Skepchick Quickies, 4.2


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. One issue with the CNN article, after the first paragraph they kept collapsing austim spectrum disorder down to just autism. The rise is across the entire disorder spectrum but intervention has been shown to work best with the less strongly effected children I believe.

  2. When we were walking to the Reason Rally, near the corner of 14th & Constitution, we passed a christian group handing out propaganda & detritus. I ignored them, but Mr. Bibliotequetress cannot help himself and chatted them up. The ScrawnyChristianMustachioedGuy appeared thrilled that  he had someone to talk to, and loaded Mr. B with one of everything, including a DVD that "changed Kirk Cameron's life!!" I had forgotten about this until now. Guess what we'll be watching tonight!

  3. The article about autism reminds me of something I wanted to ask:
    Can someone help me understand the difference between an actual rise in an illness or disease and the result of increased diagnoses?
    I realize there's increased awareness, and that there are multiple different diagnoses across the autism spectrum, but are these diagnoses valid? How is autism diagnosed, and is it possible that these diagnoses will change after children age?
    Also, not to sound like a dick, but are all autism diagnoses a "bad" thing? I know there are not really many savants out there like the internet loves to tell us, but is Aspergers something that endangers a person physically, or is it just mental, and how severe is it (maybe someone with Aspergers could weigh in here)? Are there benefits to it, as well? 
    I know there is a massive wealth of knowledge on Skepchick about this subject, and I figured this is the best place to ask these questions.
    (I mean no offense AT ALL to anyone with any autism spectrum disorder. I am just curious. I honestly lack the knowledge and ability to understand the information I've read about it. I'm a little slow when it comes to learning, sorry.)

    1. Can someone confirm or deny a factoid I once saw somewhere to the effect that the rise in autism diagnoses has been matched with a decrease in diagnoses of "mental retardation"?  i.e., kids are being re-categorized.

      1. Most people with ASD are high functioning and are not what anyone would think of as being retarded, so this is pretty dubious.

        1. That article mentions "diagnostic substitution"; it sounds like at least some of the increase in autism is due to "importing" kids from other diagnoses.

    2. What I can share is pure anecdote, so by all means look for more info. My son is diagnosed with autism. This has come from a variety of medical and mental health professionals. I don't have the paperwork in front of me, so I can't remember the exact wording of his most recent diagnosis (which was made about a year ago), but it is something like "autism spectrum disorder, non-Asperger's." Don't quote me on that. His condition is considered mild, with its primary expression being in the form of poor social skills. Basically, he can be really annoying to his peers.
      Mostly his doctor, psychiatrist, and the therapist don't use the phrase "autism spectrum disorder", but they occasionally mention it in passing, usually with a caveat: "There is ongoing debate in the field about exactly what all this means." Everyone has said that ten or fifteen years ago, he would not have received this diagnosis. My interpretation of that was that his particular "disorder" may have existed back then, but it wouldn't have been called that.
      So what does this mean for us in practical terms? Well, his therapist treats it as a socialization challenge. It's a disorder only to the extent that it presents challenges in day-to-day life. My son participates in social skills classes which help him and the other attendees deal with practical things like talking to other people and not being annoying. The kids in his classes have a hard time picking up social cues, so that's what they work on.
      What the therapist says is much of the spectrum is not debilitating. ASD people are good at some things and not so good at others, but who isn't that true of? So the focus is practical. For example, if you ask someone out and they say, "Well, I'm busy that night" for every night you ask, the unspoken message is "I'm not interested, but I don't want to be mean about it." My son and the others in his group have a hard time recognizing the hidden message, so they practice, get better at it, and have fewer awkward interactions in their daily lives.
      To be sure, there are layers to this that I'm glossing over just to keep this comment from being Way Too Long (okay, too late), and I have to admit that my son and the kids in his class are at the milder end of the spectrum. I have no experience with severe ASD people. Maybe this helps answer your question, but no doubt others can share knowledge or experience which is more informative.

    3. My son and I are both on the spectrum. I was diagnosed with Type 2 Hyperlexia, which was called savantism in the 70's. My son is Asperger's. We're both considered high-functioning.
      My son didn't speak until he was 7-8, didn't respond to physical affection, couldn't get through a single activity without a complete meltdown. Kicked and screamed and injured himself. He started with a psychologist when he was 5. He told me that, had my son been diagnosed a decade earlier, he would have been carrying a diagnosis of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, neither of which would have accounted for many of his specific needs. That's one example of a kid who wouldn't have had a spectrum diagnosis, but is unquestionably in need of intervention.
      As for me, my flavor on the spectrum comes with intense social anxiety, siezures, and an inability to hold down a job. It also comes with a 180 IQ and a complete inability to use it. I can only speak for myself, and I also have a constellation of unrelated(?) mental illnesses.  My hope is, with early intervention and constant reinforcement, my son will be better able to function in the world than I am. He's already come miles and miles. He's in 7th grade, and repeated attempts to put him in mainstream classrooms have failed spectacularly. Academically, he's an A/B student, but his behavioral issues make it impossible for him to be in a 'normal' classroom.
      It is real, and it is a disability that one has to try and overcome to function in the world. I have high hopes that my son will be able to carve out a life for himself – there are plenty of places in the world where one doesn't have to be so 'normal' and graceful. On the 'deep end' of the spectrum, people are quite profoundly disabled and unable to engage with the world at all. I also meet a lot of his friends who are also on the spectrum. It's really strange to me that people question whether it's a 'real' disability or not. (not directed at you, just generally) It's a rather profound barrier, even here on the 'shallow end'.

  4. I keep reading things like this, quoted from the linked article: "Kirk Cameron was an atheist as a teenager but had a religious conversion . . . " 
    Was he truly an Atheist? I don't think many people who have THOUGHT about religion and belief enough to conclude they are Atheist then have some epiphany and become Evangelical (unless, as one commenter suggested, he's schizophrenic). Maybe he was apathetic? Can we just say that until there's proof he was in some sort of Atheist Meet-up Group ( . . . of the 80s)? 

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