A Touch of Alyricism

Dedicated to the equally fascinating topics of autistic advocacy and the 'sisterly sophistries' of radical gender feminism. Other topics may occasionally crop up. Contactable at alyric@gmail.com


Polemicist since Grade 8

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Abortion Myopia

In the weirdest apologia yet for the pro abortion camp, Emily Maguire puts up the argument that if the wimpy pro lifers had the strength of their convictions, they would:

“say what they really mean. Premeditated, cold-blooded child murder is not a matter for debate. If abortion is equivalent to infanticide, shouldn't the women who have authorised this killing and the doctors who have carried it out be prosecuted and incarcerated?”

On which planet has Emily been residing? Is she not aware that a sizeable portion of the community out there from His Holiness, the Pope on down have indeed been yelling, loudly, “This is murder”? And yes, if they can get abortion made illegal again, the practitioners will certainly have their day in criminal court. Unlike Emily, they don’t see the first trimester foetus as:

“a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman's body.”

Neither does anyone else with a memory of very basic high school biology. That undifferentiated mass has a heartbeat at eight weeks. The same mass including the placenta is in no way a part of the maternal body, merely resident for a time. One of life’s fascinating mysteries is why the mother’s immune system does not reject this histological interloper.

Legalised abortion exists because in a rare twist of events, the law isn’t a complete ass and recognises that there are many shades of grey in this issue. Is it right to abort a foetus with anencephaly or some other fatal or even merely severely disabling condition? Can anyone say for certain when life starts? If it’s a toss-up between the mother’s health and that of the foetus, who wins? There are a multitude of reasons why abortion is not a black and white issue. But, here comes Emily Maguire with a dare to the fence sitters to put up or shut up. It’s murder or it isn’t.

It was Clinton, I think, who said that abortion should be safe, private and rare. A part of this abortion debate revolves around the disquieting realisation that while abortion is now safe because it is legal, and it is seen as a private decision, not one for the courts to decide, it is anything but rare. Figures flying around this country lately have been quoted at 2000 a week. Is this an epidemic of disability, lifestyle choice or default contraceptive choice?

So far, reasonable people have tempered their own views in deference to this being private to the person who is primarily affected. They assume and given the abortion figures perhaps wrongly, that abortion is such a difficult decision that there must be good reasons for it. Emily, myopically, chooses to see this as supportive of a pro-abortion stance. Quoting Emily, given that “an embryo is not a child. If left alone, it may develop into one”, those temperate folk may very well hop off the fence and start demanding that the embryo be given a chance. Further, those pro-lifers would be only too happy to oblige you in making this a black and white issue.


We done told 'em

From the Washington Post

Autism and Eye Contact

Autistic children and adults are typically reluctant to make and keep eye contact with others -- part of their general lack of social or emotional connection. A new study suggests a basic reason for this: The eye contact overstimulates a part of the brain that processes fear and emotion, and people with autism learn to limit their eye- and face-tracking as a result.

Using brain-scanning techniques, researchers also found that another part of the brain typically associated with processing facial information is underactive in autistic men and boys. Made physically uncomfortable by eye contact, the autistic subjects were not able to take in as much visual information about a face as the control subjects.

In two studies at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin, the subjects were placed in a magnetic-resonance-imaging scanner that recorded their brain reactions to photographs of faces expressing a variety of emotions. The autistic group consistently showed greater sensitivity than the control group to brain activity in the amygdala, where emotion generally is registered, and less activity in the fusiform gyrus, where the ability to read another's facial expressions tends to reside.

The studies also found that the longer the autistic group made eye contact with the facial images, the greater the electrical activity in the amygdala. The control group experienced no similar reaction.

Researcher Richard Davidson said the experiment was the first to use a brain scanner to follow eye tracking by autistic individuals. He said the results indicate that the current practice of training autistic individuals to look directly at the eyes of other people as a form of treatment "may exacerbate already high levels of anxiety in social situations."

-- Marc Kaufman

DKM, autistic extraordinaire summed it up nicely:

"No shit, Sherlock.

Surely just an odd little coincidence that countless autistics have been trying to make this very point for years.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Grossly Misleading

In reply to As Autistic Children Grow, So Does Social Gap

While I’m sure that Ms Gross has the best of intentions with her latest article on autism, it is unfortunate that behind the simple descriptions of the social problems faced by ASD children, there are in equal measure, false attribution and false assumptions.

