By Leah McLaren - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 0 Comments
How Andrew Wakefield’s bogus theory spawned a generation at risk
Earlier this month, in the small coastal city of Swansea, Wales, a 25-year-old man with measles was found dead in his flat. It was the first measles fatality in Britain in five years, and a bleak development in an epidemic caused by a health scare that began here more than a decade and a half ago.
Almost 900 people, mostly children and adolescents, have contracted the disease in recent weeks. Health officials say it’s the result of a “lost generation” of children, now roughly 10-18 years old, who did not receive their vaccinations as infants in the 1990s. Back then, there were widely publicized concerns about a link between bowel disease, the MMR vaccine—which protects children against measles, mumps and rubella—and autism. While the link was later disproved and the 1998 paper that promoted it exposed as fraudulent, many parents, particularly in the Swansea area where the local media took up the story, still failed to get their children immunized. Why this legacy of mistrust took hold in south Wales more strongly than the rest of the country is not entirely known, though most put it down to those early reports, combined with a relatively inward-looking culture. What’s certain is that consequences could be dire.
The Swansea epidemic shows no signs of ending; 121 new cases appeared in the last week. Epidemiologists expect the outbreak could last until the summer holidays and beyond. And there are serious concerns it could spread to other parts of Wales, due to low vaccination rates across that region—as well as across the entire country. It is estimated at least 40,000 children across Wales are currently not vaccinated. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 11:44 AM - 0 Comments
Researchers at the University of Guelph say they have developed the first vaccine that…
Researchers at the University of Guelph say they have developed the first vaccine that may treat some of the symptoms associated with autism.
The study by master’s student Brittany Pequegnat and Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro appeared in the academic journal Vaccine this month, the university said in a press release issued Wednesday.
The finding came as the pair researched a vaccine for the gut bacteria Clostridium bolteae, which is often found in higher-than-usual numbers in children with autism.
About 75 per cent of children with autism suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea. Eventually, this vaccine may help doctors treat such symptoms.
The vaccine could take up to 10 or more years to get through trials and become commercially available. “But this is a significant first step in the design of a multivalent vaccine against several autism-related gut bacteria,” Monteiro says in a release.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 3:57 PM - 0 Comments
A Canadian gold-medal winning sculler rescued at sea and an outbreak of measles strikes the U.K.
Developing a peace plan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week with a new plan to restart the Middle East peace process. A key part of the strategy is an effort to boost economic development in the West Bank through U.S. aid and corporate involvement. With little hope of an immediate breakthrough in the years-long political impasse, boosting economic security and creating jobs might go a long way to erasing mistrust in the region and putting it on a more solid path to peace.
After months of downplaying a bribery scandal that has claimed two senior employees and resulted in a former CEO being charged with fraud, engineering giant SNC-Lavalin recently announced a long-overdue shakeup of its embattled board. Chairman Gwyn Morgan and three other directors will be departing. In another bit of boardroom news, Ottawa wants to help fix corporate Canada’s long, dismal track record when it comes to appointing women as directors. The federal government has struck a 23-member council to investigate.
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 5:11 PM - 0 Comments
People hate getting vaccines. Apparently even vaccinologists.
“I don’t like to get immunized,” Science-ish was surprised to hear from one of Canada’s most esteemed vaccine researchers this week. “I do, and I will continue, but I put it in the same category as going for a colonoscopy,”
With the re-emergence of diseases like measles and whooping cough, and parents increasingly seeking alternative vaccination schedules or opting out of shots all together, policymakers are scrambling to figure out what to do. In California, for example, the state legislature is now looking at a bill that would require parents who want to decline vaccines for their kids to seek counseling from a doctor.
Here in Canada, some hospitals have begun essentially forcing health-care workers to get the flu shot if they want to keep their jobs. We’ll never see that kind of measure applied to the general population, so for now: What do we know about what works when it comes to getting people to comply with vaccine guidelines?
