I read recently still more anti-ABA commentary from Ms Michelle Dawson, a long time crusader against government provision of Applied Behavioral Analysis for autistic children. Together with her colleague, Dr. Laurent Mottron, she has appeared as an "autistic" before the Supreme Court of Canada and before a Canadian Senate committee examining funding of autism treatment to oppose government funding of ABA treatments for autistic children.
Ms Dawson also comments frequently on the internet, and in the mainstream media, to speak on behalf of "autistics" and to advocate against ABA for autistic children in Canada. Ms Dawson takes great pleasure in explaining how the professionals who contribute to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the MADSEC (Maine) Autism Task Force, the New York State Department of Health, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, and any of the professionals who actually work with autistic children, including heaven forbid, low functioning autistic children, are wrong about ABA and its effectiveness in helping autistic children make substantial, sustained gains as summarized in 2007 by the AAP
:Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the process of applying interventions that are based on the principles of learning derived from experimental psychology research to systematically change behavior and to demonstrate that the interventions used are responsible for the observable improvement in behavior. ABA methods are used to increase and maintain desirable adaptive behaviors, reduce interfering maladaptive behaviors or narrow the conditions under which they occur, teach new skills, and generalize behaviors to new environments or situations.
ABA focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior within relevant settings including the home, school, and community. The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of research by using single-subject methodology21,25,27,28 and in controlled studies of comprehensive early intensive behavioral intervention programs in university and community settings.29–40 Children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have been significantly better than those of children in control groups.31–40
Given the well documented record of sustained gains reported for autistic children using ABA, as reported by such credible agencies, it is difficult to understand the opposition by Michelle Dawson and her colleague and supporter Dr. Laurent Mottron. The writings of neither of these two staunch opponents of ABA disclose any first hand involvement with ABA.
Nor is it clear whether they have any direct contact with severely impaired autistic persons, you know, the ones who do NOT appear before legal, political and media entities on a regular basis, the people, like my son who require 24 hour supervision, the ones living in institutional care, THOSE "autistics", the ones whose existence Dr. Mottron and Ms Dawson rarely, if ever, mention. Dr. Mottron publishes several papers a year in learned publications about autistic savants and persons with Aspergers and High Functioning Autism. (With 2009 literally around the corner look for more papers from Dr. Mottron on autistic savants and the charcteristcs of superior autistic intelligence). Dr. Mottron is OK with Canadian tax dollars going to support his "research" into savant intelligence but opposes funding of ABA interventions for autistic children even those with limited communications, the "autistics" who do not appear in his frequently published papers.
Michelle Dawson, in addition to being a researcher working with Dr. Mottron, and assisting his investigations of high functioning autism, is also herself an "autistic". Affidavits
filed by Dr. Mottron and Ms Dawson, then a postal worker, in support of her appearance as an intervenor before the Supreme Court of Canada describe her as an autistic person or autistic individual. She also states that she was diagnosed with "autism". Her specific autism spectrum disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder, is not expressly mentioned in either affidavit.
In her affidavit Ms Dawson, despite a slim affidavit record of her own "autism", challenged the legitimacy of the parents and professionals who appeared in the proceedings:20. In addition, no autistic individuals testified or participated in the process. Yet there are autistic individuals who could have coherently and cogently explained the realities of autism, with both its benefits and weaknesses to the courts.21. The courts were only left with the perspective of parents and the state in what became an argument over who was responsible to assume the costs of dealing with the disability;22. I believe that the perspective I could bring to this Court would be of assistance to the Court and allow it to have a fuller understanding of the issues before it;23. I know of no association or group seeking to intervene in these proceedings who could bring the true perspective of autistic individuals;24. While several groups and associations exist to promote the rights of autistic individuals, in my experience, they are usually dominated by parents and professionals, and very seldom have any input from autistic individuals, even when the autistics seek to participate in these organizations.
Ms Dawson intervened in Auton
, according to her solemnly declared affidavit, because she offered the true perspective of autistic individuals. She made this solemn declaration without stating her specific autism spectrum disorder, elaborating on why she herself was not diagnosed until she was an adult in 1993-4, or discussing any differences that might exist between "autistics" who can appear before the Supreme Court and those who struggle with basic language. Nor did she explain in her affidavit how she could speak on behalf of those autistic children and adults who, unlike her, cannot speak at any significant level.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of two very brief telephone conversations with Ms Dawson. She contacted me because I was at that time the President of the Autism Society New Brunswick and she was interested in obtaining a copy of a document prepared for the ASNB by a Universite de Moncton law professor pertaining to autism and the Canadian constitution. I was surprised later, when learning of her intervention in the Auton
case in the Supreme Court of Canada, that she purported to speak on behalf of so many other autistic persons; given her obvious abilities contrasted with the severe challenges faced by so many autistic persons, including my son.
