Saturday, May 30, 2009

Autistic Laughter? Conor's Laugh Is His Own, It Is NOT An Autistic Laugh

Jumping the shark is a colloquialism coined by Jon Hein and used by TV critics and fans to denote the point in a TV show or movie series' history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations. .... The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series Happy Days, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the third of the three parts of the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark while water skiing.

Wikipedia, Jumping the Shark

Autism researcher and anti-ABA activist Michelle Dawson, has joined with William Hudenko, a clinician and researcher who presented a paper recently about the nature of autistic laughter, in arguing for the existence of a uniquely "autistic" laughter. I do not pretend to have read the Hudenko paper. I admit I do not have any inclination to read a paper that attempts to categorize autistic versus non-autistic laughter. The attempt to establish an "autistic laugh" is nothing more than an exercise in stereotyping, unacceptable in today's society when stereotyping based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or physical disability.

My son Conor, diagnosed at the age of 2 with PDD-NOS, subsequently changed to Autistic Disorder as the development gaps between him and his chronological peers widened significantly, is a great joy in my life. As I typed this comment on the upstairs computer Conor came into the room with a great big Conor smile on his face to hang out with Dad. He knows how much I enjoy his presence. He knows that his presence makes me happy. Conor's smiles and laughs are his and his alone. They are not part of some imaginary "autistic laughter" stereotype dreamed up by autism researchers and ideologues.





When I commented on my own observations that Conor's laugh is genuine, that he laughs out loud with others and when he is in a room by himself watching a favorite video my comments, about my own son of 13 years, were dismissed by the ever arrogant ... and in this case out of touch with reality ... Michelle Dawson as being "anecdotal":

Replacing autism research with the anecdotes, assumptions and certainties of autism advocates (if Mr Doherty says so, it must be true) would I'm sure be popular with autism advocates.

Ms Dawson's use of the phrase "autism advocates" is actually code for parents of autistic children but since she doesn't want to appear anti-parent she uses the expression autism advocates sarcastically, a tone which permeates most of her writings.

I fully support scientific and evidence based approaches to understanding causes, treatments and hopefully some day cures, of autism spectrum disorders. I reject categorically though the attempt to stereotype all autistic persons as having the same personalities, even the same laughs. I do not believe in the existence of an "autistic laugh" which is not scientifically proven at all but is simply assumed to exist by Ms Dawson.






Some parents may look to Michelle Dawson for guidance about how to raise their autistic children, or how to understand them, but I am not one of them. And I absolutely reject , as pure unadulterated nonsense, her unscientific opinion that parents can not understand and interpret their own child's laughter. After 13 years of living with, caring for, and having fun with Conor I know his laughter is genuine, I know it is real and infectious, I know how much joy his laughter brings me each and every day.

Parents are often told that valuable, and limited, public resources should not be wasted on further research of possible vaccine autism connections (Despite statements to the contrary from Dr. Bernadine Healy, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Dr. Duane Alexandre and neurologist and successful vaccine autism litigant, Dr. Jon Poling). I suggest that valuable research dollars should not be spent trying to establish the existence of a unique "autistic laugh".

As a parent, as a human being, I do not need researchers to tell me what the smiles and laughs on of my son Conor pictured above mean. I have experienced them. In interpreting such everyday human expressions parental experience is more than just "anecdotal' it is first hand evidence, just as the pictures above are evidence. Can anyone see the pictures of Conor above and tell me that he is NOT genuinely smiling and laughing? Do you really need a research study to interpret and understand what Conor is feeling in those pictures?

Autistic children and adults need research into serious issues. William Hudenko and Michelle Dawson have jumped the shark with their "autistic laughter" nonsense. Valuable research dollars should not be scattered in their misguided waters as bait for the shark.




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17 comments:

One Sick Mother said...

good post.

I had not heard of an "autistic laugh" before and it sounds like total codswallop to me.

My son really laughs and always has. He chuckles, giggles, cackles and bellylaughs.

I agree that funds should be spent on more realistic projects, like why Autism Sprectrum Disorders are so rapidly on the rise. If the growth rate continues on it's currect curve, by 2036 ASD kids will outnumber the normies.

Who'll be laughing then?

One Sick Mother said...

good post.

I had not heard of an "autistic laugh" before and it sounds like total codswallop to me.

My son really laughs and always has. He chuckles, giggles, cackles and bellylaughs.

I agree that funds should be spent on more realistic projects, like why Autism Sprectrum Disorders are so rapidly on the rise. If the growth rate continues on it's currect curve, by 2036 ASD kids will outnumber the normies.

Who'll be laughing then?

farmwifetwo said...

"Autistic laughter"??? What will they think of next. My youngest son has broken all the "social" stereotypes. He loves to laugh, sing, play, tickle, rock in a chair w/Mom, snuggle.... He's adorable. And... it's laughter... Yes, right now at the computer it's more of a vocal noise b/c he's wound out... but when we play it's full 7yr old giggles.

I need to read that article.... I love this peer review crap... IMO it's less true than anecdotal b/c neither party has bothered to actually talk to someone who's been there, tried that.

S.

Barry Hudson said...