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 7:40 PM - 0 Comments
UPDATE: A French court ruled against Sophie Robert on Thursday, ordering her to remove the offending segments from “Le Mur” and pay about $45,000 in various fines.
“For more than 30 years, the international scientific community has acknowledged that autism is a neurologic disorder… In France, psychiatry, being very largely dominated by psychoanalysis, ignores these discoveries.” The Wall documentary.
Culture writes on illness. That’s evident in the battle around a French documentary about autism entitled “Le Mur” or “The Wall.” Today, a court in the northern city Lille will decide whether the film, released online last year, should be censored at the request of psychoanalysts in the country, since it essentially charges that their approach to the disorder ignores decades of scientific progress. Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 5:14 AM - 7 Comments
It’s the damnedest thing: when I visit the website of discount store Winners, I find nothing in its “In the News” section or in its “In the Community” section about an Edmonton outlet’s clumsy mistreatment of an autistic child. The store’s behaviour certainly counts as interaction with the community, and has certainly made news. International headlines, even!
Young Emily Ainsworth travels with an “autism service dog” named Levi. Emily’s mother points out that service animals are “permitted in public under human rights legislation”, which is a very slight simplification. Alberta law actually specifies [PDF] that retailers cannot discriminate against customers on the basis of “physical reliance on a guide dog [or] service dog”; there is no Alberta Human Rights Commission caselaw on autism service animals.
But the likely reason for this is that Emily would certainly win any such case in a resounding slam-dunk. Most people working in retail jobs are probably vaguely familiar with the functions performed by guide dogs for the blind, and would know better than to challenge one. It may be somewhat natural, however, for a cute, physically well child accompanied by a dog to arouse skepticism—even though certified service dogs like Levi have special identifying vests and papers that can be produced on request.
So it would probably help prevent embarrassments if people realized that autism dogs are not just present for emotional support. Autistic children are impulsive, and can’t always interpret signs and orders; an autism dog is trained to physically protect them. A service dog training facility in Lynden, Ont., explains it this way:
One of the key roles of ADS service dogs is to provide safety outside of the home, in public settings and at school. The service dog acts as a physical anchor for the child with autism. A tether made of nylon webbing joins the service dog and child. The webbing is connected around the child’s waist, like a belt, and links up to a ring on the dog’s service dog jacket. ADS trains the service dogs to respond to commands given by the caregiver or educator. The service dog is specially trained to stop on command. As a result this prevents the child from entering into potentially dangerous situations (i.e. roadways, parking lots, bodies of water, ravines, etc.) and gives the caregiver or educator the much needed time to intervene and direct the child back onto the safer path. The service dog also prevents the child from wandering away from the family while out in public settings.
In short, autism service dogs are not much different in principle from guide dogs for the blind, and provide for personal independence in a closely analogous way. If you’re a retail clerk, host, receptionist, or proprietor, you should be aware of this. If only for your own good.
By macleans.ca - Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:46 AM - 0 Comments
Nearly one in five kids with autistic older sibling may develop disorder
According to a new study, published in the journal pediatrics, nearly one in five kids with an autistic older sibling could develop this developmental disorder, CTV reports. The study looked at over 650 infants with at least one older sibling with autism, and found that 19 per cent of them—132 of the infants—were diagnosed by age 3. But among those with more than one older sibling with autism, 32 per cent were diagnosed. The study was conducted across the U.S. and Canada. Researchers suggest genetics could play a role, and encourage parents to screen siblings of autistic children.
