The Matrix of Autism

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Wray Herbert

Autistic children* are doubly stigmatized. On the one hand, they are often dismissed as “low functioning” or mentally retarded, especially if they have poor speaking skills as many do. Yet when autistics do show exceptional abilities—uncanny visual discrimination and memory for detail, for example—their flashes of brilliance are marginalized as aberrations, mere symptoms of their higher order cognitive deficit. They often earn a dubious promotion to “idiot savant.”

This seems unfair. It’s kind of like cutting a sprinter from the track team because he is either too slow or too fast. The theoretical justification for this view is that prototypical autistic skills are not true intelligence at all, but really just low-level perceptual abilities. Indeed, in this view autistics are missing the big picture because they are obsessed with the detail. The trees for the forest if you will.

But is this true? Are autistics really incapable of abstraction and integration and other high-level thinking? Surprisingly, given how pervasive this view of autism is, it has never been rigorously tested. Autistics have been tested out the wazoo, but a team of scientists in Canada suspected that the tests themselves might be baised. They decided to explore the idea in the lab.

Led by psychologist Laurent Mottron of the University of Montreal, the team gave both autistic kids and normal kids two of the most popular IQ tests used in schools. The two tests are both highly regarded, but they are very diffierent. The so-called WISC relies heavily on language, which is why the psychologists were suspicious of it. The other, known as the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, is considered the preeminent test of what’s called “fluid intelligence,” that is, the ability to infer rules, to set and manage goals, to do high-level abstractions. Basically the test presents arrays of complicated patterns with one missing, and test takers are required to choose the one that would logically complete the series. The test demands a good memory, focused attention and other “executive skills,” but—unlike the WISC—it doesn’t require much language.

The idea was that the autistic kids’ true intelligence might shine through if they could bypass the language deficit. And that’s exactly what happened. The difference between their scores on the WISC and the Raven’s test was striking: For example, not a single autistic child scored in the “high intelligence” range of the WISC, yet fully a third did on the Raven’s. Similarly, a third of the autistics had WISC scores in the mentally retarded range, whereas only one in 20 scored that low on the Raven’s test. The normal kids had basically the same results on both tests.

The scientists ran the same experiment with autistic and normal adults, with the same result. As they report in the August issue of Psychological Science, these findings speak not only to the level of autistic intelligence but to the nature of autistic intelligence. While it is probably true that autistics possess extraordinary perceptual skills, and that they use unique cognitive pathways for problem solving, their intelligence clearly goes far beyond rote memory and perception to include complex reasoning ability. That won't come as any surprise to Michelle Dawson, who is autistic. She is also a scientific collaborator on this study.

_______________________________________________
*Like the scientists who did this study, I am adopting this respectful usage. For an explanation, see Jim Sinclair’s essay, “Why I Dislike ‘Person First’ Language.”
_______________________________________________
For more insights into human nature, visit “We’re Only Human . . .” at www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman.


posted by Wray Herbert @ 3:35 PM

8 Comments:

At 7:08 PM , Blogger Maggie said...

Yes, I have to agree with the request for "person first" language. [Persons with Autism] Otherwise, this is a fascinating and wonderful affirmation of what I have known...because I know so many people with autism personally.

 
At 5:28 PM , Blogger J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E. said...

I recall hearing, decades ago, a commercial about some make of automobile, "Ask the man who owns one." I deem that intolerably "sexist," and always did. However, it may be useful to ask people whose lives include autism about autism and not merely ask those who study autism without experiencing it directly; the better to make useful sense of what ways autism may serve the needs of humanity.

I do not have autism and autism does not have me. I am, I find, quite profoundly autistic, and that is perfectly normal for me, and I also find that I am as normal as is anyone else.

While I have formal Asperger's Syndrome diagnoses (from a physician and from a psychologist), those are for the convenience of people who are, to turn the tables on the notion of mental disorder, what I call "severely autism deficient."
(Yes, autistic people can have a survival-oriented, effective, sense of humor.)

Jim Sinclair's "Don't Mourn for Us" remains, in my experience, about the best cry for respect any autistic person (or person with autism -- if any such people exist -- I seem never to have met anyone who was "with autism") has ever put forth.

I am not anonymous. I am a licensed Wisconsin professional engineer, with (note what I deem the proper use of "with") a Ph.D. in bioengineering. My ongoing research is into societal structures as viewed from a public safety viewpoint. To do this work, I use the methods of engineering and the tools of scientific psychology, and do so, as people seem to tell me at conferences and such, at about as high a level as anyone ever has.

Autism, and being autistic, have turned out, in my life and work, to be essential resources for doing the work I do as a scientist-engineer.

