives credence to this when she writes:

Before we set off on our tour of the institution, there’s something Israel wants me to see: Before & After, a home-made movie featuring six of his most severe cases. He has been using some of the same grainy footage for more than two decades, showing it to parents of prospective students as well as reporters. It shows how in 1977, an 11-year-old girl, Caroline, arrives at the school strapped on a stretcher, her head encased in a helmet. Next, free from restraints, she tries to smash her helmeted head against the floor. In 1981 it shows Janine, also 11, who shrieks and slams her head against the ground, a table, the door. Bald spots testify to the severity of her troubles; she’s yanked out so much hair it’s half gone. Compared with these scenes, the “after” footage looks almost unbelievable: Janine splashes in a pool; Caroline grins as she sits in a chair at a beauty salon.

“These are children for whom positive-only procedures did not work, drugs did not work,” says Israel. “And if it wasn’t for this treatment, some of these people would not be alive.” The video is very persuasive: the girls’ self-abuse is so violent and so frightening it almost makes me want to grab a GED remote and push the button myself. Of course, this is precisely the point.

Then she meets two of these “success stories. “

Considering how compelling the after footage is, I am surprised to learn that five of the six children featured in it are still here. “This is Caroline,” one of my escorts says later as we walk down a corridor. Without an introduction, I would not have known. Caroline, 39, slumps forward in a wheelchair, her fists balled up, head covered by a red helmet. “Blow me a kiss, Caroline,” Israel says. She doesn’t respond.

A few minutes later, I meet 36-year-old Janine, who appears in much better shape. She’s not wearing a helmet and has a full head of black hair. She’s also got a backpack on her shoulders and canvas straps hanging from her legs, the telltale sign that electrodes are attached to both calves. For 16 years – nearly half her life – Janine has been hooked up to Israel’s shock device. A few years ago, when the shocks began to lose their effect, the staff switched the devices inside her backpack to the much more painful GED-4.

The Judge Rotenberg Center no longer restricts itself to severely handicapped children who self harm. More “high functioning” individuals with a range of difficulties including ADHD and Bipolar Disorder get the same electric shock “treatment” for the most trivial “offences” like getting out their seat without permission.

Matthew Israel, the director and founder of the JRC claims to be a behaviourist in the tradition of B. F. Skinner, under whom he studied in the 1950s. He took up the idea of using electric shock from fellow behaviourist Ivor Lovaas. Lovaas no longer uses electric shocks because:

“These people are so used to pain that they can adapt to almost any kind of aversive you give them.”

Israel met the same difficulty. His answer was to turn up the power and use even more painful devices. What I want to know is how long are we going to put up with college educated professors telling us it OK to inflict pain on the most helpless and vulnerable people in society? Even Dr Bernard of the Maudsley Hospital in London is quoted in the article as saying,

It’s terrible to use something like that without clear evidence to show it works.

There have been attempts to close the JRC. But Israel has always relied on the tesimonials of satisfied parents, motivated by the fear that if JRC closes there is nowhere else for their children. It seems that the only criteria for admission is that you have been written off and rejected by everyone else. Once inside your fate is forgotten.

What I find most inexplicable is the support for JRC by ex inmates. Stockholm Syndrome maybe? This is Katie Spartichino:

Katie, 19, tells me she overdosed on pills at nine, spent her early adolescence in and out of psychiatric wards, was hooked up to the GED at 16, and stayed on the device for two years. “This is a great place,” she says. “It took me off all my medicine. I was close to 200lb and I’m 160 now.” But when she first had to wear the electrodes, she says: “I cried. I kind of felt like I was walking on eggshells; I had to watch everything I said. Sometimes a curse word would just come out of my mouth. So being on the GEDs and knowing that swearing was a targeted behaviour where I’d receive a [GED] application, it really got me to think twice before I said something rude.”  

The most chilling part of the whole story is one of apparent tenderness.

As Katie speaks, LaChance runs her fingers through Katie’s hair again and again. The gesture is so deliberate it draws my attention. I wonder if it’s just an expression of affection – or something more, like a reward.