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 20, 2011 at 2:02 PM - 0 Comments
Autism genes appear linked to adaptive, advantageous traits
A new study from Cambridge University had found that autism is more commonly diagnosed in regions rich in information technology (IT). The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, was conducted in three geographical regions in the Netherlands, including Eindhoven, a major technology and industrial hub. The two control regions had similar-sized populations and a similar socioeconomic class. They found that school-reported prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in Eindhoven was 229 per 10,000, much higher than Haarlem and Utrecht (84 per 10,000 and 57 per 10,000 respectively). “These results are in line with the idea that in regions where parents gravitate towards jobs that involve strong ‘systemizing’, such as the IT sector, there will be a higher rate of autism among their children, because the genes for autism may be expressed in first degree relatives as a talent in systemizing. The results also have implications for explaining how genes for autism may have persisted in the population gene pool, as some of these genes appear linked to adaptive, advantageous traits,” said Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, who led the study.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Opening the books, and Bloody streets.
Liberal senator and accused fraudster Raymond Lavigne claimed more than $30,000 in work-related expenses during a three-month span last year—despite the fact that he is banned from sitting in the upper chamber while his criminal trial unfolds. Sadly, his hefty tab is hardly shocking. (This is the same senator, after all, who famously sent a staffer to chop down trees at his cottage.) The good news? Finally, after years of pushback, every senator’s spending habits are now posted online. Though long overdue, such transparency is the only way to ensure the next Raymond Lavigne does his own gardening.
An injection of truth
In 1998, a British researcher published a bogus study that remains one of the biggest myths of modern medicine: that autism is somehow linked to childhood vaccines. Andrew Wakefield’s work has been repeatedly discredited, but countless parents—fearful of a side effect that doesn’t exist—still choose not to immunize their kids against measles, mumps and rubella. This week, the British Medical Journal published yet another scathing rebuke, describing the doctor’s original study as “an elaborate fraud.” Case closed.
Up in smoke
Suddenly, the air seems fresher. According to a new report released this week by Citigroup, smoking is in such rapid decline around the world that cigarettes will “virtually disappear” by 2050. The end could come even quicker in Cambridge, Mass., where city council is pondering an outdoor smoking ban in parks and other public places. And here at home, graphic new warning labels—including the photo of a dying lung cancer victim—already seem to be working. A new poll says one-third of smokers believe the packages will help them quit.
Fluoride levels in the U.S. water supply will be reduced after a new study that found kids are getting too much of the cavity-fighting mineral due, in part, to improved brushing habits. Better still is the news that British scientists have developed a way to eliminate the skin-crawling whine of a dentist’s drill—and replace it with relaxing music. Now if they could only do something about the sound of fingers on a blackboard.
Mexico’s violent drug war shows no signs of abating. In sunny Acapulco, the two-day death toll was 31, including the grisly discovery of the decapitated corpses of 15 young men. Authorities are telling tourists not to worry because the violence is “targeted.” Hardly. At least the news is better in another drug hot spot, Brazil, where police have cleared out three gang strongholds in Rio de Janeiro. The military-style operations are part of a plan to take back no-go areas of the city in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Maybe somebody should award Mexico a major international event.
Memo to Environment Minister Peter Kent: don’t bother trying to promote the Alberta tar sands as “ethical oil.” We’re all doomed anyway. A new study predicts that climate change will cause a global disaster within the next 1,000 years—even if the world immediately cuts all greenhouse gas emissions. Vanishing ice floes, massive flooding and global food shortages are all inevitable, the report warns. “Even if we change behaviour and totally change society, we’re still in store for a lot of bad scenarios,” says one researcher. “I feel a bit defeatist.” A bit?
The federal government is about to slash the budget of the RCMP’s air marshal program, a post-9/11 initiative that places plainclothes Mounties on commercial flights. The undercover officers are considered the last line of defence against hijackers and terrorists, but a looming 25 per cent funding cut will mean fewer marshals in the sky come April. If the feds were really serious about airline safety, they would cut something else: the amount of coffee served in the cockpit. A United Airlines pilot was forced to make an emergency landing in Toronto this week after spilling his java all over the controls.