To me, a variation on the theme of the Sapir-Whorf (or Whorf) hypothesis, in strong form is that language shapes thought, and in weak form is that thought shapes language.

Temple Grandin has a book, "Thinking in Pictures." When I read it, I wondered what that would be like. And, in talking with many people who tell me that they "think in words," I find myself bewildered to wonder what that would be like.

It is my understanding that Grandin has said that, for her to tell, in words, of her experiences, it is as though she has to play her mental "video tape" and narrate it as she watches it. Because I find I have always been unable to think in words or to think in pictures as Grandin says she does, or as most people seem to tell me they do, it has been interesting to me to learn how to communicate with other people.

Sometimes someone with whom I am talking will tell me that he or she has a "word on the tip of the tongue," but cannot yet speak the word. At such moments, perhaps it becomes clear that thoughts for everyone first form outside the realm of words.

Methinks that it may be when people learn "time confusion," that the sort of thinking patters with which it seems to me that everyone is born become lost to conscious awareness (more about this later in this posting).

I find that, as best I can yet discern, I think in patterns much as does a neonate who has not seen much yet and who has not grasped even one word yet. I find it as though I have to videotape the wordless patterns that form in my mind, and then play the video tape in some sort of nearly immediate playback and then narrate that mental "video tape."

I have a profound form of language delay. As I was about to enter kindergarten, my parents talked with me, as was routine in my family of origin, and did so in depth and detail. Fortunately for me, my parents obviously had the beautiful gift of Asperger's Syndrome, and so deemed my autism as quite appropriate.

There was one little detail, however, that had garnered my parents attention. Shortly before kindergarten began, my parents, and particularly my dad, pointed out that I had never made the "transition from infant to child." He further mentioned that he had never heard of anyone who had not done that transition, but, however I was doing it, my life seemed to be working for me. He went on to request that, if things happened at school that did not make sense to me, to talk with my mother or him about what was happening, which I did.

What I could not learn, and still cannot learn, is what Erik H. Erikson called "time confusion," a correlate of mistrust in his epigenetic scheme of social development "crises."

While I find I am totally unable to learn mistrust, I find that I can, with near perfect certainty, sometimes trust some people to act in ways I find shatteringly and catastrophically abusive to me.

The late psychotherapist, Martin Cooperman, described "the defeating process," the seeming human proclivity to act hurtfully in response to having been or having felt hurt. "Tit for tat," is what I call this process.

"Let me show you how that felt" seems terribly harmful if what one does to show how that felt is a reciprocally escalating process of ever-increasing intensity of showing.

Goodness, gracious. Some people fly airplanes into tall buildings and murder a few thousand people. Tit for tat, and, in response, perhaps a hundred thousand people who never did anything to hurt those few thousand are murdered. Goodness, gracious! The defeating principle in all its stunning terror. The war in (name suppresed because of confidentiality concerns on my part) is not a war on terror, it is a war of terror... ? ? ??? Or, did I miss something significant? I do make mistakes, for whatever that may be worth.

Neurologist Robert Scaer, in his 2006 book, "The Trauma Spectrum," puts forth the view that "time corrupted learning" is, at the neurological level, trauma itself.

By having what may be an effective biological (genetic/phenotypic) incapacity to master time corrupted learning, did I, perchance, manage to elude a form of trauma that may, perchance have captured a stunning majority of humanity?

What if at least some forms of autism are the preventive remedy for such trauma?

There are people who are synesthetes, who, for example, will see colors in response to sounds. Biological diversity, both genotypic and phenotypic, continually appears to me to be the most stunnigly beautiful feature of humanity.

J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.
Wisconsin Professional Engineer No. 34106

 
At 9:19 PM , Blogger Phil Schwarz said...

Maggie, you misunderstand. The request was *not* to use "person first" language.

Autistic people *overwhelmingly* prefer to be called (and *overwhelmingly* call themselves) "autistic people" rather than "people with autism".

We all need to respect what people *themselves* want to be called, and what they call themselves.

Other disability groups may prefer person-first language, and it is appropriate to use with them, because *that is their wish*.

It is highly *inappropriate*, though, to use it with autistic people.

 
At 6:09 PM , Blogger J. Brian said...

Perhaps those who believe that autism is necessarily a disorder or a defect might wisely find and read the book, "The Age of the Tail," by H. Allen Smith (1955).

In that book, Smith tells of a time when there was a change, and all children were born with tails. At first, parents were horrified, and aranged for surgical correction of this "defect."

Alas, after a time, with every child being born with a tail, some parents decided to not have their newborn's tails amputated.

