Autism

A very interesting piece in The Times about how lego therapy helped autistic / Aspergers learn social skills.

For six months, they gathered for an hour a week to play with Lego. The idea behind the therapy, developed initially by Dan LeGoff in Philadelphia, was to encourage high-functioning children with autism or Asperger syndrome to communicate with each other and solve a problem by building in pairs or groups of three, according to set rules.

One child acted as the “engineer” and described the instructions, another as the “supplier” finding the correct pieces, and the “builder” put the pieces together. After a time, they would swap roles. Later, they would play “freestyle” in pairs, designing and building a model space rocket, for example, which allowed them to practise compromise, express their ideas clearly and take others’ ideas into account.

Source: Games that help autistic children

Autism, Nintendo Wii

A while ago I wrote a piece called Nintendo Wii and Autism that asked how well an autistic child would cope with a Nintendo Wii. Would its unique controlling mechanism be too complex or unwieldy for an autistic child or would its movement based approach be more intuitive than a traditional games controller?

In response a variety of parents have commented on it:

Mike wrote:

My son is 8 years old and on the high functioning side of the spectrum.
He loves the sports games. He plays Wii Sports and Mario & Sonic At The Olympics a lot. He is very inexperienced with sports due to typical autism type issues and the Wii has acted as a trainer.

Susan’s experience:

My son is 5.5 years old with a medical and educational diagnosis of autism. At his last school meeting I was told he is “super high-functioning”. His current behavior therapist recommended a website (www.starfall.com) … I decided to bring starfall up on the Wii and see if he could figure out the remote. I was amazed! He had never before taken an interest in Wii Sports or anything else on the Wii that the rest of the family plays. After he figured out how to navigate with the remote, he is now able to play the shooting game on Wii Play, and he loves the photo channel and he uses the doodle and mood features to change the photos we have copied over to the Wii.

Mary said:

I have two children with autism ages 7 and 8 and neither is high functioning (Aspergers). The Wii has been a wonderful asset. It has improved my son’s hand-eye coordination and his large motor skills. He would never want to play a family game with us and preferred to play alone. Now he invites us to play with him.

MT wrote:

We love our Wii, and my 7 year old with autism has done so well with it. We first tried it at friends homes where he loved it but didn’t share it well. Once we got it at home a whole new world opened up. … wrote about it on my blog here.

Do read MT’s blog entry in which she takes her son bowling for real after he has mastered bowling on the Wii.

Because autism covers such a spectrum of problems the Wii will not suit all autistic children but it is clear that for some it opens new doors. This is very heartening for my WyyMi project which aims to help with coordination training in people with developmental issues using the Wii.

Auditory, Autism, Dyslexia

Dyslexics and autistic children oft exhibit a sensitivity to noise. Background noises can be painful at worst or simply distracting. Some people have found that listening to white noise (static) helps because it masks the background sounds, allowing the child to get on with the task in hand. This is not something that has been scientifically studied or proven but some people find it helps and I include myself in that list. I have a white noise track on my MP3 player and I occasionally tune the radio into static when the noise of others in the house is getting too much.

Now there is a very easy and simple white noise generator available on the web. Simply Noise does exactly what is says. It creates white noise and a simple slide control can adjust its intensity. Give it a try next time you or your child are working at your computer and see if it works for you.

Thanks to LifeHacker who also has information on more advanced White Noise generators.

Autism

A few days ago we commented on the case of Kathleen Seidel who runs Neurodiversity.com. She had been subpoena to appear in court because she wrote on her blog some critical remarks about the scare-mongering tactics of the lawyers in a thimerosal / mercury / autism law suit.

The good news is that she has successfully had the subpoena quashed and the lawyer in question, Clifford Shoemaker, now has to demonstrated why he should not be punished for malicious use of “burdensome subpoenas”.

Well done Kathleen.

Source: Quashed!

Autism

Kathleen Seidel run Neurodiversity.com, a great resource on all things related to autism. Recently she criticised , lawyer who is representing Lisa and Seth Sykes, who are suing Bayer on the grounds that their autistic son was harmed by RhoD immune globulin injections that contained thimerosal (a mercury based substance).

