Monday, April 21, 2014

DSM or ICD, Either Way Autism is a DISORDER, or Group of Disorders, Not "Just a Difference"

There are a number of very high functioning persons claiming to be autistic or claiming to have a "syndrome" or "different way of thinking".  Autism is a difference not a disorder they cry out in anger against all efforts to find treatments and cures, such efforts usually led by parents and family members of severely autistic children and adults.  The great mystery to me is why they embrace the term "autism" to describe their "difference" but reject the label as representative of a medical diagnosis or disorder.

In my humble opinion it is very unfortunate that both the DSM-5 and the ICD-10 group the former Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS and Aspergers Disorder/Syndrome under one label Autism Spectrum Disorder.  It if unfortunate that the differences between extremely high functioning, successful academics and business persons are grouped together with the 50% of the "autism spectrum" who suffer from intellectual disability many of whom will live out their lives in some form of adult care from group homes to psychiatric hospitals. 

One of the unfortunate results of the combining of these neurodevelopmental disorders, which actually began in earnest in the DSM-IV, is that some of the very high functioning persons, usually with Aspergers, attack all those including parents and other family members fighting for treatments and cures for their own family members with severe autism disorders.  These high functioning "auties" and "aspies" as some like to be called make good spokespersons for governments and organizations seeking to downplay the very severe challenges faced by those on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the spectrum is the earnestness with which some of the anti-cure, anti-treatment, anti-family high functioning autistic persons claim that they do not have a DISORDER. It is puzzling because autism exists as a medical diagnosis, referred to as an Autism Spectrum DISORDER under BOTH the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, and the ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural DISORDERS.  When and why did these individuals come to call themselves autistic if it was not done pursuant to medical diagnosis under one of these two leading diagnostic manuals or predecessor editions?

When my son with a severe  Autism Spectrum Disorder intentionally puts his hand through a glass window pane as he did last week, and has done in the past, it means that his autism is a disorder, not just a difference.  When my son goes from enjoying his activity on a swing set to hitting his head repeatedly, and with force, as he has done on many occasions it  means that his autism is a disorder not just a difference.  I have seen this lack of understanding and compassion and lack of respect for the views of parents and other family members who care for severely autistic loved ones from some  high functioning autistic persons for over a decade of autism advocacy.  I do not expect them to change, to abandon their adoration for the label autism. I do not expect them to recognize that those with severe autism actually suffer from a disorder.  My discussions with such individuals has given me no indication they would ever change their views on this subject.

What I would hope is that some day, academics and practitioners who have promoted the careers and perspectives of high functioning autistic persons and trivialized the challenges faced by those who suffer from severe autism disorders will start showing some integrity and professional responsibility whether they live in Montreal, Canada, New York, USA or Sydney, Australia. What I hope is that all academics and professionals will stop trivializing the severe challenges faced by so many with autism disorders and tell the world the whole truth about autism DISORDERS.

Autism is a disorder or group of disorders. Your professional and academic associations have said so and if you don't agree at least don't worsen the lives of the severely autistic for whom you lack interest or compassion; stop misrepresenting autism to the world as a gift or "just a difference". 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Canada's Autism Disgrace 2007: 2014 Update

Photo from 

In December 2007 I wrote Canada's Autism Disgrace, describing the lack of a real National Autism Strategy in Canada.  It is now 2014 and nothing has changed. Canada still lacks a real National Autism Strategy. The words I wrote in 2007, reprinted below, are as true and accurate today as they were then:

What is Canada's National Autism Strategy? The answer is simple; we don't have one. And as long as Stephen Harper's Reform-Alliance-Conservative government rules Canada with an iron fist we will not have a National Autism Strategy. My friends of Conservative background in Canada may not like it but that is the hard brutal truth. Canada will not have a real National Autism Strategy as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada. 

We certainly had the beginnings of a National Autism Strategy with the passing of the Andy Scott-Peter Stoffer motion in the House of Commons. And MP Shawn Murphy fought the good fight with his private member's initiative; defeated in the House of Commons by the alliance between the Harper Conservatives and the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Senator Jim Munson has continued his valiant efforts to keep the need to address Canada's national autism crisis alive in the media but even those efforts are becoming more challenging as the Harper-Clement team simply ignores these initiatives, ignores the needs of autistic children and adults in Canada, and proves day in and day out that they don't give a damn about the fate of autistic Canadians. 

The National Autism Strategy of Prime Minister Harper really amounted to nothing but a mediocre web site and a promise of a National Autism Symposium. The National Autism Symposium was postponed when it became clear that real autism advocates, parents fighting for their autistic children, wanted to attend the symposium. A second symposium was scheduled for November 8 and 9 in Toronto. The invitation process was itself secretive, parents were largely unrepresented and any outspoken advocates were intentionally excluded from the Symposium. 

The lists of speakers and symposium themes were never made public. The list of Harper government, hand picked delegates, to the symposium was never made public although it is a good bet that anti-ABA activists like Michelle Dawson and Laurent Mottron would have been invited. The Quirks and Quarks duo rarely miss an opportunity to promote their fringe anti-ABA views, contrary to hundreds of studies over 5 decades and numerous reviews of those studies by organizations such as the US Office of the Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that ABA is a scientifically supported, evidence based, effective treatment for autism. Their long held, closed minded views, so at odds with mainstream professional opinion, come in handy when needed by a government seeking excuses to camouflage their do nothing approach to addressing Canada's National Crisis. Just a guess, but I am betting that the Harper team was quite happy to invite Mottron and Dawson to the invisible, forgotten, National Autism Symposium. 

