Saturday, March 15, 2008

Low Functioning Autism, Laurent Mottron and Common Sense

Dr. Laurent Mottron is an icon of sorts of the Neurodiversity movement. A prominent autism researcher who has published voluminously if somewhat narrowly on autism subjects (tending to focus primarily on autistic savants, Aspergers syndrome and High Functioning Autistic persons) he has nonetheless lent his high functioning autism expertise to advocate in Canada against government funding of ABA treatment for autistic children whether they are low functioning or not. Together with anti-ABA activist Michelle Dawson, the good Dr. Mottron is one half of the Quirks and Quarks duo that has made representation to the Supreme Court of Canada (Auton case, Mottron filed an affidavit in support of Dawson's request for intervenor status), the Canadian Senate committee studying autism treatment and financing in Canada and numerous media interviews about the views of "autistics". His views about low functioning and high functioning autism though appear to have escaped examination by his Neurodiversity admirers who mock use of terms such as low functioning or high functioning autism.

Dr. Mottron's anti-ABA advocacy, his articles designed to show hidden and perhaps superior intelligence of autistic persons, and his collaboration with Michelle Dawson, have made him a darling of the Neurodiversity movement as in the following comments by Neurodiversity blogger Autism Diva:

"Autism Diva must say though, that the real heart breaker of Fracophone 'oh-TEEZM" researchers is LauRENT MotTRON. (sigh, sigh) Mottron is at the Hopital des Rivieres des Prairies (?) and Fombonne is at McGill with Szatmari. (not so cute, not French)

Autism Diva met Dr. Mottron a year and a half ago. He doesn't have pretty hair like Fombonne, but he's the best homme in autism research, English speaking or French."

Yet despite his intellectual, and other, appeal to the Neurodiversity movement Dr. Mottron has acknowledged throughout the course of his research career that there are important distinctions to be drawn between low functioning autism and higher functioning autism, Aspergers and autistic savants. At least he has made those distinctions in many of his research articles. Any search of Google Scholar with the terms "autism" and "Mottron" will turn up numerous summaries mentioning function level distinctions of the autistic subjects of his studies. (The good Dr. Mottron has tended to focus his studies on higher functioning autistic subjects. It is not clear if any of his findings have been questioned as to whether they would apply to lower functioning autistic persons). Here are but a few examples where Dr. Mottron has used the high functioning label to characterize his autistic subjects:

… and Global Processing of Music in High-functioning Persons with Autism: Beyond Central Coherence? - all 9 versions »
L Mottron, I Peretz, E Ménard - The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied …, 2000 -
... enhanced pitch processing is highly compatible with the exceptional pitch-processing
abilities exhibited by musical savants with autism (Mottron, Peretz, et al ...
Cited by 86 - Related Articles - Web Search

Do high functioning persons with autism present superior spatial abilities? - all 5 versions »
MJ Caron, L Mottron, C Rainville, S Chouinard - Neuropsychologia, 2004 - Elsevier
... for participants with autism exhibiting atypical gain in cued recall condition
relatively to free recall condition ([Bennetto et al., 1996 and Mottron et al ...
Cited by 24 - Related Articles - Web Search

Face perception in high-functioning autistic adults: evidence for superior processing of face parts, … - all 2 versions »
A Lahaie, L Mottron, M Arguin, C Berthiaume, B … - Neuropsychology, 2006 -
... Lahaie A, Mottron L, Arguin M, Berthiaume C, Jemel B, Saumier D. Hopital
Riviere-des-Prairies, Montreal, PQ, Canada. Configural processing in autism was ...
Cited by 14 - Related Articles - Web Search

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
February 15, 2003, Vol. 15, No. 2, Pages 226-235
Posted Online March 13, 2006.
Enhanced Pitch Sensitivity in Individuals with Autism: A Signal Detection Analysis
These findings confirm that pitch processing is enhanced in “high-functioning” autism. Superior performance in pitch discrimination and categorization extends previous findings of enhanced visual performance to the auditory domain. Thus, and as predicted by the enhanced perceptual functioning model for peaks of ability in autism (Mottron & Burack, 2001), autistic individuals outperform typically developing population in a variety of low-level perceptual tasks.

Given Dr. Laurent Mottron's persistent use of functioning levels to describe autistic persons in his research it is not clear where the Neurodiversity movement finds its inspiration for its misguided attempts to obscure the distinctions between lower functioning autistic individuals and those like Neurodiversity bloggers who demonstrate great command of language and ability to function in the real world. Parents, including me, who must keep a 24/7 watch on their autistic children for fear that they will, as my son once did, cross a busy street oblivious to the dangers of automobile traffic. are often outraged at such absurd Neurononsense. The story I blogged of autistic 7 year old Samantha in Scotland who inflicts serious injury on herself by beating her head with her hands and other objects surely would be described by anyone with an ounce of common sense as Low Functioning Autistic.

Parents and others who function in the real world can distinguish between the functioning levels of children who are a danger to themselves, or the middle aged woman in a New York residential facility who could not communicate the abuse to which she was being subjected by staff and those who attend colleges for gifted students such as Simon's Rock College or become legal , political and media advocates. In the Neurodiversity world? That is another story.


Ettina said...

I really hate the stereotype that only low functioning autistics self-injure. I said my first words at 11 months, and have always been a verbally gifted child. My IQ is in the gifted range. Just about everyone would consider me high functioning. And I bite myself, punch myself, hit myself with objects, bang my head, etc. It's not just low functioning autistics who self-injure.
It's widespread in the cognitive study of autism to treat high functioning autistics, the easiest ones to test, as representative of all autistics to a degree. Mottron et al actually do this less than many others. For example, they often deliberately try to include the 'medium functioning' kids who have communicative speech with significant language problems, even though they aren't as easy to test.
If I can, I'd really like to replicate a bunch of their studies with lower functioning autistics, using methods similar to what they use with babies. A common method is to monitor heart rate when viewing different things to detect 'surprise'. It would be interesting, for example, to get an autistic child to watch a video of a character moving around a house and see if they notice when a door leads to an impossible place (a room nowhere nearby). Could they distinguish between two similar-looking rooms in distinct parts of the house and notice when the destinations of the doors of those two rooms are unexpectedly swapped?

Unknown said...


Your comments about your own self injurious behavior as a high functioning adult is informative.

I do not agree with your description of Mottron's work. A Google Scholar search of his name shows that he has worked almost exclusively with High Functioning Autistic (his choice of label), Apergers and autistic savant subjects in his studies.

OldManKelv said...

I became aware of the 'good doctor' only today but thought to post a reply to your excellent blog. I was diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome last year, at the age of 40. I have an I.Q. of 176, hold a bachelor's degree in theology, a master's in music, a Ph.D. in human and artificual intelligence, a D.Div, again in theology, and I am conducting meta-research into the human brain and Asperger syndrome. Like the previous poster, I engage in self-injurious behaviour including biting, cutting (usually with part of a soda can because I have an high tolerance for pain and said can hurts more), hitting and headbutting walls. Further, I require 24/7 observation because I have no concept of the consequences of my actions - I have set fire, by accident, to my kitchen twice and more recently my dust-bin. I cannot go out alone because I am oblivious to danger - I have been hit by various modes of transport including, on two occasions, double-decker buses - and suffer from topographic agnosia. It is unfortunate that many continue to equate normal to high I.Q.s with the ability to function normally. A recent study, carried out by the National Autistic Society, found that In the UK, only 3% of people with AS are able to live indpendently and only 8% with support: I am among the 8%.