Monday, April 16th, 2012
Music has turned out to be an outlet that enables many who suffer from Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to express themselves. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports on one such boy, who at age 8 had not yet spoken a word. One day, John Thompson’s father heard singing in the house and assumed it came from a CD:
But when he opened the door, there was his son, playing a song on the keyboard and mimicking lyrics in a pitch-perfect melody.
“Music is what unlocked John’s tongue,” Grant Thompson said.
Through song, John Mikkiah Thompson, now 18, has found a way to overcome his limitations and express himself in ways he never knew possible. He also will release his first album of original music this month and headline a concert at Center Grove High School on Sunday.
His goal is to become a contemporary Christian music star.
But he also hopes to be an inspiration to other people struggling with autism, letting them know that the condition doesn’t mean they can’t achieve their goals.
“It feels good to know I’m moving people. People come up to me afterward crying, and it’s very interesting to hear that I touch their lives when I start to sing,” he said.
Image: Hands playing a keyboard, via Shutterstock.
Friday, April 13th, 2012
“Bully,” a new film that’s being referred to as a “shock-u-mentary” because of its upsetting content, features the stories of two children with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that often results in children being teased, outcast, and abused at school.
The film describes the travails of Tyler Long, who committed suicide at age 17 after enduring severe bullying, and Alex Libby, who was also harassed and bullied. Notably, the film does not mention either boy’s Asperger’s diagnosis. Education Week has more:
Although the filmmakers give a lot of background information on both Tyler and Alex, including showing home-movies of both of them at young ages, the film itself makes no mention of their disabilities.
That was a deliberate choice, said Cynthia Lowen, a writer and producer on the film.
“It felt like his autism was being couched in such a way as to blame him for being different,” she said in an interview. “We didn’t want to continue the idea that targets of bullying bring it on themselves. They should be safe and protected at school. That was really the point we were trying to make.”
Bullying is a problem for lots of kids, but students with disabilities are often special targets, said James H. Wendorf, the executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, during a discussion last night at the National Education Association, which screened the film in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers. He said while about 20 percent of students report being bullied, the number is a lot higher, more than 60 percent, for kids with disabilities.
Image: Upset boy, via Shutterstock.
Friday, January 20th, 2012
The American Psychiatric Association is reviewing its definition of autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome, and preliminary reports suggest that the new, narrower definition could remove or withhold diagnoses from high-functioning patients, leading to limited health, educational, and behavioral services at a time when school special education budgets are pushed to the limit. One analysis found that as many as 45 percent of high-functioning autistic patients would no longer qualify under the new diagnostic criteria.
The New York Times reports:
The psychiatrists’ association is wrestling with one of the most agonizing questions in mental health — where to draw the line between unusual and abnormal — and its decisions are sure to be wrenching for some families. At a time when school budgets for special education are stretched, the new diagnosis could herald more pitched battles. Tens of thousands of people receive state-backed services to help offset the disorders’ disabling effects, which include sometimes severe learning and social problems, and the diagnosis is in many ways central to their lives. Close networks of parents have bonded over common experiences with children; and the children, too, may grow to find a sense of their own identity in their struggle with the disorder.
At least a million children and adults have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, like Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. People with Asperger’s or P.D.D.-N.O.S. endure some of the same social struggles as those with autism but do not meet the definition for the full-blown version. The proposed change would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, eliminating Asperger syndrome and P.D.D.-N.O.S. from the manual. Under the current criteria, a person can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting 6 or more of 12 behaviors; under the proposed definition, the person would have to exhibit 3 deficits in social interaction and communication and at least 2 repetitive behaviors, a much narrower menu.
Image: Upset child, via Shutterstock