Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Autism and Unusual Facial Asymmetry Controversy

Is there any discussion of autism related topics that does NOT generate controversy?

Even recent reports of a program developed by Professor Hammond in which facial scans were reported to be of use in predicting autism and other genetic disorders has degenerated into heated controversy with Professor Hammond angry about the media coverage of his program. The controversy revolves primarily around whether the program was properly reported as being capable of diagnosing autism. The Professor himself says that statement is incorrect, his program does not detect autism. In fact, at least one report, in the Independent, made it clear that Professor Hammond was not making a diagnosis claim:

Indeed, the Independent reported him as saying at last week's press conference, "This is not diagnosis. The diagnosis is done by a clinician and a molecular geneticist doing the genetic testing."

Another paper had reported on the program somewhat differently claiming that the program could detect autism and would revolutionize autism diagnosis. Professor Hammond was very upset and canceled a scheduled BBC interview. In addition to the diagnosis dispute he was reported as having made some politically incorrect comments to a Yorkshire Post reporter that "you can spot a kid with Down's syndrome a mile away". Professor Hammond denied making such a remark which he described as insensitive. The reporter is not backing away from his report of Professor Hammond's remark.

At the end of the day a program that might be of some value in assisting in diagnosis of autism and other disorders begins its public life wrapped in controversy; an apparently unavoidable element of any public discussion of autism disorders.


Maya M said...

I see this as just another example of political correctness gone wild. Apparently anybody hinting in any way that it is better to have the standard 46 chromosomes than Down syndrome must be prepared to go under fire.
I guess that in the very near future, people will avoid talking in public about ANYTHING except weather and how they have spent the weekend. In fact, some my friends emigrants report that they are in this situation already.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... well... re Maya M's comment... I am not sure that the number of chromosomes really maters to me (I know some psychos with 46 that the world would be better off without... and I know many pretty darn nice folks with and extra #21 that I love dearly and who work hard and participate in our community as partners). With regard to the comment attribute to the researcher in the paper that "you can spot a kid with Down's syndrome a mile away"... uh... It may not be PC but I suppose that you can in fact do that. Generally I can pick out the kids with DS pretty quickly as there are some real physical differences. Sometimes I get it wrong. Why would this comment be an issue for some? My son looks rather unique when comparred to the average child who only has 46 chromosomes... So what?

If this software is another tool in the early detection and diagnosis of ASDs I say great... early is good... how is it any different then the ADOS or other schedule (assuming that the science has merit)?