To me, LaChance’s action screams of an abusive relationship, Katie allowing herself to be treated like a child by someone who probably inflicted pain on her in the past. And when Katie admits that she sometimes still swears

 The hair-stroking stops. LaChance turns to Katie. “I hope you’re not going to tell me you’re aggressive.”

The last time I heard that voice it was Nurse Ratched in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“Oh, no, that’s gone,” Katie says. “No, no, no. The worst thing I do sometimes is me and my mom get into little arguments.”

Poor Katie, still in fear of that voice, still in thrall.  And she is one of the lucky ones. She got out.

JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER – CLOSE IT DOWN!

Jenny McCarthy: responding to criticism

First, an apology.

My offline existence has led me to neglect Action For Autism recently. This at a time when my blog has never been more popular. But I have no illusions about the reason. It is all down to Jenny McCarthy. I wrote a couple of short pieces about her and Google did the rest. As a result many parents who are favourably inclined towards biomedical interventions for autism have boosted my stats. And many of them have left critical comments that merit a reply. But not all of these are attached to the Jenny McCarthy posts. So I am trying to deal with them all in one blog post.

When reading the comments I noticed a number of common themes.  Liz summed up a lot of these themes in an insightful comment:

I agree that the DANs and their system is sorely lacking (understatement).
You say that a physician should act as a consultant to their patients and advise them on available options. That would be ideal, but very difficult to find such a person. In my experience, I haven’t found many physicians who actually do this. They barely get to know my child, don’t care to listen much to my concerns, and prescribe a one size fits all pharmaceutical drug for everything- not knowing to do anything else.
Unfortunately, there are lots of clowns out there practicing so called medicine. If conventional medicine had physicians who can do more than just Rx drugs, who knew about nutrition, who recognized signs of developmental delays, who analyzed each individual patient’s needs , were open to listen to parents, were competent, etc., perhaps so many parents wouldn’t be turning to alternative methods. Pharma has done some good, but lets not forget how much damage it’s also done. DAN has barely scratched the surface in catching up to the damage pharma has done.
Conventional medicine has no solutions and don’t seem to care to look for any. This is what makes parents go elsewhere.
The ironic thing here is that an actress (bimbo and not so famous), who doesn’t understand sponsored links, can use her mommy instincts and get her child to a place these PhD holders couldn’t!
(and so have many other unqualified parents)
What does that say for conventional medicine?
Shame on them!

There are four main ideas here.

  1. Conventional doctors do not have any answers to autism beyond their prescription pad, which is not very effective.

  2. Consequently they claim that there are no answers to autism.

  3. Parents are not impressed by this and look elsewhere.

  4. They find their own answers and their children make progress.

 These are very important points. When you get  diagnosis for your child you do not immediately google “Autism” and look up your nearest DAN doctor. You ask your regular physician about what happens next and for many people the answer is not satisfactory.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctor and also the parent of an autistic child. In his book, MMR and Autism: what parents need to know, he quotes from the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Specialities, a popular reference with British junior doctors.

“Autism:

This neurodevelopmenal disoder is, if severe, the antithesis of all that defines mental health.

Prevalence: up to 90/10,000 of those <16yrs old – estimates vary considerably. Sex ratio M/F = 3.

[…]

Treatment: this is not effective. Behaviour therapy may be tried. A good teacher is more helpful than a good doctor.

70% remain severely handicapped. 50% will develop usful speech. 20% will develop seizures in adolescence.  15% will lead an independent life.

Apply for benefits (disability allowance if in UK).”

Fitzpatrick goes on to write,

“Its summary of medical wisdom on autism conveys with brutal economy the simple facts that doctors do not know what causes autism and have no treatment for it. Furthermore, the prognosis is grim: apply for benefits.”

Our knowledge and understanding has moved on in the 10 years since this edition of the Oxford Handbook was published. Though I doubt that this has had a major impact on the medical profession. Autism remains a rare condition when compared to childhood complaints like asthma and eczema. It is also rare in comparison to psychiatric disorders in children. So there is little imperative on doctors to update their knowledge when there are other more pressing claims upon their time.

NO HOPE or FALSE HOPE?

