Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
Parents whose children have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are feeling unsettled as news outlets have bandied about reports that the Newtown, Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, leading some to assume a link between the syndrome and violent behavior. Aspergers’s, however, is not associated with violence, as from The New York Times reports:
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders, who are often bullied in school and in the workplace, frequently do suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. A divorce mediator who met with the parents of Adam Lanza, the gunman, during their divorce told The Associated Press that the couple had said that their son’s condition had been diagnosed as Asperger syndrome.
But experts say there is no evidence that they are more likely than any other group to commit violent crimes.
“Aggression in autism spectrum disorders is almost never directed to people outside the family or immediate caregivers, is almost never planned, and almost never involves weapons,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian hospital. “Each of these aspects of the current case is more common in other populations than autism.”
Dr. Lord said that in an unpublished review of data tracking several hundred adults with autism over at least the past five years, she and fellow researchers had found no use of weapons. Among more than 1,000 older children and adolescents in that study, only 2 percent were reported by parents to have used an implement aggressively toward a nonfamily member — fewer than in a control group. That finding was repeated in another set of data that she analyzed over the weekend at the request of The New York Times.
But some of the Twitter messages, electronic postings and media reports in the aftermath of the massacre that has horrified the nation have not reflected that characterization of autism.
“Try curing the real disease, Autism, not the N.R.A.,” wrote one individual on Twitter on Sunday night in response to calls for tighter gun control laws.
“Something’s missing in the brain, the capacity for empathy, for social connection, which leaves the person suffering from this condition prone to serious depression and anxiety,” said one psychologist on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
In a widely circulated defense of the empathic powers of her 11-year-old son, who has an Asperger diagnosis, Emily Willingham, a science blogger, wrote that “he can’t bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts.”
On the DailyKos, a blogger who identified himself as having Asperger syndrome worried that the actions of Mr. Lanza, 20, who killed 20 young children and 7 adults, including his mother, and was described by a classmate as having a “very flat affect,” might be how “people with this disability are defined in the popular imagination.”
His own flat affect, he explained, does not mean that he has no feelings: “Our emotions don’t naturally show on our faces,” he wrote. “This is perhaps the most frustrating part of the Asperger experience, because people think you’re not feeling when you may be feeling even more strongly than they are.”
Image: Serious boy, via Shutterstock
Monday, December 3rd, 2012
In a move that is sure to elicit strong opinions in parents of autistic children, the American Psychiatric Association has approved proposed changes to the new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that will eliminate an independent diagnosis of “Asperger’s Disorder” and include Asperger’s kids within the diagnostic label of “autism spectrum disorder.” The Associated Press has more:
“One of the most hotly argued changes was how to define the various ranges of autism. Some advocates opposed the idea of dropping the specific diagnosis for Asperger’s disorder. People with that disorder often have high intelligence and vast knowledge on narrow subjects but lack social skills. Some who have the condition embrace their quirkiness and vow to continue to use the label.
And some Asperger’s families opposed any change, fearing their kids would lose a diagnosis and no longer be eligible for special services.
But the revision will not affect their education services, experts say.
The new manual adds the term “autism spectrum disorder,” which already is used by many experts in the field. Asperger’s disorder will be dropped and incorporated under that umbrella diagnosis. The new category will include kids with severe autism, who often don’t talk or interact, as well as those with milder forms.”
The Asperger’s changes are not the only ones that will appear in the new edition of the DSM, which will be published in May. Another major change is the addition of the diagnosis of DMDD, or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which will be given to children who have severe and recurrent temper tantrums.
The new edition is the 5th for the DSM. The last edition was published in 1994.
Image: Girl with psychiatrist, via Shutterstock
Monday, April 23rd, 2012
An article in the Pensacola News Journal highlights a national debate facing schools: how much can children with Asperger syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD) be fully integrated into regular classrooms without making learning difficult for students without the disability?
Children with Asperger’s, as opposed to some other forms of ASD, are often quite intelligent and able to handle the schoolwork without incident. But they do have behavioral problems, ranging from repetitive behaviors to problems socializing to sensitivity to things like noises or lights. These issues can take up a lot of a teacher’s time, which heightens the debate.
The News Journal reports on how the issue is playing out in Florida:
Changes at the state level in how classes are categorized will put more special education students into more regular classrooms than ever before.
Many teachers and parents worry that all children — particularly students who just get by in their classes — may not get the attention they need in an inclusion classroom, because students with disabilities — students like [13-year-old] Dylan [Harris] — need extra attention.
“I think it’s a fair concern,” [Regina] Harris [Dylan's mother] said. “General (education) teachers typically aren’t trained very much to work with children with behavior issues. That’s opening a can of worms.”
Image: Students on a school bus, via Shutterstock.
Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
A group of Boston-based comedians calling themselves “Asperger’s Are Us” are taking to the comedy stage in spite of–or because of–their lives with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). USA Today reports that the four-man troupe, whose ages range from 18 to 29, are getting hired more this month because April is Autism Awareness Month. But they actually feel that their Asperger’s fuels their comedy:
Many traits the public has long found engaging or amusing have their roots — perhaps surprisingly — in Asperger’s. The absurdity of Monty Python, the flat demeanor of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock and the awkwardness of Andy Kaufman, are all common Aspergian traits. Dr. Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory gets laughs for those characteristics, too.
“In the last few years, Asperger’s has become recognized as a foundation for some elements of comedy,” said John Elder Robison, a nationally renowned Asperger’s advocate, and author of Be Different. “All of a sudden there is a broad public awareness that the reason for behavioral differences in those characters would probably be called Asperger’s.”
Image: Microphone, via Shutterstock.
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.