As the children grew up, and as society adapted to having tails, something rather surprising happened. People with tails could not be dishonest, because their tail wagging would "give them away."

I have long noted that autistic-spectrum people tend to have much more difficulty with being dishonest than do other people.

In my doctoral dissertation, I commented upon my observations that contemporary human society, as I observe it, is, in some ways, profoundly dishonest.

What if the word "tail" in H. Allen Smith's book is somewhat analogous to "autism"?

J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.

 
At 3:30 PM , Blogger J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E. said...

Perhaps I would wisely give the best definition I yet have of autism. In making sense of the definition, one might wisely allow that autism may be a combination of conditions, in which the self is an object of study.

My current definition is: "Autism is an aspect of the human individual condition in which the successful internalization of socialization-process-mandated dishonesty is difficult, with the degree of difficulty ranging from scarcely noticeable, to utterly impossible over an entire uncommonly long lifetime."

Neurologist Robert Scaer, in “The Trauma Spectrum” (W. W. Norton, 2005), Chapter 3, “Trauma as Imprisonment of the Mind.”, in the second paragraph of that chapter, wrote, “Trauma thus represents a time-based corruption of learning. The brain in trauma has lost its ability to distinguish past from present, and as a result, cannot adapt to the future... Trauma indeed is a state of imprisonment.”

I find that autistic people tend to have particular difficulty entering this state of imprisonment of the mind, and the greater the extent to which a person is autistic, the greater is the difficulty of entering or abiding in such a state of imprisonment of the mind.

If there is actually an “autism epidemic,” then such an “epidemic” is something to rejoice over, for it, after living a life that thus far, by every test I have been able to devise is profoundly autistic, appears clear to me that an “autism epidemic” is identical to a “decency and truthfulness epidemic.”

In my work as a bioengineer, work focused on the safety of social structures, it is terribly clear to me that I can show terrible distortions of reality as defined by traditional social consensus to anyone who will engage me for something like an hour in a very gentle and decent variation on the theme of dialogue, in the sense of “dialogue” as used by the “Dialogue Group” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

No one, and I have spoken directly with around two thousand people about the core structure of the research I have done and continue to do to date, who is well-grounded in the traditional, conventional socialization and acculturation process, has yet been able to point to any error of consequence , or even where to look for any such error, in the research findings of the work I have done so far.

My work appears to show that no one can show even a single mistake which was ever made and also describe any truthfully achievable (free of time-corrupted learning) process through which any mistake actually made could actually have been avoided.

It appears to me that this finding about mistakes, if not refuted, appears to demonstrate that the “adversarial system of jurisprudence” is of the form of a very primitive religious establishment (which includes “blood sacrifice” in the form of the death penalty) which will be recognized as profoundly unconstitutional in Wisconsin and in the United States of America, once the nature of mistakes and learning becomes sufficiently intelligible.

Put directly and simply, as a professional engineer who is licensed by the State of Wisconsin in the public safety interest, it appears to me that social structures which impose trauma in the form of imprisonment of the mind as described by Dr. Scaer may well pose greater danger to the public safety than anything else.

It appears to me that what may be original scientific research cannot get much stronger than the work that I have thus far done, especially if such work is found to be uncommonly original.

Is anyone willing to take the risk of discovering whether or not the work of Dr. Scaer and others, including me, on the nature of trauma is worthy of diligent and timely attention?

I am not anonymous.

J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.
Wisconsin Professional Engineer No. 34106

 
At 8:18 AM , Blogger J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E. said...

Perhaps it would be wise to for me to illustrate what being sufficiently autistic could possibly accomplish.

If my declarative memory is not unduly befuddled, I recall something to the effect that Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (and others) supposedly sought or seek (take your choice) a "Unified Field Theory," which I understand is also sometimes labeled, "A Theory of Everything."

Galileo Galelei, as I recall, on being asked why he found what he found about motion when no one else had previously found it, said something akin to "They looked in the wrong place."

Suppose Einstein and Hawking were unsuccessful thus far because, until now, the place to look did not exist?

Consider the following, from "The Space Child's Mother Goose" (Verses by Fredrick Winsor, Illustrations by Marian Parry, Purple House Press, 2001):

"Probable-Possible, my black hen,
She lays eggs in the Relative When.
She doesn't lay eggs in the Positive Now
Because she's unable to Postulate How."

Consider the story of "The Strong Thief," to be found in "Tales of the Hasidim" (Martin Buber, Olga Marx, tr., Schocken Books, 1947, 1975, 1991), thus:

"The maggid of Mezritch said:
"Every lock hs its key which is fitted to it and opens it. But there are strong thieves who know how to open without keys. They break the lock. So every mystery in the world can be unriddled by the particular kind of meditation fitted to it. But God loves the thief who breaks the lock open: I mean the man who breaks his heart for God.""