It’s hard to decide which was more stomach-churning: Team Canada’s epic collapse at the World Junior Hockey Championship, or a Buffalo News column that slammed visiting Canadian fans as “arrogant,” “obnoxious” and “lousy tippers.” Clearly, the writer has never ventured to the end zone seats at a Bills game.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 10:01 AM - 29 Comments
The belief that vaccination causes autism is far more dangerous than any vaccine
In 1721, after New England Puritan preacher Cotton Mather had started an inoculation program—the ancestor of today’s disease-preventing vaccines—to combat a raging smallpox epidemic that eventually killed 800 Bostonians, someone firebombed his home. “Cotton Mather, you dog, dam [sic] you,” ran a note that accompanied the lit grenade tossed through his window, “I’l [sic] inoculate you with this, with a Pox to you.” There are two good reasons for Seth Mnookin to include the incident in The Panic Virus, his riveting account of the rise of the popular—but scientiﬁcally baseless—belief that vaccinations cause autism. Mather’s ordeal demonstrates both the surprisingly ancient pedigree of humanity’s best weapons against its worst enemies (smallpox regularly killed up to 400,000 Europeans a year in the 18th century), and that the counterintuitive idea of deliberately infecting ourselves—or worse, our infant children—with disease has always creeped us out.
That instinctive repulsion is one of the root factors in the long and bitter controversy over the causes of a neurological disorder, usually diagnosed in childhood, that can physically exhaust, financially drain and emotionally devastate families. It is now known that autism and the related conditions grouped together as autism spectrum disorder are physical disorders, meaning that the social impairment aspect—serious language difficulties, avoidance of eye contact and lack of interest in others—is no longer blamed, as it once was, on uncaring “refrigerator parents” who were reaping what they had sown. But what does cause ASD remains unknown, although a genetic “component” is clearly involved. Thus the feeling that ASD is a poisoned chalice parents have brought to their children—”What, after all,” remarks Mnookin in an interview, “is more you, than your genes?”—still provokes guilt, anger and a burning desire to find an outside agent.
No such agent could be more intuitively obvious than vaccines. Beyond their ancient emotional baggage, vaccinations are now given to very young children often within weeks—even days—of the ages at which many autistic kids first display symptoms. And from the1990s onward, both the number of vaccines administered and the incidence of ASD diagnoses have increased. Autism was once thought to affect four or five people in 10,000; today one in 280 girls and one in 70 boys is diagnosed with ASD, for an overall rate of one in 110 children. Intuition is further reinforced by the usual suspects Mnookin fingers: the Internet echo chamber that allows partisans to filter out contrary opinions, and the media’s casual standards of balance, easily satisfied with one source providing evidence-based (if uncertain) science and another offering passionate certainty and compelling stories.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 12:08 PM - 8 Comments
British Medical Journal slams study that led parents to refuse vaccine
A 1998 study by UK researcher Andrew Wakefield that linked childhood autism to a vaccine was not only wrong, but an “elaborate fraud” according to the British Journal of Medicine. Wakefield’s study showed that twelve autistic children had first showed symptoms shortly after receiving the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. British investigative journalist Brian Deer revealed last year that not one of the 12 children’s official medical records matched the study’s assertion, including the dates when they first showed autism-like symptoms. The BMJ has confirmed Deer’s assessment. Even though doctors warned that the study was flawed because of its tiny sample size and lack of control group, hundreds of thousands of British parents refused to give their children the vaccine over the next decade because of the study. The fear of the MMR vaccine spread across the world. In 2008, measles was declared endemic to the UK once again—a symptom of panic over the vaccine.
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
It takes a village to raise an idiot
Jacques Rogge and the rest of the executive board of the International Olympic Committee have relented and will allow the Australian International Olympic Committee to fly its iconic “boxing kangaroo” flag from a balcony of the Vancouver Olympic Village. The flag was ordered removed because the IOC bans unauthorized commercial symbols, and the cartoon ’roo is trademarked, albeit only to the Australian Olympic Committee. The dispute ﬁred up Aussies everywhere. Deputy PM Julia Gillard called it a “scandal.” Vancouver radio phone-in callers raged at the IOC’s bully tactics. IOC spokesman Mark Adams called the issue “a storm in a teacup.” Meantime, athletes are streaming to the Oz sector of the village for a photo with the giant ’roo.