Still, I am surprised and disheartened by parents commenting that their doctor told them there was “no hope” for their child. Do doctors really say this to parents? Or do they say something like “there is no cure but …” by which time the parent has stopped listening, their distress on hearing the diagnosis compounded by their despair on hearing that there is no cure? Their hopes are dashed in the doctor’s office and they go away believing that nothing can be done. Only later, when they come across websites that proclaim that autism is treatable, do they regain their hope and become converts to the cause of biomedical intervention.

CAUSE and EFFECT

Defeat Autism Now makes all sorts of claims about the causes of autism. But they cannot point to any well designed scientific studies that demonstrate causation. Instead they rely on patient testimonials, or more accurately, the parents of patients testimonials. “Recovered” or “recovering” kids are displayed at conferences and video evidence is posted on the web. This is not scientific proof. It is advertising. I am not saying these kids have not improved. I see kids improve all the time in the school where I work. I saw my own son improve.  I am saying that, in the absence of properly controlled scientific studies, claims for particlar treatment protocols cannot be verified

Sometimes improvements are dramatic. Children seem indistinguishable from their peers, as well they might in a supportive environment where staff follow the advice of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Psychological treatment programmes can help parents/carers in modifying children’s behaviour, enabling them to cope with specific difficulties and ensuring optimal schooling. Helpful advice to parents is that it is more effective to change the environment around the autistic child than to attempt to change the child.

This is helpful advice to schools as well. We do well to remember that autistic spectrum disorders are developmental disorders. These children are not frozen in time. They grow and develop, though not always in the ways we might expect. Creating an environment that plays to their strengths is likely to be more productive than constantly reminds them of their weaknesses. As I wrote elsewhere:

We all had a favourite subject at school that we were good at and something else we really struggled with. Imagine being told that you had to drop your best subject and have double lessons in your worst subject.That is not so far from the experience of lots of autistic children whose interests and talents are sidelined while we concentrate on their difficulties. This can send all the wrong messages to our kids. They learn about their limitations but rarely get the chance to achieve. So they put up barriers to protect what is left of their self esteem.

COMMONSENSE versus SCIENCE

There are still parents who will insist that they know the treatment worked. This happened with Secretin. Victoria Beck reported a dramatic improvement in her son’s autism after he was given Secretin to test pancreatic function. Secretin was enthusiastically espoused by DAN. The late Bernard Rimland claimed:

The use of secretin appears to be the most promising treatment yet discovered for the treatment of autism.

Rimland was so convinced that he and Beck secured the patent for using secretin to treat autism and sold it on for a reported $1 million USD to Repligen Corp. There was nothing wrong with this deal. They were paid in shares in Repligen which they made over to the Autism Research Institute. The CEO of Repligen had a double interest in Secretin. He was not just another businessman looking for a profit. He was also the parent of two autistic children. He wanted it to  work and he was ready to pay handsomely to make it work. Unfortunately his company’s research, rigourously conducted to satisfy the US regulatory bodies, “failed to meet the study’s dual primary endpoints.” That has not stopped other, less scrupulous individals from continuing to promote secretin and even homeopathic secretin as a cure for autism.

Chelation is another remedy favoured by DAN practitioners. But autistic kids do not like taking strange medicines by mouth or being strapped down for a slow intravenous infusion. So some enterprising doctors have formulated skin creams containing chelators like Transdermal DMSA. There are glowing testimonials for TD DMSA on the web. But DMSA is water soluble and so it is extremely unlikely that it could ever pass through the skin. Think about it. Our skin is a barrier that acts to keeps the water in. Without it we would dehydrate and die. It also keeps the water out. We do not absorb water like a sponge when we bathe or shower. So how does the DMSA pass through our skin? It does not. And so there is no way for it to have any effect on our bodies at all.

When people think something works, where there is no scientific reason for it to work, we call it the placebo effect. That does not mean they were conned or are trying to con the rest of us. Placebo affect means people get better because they think they will get better. You can call it faith healing or the power of positive thinking. It is a real effect and one of the reasons why the gold standard of medical research is the double blind study in which a control group is given a placebo and nobody, neither the researchers nor the patients, knows which is which until after they have evaluated the results. The experimental group must not only show benefit, they must also show a significant benefit over and above the group on the placebo.