Words are symbols and no symbol is what it symbolizes. Suppose we equivalence "God" to creativity?

Information Theory informs me that: a single code symbol (a binit) may contain any amount of bits (in the sense of information as of the work of Claude Shannon et. al.) Thus, any given word symbol may have any amount of meaning or meanings.

Communication theory communicates to me that: communication may be modeled as a sendable message, a sendable message-encoder, an encodable message transmitter, a useable transmission channel, a channelable message receiver, a receivable message-decoder, and a receivable message. Bits are of the message and binits are of the code.

Are not useable transmission channels somewhat plausibly likely to be somewhat fading, dispersive, selective, non-minimum-delay, non-linear, and noisy?

How may we create and evolve, in a practical way, intrinsically and inextricably and inevitably error-correcting intra-personal and inter-personal transmission of fully meaningful messages?

Suppose we equivalence "tall" to "autistic" in "The Little Elf" by John Kendrick Bangs, as found in "Silver Pennies" (Blanche Jennings Thompson, The Macmillan Company, 1944), as in:

"I met a little Elf-man once,
Down where the lillies blow.
I asked him why he was so small,
and why he didn't grow.

He slightly frowned, and with his eye
He looked me through and through.
I'm just as tall for me," said he,
"As you are tall for you.""

What may a short version of a "Grand Unified Field Theory of Everything" plausibly look like?

How about my making an attempt at a short version, thus:

I have long observed that what I observe depends upon the manner by which I
observe what I observe.

This calls to my mind the observed phenomenon of "self-reference."

Consider a pond and looking into the pond at a right angle to the pond surface. If the surface of the pond is very smooth because there has been almost no wind for a goodly while, one will see a rather accurate reflection of oneself in the pool. If there has been a light breeze for a while, the ripples of the pond surface will distort one's reflection, but not to the extent that one's image refected back from the pond surface is unrecognizable.If there has been a whole gale for days, one's reflection will seem as though to have vanished, so distorted will it be. This set of notions is quite directly observable, so I have observed.

Self-reference may perhaps be modeled in what may be observed to be two ways which
can also be observed as one way, for the two ways are one way, and the one way is two ways, and the one way excludes the two ways, and the two ways exclude the one way ,and each way excludes the other and both ways are the same, and there is no paradox.

Impossible? What is impossible cannot be possible, and this aggregation of words exists as much as does anything else.

Possible? Suppose we put possiblity and probability to the test of science?

Perusing the literature, I have found useful, "Intelligible Religion," Philip Phenix (Harper & Brothers, 1954, and the work of Ian G. Barbour. Dr. Phenix served as associate professor of religion, and Dr. Barbour is professor of religion and physics, both at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnsota. While at Carleton, I studied under Barbour, and the Phenix book, mentioned above,was one of the texts used.

First way, in "printed" form:

"The eye cannot see itself, a mirror (such as the surface of a pond) is needed
to reflect the image if the eye to the eye."

Second way, in "printed form:

The I cannot see itself, a mirror (another person) is needed to reflect the
image (imago) of the I to the I."

Both ways as one:

Say either or both of those two ways aloud (leaving out the parentheses and what is within them); to say both, they must be said consecutively, and the oneness of both can be heard.

A complete "Grand Unfied Field Theory of Everything" is impossible because
of self-reference, because such a theory would have to exceed itself.

The presently achievable "Grand Unified Field Theory of Everything" has just been stated.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

(To hum is erran, and I apologize for any noise that may have thus far eluded me in the form of typographical errors.)

Rev. J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.
Wisconsin Professional Engineer No. 34106
Affirmational Faith Ministry
(Affirmational Faith Ministry is absolutely non-sectarian)
jbrianharris(at)hotmail.com

 
At 2:43 PM , Blogger J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E. said...

My wife's mother was, in my view, a very fine poet. During my struggle with words, I once said to my wife,

"I am not a poet
And I know it."

Given that, I wonder whether the word scramble that follows might perhaps shed a little light on what it may be like to apparently be autistic in the manner of "profoundly Kanner-type":


ODE to Autism, or ODE to The Authentic, Essential Self

A clattering cacophony of sounds cascading into the pit,
Burying me deeply wherever I sit -
Sounds that form daggers piercing me through.
What in the world am I to do?

When at society I sneak a Peek
I meet with a stench, a putrid reek.
The children's unheard anguished cries
Protesting culture's dastardly lies.