He did it for the kids
It was death in the afternoon for any bull that Jairo Miguel Sànchez Alonso faced Saturday at an arena in southwest Spain. The 16-year-old killed six bulls without mussing his sparkly white suit of lights. He returned to Spain after several years apprenticing in Mexico, where there is no minimum age for fighters. He almost died there in 2007 when a bull gored him. Alonso holds no grudges. “I feel quite bad when the bull has been good and you see the expression on his face, the innocence,” he says. “He has given you his bravery.” The event, while bloody, had a softer side. It was a fundraiser for children with autism.
Bad times for burkas
French Prime Minister François Fillon announced this week he’ll deny citizenship to a Moroccan national who forces his French-born wife to wear a burka. “If this man does not want to change his attitude, he has no place in our country,” he said. Meantime, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call for a law banning full burkas is gaining steam. He has declared the full veil and body covering “not welcome” in France, and inconsistent with the country’s values. It’s certainly not welcome in Paris post offices. Two burka-clad robbers walked into a post office in the Paris suburb of Athis Mons, an area with a large immigrant Muslim population. They pulled out handguns and stole the equivalent of $6,000.
Blades of glory
Germany’s Katarina Witt and Canada’s Elizabeth Manley met on the ice in Vancouver Sunday, 22 years after the Teutonic bombshell and Canada’s sweetheart squared off in Calgary during the 1988 Olympics. Witt won gold but Manley, under enormous home-country pressure, pulled off the skate of her life to finish second. Both women are doing television colour commentary in Vancouver, but they took a turn on the Robson Square ice rink with young members of the Coquitlam Skating Club. “We’re not here for a rematch,” joked Manley, 44. “Not at our age, I’m 20—plus tax.” Replied a razor-sharp Witt: “Oh, my God! How much are taxes here?”
Tea time in Tennessee
Cranky country singer and musical comedian Ray Stevens’s flagging career was ready for a death panel. Then the 71-year-old singer of such novelty hits as Ahab the A-rab and Gitarzan wrote We the People, a lighthearted attack on President Barack Obama’s health care initiative. The video, which shows Stevens strumming a bathroom plunger and singing, “You vote Obamacare, we’re gonna vote you outta there,” is a YouTube hit and an unofficial anthem of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. Stevens sang at the group’s convention in Nashville on the weekend, where Sarah Palin raised eyebrows with her $100,000 fee for giving the keynote speech. “That’s a lot of damned tea,” grumbled one delegate.
Do as I say, not as I…ahh-choo!
As deputy health minister for the Czech Republic, Michael Vit has the job of deciding whether to impose mandatory swine flu vaccinations on “all people indispensable for the functioning of the country.” The day after receiving the assignment, Vit came down with H1N1 himself. “I have muscle problems, a headache, simply all symptoms of the flu,” he said. The deputy health minister admitted he had yet to receive the vaccination. “As you see, I’m a living example.”
‘Funeral’ for friends, and strangers
Canadian orchestral rockers Arcade Fire made it to the Super Bowl last weekend, when the group’s stirring anthem Wake Up, from their hit CD Funeral, was used in a series of NFL promo ads. While the group is protective of licensing its music, they had their reasons in this case. They turned over the fat licensing fee to Partners in Health, an agency with deep roots in Haiti. Band member Régine Chassagne’s family came from the island. She expressed her grief in an article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “I am mourning people I know. People I don’t know. People who are still trapped under rubble and won’t be rescued in time.”