Hi Harold,

Holy frikin frankn crap! What a complete waste of scarce resources. I know for a fact that when my son laughs and smiles it means he is happy (duh). I am quite sure that all neurotypes can be happy at times. I have an uncle (neurotypical) and his laugh is "unique", I doubt his laugh has a different meaning than mine.

One of the most wonderful things about my son is that his happiness is the most genuine honest happiness experiences I have ever seen. We play quite a bit and [shocking to some] the ABA sessions we have are filled with laughter. Fun and laughter during ABA is now our primary reinforcer – we have transitioned away from edibles and tangibles for reinforcement – our son partakes, and learns greatly, with ABA because it is fun. Some people just gotta “go figure”. I got the video tape and photos to prove it.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

This is one of the dumbest ND things I have heard of so far.

"...autistic children in this study expressed more positive emotion--more genuine happy affect--in interacting with another person than did the nonautistic children."

"The authors imply, in the absence of any evidence in this direction, that all this happy, genuine, engaging autistic laughter is unlikely to be socially "appropriate." Unfortunately, according to the authors, autistics "are not using laughter in a socially subtle manner." And here is the paper's unfounded concluding sentence:

In fact, by using laughter in a less social manner it may be that this expressive pattern actually contributes to the social deficits exhibited by children with autism instead of serving to facilitate connections with others."

Since when is laughing too much "socially inappropriate?"

I don't have "voiced laughter." My laughs are very quiet, very private, to myself. I rarely laugh out loud.

But, when I get REALLY happy I'll jump up and down and/or flap my hands.

I know ND has probably already written about how hand-flapping should be seen as socially appropriate.

To be honest, I'm not sure where these ND people live. No one has ever ridiculed me for flapping my hand or being "autistic." There are plenty of non-autistic people who act weird or even weirder than I do. People don't really stare or laugh at me: they glance and move on, like everyone does with everything slightly out of the ordinary. I know ND people do it, too. They like to point out how normal "Neurotypical" people are, even posting videos that make fun of them.

jonathan said...

Ms Dawson's use of the phrase "autism advocates" is actually code for parents of autistic children but since she doesn't want to appear anti-parent she uses the expression autism advocates sarcastically, a tone which permeates most of her writings.I am not a parent. I have no children, autistic or typical. However, I am a person on the autistic spectrum who longs for a cure and an end to the misery called autism. For that reason, Michelle Dawson has also called me an "autism advocate". So, it is not just parents she calls this, but an apparently ironic if not sarcastic term that she applies to anyone who wants to rid the world of autism-which she implies is by extension ridding the world of autistic people. Apparently, according to her logic, if someone wants to cure someone who has a disability, they want to murder that person as well.

Marni Wachs said...

You have good points as always, and I agree that research dollars should not be put towards this and like subjects, but I had a slightly different take on it, so I'll be odd man out on this one. I liked thinking about this concept because it made me think of my son's joy, laughter, and smiling as coming from true authentic emotion unlike the average person who can be duplicitous and phony.

Anne said...

Harold, I don't understand what you're saying about "autistic laughs." Apparently Hudenko found in his study that when autistic kids laugh, it is very likely to be genuine laughter. This is consistent with your experience with Connor.

Hudenko didn't say that there was a special kind of "autistic" laughter; he said that autistic kids more often laugh to express real emotion, rather than for social purposes.

I think the point that Michelle was trying to make was that Hudenko implied that people who don't use laughter for social purposes could be seen as having a deficit. This, I thought she was saying, was ironic in view of Hudenko's findings that people have a more positive response to genuine laughter. I don't see anything in what Michelle said about Hudenko's study that pertained to how well you know your own child.

However, I suppose that if you don't know how to "laugh" when your boss tells a joke that isn't funny, that could be seen by some people as a deficiency. Maybe from Hudenko's research, something could be added to kids' ABA programs to teach them the skill of fake social laughter.

Autism Reality NB said...

Anne, I am saying:

1) We don't need research to try and establish that persons with autism spectrum disorders have a specific laugh, ie. a more genuine ... or a less genuine laugh than anyone else.

Research funding should be dedicated to serious issues affecting persons with autism disorders; issues going to causation, treatment, education and cure ... not to creating stereotypes.

2) A parent's observation of, and experience with, their own child's laughter is solid evidence not to be dismissed as simply "anecodtal".

There is a big difference between anecdotal evidence as to the causes of an autism disorder and as to the effectiveness of a treatment or cure and direct evidence of common human experiences such as laughter.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

"Hudenko didn't say that there was a special kind of "autistic" laughter; he said that autistic kids more often laugh to express real emotion, rather than for social purposes."

I read the blog entry and according to the entry there is an "autistic laugh."

"Autistics laughed just as much as nonautistics. The sole difference between autistic and nonautistic laughs was in proportion of voiced laughs. While on average, 97% of autistic children's "laugh episodes" were voiced, only 63% and 47% (age-equivalent and chronological age groups respectively) of nonautistic children's laughs were voiced. And about half the autistic children produced only voiced laughs.