Gross’s article begins with Karen Singer’s autistic son spending recess alone or crying in the bathroom and wondering "Why am I like this? What's wrong with me? He knew he was doing something wrong as he reached the social crucible of middle school, but he did not know how to fix it.”

Gross’s next point is that what is wrong is the reluctance of the autistic child to be ‘cool’, the propensity for making inappropriate remarks, the “struggle to read body language or to imagine what other people are thinking. If they learn a joke, they may tell it a dozen times. They are too literal-minded to understand white lies and too rule-bound to understand they should not tattle. They overreact to routine teasing and invite ridicule by carrying their books over their heads or accepting a dare to kiss a girl.”

Gross’s final point is that classmates that were once tolerant, aren’t any longer. “"Kids have very short memories when they're young…… They are much less forgiving as they get older."

And the conclusion from all this is that “the majority of such children become conspicuous in the third grade and are bullied or ostracized by the time they reach middle school.”

While the conclusion is the correct one, both the reasoning and the solution are faulty. According to this description, ASD children are bullied and ostracised because their social skills are so poor it is quite understandable that they provoke negative reactions in other children. Naturally, the solution is to offer social skills classes in the belief that with improvement in this area, the ASD child will not attract such negative attention. The problems in this scenario are firstly, that it is always or even primarily the actions of the ASD child that precipitate the negative sequelae – false assumption. The second is that the other children are acting with corrective intent, if negative consequences – false attribution. An examination of the nature and extent of the bullying experience among the vast majority of ASD children will, I think put paid to the notion that firstly, the victim deserved it and secondly and much more importantly, that social skills classes can remedy this.

No amount of inappropriate behaviour can possibly justify what really happens to ASD children in schools. Anecdotes range from constant shoving in corridors, held head-down in toilets, locked in cupboards, kicked, punched, beaten unconscious, hanged on the school gate to running the gauntlet in gym changing rooms (practically universal). A favourite appears to be to surround the ASD child with a group of at least four and engage in whatever taunting is most likely to elicit the most satisfactorily terrified response. Note that it is never a one to one engagement here. The odds are always 4 to 1 or worse. Of course in the average school, there are several such groups and very few ASD, so that this ‘group therapy’ happens several times a week. And if questioned, the response is usually ‘We were only teasing’.

Though the bullying experiences suffered by ASD children can vary quite a bit, there are a few universals. Up front, it is the systematic destruction of an individual to cater to the perceived emotional needs of pre-pubescent and pubescent individuals going through the intensely tumultuous period of adolescence. The autistic child is the ‘painted bird’ and as such serves as the panacea for bruised egos, failed or faltering relationships, academic woes and the fluctuating self esteem experienced by the ASD’s peers. You see, the ASD does not have to do a thing to attract this kind of unwelcome attention. Blaming the faulty social skills is mere camouflage. They could ignore the child, but it is very apparent that they do not and prefer not to. When the compulsion to conformity and group solidarity is at its height in early adolescence, the inability to connect and therefore to submit to a group identity is a capital crime. The lack of a supportive network of peers is an added bonus. Not only has this person broken the golden rule of ‘fitting in’ but there isn’t going to be any retribution.

The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ASD children inspired by their bullying experiences can last a decade. Yet the underlying drive for socialisation of ASD children is rather like insisting that the inmates of Abu Ghraib meet with Lindy England for drinks and chit-chat on a daily basis in the interests of fostering inter-cultural relations. The psychological consequences are likely to be devastating. What does it do to a child’s developing capacity to judge to be told that they should emulate the very people dishing out the most horrible abuse because their peers are ‘normal’ and they are not?

Social skills training is very necessary and will pay dividends in the long term. For this period from middle school through to junior high school, however, their protective capacity is likely to be nil because that’s not the problem. Being ‘different’ is and kids are extraordinarily sensitive to it.

What our ASD kids need is definitely the ability to smile, interact nicely, and carry a big stick. Along with nurturing those social skills it is equally necessary to teach assertiveness and perhaps martial arts. Leaving ASD kids with no defences because it is just too hard, too painful or too foreign a concept to recognise what normal kids are capable of is not the answer.


(Member of MOFFRA and the Cranky Cabal)