Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good news!

It looks like Henry will be able to attend the Carmen B. Pingree School for Children with Autism this fall. He has been on a waiting list for the free pre-school program for more than a year now, but this fall a spot is available for him. It's the last year he is eligible for the preschool program, so this is a great opportunity.

The Pingree School's program is very similar to the therapeutic preschool program Henry is in right now through the school district, but instead of getting two hours of therapy four days a week, he'll get six hours of therapy four days a week. All the research on autism intervention indicates that early and intensive intervention is the best, so the longer day has the potential to help Henry really boost his development.

What is it like to be autistic?

Several weeks ago my friend Hope and I were talking about Henry, and she asked me if Henry was able to make any friends at school. I told her that Henry didn't have quite that level of emotional sophistication yet--he's still in a state where he's learning to enjoy the company of other people.

I was reminded of this conversation by something Henry's psychiatrist mentioned recently--that people with autism view the world in a vastly different way from neurotypical people. If you are interested in getting a better idea of how autistic people experience the world, there are at least two really good books out there that open a window into that experience. One is Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism, a memoir of sorts written by a woman with autism. The other is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. It's a novel for young adults told from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy with autism. The author is not autistic, but he worked with autistic youths for many years and created his main character from his experiences. I found this book especially helpful in trying to understand Henry, even though he's much younger than the main character.

For a much lighter (and probably less accurate) portrayal of a character with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory on NBC, Mondays at 7:30 PM MST. The character of Sheldon displays a lot of typical ASD signs: difficulty interpreting figurative language, an obsessive desire for routine and order, and difficulty relating to people and understanding subtle social cues. Sheldon's peculiarities make him the butt of a lot of jokes, but overall he's portrayed in a genuine, humane, and likeable way. Mike and I always enjoy this show because we see elements of our many "geeky" friends (and our geeky selves) in the characters and the situations the show portrays.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thimerisol or not, autism happens

A CNN report from last week highlights a new study that shows a consistent rise in autism rates in California even after thimerisol (a mercury derivitive used as a preservative in vaccines) was removed from vaccines in 2001. Rates of autism in children born after 2003 continued to rise despite the fact that these children were never injected with thimerisol.

I've had family members express concerns about thimerisol to me, so it's worth saying that Henry, born in 2003, has never been exposed to thimerisol. The jury is still out over whether some kind of environmental factor has influenced the rise in autism diagnoses, but thimerisol is looking less and less like a culprit.

The rise in autism diagnoses is almost certainly due in part to better awareness of the disorder among physicians and broader definitions of autism. For an excellent discussion of the changing definitions of autism since the disorder was initially identified by Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, see Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Grinker, Jr. It's a fascinating examination of the cultural history of autism by an anthropologist.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

One in a Million--or more

Every day 175,000 new blogs are created, according to this book review from Reason Online. The author, David Harsanyi, is reviewing The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture, by Andrew Keen. Keen thinks that all us bloggers out here are burying any good content on the Internet with drivel. Harsanyi conceded one point: "He’s right that the Internet is littered with inane, vulgar, dimwitted, unedited, and unreadable content, much of it fueling outrageous conspiracy theories, odious partisan debates, mindless celebrity worship, and worse. And then there’s the stuff that’s not even entertaining."

Harsanyi goes on to argue the benefits of bloggers in the new media, blaming the decline in traditional media, like newspapers, on the papers' business practices, not on amateur bloggers, as Keen does.

One area the article doesn't discuss (and doesn't need to) is whether many bloggers are targeting a small audience, as I am trying to do with this blog. I have to think that few people who start blogs believe that strangers the world over have a burning--or even passing--desire to read what they say. That's part of the benefit of "Web 2.0"--that it meets the needs of small groups of people and it can be customized by those people.

But you can find yet another viewpoint on this question here.