Broom versus stick
Icy, obsessed with winning and not above the occasional cheap shot. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and hockey are a match made in heaven. Hockey is “deeply reflective of the character of the nation,” he explained in a pre-Olympic interview with Sports Illustrated. Harper, who has studied the origins of the sport, said it contributes to “a uniquely Canadian sense of belonging in a community across the country.” Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff waxes poetic about a different sport: curling. Naturally, he identifies with the skip. “It’s the leadership and the precision, and the quiet,” he told the Globe and Mail. Apparently he’s not the sort of skip who shouts unseemly commands like, “Hurry, hurry hard.”
Very, very teed off
A Kelowna, B.C., entrepreneur is cashing in on Tiger Woods’s extramarital mayhem. Mike Caldwell has produced the Mistress Collection, a boxed set of 12 golf balls, each bearing a portrait of one of Woods’s mistresses. “He likes to play a round with them…and now you can, too!” notes his website, tailofthetiger.com. Caldwell says he sold 1,500 sets at US$54.90 in the first six days. Less than impressed is Joslyn James, an adult film star and alleged Woods mistress. She called a news conference to denounce the balls as hurtful and in bad taste. “It bothered me to think that someone would be standing with a dangerous club in their hands hitting a ball with my photo on it,” she said. She then showed her sensitive side by releasing 100 tawdry text messages she said she received from Woods.
You don’t want a visit by Oscar
Oscar the cat has a near infallible ability to detect which of the patients in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., is next to die, says Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician. When Oscar curls up with a patient, staff know to phone the next of kin. “It’s like he’s on a vigil,” says Dosa. Such insight would come as no surprise to cat owners, who are themselves terribly smart. Certainly smarter than dog owners, according to a study by Dr. Jane Murray at the University of Bristol. Winston Churchill was a cat lover. Paris Hilton loves dogs. Want more proof? Cat owners (if anyone really owns a cat) are 1.36 times more likely than dog owners to hold a university degree. They’re also 100 per cent less likely to have to follow behind their pet and scoop droppings off the sidewalk.
Gay but not cheerful
The headline in the Seattle Weekly says it all: “Gay, mentally challenged biracial male cheerleader claims discrimination.” All that high school student Benjamin Grundy wants is to shake his pom-poms like the girls on the squad at Garfield-Palouse High School in tiny Palouse, Wash. Instead, the cheer coach suggested he’d make a great mascot. He was eventually given a cheerleader’s top but denied the rest of the uniform, pom-poms, and the right to join the dance routine. “I was reduced to standing there and moving my arms,” he says. The school board denies discrimination, but Benjamin’s mother, Suzanne Grundy, is pressing the case with the ACLU and her congressman. “The combination of a biracial, mentally challenged gay male may be too much for them,” she told the local TV station.
L’état c’est moi
Quebec’s Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Duchesne has revived a tradition that ended 44 years ago—awarding medals, in gold, silver and bronze, and bearing his coat of arms, to those making contributions to their communities. The practice of awarding such medals ended in 1966 after Quebec nationalists condemned the symbolic tie with the monarchy. Duchesne has no such qualms: he also invoked royal privilege to avoid testifying before a national assembly committee on how he spends some $1 million annually in taxpayer money. His refusal to testify was condemned by all sides of the legislature.
Disharmony in the house of Wang
It was Hong Kong feng shui master Tony Chan’s skills in arranging buildings to create a positive life force that drew Chan to the eccentric, pigtailed property magnate Nina Wang. He began a 15-year affair with Wang, 23 years his senior. Now, he’s accused of arranging her $4-billion fortune in a manner auspicious to himself. When she died at 69 in 2007, he claimed to be her sole heir. Her family contested the will, and he’s charged with forgery.
She also has a Ph.D. in thankless tasks
Leila Ghannam, a former Palestinian intelligence officer, is the first woman governor of Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the West Bank. Her challenge is to quash a resurgence by hard-liners in Hamas. “My intelligence experience, like my degree in psychology, helps me carry out my job,” she says.
By Brian Bethune - Monday, July 13, 2009 at 3:40 PM - 13 Comments
Suddenly, Asperger’s is the new ‘it’ disorder on screen and in fiction.
