Boy with autism saves choking classmate with cool trick he learned on SpongeBob SquarePants

Jessica, L, and Brendan, R. Image: Staten Island Advance.

The Staten Island Advance reports that Brandon Williams, 13, was eating his lunch at Barnes Intermediate School on Oct. 28 when he saw that his classmate Jessica Pellegrino was choking on a piece of apple.

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Donald Trump is an anti-vaccine autism truther who doesn't understand science


At last night's GOP Presidential Debate Theatrical Funtime Special on CNN, a brilliant moment of shining stupidity from the abundantly stupid Donald Trump.

He said:

“I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. … We’ve had so many instances — people that work for me, just the other day. Two years old, 2 ½ years old, a child, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Ladies and gentlemen, burn all of the things.

Politico's wrong-o-meter is a good roundup of all the crazy shit these megalomaniacal rich liars said on TV last night, and how wrongfully wrong all of it is.

Donald Trump stuck to a position that’s totally unsupported by medical evidence — that a link exists behind autism and vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical authorities have said repeatedly that science has demonstrated there is no link between vaccination and autism. Giving children multiple vaccinations at the same has also been proven to be safe, the CDC said.

Here's how we felt last night, watching the debate:

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Autism has always been with us


One in sixty-eight children are now on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We argue over whether this is a diagnostic or epidemic phenomena, but either way, neurodiversity has always been with us, shaping history. Read the rest

The UK's premier autistic rock group

The Guardian followed The Autistix as it rehearses and heads off on tour: "We don't want people to feel bad or sorry about us. We want them to come to our gig and enjoy the music. You can also headbang if you like." Read the rest

Genetic links between creativity, schizophrenia, and autism


How is creativity related to schizophrenia and autism? Psychology professor Scott Barry Kaufman looks at a scientific paper suggesting that "creativity and psychosis share genetic roots" in the context of his own research on how different forms of creativity might relate to the schizophrenia spectrum and the autism spectrum. Read the rest

Kickstarting a US show of pieces by Japanese weavers with autism

Gabrielle writes, "Saori weaving is the perfect craft for happy mutants. You can't make a mistake and all variation is considered part of the personal expression." Read the rest

How Disney movies gave an autistic boy his voice

In Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism , Pulitzer-winning writer Ron Suskind tells the incredible story of how his son Owen disappeared into "regressive autism" at the age of three, losing the ability to speak or understand speech and developmentally degenerating across a variety of metrics, only to reemerge a few years later, able to communicate through references and dialog from the Disney movies he obsessively watches.

A long excerpt in the New York Times, generously illustrated with Owen's expressive fan-art, hints at a book that is wrenching and inspirational by turns. It reminds me of 3500, Ron Miles's memoir of raising a son with autism who was able to engage with the world through thousands of re-rides of Snow White's Scary Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Suskind is a brilliant writer, and the excerpt is deeply moving. I've pre-ordered my copy. Read the rest

Scientists learn more about the fascinating connection between our brains and our bowels

Bacteroides fragilis — one of the many "friendly" bacteria that live in our gut — seems to be capable of altering the behavior of mice, according to a new study. In a mouse model for autism, exposure to Bacteroides fragilis improved the mice's gastrointestinal function and, along the way, reduced some of their external behavioral symptoms, including obsessive behaviors and anxiety. Read the rest

Leslie Lemke: blind, savant piano player on That's Incredible! (1981)

As regular BB readers know, the original That's Incredible! television show had a big impact on me, with its coverage of curiosities, strange phenomena, stunts, and amazing and unusual people. I distinctly remember being moved, even as a ten-year-old, by the episode featuring Leslie Lemke, a blind autistic savant with cerebral palsy who was a fantastic piano player at a young age. According to May Lemke, Leslie's adoptive mother, Leslie sang a lot as a child. Then, when he was 14, she heard piano music in the middle of the night. She thought they had left the TV on but it turned out that Leslie was playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto that he had heard in a TV movie that evening. Above is the 1981 segment I remembered from That's Incredible! Leslie was also seen in a 1983 episode of 60 Minutes on savant syndrome, and he still performs concerts around the country. "Leslie Lemke: An Inspirational Performance" (Wisconsin Medical Society) Read the rest

Things that correlate with autism

"Things that correlate with autism" is basically an entire genre of scientific research, in and of itself, and nobody does a better job of breaking those studies down than Emily Willingham. Her latest piece is about a recent study that correlates induced labor at birth with autism diagnosis later in life. Read the rest

Memoir of raising an autistic boy who found himself with Disney World's help

Back in June, blogged about Ben, a young man with autism who had a fierce devotion to the Snow White ride at Walt Disney World, and who was the last person to ride it, after more than 3,500 turns on it.

Ben's father, Ron Miles, has published a memoir of his life with Ben, in which he narrates his journey as the father of a child with a profound mental disability, his love affair with Disney parks, and Ben's development through the extraordinary adults in his life (including some very special and caring Disney cast-members). It's an unflinching -- and sometimes unflattering -- account of the challenges of parenting and the special challenges of parenting a child with autism.

I read it very quickly, and often had to dab at my eyes, but it's not a weeper, really -- there's plenty of hilarity and thoughtful wonder and appreciation of the sweetness of parenting as well as the difficulties. Here's the blurb I sent to Ron for the book: "Brimming with heart and tragedy overcome, this is a book that captures the tribulations of parenthood, the magic of Disney World, and the wonderful online communities that allow us to lend aid and comfort to strangers around the world."