But how does this explain improvements in autistic children who are given placebos? They may be completely oblivious to what is going on. First there is an important effect noted by researchers into regressive autism, the distressing condition where children develop normally and then lose previously acquired skills or fail to progress thereafter. From a previous blog.

Much of the evidence for regression comes from parental reports. And it is not always clear whether they are reporting regression or failure to meet expected milestones. It is also necessary to exercise caution when dealing with parental evidence. Aitken knows this. It is in the same study by Taylor et al.

“ A review of each record showed that in 13 children the history given by the parents had changed after the extensive publicity about MMR vaccine and autism. Before the publicity the parents often reported concerns early in their child’s life, usually before their first birthday; the current history for the same children recorded symptoms as developing only after MMR vaccination, in some cases shortly after.”
(Taylor, Miller, Lingam, Andrews, Simmons & Stowe 2002. page 395)

We reinvent our memories in the light of experience. Memory is not a transcript of history. It is a constantly changing attempt to interpret that history with the benefit of hindsight. So parental accounts may not be the most reliable evidence without external corroboration.

Secondly, children are very sensitive to the emotional state of their parents or other primary caregivers. You can get a vicious circle where totally stressed out parents unwittingly add to their child’s stress. The child then freaks, adding to their parent’s stress, et cetera, et cetera. Then someone offers the parents a way forward. They feel empowered. They are less stressed. They approach their child with a more positive outlook. They are consistent in their dealings with their child. The child senses all this and benefits from the change in his parents. We have placebo by proxy. The parents think the therapy changed their child when, in fact, it was their belief in the therapy that changed them and then their child changed in response to the change in themselves. The therapy did not cause the change directly. It was the catalyst for change.

JENNY and I.

Most parents are not au fait with the scientific method or the history of autism. And why should they be? They have been thrust into a difficult situation and may not be enjoying the best of support from professional agencies. This makes them vulnerable. They are looking for a way out of this mess. They turn on the TV and see Jenny McCarthy spreading her message of hope. Who would not be sold in those cicumstances? Then Google brings them here and they read me bad mouthing Jenny. Outrage!

Listen up. McCarthy is only spread all over the media because she previously spread herself all over the pages of Playboy. Why should the opinions on autism of a young and buxom, B list celeb and wannabe film star be more credible than those of an overweight, middle-aged guy like myself? Last year McCarthy was an indigo mother with a crystal child. Her kid was the next stage in evolution. Then he became some kind of toxic disaster zone and now he is cured. Oh, and it was the vaccines what done it! This from a woman who had her son circumcised because she wanted him to have a “pretty penis.” Excuse my cynicism, please.

YOU and I 

I have tried to address general criticisms of my position rather than go for a point by point rebuttal or engage in personal arguments. If anyone thinks that I have ducked their question or ignored their point of view, please feel free to repost it in the comments to this post and I promise to respond.

Judge Rotenberg Center again

Derrick Jeffries – Person with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nancy Weiss – Co-Director, The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware have issued

A Call for Ethical and Unprejudiced Leadership and Practice in the Field 

which I was pleased to sign. The letter begins like this:

“This letter is to the American Psychological Association (hereafter referred to as APA), and to all professionals in the field of psychology. This letter calls upon APA and professionals who adhere to the APA Code of Ethics to act in a manner that is ethical and consistent with that Code of Ethics. Two recent APA documents are relevant to this call to action. They are, the 2006 “Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or punishment” (hereafter referred to as 2006 Resolution), and the 2007 “Reaffirmation of the American Psychological Association Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as “Enemy Combatants”” (hereafter referred to as 2007 Resolution). With fervor, we are advocating for people with autism, developmental differences, and mental health challenges; urgently entreating that they may be given the same respect with regard to human rights as alleged “Enemy Combatants,” or any other human beings. As professionals who adhere to the APA Code of Ethics, nothing less than an unprejudiced stance in this matter should be considered acceptable.

“Currently, children and young adults with autism, developmental differences, and mental health challenges are being treated in a manner that clearly meets the definition of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as defined by the two previously mentioned APA documents. The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (hereafter referred to as JRC) in Massachusetts has a long history of using electric shock, food deprivation and prolonged mechanical restraint, as well as other painful and dehumanizing aversive techniques.”

