Friday, April 08, 2011

Laurent Mottron's Dangerous Anti Autism Cure Beliefs Resurface

Dr. Laurent Mottron has spent his entire career studying persons with high functioning autism and Aspergers.   Even as the parents of autistic children and good hearted people everywhere feel sadness and grief over the loss of another autistic child presumed lost Dr. Mottron promotes and oversells a study he led which according, to the good Doctor, supports his belief that autism should not be cured.

I have been unable, in the several years that I have been aware of his anti autism cure ideology,  to find any indication that Dr. Mottron has spent any time working with, or studying, those severely affected by autism disorders, whether they be the 75-80% of persons with Autistic Disorder and Intellectual Disability, those who engage in debilitating and dangerous self injurious behavior or those who wander from home and caregivers to danger, and sometimes, death.  The loss last year of James DeLorey in a snow storm, the Australian child who wandered from home into automobile traffic, the still ongoing tragedy  but now presumed death, of Adam Benhamma near Montreal, will have no impact on the entrenched "autism is beautiful beliefs" of Dr. Laurent Mottron. 

I admit straight up that I personally do not subscribe to Laurent Mottron's anti autism cure ideology and do not trust any study by him  like the one now being touted, which he led, concerning "autistic" brains.  I would ask the professionals who actually work trying to help autistic children lead  fuller lives, including those who actually work with autistic children with severe autism disorders, to analyze carefully and critically Dr. Mottron's new study.  I will be very surprised if the "autistic" brain Dr. Mottron reports on is anything other than a snapshot of some of the very high functioning autistic subjects he has worked with for decades to the exclusion of  severely affected, intellectually challenged persons with autism disorders.

Dr. Laurent Mottron is not just a researcher who has devoted decades to studying high functioning autistic persons.  He has also removed himself from the realm of scientific detachment and objectivity and  involved himself in Canada's legal system in an effort to prevent medicare coverage of ABA treatment for autistic children in British Columbia in the Auton case Auton (Guardian  ad litem  of)  v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [2004] 3 S.C.R. 657, 2004 SCC 78  case.  In Auton  Mottron helped launch the career of high functioning autism researcher and anti ABA advocate Michelle Dawson  with his affidavit in support of her intervention, as an "autistic", before the Supreme Court of Canada.   In his supporting affidavit the good Doctor solemnly declared and affirmed the following statement of expert opinion:

Ms. Dawson has a tremendous understanding of both the difficulties faced by autistic individuals in our society, as well as the tremendous inherent strengths of many of these individuals. 

Personally I have never seen Michelle Dawson make any statement that reflects any understanding, let alone a "tremendous" understanding of the difficulties faced by autistic individuals in Canadian society.  I have never seen or heard statements by her acknowledging the existence of the many persons with Autistic Disorder and Intellectual Disability. I don't know how her life experience as a very intelligent, adult diagnosed "autistic" gives her tremendous, or any,  insight into the challenges faced by low functioning, intellectually disabled autistic children.  Nor have I seen her, or the good Doctor, make any statements describing or addressing in any intelligent fashion the many serious behavior challenges faced by those severely affected by autism disorders.  What is clear though is that Michelle Dawson and Dr. Laurent Mottron both believe that autism is a good thing that should not be cured.  They have long held these anti cure, including anti ABA treatment,  autism beliefs. 

Dr. Mottron also appeared as an unidentified expert witness "the mysterious Dr. M" in Ms Dawson's case before a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, Dawson v. Canada Post Corporation, 2008 CHRT 41 in which he described the idea of curing autism as nonsense:

[86] Ms. Dawson testified that autism is a neurological disability and that people generally do not have a good understanding of this reality. Ms. Dawson stated repeatedly that autism was not a mental illness. For her, a mental illness has an onset, various treatments, and there is a return to the previous state to a greater or lesser degree. Both Ms. Dawson and Dr. M., as will be seen, pointed out that the notion of curing autism was nonsensical. Still many people want to cure autism.


b) The testimony of Dr. M

[99] At the beginning of his testimony, Dr. M., who is a psychiatrist, was qualified by the Tribunal as an expert in autism. Dr. M. filed a report as well as three letters pertaining to Ms.Dawson’s condition.