On a 2006 episode of House, Fox’s popular TV drama about the misanthropic medical genius played by Hugh Laurie, Gregory House has to solve the troubling case of an autistic child. Is the 10-year-old boy screaming because he has an untreated physical ailment about which he can’t communicate, or because, well, as most of House’s team believe, that’s what severely autistic children do? House eventually saves the day, of course, but the specific illness of the week was not the real plot point. That turned on the question, now unavoidable to House’s colleagues, on whether their resident savant—sarcastic, brutally blunt, virtually friendless and utterly devoid of social niceties as he is—was himself autistic: specifically, did he have Asperger’s syndrome, the best known of the diagnoses at the high-functioning end of autism spectrum disorders?
The answer to that is left hanging, but were the good doctor to be diagnosed with any ASD, he would be just one of many such characters in recent pop culture—one of many such beloved characters. From the runaway success of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with its autistic teen hero Christopher Boone, to Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan and her assistant Zack Addy—two Asperger’s characters on one show—of Fox’s TV drama Bones, to Lisbeth Salander, the electrifying Asperger’s heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, viewers and readers have taken to a series of endearingly offbeat ASD protagonists, if not to the 10-year-old screaming in the corner. It’s all part of autism’s new normal, at least as it’s portrayed in pop culture, variously described by those who approve as evidence of growing social acceptance of “neurological diversity,” and by those less impressed as “our strange fetishization of Asperger’s.” Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 8:40 AM - 15 Comments
A Danish tech firm harnesses the power of the autistic brain
For the first two years of his life, Lars Sonne appeared to develop normally, a happy boy, much like his older brothers. But at the age of two, roughly 10 years ago, Lars started to retreat into himself. “At kindergarten, he wouldn’t play with others,” says his father Thorkil Sonne, a Danish software executive, speaking from his office in Copenhagen. “He would only be on his own, sit on a swing for hours.” For several months, psychologists observed the boy closely, and ultimately delivered a devastating diagnosis. “We were told that our son has a lifelong disability called childhood autism,” says Sonne. “It was scary to realize how many doors would be closed to him.”
As time progressed, Sonne noted something remarkable about Lars. He had few friends—he was far too easy to bully—but he had intense, deeply cerebral interests, like astronomy, railroad systems and math. “When he starts focusing on something, he is so clever,” he says. “He can learn so much; it’s quite extraordinary.” Once, when Lars was seven, Sonne found him creating an elaborate doodle, made up of dozens of stacked boxes, numbers and acronyms. Only later, when Sonne happened to crack open an atlas on his bookshelf, did he realize that what his son had drawn was a replica, from memory, of an intricate road map of western Europe, reproduced without a single error.
By Rachel Mendleson - Monday, February 23, 2009 at 9:40 AM - 763 Comments
As parents fight for scarce resources, bright young minds are left to languish
Jenn Marshall hadn’t started teaching her son to read. So she was surprised when she overheard Jeremy, barely four, sounding out words on a page in their basement apartment in Mississauga, Ont. Apparently, he had figured it out himself. Only when he started school did she realize how different he was. As his classmates learned phonics, Marshall says her son, who by five had graduated to the Harry Potter series, sat alone with a novel.
Despite Jeremy’s abilities, his overall performance was poor. Still, at the end of Grade 1, his teacher suggested he might be gifted, and thus eligible for a place in a specialized class. But when Marshall, who asked that her real name not be used, approached the principal, she was told that because of Jeremy’s poor handwriting and social skills, “he would never become a priority for testing.” Desperate, she cut off the family’s Internet service to save for a private assessment. But when she presented the results—Jeremy was found to possess profound giftedness as well as signs of a learning disability—his Grade 2 teacher piled on extra work, and chastised him when he encountered difficulties. “She was always saying things like ‘Aren’t you supposed to be smart?’ ” says Marshall.