Monthly Archives: July 2014

More on Scientific Un-Query

Guest post by Tracy Kedar (my mom)

When Ido was small he was in an ABA program that carefully documented all of his responses to discrete trial drills. In a huge logbook divided by the specific drill outcomes being measured, the exact number of his correct responses, incorrect responses, number of trials, and whether prompts were needed was recorded. The data clearly indicated the exact number of words Ido understood, which they measured as not being very many, with the belief that the only way he acquired new vocabulary was by being taught it in drills. The proof of mastery was the accurate pointing to the word on flashcards consistently.

When Ido began to express coherent ideas in normal English via writing, the scientifically gathered drill data made his ABA team convinced that this was simply not possible. It was inconceivable to them that Ido could understand and express grammatically correct, vocabulary rich English because their data evidence proved all he knew was far less.

Autistic kids I have met and seen communicate by iPad, keyboard, or letter board, without tactile support, still face dismissive letters whenever they appear in the media written by total strangers who are absolutely certain that the journalists were derelict in publishing a fraudulent story. The reporters are accused of not doing “due diligence” by telling the story of a nonverbal autistic kid who “miraculously, overnight” can communicate, despite the process leading to typing fluency being one of years.

Not long ago a skeptic professor in our area from the psychology department of one university spoke to an audience of university students studying ABA at another to show how unscientific and improbable it was that autistic people could communicate fluently by typing. He scoffed at RPM which he called “dangerous,” and laughed at how unscientific it was. He was alarmed at stories of kids like Ido appearing in the media.

This scholar, like so many of the writers of the skeptical letters, stated that he spoke on behalf of scientific methodology. He was firm in his belief that the data collected in discrete trial drills proved the fallacy of these severely autistic communicators, since data didn’t lie. I agree with him that the data collected in Ido’s old ABA drills were completely accurate. The recorded notes accurately indicated whether he got answers right, wrong, how many trials, and whether a prompt was needed. Where I differ from the professor is what it means. To him, the data was clear proof of Ido’s low receptive language processing, limited cognition and the impossibility of advanced comprehension. To me, the data simply reflected his ability at that time to accurately point to the card requested.

Those nonverbal autistic individuals who have learned to type are consistent in describing themselves as having a frustrating mind body disconnect. They state that while they understand what they hear, they cannot get their bodies to obey their minds with the kind of consistency and reliability that is necessary to prove it. Ido devoted several chapters of his book to describe and explain this challenging neurological experience and he describes how instruction and practice, using very particular techniques, helped him to develop  the ability to overcome these challenges enough to be able to communicate his thoughts, first by pointing to very large letters on a letter board held at eye level, and ultimately, as control improved, by typing on small ones on an iPad or keyboard on tabletop.

So yes, the drill data is accurate. The question is whether their hypothesis explaining why this occurs is correct. If the scholar and skeptics are correct and the drill data is a reflection of all the cognitive understanding that lies within a person, then of course children once thought to be low functioning who now claim to type and read and write fluently are to be viewed with alarm. Their achievements are viewed as “clever Hans” phenomena and any support they receive is seen as suspect.

On the other hand, if what the people with autism say is true, then the data is useless in those cases because all it measures is whether they could get their hand to obey their mind at any given trial and doesn’t reflect their capacity or knowledge. Consequently, the efficacy of the treatment becomes the issue.

Given these divergent possibilities, one would think that those who state they are proponents of science and scientific methodology would be lining up to meet those people with autism who have known histories as “low functioning,” complete with videos, reports, and school records, who now communicate fluently by typing, often with no tactile support at all, and who receive and thrive in general academic educations.

How is possible for anyone to determine that a person is not really communicating solely from reading a newspaper article or watching a television news short? Rather than showing the kind of scientific inquiry that is supposedly the hallmark of science, these folks seem to treasure data collection to confirm an existing theory over a willingness or curiosity to explore whether there is more that could be learned, even if it means that some of their ideas have been incorrect. That doesn’t seem scientific to me. It’s circling the wagons.

How Do We Learn if We Don’t Make the Effort ?

Let’s talk about when doctors’ ideas have been wrong. Bloodletting was once the norm. Sick people were thought to have tainted blood so they were bled into cups, making them weaker, of course, and increasing the likelihood of infection due to open wounds.

Did you know that many deaf people who couldn’t speak, or people with cerebral palsy or others with communication problems, were  deemed to be incapacitated and were sent to institutions where they were stuck  for decades.

Eggs were demonized. Now they are thought to be healthy. All fats were demonized. Now studies show that our bodies need certain fats. Red wine and dark chocolate are now heart healthy. Our beliefs regarding nutrition and diet change all the time. We learn and make necessary changes.

I have decided to become a French expert. I will learn all about “Frenchism” by watching French people.  I will make theories about their habits. I will train them to be less French. But I will never teach them English or learn French myself. Then I will claim to understand Frenchism though I never consulted a French person. The world will recognize me as the leading expert in French habits.

Continue reading

Some Thoughts to a Thought Provoking Post

This post from Emma’s Hope Book blog indicates the stress of parents by a system that makes it harder for them to relate to their child. In my opinion, the list of symptoms reduces people to behaviors and makes it harder to see the person’s personhood. It is ironic because a symptom of autism is to play with part of a toy, but what about professionals who focus on part of a person? If I liked to look at letters it was bad. If they like to look at only symptoms, it’s treatment. This is hard on parents because, “Hands down,” “Hands quiet,” and on and on, become the key of interacting.

I remember hugging my mom when I was young and an expert remarked, “Wow, he sure stims on you a lot.” So in the symptom-based worldview even hugging my mom was a sign of my inability. Of course, if I didn’t hug I would have been declared distant and disinterested in people. Experts should be really wary of assuming they know, when they really don’t know yet, what is in the heads of severely autistic kids. In these cases it is like putting words into someone’s mouth–all ten of them.

The point Ariane makes of seeing the child less pathologized is spot on. Let’s listen to people with autism who can communicate to be partners, guides, teachers, role models and proof that though we may look or act autistic because of having autism, we are fully human, fully intelligent and deserving of peoples’ respect.

Scientific Un-Query

I have only met a rare few neuro-researchers and other autism specialists, representing the scientific study of autism, who consult with me for my insights. I have noticed that though more and more of us nonverbal autistic people can type now I have not seen an increase in scientists trying to meet us. My book was sent to many neuro-scientists when it was first published, but few answered, and none met me. The puzzling thing for me is why this is.

If I were a scientist researching autism, or a specialist treating autistic kids, or running a program for autistic students, and nonverbal autistic people who  could communicate by typing began to emerge, I think I’d make an effort to meet them. I understand there are skeptics. I understand there is doubt, but I also know that ignoring things doesn’t change reality. I know that for those skeptics who attack as fake every autistic communicator who appears in the news, that it is also impossible for them to be certain of a person’s skills and abilities without seeing the person.

So many of us now type without any tactile support. Many of us are eager to collaborate and guide research ideas, but only a rare few researchers  ask.

I have three dogs and if they go to the veterinarian with symptoms the vet must guess what is wrong because the dog can’t tell him. Many times we wished the dog could elaborate so the vet wouldn’t need to guess, occasionally incorrectly. Autistic people who are nonverbal have faced guesses too because of their long-time inability to communicate. Now many can explain symptoms but the “vet” doesn’t seem to be interested in asking.

I believe our explanations for our symptoms are important in informing researchers in where to look for answers and how to better educate us.

What explains this un-query?