[100] Dr. M. testified on the nature of autism, autistic individuals as well as on Ms. Dawson’scondition. The credibility of Dr. M. as well as the accuracy of his statements and opinions wasnot challenged by the Respondent. The Tribunal finds Dr. M.’s testimony highly credible even if the evidence shows that in recent years, Ms. Dawson has worked with him and has co-authored scientific articles with Dr. M.

And now, surprise, surprise, surprise,  Dr. Mottron has published a study which, according to the good Doctor, supports his long held belief that autism should not be cured.  I wonder how many low functioning, severely challenged, intellectually disabled autistic subjects were included in Dr. Mottron's study? I do not buy what the mysterious Dr. M is selling and I doubt that most parents with autistic children, and most professionals tasked with addressing some of the serious and dangerous challenges faced by autistic children and adults,  will buy it either.  

Dr. Mottron is not necessarily an objective, detached medical professional or scientific researcher.  He has long held a belief that autism should not be cured and his latest study conclusions are used to support  his own beliefs. Given his long held personal beliefs his study, and his public commentaries about what conclusions can be drawn from that study, should be given close, careful scrutiny.   In particular his conclusion that the study supports his belief that persons with autism should not be cured should be given very close examination.  As Dr. Mottron stated in the Vancouver Sun:

""While this study does not conclusively show a causal effect between brain activity and the enhanced abilities of those with autism, lead researcher Laurent Mottron of the University of Montreal said it is the most "robust" evidence yet suggesting a link. He said it adds another argument against attempts to "cure" autistics.

When we try to turn an autistic toddler into a non-autistic toddler, it's painful, it's expensive and it does not work," he said. "We should not try to assimilate or break the difference (between autistics and non-autistics), but just admit that it's a difference that has good and bad consequences."

High functioning autism researcher Dr. Laurent Mottron has been promoting his anti autism cure belief for many years.  Hopefully his latest efforts to thwart treatment and cure of autism disorders will enjoy no more success than his previous efforts.  The chance to improve the lives of autistic children and adults is too big a price to pay for the promotion of Dr. Mottron's personal belief system.


Cameron said...

As the father of two very autistic girls. it's astounding to me that anyone who refers to themselves as a doctor can ignore the absolute importance of ABA therapy for autistic individuals. In just one short year my oldest Gabby has gone from banging her head to smiling and skipping into the therapy center. Who cares what she's learning, she's gaining confidence and that to me is really all that matters right now. Thank you Harold.

Eric said...

Harold could you clarify for me something? Are we talking about "curing" in the sense that you can take a severe case of autism and reduce its severity or are we talking about finding out HOW severe autism happens to the brain in order to prevent it from happening to others?

Holls said...

I will not lie and say I am well versed in Mottron's theories or studies. In fact, I stumbled across your blog as I was researching him.

I would like to say that I do not endorse letting children suffer any danger to themselves or others. Nor can I say that treatment is not needed to help correct harmful behavior.

I would like to say that teaching alternatives to those behaviors and helping children learn better ways to cope and express themselves is different altogether from trying to "cure" autism. I have worked as an educator and have had students that suffered from Autism. I can say that while there were some behaviors that needed to be dealt with they were not broken children.

Furthermore, perhaps the Autistic brain is beautiful. They interpret and express information differently than we do. The problem is that we do not understand enough about it to be able to communicate with them to their fullest capacity. Most autistic people have skill sets others do not possess. Sometimes to amazing degrees.

I think we would be better served by stopping the search to "fix" the autistic brain and to start actively trying to understand it and how to communicate with those children. We can help them by addressing serious concerns and problems in their behavior but I believe it is a disservice to them to try to make them be just like us. We do not need to mold them into our world but to show them how to be their best unique self within our world. And you are right, that does mean addressing self harming behavior etc.

Who knows what all we have missed because we are so inadequately versed in what Autism truly is because we are too intent on trying to solve the problem of it instead of seeing it as a difference in cognition that we can learn from.

Aspie Girl said...

I am autistic, and I do not think autism should be eliminated. Nor are we even close to being able to do so. However, there are many side-effects of autism that can and should be lessened.
Autism is not fully understood. It must be understood first, before anything else can be done. Mottron is one of those working towards greater depth of understanding.
I would advise anyone who dislikes Mottron to try instead to study the research of Henry Markram, (who is not only an expert in this field, but is himself the father of an Autistic child)