Please go to http://disabledsoapbox.blogspot.com/ to read the letter in full and add your support. Meanwhile, anyone interested in debating with Matthew Israel should visit the Justice, the independent student newspaper of Brandeis University. Nathan Robinson from Brandeis Students United Against The Judge Rotenberg Center has written an opinion piece about the JRC that has provoked responses from Israel and equally vigorous replies from Nathan and others.

The costs of autism

I am familiar with two studies that make a serious attempt to estimate the costs of autism – one in the USA and one in the UK. These figures look quite alarming: 3.2 million US dollars or 2.4 million UK pounds over a person’s lifetime. The UK figure is used to argue for an increase in our low level of funding for autism research. The US figure is used to defend their significantly higher level of spending. While I support the need for more funding for autism research I have some problems with the way these figures are arrived at and with the way they are used.

These lifetime costs are sometimes used alongside estimates of annual costs to the economy. In the USA this works out at 35 billion dollars. That sounds even more alarming until we remember that

More than 50 million Americans experienced a medically treated injury in 2000, resulting in lifetime costs of $406 billion; $80 billion for medical treatment and $326 billion for lost productivity.

So autism, affecting 2 million people, costs the US economy 35 billion dollars a year. But in a single year, injuries affecting 50 million people  cost the US economy 406 billion dollars. Where are the headlines and congressional commitees on that one?

Regarding the figures, the US study assumes a roughly 50/50 split between severely and mildly affected individuals as defined by their monetary cost to society. The much higher figure for average lifetime costs in the UK may be a reflection of the more generous provision of our welfare state. It is also based on an outdated  75/25 split in favour of severe autism. [3 million UK pounds versus 750,000 UK pounds] Epidemiological evidence suggests that between 15 and 20 per cent of autistic individuals are also mentally retarded. These are the ones who are not only unlikely to work but may also require lifetime care in some sort of group home or supported living arrangement. That is the inverse of the UK assumption. So, on closer examination, maybe the figures are not so alarming after all.

We also have to offset the figures for severe autism with the similar numbers of autistic individuals who may eventually become “indistinguishable  from their peers” at least in respect of their need for services and support. Tony Attwood (slide 13) argued that maybe 20 percent of autistic children move “up” and possibly “off” the spectrum over their lifetime at the NAS International Conference in London in 2005. And recent research on diagnostic stability tends to support him.

attwood

And then there is the nagging question of the CDC enquiry into the

Economic Costs Associated with Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy, Hearing Loss, and Vision Impairment

This found the following lifetime costs.
Table 1

If you add the totals for four children, one each with MR, CP, hearing loss and vision impariment, it is very close to the alleged cost for a single autistic child! Someone is egging the pudding here!

Some of the elements within the figures are open to question. The US figures include 200,000 US dollars for ABA included in medical costs alongside 150,000 US dollars for education. Are these actual or notional figures? How many autistic children get ABA? How many get additional funding for their special educational needs? I have met very few prents who are satisfied with the level of provison for their autistic child. 

1.8 million US dollars is almost equally divided between indirect societal costs attributable to the autistic person and  indirect societal costs attributable their carers. This seems to be almost entirely based upon loss of earnings and lost productivity.  But where are the measures that account for the positive impact of autism on the economy in terms of employing such a vast array of therapists and stimulating so much research into the human brain with unquantifiable impact on the whole area of neurological reasearch? I could also find no indication in either study that that they had attempted to factor in the positive contribution that autistic people might make to the economy.

Yes we do need more money for autism reasearch. But we also need more money for autism services. Presenting autism as a drain on the economy to frighten governments into funding more research into possible prevention and cure does nothing to help existing autistics and their families find support services in the here and now. And if the lifetime costs are so high where is this money going? Why are autistic people and their families so often left leading miserable lives?

If ABA and education do cost a combined 350,000 US dollars for every autistic child why not just write a cheque on the day of diagnosis? Let us see if the parents can spend it more wisely and more productively than the state. At the very least there would be a saving on lawyers fees (on all sides) for contested IEP meetings. And if it costs society 1.8 million US dollars in lost productivity for autistics and their carers just put half a million dollars in trust for every autistic child on the day of their diagnosis. At 5% interest that should yield around 1 million US dollars over 15 years. If we are going to spend so much money on autism, let us spend it effectively.