How long must it take
Children's hearts burned at the stake...
Reduce the heat to a simmer
perhaps we may see a glimmer.

Of the unmitigated truth
known only to intact youth -
The best that yet can be
is just what we may see.

The hellfire is near -
Why is it not clear, why not fear
The heat of the lies
In which everyone fries.

What shall it take
for humanity's sake?
How much uncooked gruel?
How much unrequited cruel?

You should have grown
before you could yearn?
You should have known
before you could learn?

Or so with sincerity they say
to this very timorous day.
Yet such consensus confabulations are never true.
How much yet remains for us to rue?

Would our lives have been better
Had we seen the way to unfetter
Our minds from the delusional fiction
That causes so much unbearable friction?

Second-guessing any newborn child
makes the gift of life defiled.
When will we have sufficiently striven
That we first fathom what we have been given?

A clattering cacophony of sounds cascading into the pit,
Burying us deeply wherever we sit -
Sounds that form daggers piercing us through.
What in the world are we to do?

unpublished work copyright 2003 J. Brian Harris, all rights reserved.
(Author's note: ODE = Ordinary Differential Equation)

[As long as it is only given away and not commercially printed or charged
for, it may be distributed freely as long as it is always kept intact, from
the first use of "ODE" through the end of this comment, which is enclosed with square brackets. - Rev. J. Brian
Harris, Ph.D., P.E.]


Rev. J. Brian Harris, Ph.D., P.E.
Wisconsin Professional Engineer No. 34106

 
At 11:30 AM , Blogger Val said...

I wrote a letter to CNN recently under the "Suggest a story" section.

If you want, here it is:

Autism is a word that is thrown around every so often; usually in regards to education or discrimination. However, most of the time, the news stories that get out about someone with Autism are only those stories concerning people on the low-functioning end of the spectrum. The spectrum spans great farther than that, but most people, unless directly affected by Autism, know next to nothing of the spectrum.

There are many people in this country with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome who are working hard every day to live and exist beside everyone else (so-called "normals" or "neurotypicals"). Are they equals of normal socially developed human beings? Why has no one done a story on the adults in this world? Why has no one investigated the various discriminations that these people face on a daily basis?

Employers discriminate against them for not having good enough social skills during interviews; even if social skills are not readily required by the field that they are interested in.

There are few to no resources available to adults on the spectrum; resources like social skills training, help with health insurance coverage, or any government programs specifically designed to help with finding housing or doing day to day tasks (executive dysfunction is often found on the spectrum; plus doing tasks like renting an apartment require social skills).

News coverage and general knowledge and understanding of adults on the spectrum is sketchy at best, and mostly unheard of. Some people aren't even aware that children aren't the only ones who have autism. There are also several misconceptions about autism running rampant through this country. For example, there is a misconception that people on the spectrum have no sense of humor or sense of empathy. It is apparent to those on the spectrum that the researchers putting forth these preposterous claims have never bothered to actually converse and listen to what people on the spectrum have to say about their lives. You need to go to the people and ask them personally.

The rates of autism are increasing every year. Someone needs to pay attention to these issues now; someone needs to start educating the public about the prejudice and hardships of everyday life that these people face constantly.

They are the future constituents of this country. They are the future parents of the children in this country. Someday they will the senior citizens of this country. As with the baby boomers, their numbers are increasing exponentially. They need a voice to help educate the rest of the world what kind of people this spectrum represents.

One final issue that needs to be discussed is the pros and cons of a possible autism cure, should one ever be developed. There are people out there who advocate finding a cure for Autism. These people do not represent the views of the majority of those on the spectrum.

If you ask the average person on the spectrum about their opinion on the idea of the cure, you're likely to get a long diatribe against "NTs/NeuroTypicals" and their intolerance of those who are different.

Did you know that most experts think that 90%-100% of autistic school children experience bullying at the hands of "NTs"?

Most of the people on the spectrum are anti-cure. The underlying belief being this:

With Autism, if you take away the bad, you also take away the good. Think of all the people that the historians now believe to have been autistic, in addition to those still in existence: Bill Gates, Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo . . . the list continues.

Would you rid the future of other such possible creations of human diversity? That's what the pro-cure people don't seem to understand.

I have a bachelor's degree in instrumental music education. I graduated in the top 10% of my class in undergrad. I'm currently attending Texas Woman's University pursuing an MA in Music Therapy. I'm diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

There are others like me. But our country doesn't know about us. They only know of the kids with low-functioning autism. They only know of the failures and cons of having autism.

I think this would be an extremely important story to put together in these days of extreme neurodiversity. I hope you consider my request.

Thank you.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home