"Hudenko et al. (in press) describe voiced laughs as having a "tonal, song-like quality" and as "strongly associated with positive affect," while unvoiced laughs are "largely atonal and noisier." Instead of reflecting a person's genuine emotions, unvoiced laughs are hypothesized to reflect various social signals."

So, "voiced laughs" are "autistic laughs" which, according to this, are "real laughs" that display "true emotion." "Unvoiced laughs" are just fakers, I guess.

Anonymous said...

"Since when is laughing too much "socially inappropriate?" "

At various times:

laughing too long at a joke (length is defined by emergent consensus).

laughing at a situation that is deemed 'serious' by the observers, even when the same group of observers would laugh at a similar situation that affected someone else (i.e. people may laugh at the mailboy falling over, but people limit laughing at the boss when he trips)

laughing "the wrong laugh" at a situation i.e. laughing out loud at a situation that would normally be seen as warranting a chuckle.

NOT laughing at something that isn't actually funny, but for which it is socially advantageous for you to be seen as finding funny (the bosses jokes, jokes from the best man speech at a wedding, funny remarks made by someone with significantly more social power than you)

Basically, social appropriateness of laughs is defined by:

length compared to norm within context
volume compared to norm within context
peer group context and their ability to accept that type,volume and length of laughter from you, given your relative posistion in the social group
subject and the social norms concerning laughing at the subject with in the social and interpersonal setting
target and their relative power to you and the peer group

Hope that helps a bit.

It's complex, but wait until you get onto smiles. The idea that there are different types (symmetry, width, height of lips, motion, length held for etc) of smile for different reasons and social settings took me a very long time to get over, especially as I'd followed the "smile=happy" paradigm unquestionably for years.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

I really don't understand most of what you just wrote.

Most people with severe autism are never going to come close to understanding anything you just wrote.

I'm still working on actually getting out of my house and being in situations where I might actually encounter this "laughter."

Anonymous said...

"Most people with severe autism are never going to come close to understanding anything you just wrote."

Most people will not have spent any time analysing laughter and thus will not understand the role of different types of laughter in social situations. Thus they will have trouble understanding the actual purpose and utility of research like this.

They will "just know" the difference between laughs, when/where you should laugh, and at/with who, "intuitively", and will respond accordingly. They will use laughter (or being seen/heard as laughing) as a social tool as much as an expression.

This places people with autism at a disadvantage as we can get seen as 'serious' (when we don't laugh when we are socially obligated) , 'childish' (when we laugh along with everyone else, but laugh in a noticably different manner) or 'ignorant/immature' (when we laugh at something funny in a situation where laughter of any type is considered socially inappropriate), even risking being labelled as 'dangerous' and 'psychotic' when we laugh at things abrutly and out-of-context (such as when we laugh at things without others being aware of why we're laughing).

Remember, this is NOT about an "autistic laugh" despite your cherry-picking of quotes, but about what the different patterns of laughing could mean in terms of contributing to social impairments.

Quite why some people don't want us to look at what autistic impairments are actually out there so that we can look at including them in therapy, is aboslutely beyond me.

'Appropriate' laughing is already included in social skills and social stories programmes (as well as SaLT, but that's more to do with production than application). Autism services are already identifying it as a area worth looking into. It's even on the NAS infosheets about autism, as it's such a clearly identifiable symptom.

Autism Reality NB said...

Helping autistic children and adults understand social cues and context does not require research of "autistic laughing" as a style of laughing separate from other human beings.

You identify yourself as a person with an autism disorder but do not specify which disorder. My son has autistic disorder and he has been assessed with profound developmental delays but he has no problem with laughing, genuinely and appropriately.

I didn't cherry pick anything. The subject of the article I commented on was autistic laughing.

I explained what I have a problem with about "autistic laughing" research. You chose to ignore what I said.

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

I meant that people with severe autism are never going to understand the types of laughter you described in those social contexts. They will never get that far in understanding social skills.

What you described, in terms of social impairment, is quite subtle. You could get away with inappropriate laughter in real life; no one would think anything was really wrong with you.

Some people with autism have much more severe problems than knowing when or when not to laugh.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 6:29 and 10:28 was Amanda Baggs. I recognize the writing and thinking style immediately. Interesting that she uses the term "therapy" which I thought to her was something bad but I guess when she comments anonymously, she can be another person.

Roger Kulp said...

Harold,

I just went over and read what was written after your second comment. Disgraceful.

Call me naive,but up until fairly recently,I honestly thought you could reason with ND people.But after being told,over at lbrb,that self-mutilation,and head banging were "comorbid conditions",with no relation to autism.After reading Judith Singer's unbelievable writings about the Nazis,thank you for the link Jonathan,I would never have looked on my own,I realize that you cannot reason with them.

jonathan said...
Apparently, according to her logic, if someone wants to cure someone who has a disability, they want to murder that person as well.
This is something ND has adapted from older forms of "disability rights" activism,and goes back to the likes of Ed Roberts in the 60s. Well intentioned people whose ideas ended up causing as much harm as good.

Frankly,I'm sick of hearing it about autism,or any disability.It's BS plain and simple.

Ideally,the ND movement would like to put a halt to ALL autism research.If they can't do that,they will do the next best thing,and hijack it,to produce even more garbage like this.