Mr. Shoemaker specialises in Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) cases. A particular type of legal case that allows the lawyers costs to be paid by the court regardless of whether they win or lose. Its purpose is to allow the poor and sick to sue but Mr Shoemaker is earning a fair amount of money from it.

Kathleen wrote on her blog:

The elimination of litigative risk, however, provides a motivation for VICP specialists facing a paucity of substantiable claims to nurture exaggerated public perceptions of vaccine risks; to overstate the likelihood that facts in compensable cases are similar to those that are not; to promulgate dubiously-supported claims of the range of maladies that might be caused by vaccines; and to encourage individuals and families grappling with chronic, disabling medical and developmental problems to attribute causation of those problems to heretofore unrecognized, “long onset” vaccine reactions.

You can find all the details of the subpoena here and the original article, here.

Regardless of your position on autism and vaccines, please support Kathleen against these bullying tactics from lawyers who have a vested interest in spreading dubious science and worrying parents.

Autism

Computer World has a good article on how many people working in computing and communications industries have autism or apserge’s.

Bob, a database applications programmer who’s been working in high tech for 26 years, has an aptitude for math and logic. And he has what he calls his “strange memory.” If he can’t recall the answer to a question, he can recall exactly, as if in a digital image, where he first saw the answer, down to the page and paragraph and sentence.

Bob has some behavior quirks as well: He can become nonverbal when he’s frustrated, and he interprets things literally — he doesn’t read between the lines. “I am sure [my boss] finds it frustrating when I misinterpret his irony,” he says, “but at least he knows it is not willful.”

Asperger’s and IT: Dark secret or open secret?

Autism, Autism Treatment

I was reading this web comic on the history of LSD and how in the 50’s and 60’s it was used to treat a variety mental health problems including this:

LSD Autism

A quick Google found this page LSD Studies With Autistic Children (though most relate to schizophrenia) and also this study: Flashback to the 1960s: LSD in the treatment of autism.

Between 1959 and 1974, several groups of researchers issued reports on the use of d-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in the treatment of children with autism. This paper reviews that literature to consider how the authors justified these studies, as well as their methods, results, and conclusions. The justification for using LSD was often based on the default logic that other treatment efforts had failed. Several positive outcomes were reported with the use of LSD, but most of these studies lacked proper experimental controls and presented largely narrative/descriptive data. Today there is renewed interest in the use of psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes. While this resurgence of research has not yet included children with autism, this review of the LSD studies from the 1960s and 1970s offers important lessons for future efforts to evaluate new or controversial treatments for children with autism.

Autism

Good piece in Wired on Autism.

Autistics like Baggs are now leading a nascent civil rights movement. “I remember in ’99,” she says, “seeing a number of gay pride Web sites. I envied how many there were and wished there was something like that for autism. Now there is.” The message: We’re here. We’re weird. Get used to it.

This movement is being fueled by a small but growing cadre of neuropsychological researchers who are taking a fresh look at the nature of autism itself. The condition, they say, shouldn’t be thought of as a disease to be eradicated. It may be that the autistic brain is not defective but simply different — an example of the variety of human development. These researchers assert that the focus on finding a cure for autism — the disease model — has kept science from asking fundamental questions about how autistic brains function.

The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

Autism, Brain & Body, Digital Fitness, Games

Remember the Emotiv Systems Brain Controller headset I posted about the other day? Well here is a video of a prototype in action. Its nothing amazing until about the 2 minute mark when they demonstrate how it can read emotions and replicate those emotions in simple animated face.

A major symptom of autism is the inability to read facial expressions and other people’s emotions. Teaching this and other social skills can be very time consuming, requiring intensive one-on-one training. There are books that aim to help but emotions are dynamic so any book based training system is problematic. With the Emotiv Systems headset, the possibility of an effective, responsive training system come ever closer. Combine the brain sensing headset with the work of Paul Ekman and there is the potential for a ground-breaking, world changing product.