FOOTNOTE

Joseph blogged the US study a year ago. Please read “Debunking the costs of Autism.”

Autism News Beat – A Round Up

NEW BLOGS FOR OLD

There is a new blog on the block. Autism News Beat opened with this.

“I’ve started this site as a resource for journalists looking for accurate, evidence-based information about autism. I plan to review and comment on print and electronic coverage of autism, and interview journalists, editors, and others to gain their perspectives on this much reported but little understood story.”

The second post seemed to recommend the evidence based intervention of ABA over stem cell therapy. In fact the evidence base for ABA is open to question as Michelle Dawson was quick to point out. Her blog, The Autism Crisis, is a useful source of well referenced criticisms of ABA. I suspect that Autism News Beat was probably so impressed by a news report which for once clearly rejected biomedical interventions, that they decided not to highlight the controversy surrounding  ABA. This is akin to backing Stephen Dawkins in an argument against  intelligent design while deciding not to mention his disagreements with fellow evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould. Disputes within the evolutionary camp are of minor importance compared to the gulf that exists between us and the creationists. Similarly the differences that exist within autism science are clearly of a different order to the differences between autism science and autism woo. [Pace Ms Dawson. Despite the efforts of autism curebies to reduce it to the level of woo, behaviourism is science based.]

RDI

Another news story centres upon the death of an autistic child. Hakeem was not subjected to life threatening interventions to “cure” his autism. He was loved and accepted by  a mother who removed him to America to escape the ignorance about autism that leads people to regard it as a form of demonic possession in Senegal. Similar ignorance exists in parts of America, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Hakeem was not killed by quackery. His death appears to have been a natural tragedy. His mother was so impressed by the progress he had been making following a programme of relationship development intervention that she is returning to Senegal and mortgaging her home to set up a school based upon RDI principles to help autistic children there. I have some doubts about RDI. It comes across as evangelical and expensive. There are no independent studies to support it. But it is better than exorcism or stem cell therapy and I send good wishes to Hakeem’s mother, Sabelle Jelani and to her proposed school.

PC  VERSUS FC?

Another news story centres upon Ralph Savarese, who adopted an autistic child. They apparently made great progress using facilitated communication. The media interest surrounds his book on the subject. I have not read it yet. But I am  thinking that this is yet another approach that helps some individuals but is hyped up as a solution for all individuals and falls into the abyss when these impossible claims on its behalf are dismissed.

DISABILITY RIGHTS KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES.

Leaving autism aside, two other news reports caught my eye this week. One is about accepting people with Downs Syndrome  The early years of Downs Syndrome are reminiscnt of more recent attitudes to autism. In the year of my birth, 1952, the Guardian reports that parents of Downs children were told:

‘Not to worry, there are plenty of places for children like him.’ And she said, ‘In any case, they don’t live long.'”

Attitudes have changed, as the article makes clear.

“Or perhaps, as some of these stories may show, it could be because of a slow but growing understanding that a child born with Down’s syndrome today really does, perhaps for the first time, stand a chance of leading something remotely resembling a decent life.”

Downs Syndrome has not changed. But attitudes have. So Downs kids can now look forward to  decent life. As a consequence parents are no longer desperately seeking amniocentesis and therapeutic abortions in the numbers they once did. The level of Downs births is now constant. The level for positive outcomes is rising. Downs children are no longer routinely sterilized. Some of them may marry or have children.

DISABLED SEX LIVES!

I have seen severely disabled people in wheelchairs go potholing, abseiling and rock climbing. Usually this involves able bodied people and a lot of rope. There is no way they could do it on their own. Sometimes it is the same with sex. But helping a severely disabled person achieve sexual fulfillment involves a far more serious risk assessment than mountaineering. So full marks to Treloars College for tackling this and the Observer for a good job of reporting it. We have nuns arranging for a prostitute to visit a young man so he have sex before he dies, couples being assisted into position and them left alone, even marriage. And what about the possible offspring of these relationships?  If the love and care that facilitated their conception is transferred to their upbringing these will be lucky children.