On reflection I also remembered our brief conversations and the fact that despite taking on this self appointed representational role on behalf of "autistics", including my son, she had never asked me, during those conversations any questions about autistic people in New Brunswick or the health, education or living conditions of persons with autism spectrum disorders in New Brunswick. She disclosed no obvious interest in informing herself, while talking to the then President of ASNB about conditions faced by autistic persons in New Brunswick. (Nor did Ms Dawson ask whether we had any persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder serving on our Board of Directors)
Of course Ms Dawson's failure to ask me any such questions now makes perfect sense having read her affidavit. As a mere parent of an autistic child I had no information that would be of any value to Ms Dawson who after all is an "autistic". Despite the responsibilities that nature, our society and our laws bestow upon parents to care for and nurture our children, we are not qualified to represent our autistic children's interests in Ms Dawson's view. Despite living with them, caring for them, loving them and sacrificing for our children, despite seeing their challenges and struggles up close and helping them overcome those challenges we can not possibly offer the perspective that Ms Dawson, a total stranger with no commitment to them or responsibility for their well being, can offer because she is after all an "autistic".
My son is severely "autistic". His diagnosis is autistic disorder, assessed with profound developmental delays. He can not speak for himself in ordinary daily interaction let alone before the Supreme Court of Canada. The information I just presented is supported by professional assessments and is more information than Michelle Dawson supplied in her leave to intervene affidavit in Auton
. Michelle Dawson, whatever her diagnosis, has nothing in common with my son and does not, and never did, bring his "perspective" to courts, legislative bodies or in her media appearances.
Michelle Dawson will continue in 2009 to tell the world that the AAP, the US Surgeon General, the New York State Department of Health, the MADSEC (Maine) Autism Task Force, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment, Dr. Mickey Keenan of the University of Ulster, Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Dr. Alan Harchik of the May Institute, Dr. Paul McDonnell, Professor Emeritus (Psychology), Dr. Ivar Lovaas, and literally thousands of other health care professionals and researchers are all wrong about the effectiveness of ABA in helping autistic children make sustained substantial gains in intellectual and social skills.
Meanwhile in 2009, Michelle Dawson and Dr. Mottron will undoubtedly continue to receive Canadian tax dollars for their research into, and publish papers about, autistic savants, Aspergers and high functioning autism. Curiously omitted from their scholarly works will be the severely autistic, those with cognitive deficits, those who injure themselves and others and live lives of dependency and solitude after the parents and others who actually care for them are gone.
If past is prologue Ms Dawson will still not ask about those "autistics" much less fortunate than her, like my son, or other autistic persons in New Brunswick, or elsewhere. Ms Dawson will continue in 2009 to ignore the existence of intellectually impaired, communication challenged, severely autistic persons on whose behalf she purports to speak. And she and Dr. Mottron will continue to oppose government funding of ABA for autistic children.
Hello! I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog. I'm 20 and I have severe autism (well, "moderate" now) and it's nice to finally find someone rational. I came to the online world hoping to find others like me but I was very disappointed to find I was one of the very few who actually has autism.
Anyway, I talk very little and have great difficulty with it but can obviously type well so my doctors are now thinking I may have some kind of verbal-oral apraxia. I live with my father and barely leave my house and the only people I communicate with are my family and I barely communicate with them (I recieve disability). I spent years in institutions literally lost in "my own world," hurting myself, pacing all day listening to my headphones, had rigid routines, talking only when spoken to and using words and phrases I borrowed, until I was 18. A doctor told me that at around 17-20 the fronal lobes begin to activate and that this probably helped to contribute to my "breakthrough," along with treatment and helpful people. Makes sense to me since autistic people obviously develop at a much different rate. I call it my "awakening."
Anyway, Conor is lucky to have such a smart and loving father. I'm very naive and I first I believed that Amanda Baggs was telling the truth, but then I realized that it was obviously a fraud. Low-functioning autistic people able to type exist, but Amanda isn't one of them. It's completely illogical and I don't understand why so-called "aspies" and "auties" believe it. Maybe it's because they aren't autistic enough to see the obvious logic and instead want to be a part of a "social movement." I don't even understand Neurodiversity: I don't understand politics or anything social and can't understand how all of these "severely" autistic people understand it either. What's the point? "Autistic community" is an oxymoron. I can't get past that.
Anyway, I go to the local mental health center for treatment (God forbid I get treatment) and am hoping to move into my own supervised community apartment soon. I'm also a savant, which means that everyone in "aspie-land" hates me. I didn't even know I was talented until I was 18, until my "awakening." I never told anyone what I was thinking, it never occured to me because I thought everyone was exactly like me and knew what I was thinking. So, obviously, no one knew and they assumed I was mildly retarded. My favorite thing is art (I also have music, language, hyperlexia and memory) and I'm planning on being a painter because I can't make money doing anything else; art is my passion, or in clinical terms, "obsession." I realize how lucky I am to have savant talents and it makes me sad that no one likes me for it.
Your blog is one of the few autism blogs I read because yours is actually rational. You have a severely autistic child but you're not part of the "mercury" parents and you love your son for who he is and make sure that he recieves good treatment so that he can have the best life possible. Sadly I've found this is a rare occurance. I have a severely autistic couisn whose mother has fallen prey to dangerous treatments. I like your blog so much I may make a painting for young Conor.