It's called 3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White, and it's just out, and I heartily recommend it to you.

3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White Read the rest

Pedagogy of the Depressed: my experiences as a special ed student in the 1990s.

In May 2013, "Asperger's Syndrome" will be removed as a diagnosis from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), leaving "high functioning autism" in its place. I agree with this change. Given the importance of the manual, however, it's caused a lot of consternation and caused me to reflect upon my experiences.

Epidemic, or awareness?

Here's some evidence supporting the idea that the increase in autism diagnoses is just that — an increase in diagnoses, not an increase in incidence. Increases in autism diagnosis aren't evenly spread around the country. There are hotspots. Researchers found that kids who move into these hotspots — even after an age where autism might have been normally diagnosed — have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with autism than kids to didn't. It suggests that awareness and resources might play a big role in rates of autism diagnosis. (Via Micah Allen) Read the rest

Physical, sexual abuse documented at FL facility for autistic and brain-injured

Investigative reports released under a court order to Bloomberg News show that caregivers at a Florida center for brain-injured and "non-neurotypical" adults physically and sexually abused patients, in a systematic and brutal manner. Caregivers "goaded them to fight each other and fondle female employees and in one instance laughed at complaints of mistreatment." At least five patients have died at the center in question, the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation, from alleged abuse or neglect there since 1998. Two patients died in just the last two years. (Bloomberg) Read the rest

Danish entrepreneur helps people with autism get jobs that require focus, attention to detail

Gareth Cook tells the story of Thorkil Sonne, founder of a Danish social enterprise called Specialisterne ("the specialists"), which helps place people with autism in jobs that demand a degree of focus and detail-orientation that's impossible to find among the neurotypical. Specialisterne began because Sonne's son, Lars, has autism, and Sonne saw that he was eminently suited to many tasks, and that performing them made him happy and did useful work, too. Now Specialisterne is a web of social enterprises that does everything from training to placement, and Sonne is pondering a move to the USA.

To his father, Lars seemed less defined by deficits than by his unusual skills. And those skills, like intense focus and careful execution, were exactly the ones that Sonne, who was the technical director at a spinoff of TDC, Denmark’s largest telecommunications company, often looked for in his own employees. Sonne did not consider himself an entrepreneurial type, but watching Lars — and hearing similar stories from parents he met volunteering with an autism organization — he slowly conceived a business plan: many companies struggle to find workers who can perform specific, often tedious tasks, like data entry or software testing; some autistic people would be exceptionally good at those tasks. So in 2003, Sonne quit his job, mortgaged the family’s home, took a two-day accounting course and started a company called Specialisterne, Danish for “the specialists,” on the theory that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it.

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How experimental design can create conflicting results

Is coffee bad for you or good for you? Does acupuncture actually work, or does it produce a placebo effect? Do kids with autism have different microbes living in their intestines, or are their gut flora largely the same as neurotypical children? These are all good examples of topics that have produced wildly conflicting results from one study to another. (Side-note: This is why knowing what a single study says about something doesn't actually tell you much. And, frankly, when you have a lot of conflicting results on anything, it's really easy for somebody to pick the five that support a given hypothesis and not tell you about the 10 that don't.)

But why do conflicting results happen? One big factor is experimental design. Turns out, there's more than one way to study the same thing. How you set up an experiment can have a big effect on the outcome. And if lots of people are using different experimental designs, it becomes difficult to accurately compare their results. At the Wonderland blog, Emily Anthes has an excellent piece about this problem, using the aforementioned research on gut flora in kids with autism as an example.

For instance, in studies of autism and microbes, investigators must decide what kind of control group they want to use. Some scientists have chosen to compare the guts of autistic kids to those of their neurotypical siblings while others have used unrelated children as controls. This choice of control group can influence the strength of the effect that researchers find–or whether they find one at all.

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Temple Grandin's brain doesn't just think differently, it is physically different

This is kind of neat. Scientists conducted several psychological and neuro-imaging tests on Temple Grandin — the woman who has used her own autism as a model for designing better livestock control systems. What they found is that Grandin's brain looks different, structurally, from that of a neuro-typical person.

Grandin’s brain volume is significantly larger than that of three neurotypical controls matched on age, sex and handedness. Grandin’s lateral ventricles, the chambers that hold cerebrospinal fluid, are skewed in size so that the left one is much larger than the right. “It’s quite striking,” Cooperrider says. On both sides of her brain, Grandin has an abnormally large amygdala, a deep brain region that processes emotion. Her brain also shows differences in white matter, the bundles of nerve fibers that connect one region to another. The volume of white matter on the left side of her brain is higher than that in controls, the study found.

Grandin isn't the only person with autism to have had their brain scanned. But the differences that have been found aren't always consistent from one study to another. That, of course, makes some sense, given the fact that the word "autism" encompasses a whole spectrum of differences and disabilities which may or may not represent one single thing. But there have been several studies that did find differences similar to the ones found in Temple Grandin.

And here's the really interesting thing. Some scientists think that the common differences we do keep seeing — especially the bit about the larger brain volume — might be a clue that what eventually becomes autism actually begins in the womb. Read the rest

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