Autism Parents and Celebrity Endorsements

Now that the Jenny McCarthy bandwagon appears to be slowing down it is as well to remember that lots of parents are writing intelligent, heart warming and thought provoking accounts of their experience in raising a child with autism. Lacking McCarthy’s dubious claims to fame and fortune, not many of them get the chance to publish a book or be courted by Oprah or People Magazine. These parents are all intervening to help their children. But unlike McCarthy they do not subscribe to the view that,

“……as long as autism is considered a mental disorder or genetic disorder, then the list of referral specialists is quite predictable: neurologists, geneticists, behavioral pediatrician, psychiatrist, and therapist for mom, since most of the issues are her fault anyway.  But, you know what, despite all the evaluations and platitudes, the child somehow improves only minimally, if at all.Autism, as I see it, steals the soul from the child; then, if allowed, relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members one by one…….”

Nice, eh? A typical rant from one of mercury malicia? Not exactly. It is part of the forward to McCarthy’s book. The author is Jerry Kartzinel MD, the medical director of paediatric services at Andrew Wakefield’s Thoughtful House Clinic in Austin, Texas. Their website is down at the moment because it has exceeded its bandwidth. I would like to think their server has been overwhelmed with angry parents seeking to complain about Kartzinel’s dehumanizing comments about autism. But it is more likely that the Jerry and Jenny media roadshow has sent them a whole new raft of hopefuls looking for a magic cure.  There is a lively discussion about Kartzinel’s remarks over on Left Brain/Right Brain.

But back to autism parents.

As well as the members of the autism hub there are lots of others out there. Thanks to McCarthy for bringing these to my attention.

The Quirk Factor: Resistance is Futile

Mommyhood – the Adventures of Kim and Alex 

And here is another parent blog that is well worth reading and seems to be a McCarthy free zone. :-)

Mother of Shrek

Celebrity Endorsements

If we go beyond the mutual backslapping of Kartzinel and McCarthy, it is true that there are so many books, methods and programmes out there that we often rely on other people’s endorsements to guide our choices. If an acknowledged expert in the field is quoted on the dust jacket or writes a favourable review it can only help sales. We also have autistic celebrities, who may not be autism experts but speak with some authority because they have written and spoken about their autism in ways that connect to the experience of others on the autistic spectrum and their families.

Two of the most famous examples are Temple Grandin and Donna Williams. Sharon has blogged about a recent lecture in Belfast by Donna Williams. Sharon noted all her points of agreement with Donna Williams.

As the lecture progressed however, I was noting more things that I didn’t agree with. First she spoke about cranial sacral therapy, saying it benefited her, which I don’t doubt. She suggested it could benefit other autistic people too, and again, maybe it could. But as a technique, there’s no evidence of any effectiveness and the claims made sound rather like, oh what’s that word…quackery.She also mentioned all sorts of medical problems, and again either stated or implied (I can’t remember) that these are common place in autistic people. She mentioned her own issues; salicylate intolerance, immune deficiency, gluten and dairy intolerance. She recommended that anyone thinking that their children may be affected by such issues, should investigate GF/CF diets, low sugar and low salicylate diets. She referred to the ‘leaky gut’ theory, stating that for many autistic people, gluten and casein can act like opiates. In fact, when one woman asked for advice on her son’s habit of head banging, Donna again mentioned this, saying this is sometimes a symptom of what she termed ‘brain fog’, that is, undigested enzymes crossing the blood-brain barrier.What was missing from all these discussions of medical issues, both in the main lecture and while answering questions from the audience later, was any mention of doctors or dietitians. Donna mentioned naturopaths, chiropractors, reflexologists and osteopaths. These are not practitioners of evidence based therapies.

Sharon wrote another post about the sponsors of Donna Williams’ lecture – P2P Autism – who are trying to spread the DAN! message in Ireland. Donna Williams appeared in the comments section to defend her position and  Sharon has another post in which she deals with all Donna’s points.

The last time I heard Temple Grandin speak she ended her talk with an endorsement for the ARI website.  The website does contain an interesting FAQ by Temple Grandin about sensory sensitivities and aspects of autistic behaviour. It also contains a guide for new parents co-authored by Temple Grandin, Bernard Rimland, Stephen M. Edelson and James B. Adams. The only significant point of difference between them is that Temple Grandin supports the selective use of psychiatric medicines in older children and adults.