The Autism Symposium went ahead on November 8 and 9 in Toronto and Canadians STILL don't know a thing about what was said; or what conclusions, if any, were reached. It is likely though that the Harper spin doctors will ultimately issue a summary indicating that there is lack of agreement on issues on the effectiveness of any one intervention in treating autism. The results of hundreds of studies over five decades of research, the reviews by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Office of the US Surgeon General, the MADSEC Administrators, the New York and California state agencies, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment; all will be ignored. 

The views of a few fringe anti-ABA activists will be used to prop up a cynical do nothing Harper autism policy. And Canada's National Autism Strategy will remain as nothing more than what it now is - Canada's Autism Disgrace.

As I said in 2007 Canada will never have a National Autism Strategy as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada.  It is now 2014, Stephen Harper is still Prime Minister and Canada still does not have a National Autism Strategy, a real National Autism Strategy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Smiles Gang: Conor and LHHS Friends Had a Blast Last Night Going to See Rio 2 in 3D

L to R: Jesse, Christian, Kristen, Conor
Photo by Phyllis Van Dine-Humble 

This is one of my new favorite pictures of Conor, far right in the picture, taken last evening as Conor and some of his Leo Hayes High School friends went to see Rio 2 in 3D. Phyllis Van Dine-Humble took this awesome shot of the gang sharing tremendous smiles and having fun before the movie.  In attendance with Conor was excellent Education Aide, Lori Fitzgerald, who helps make every experience great for Conor. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Joel Rubinoff's Angry, Ill Informed, Misleading Autism Rhetoric

Conor Doherty on World Autism Awareness Day 2014,  as I tried to take a "selfie" of the two of us wearing blue, gave his old Dad an unexpected hug. 
which restricts his life and causes him harm. 

Joel Rubinoff father of a high functioning, smart autistic son is angry  and he is using his position as an arts and entertainment columnist to tell Canadians that parents and organizations who disagree with his feel good views of autism need "attitude adjustments".  In Joel Rubinoff's ill informed view of autism  people should not discuss autism like it is a ... disorder.  They should not talk about any of the serious, sometimes harmful, sometimes deadly deficits that actually restrict the lives of many with autism disorders, a group of neurological disorders marked by heterogeneity, complexity and variation. (See for example, Lynn Waterhouse, Rethinking Autism: Variation and Complexity)

Autism for Joel Rubinoff is Temple Grandin, Darryl Hannah, Einstein, Mozart, Bill Gates and Susan Boyle.  Forget for the moment that Einstein and Mozart lived and died before autism was a recognized disorder and that any speculation that they were autistic is exactly that ... speculation.  Rubinoff, like any of the autism is beautiful crowd that have fought against recognizing the harsher realities faced by many on the autism spectrum of disorders, likes to equate his son's autism with very smart, talented people.  Rubinoff's son is, by Rubinoff's evidence, very intelligent and  high functioning with good communication skills:

"But did you know that half way through senior kindergarten, he's already learning to read. That he can do puzzles with almost 100 pieces. That he's fascinated with space and science, and can name all the planets. That if you tell him it's Hot Dog Day at school he'll squeal with delight. "I'm so excited, Dad — I can't wait!"

Joel Rubinoff's son, like some on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum of disorders is very intelligent.  I am happy for him and his son.  My son, now 18 lives on the severe end of the autism spectrum of disorders.  He has an intellectual disability and suffers from seizures, like many on that severe end of the autism spectrum.  My son brings us, and everyone who has worked with him, great joy but his disorder limits his life severely in the ways described by the autism advocates that Rubinoff despises. 

Mr. Rubinoff appears to be unaware of sources like the World Health Organization which, in September 2013,  stated that approximately 50% of persons with an autism disorder also have an intellectual disability. Joel Rubinoff may not realize that many autistic children are prone to wandering and some lose their lives as a result. Some engage in very serious self injurious behavior as my son has done at times. 

If Mr. Rubinoff doubts what I am saying I would be happy to take the time to provide him with sources pointing to the very harsh realities facing many on the autism spectrum of disorders ... if he would start acting like a reporter/journalist and read and report to Canadians that autism is far from being about undiagnosed historical geniuses.  Nor is it only about actually diagnosed, highly intelligent children like his son.  For many including my son Conor Doherty, autism is a complex, serious disorder.  I love my son dearly and I know, contrary to Mr Rubinoff's "reporting" that my son's life is very restricted  and his future as an adult whose parents will not always be with him is very bleak. 

(For Mr. Rubinoff's benefit I am the father of a severely autistic son and I have been involved in autism advocacy for 15 years in New Brunswick where, together with fellow parent advocates, we were able to establish a model early intervention for autism program, obtain some autism educated Education Aides and Resource Teachers, and successfully fight the closure of the Stan Cassidy Centre Autism Team which treats and helps many children and young people with serious autism disorder issues, the kind of issues Mr Rubinoff appears to be unaware of.)