The various topics covered in this overview paper for parents of young autistic children represent, for the most part, a consensus of the views, based on research and personal experience, of all four authors.  However, the authors differ in their opinions on the role of psychoactive drugs should play.  We will present you with the conflicting opinions, so you can decide for yourself.

Grandin has a relatively accepting position on the use of psychiatric medications in autistic children.  She feels  that it is worthwhile to consider drugs as a viable and useful treatment.  Rimland and Edelson, on the other hand, are strongly opposed to the use of drugs except as a possible last resort, etc.  – They feel the risks are great and consistently outweigh the benefits.  Adams has an intermediate view. 

But regarding the DAN! protocol (safe and innovative ) and ABA (most effective ) they were all agreed. On the question of vaccines they were not fully committed.

The possible causative role of vaccinations, many of which were added to the vaccination schedule in the 1980’s, is a matter of considerable controversy at present.

That was then.  ARI is firmly committed to the autism/vaccine hypothesis now.

Autism is a complex disorder with many contributing factors. While there are many theories as to the cause of the increase, ARI believes environmental factors—including unprecedented exposure to toxic substances and over-vaccination of infants and young children—are the key factors triggering this devastating epidemic. Emerging research supports this fact, making it clear that autism is a whole-body illness triggering a biological brain disorder and ARI continues investigating various possible causal factors.

Kenneth Bock fully endorses the vaccine hypothesis, as he makes clear on his website. He is also a big wheel within ARI/DAN! who speaks at international conferences and is president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine. ACAM is actually a trade organization for chelationists and other ‘alternative’ health practitioners. Bock has written a book outlining his views which received this glowing testimonial

“An easy-to-read commonsense guide to beneficial biomedical treatments such as diets and supplements. Dr. Bock clearly explains the different options and provides case histories of treatment successes.”
–Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures

Both Donna Williams and Temple Grandin have added greatly to our understanding of autism from their autobiographical accounts and their public lectures. But their support for the idea that alternative medical interventions can help  some childen and adults gives credibility to the pseudoscience that informs these interventions, especially in the eyes of parents. I think it is time to challenge them on this. Thank you to Sharon for making an excellent start.

We have to move away from faux-science. It is ironic that the alties denigration of the core values of real science is only matched by their desire to take on the peripheral trappings of science. This ‘wannabe’ desire for respectability, while denigrating actual, existing, respectable science can confuse non-scientists. This may be their intention. It seems to have worked with  the Autism Society of America. CEO Leo Grossman has recently endorsed a book by Bryan Jepson, one of Jerry Kartzinel’s partners in crime at Thoughtful House.

Lee Grossman, parent of an autistic child; President and CEO, Autism Society of America
“The new PDR of autism for parents and physicians. An important book that everyone dealing with autism must own.”

There is no science worthy of the name to support the biomedical, curebie position on autism. A combination of clever PR and behind the scenes politicking has elevated the biomed lobby to a position beyond their station. It is time to prick the bubble.

Jenny McCarthy circumcision and autism

Thank you Jenny McCarthy. Since I wrote about you my readership has doubled. That is still not enough to offset the harm that will ensue if even a tiny fraction of your TV audience swallow your message that the MMR vaccine caused your son’s autism. But here is a chance for you to make amends. Have you heard of the theory that circumcision causes autism? I only ask because in an earlier book you describe how you had your son circumcised.

“If you don’t know what an uncircumcised penis looks like, you will once you baby boy is born. When I saw my son’s for the first time, I thought it looked kind of like a wrinkled french fry. I had the hardest time knowing that I would have to be the one to tell the doc, “Go ahead.” How could I do anything to cause him pain? But I did, and my main reason was that I wanted him to have a pretty penis.”

Way to go, Jenny! Cosmetic surgery on your infant son’s penis. The evidence for this causing autism is every bit as strong as the evidence for vaccines. So, if you could just mention this on your next TV appearance, it may not save any children from autism, but it may persuade some parents to spare their child from painful and unnecessary surgery.