Monday, March 31, 2008

Audio: Interesting Show on Autism at "Studio 360"

"No matter how hard he tries he knows he can't fit into the NT [neurotypical] world."

That's how radio producer Tamar Brott describes Jonthan Mitchell, a 52-year-old writer who has Asperger's. He is very high-functioning on the autism spectrum, and he writes stories that delve into his feelings of alienation, longing, obsession and rejection of special education programs. A profile of Mitchell is the first five-minutes of an illuminating hour-long public radio program on the arts and society at Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

A key reason you might want to listen to the program is Andersen's conversation with Blythe Corbett, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry, at the M.I.N.D. Institute, University of California at Davis. The Institute is a leading venue for autism research, and Corbett discusses in very clear language how scientists are examining research trends in genetics, environmental and other threads of inquiry to help them understand the origins of autism spectrum disorders. (The gist is that researchers are in the early stages of their work, and they are looking at a combination of factors that could include genetics, environmental factors, parental age and more.)

Below, find an audio clip of the first 11 minutes of the episode, which profiles Mitchell and introduces the rest of the show:

Other parts of the show discuss an art project organized by the M.I.N.D. Institute, and discussions of Amanda Baggs, a well-known autistic video blogger and neurodiversity advocate, and the film Autism: The Musical.

Find the Studio 360 website with a writeup of this episode by clicking here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Information About "Autism: The Musical" Documentary on HBO

The documentary "Autism: The Musical" is scheduled to appear on HBO starting March 25 at 8 p.m., and run various times through April 27. The documentary, directed by Tricia Regan, follows a group of autistic children and their families as they prepare to participate in a musical production in Los Angeles.

Tricia Regan gave an interesting interview with an online video program called The Alcove with Mark Molaro, in which she discusses her experiences filming the families and kids in this documentary. She explains how she saw how having an autistic child changes the lives of parents and their families, and how she came to see these families as heroic.

I found Regan's comments to be sensitive and interesting and so I have embedded a copy of the 18-minute video interview below. (If you have trouble seeing it you can also find it here.)

Also see:

Film Review: Three Reasons to See "Autism: The Musical"

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

McCain Says He Believes Vaccine Preservative Is Factor in Autism's Rise

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has gone on record as saying he believes that a mercury-containing preservative that was used in vaccines administered to young children is behind the rise in autism spectrum disorder.

The statement has created much buzz in the blogosphere because it taps into a raging controversy in the autism community about the causes of autism spectrum disorders and whether thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that is used in some vaccines, and used to be more widely used in routine shots very young children get, is a factor. While there are passionate advocates who believe there's evidence for this, there have also been a number of scientific studies published in recent years which have failed to establish this link, including a study published in January (see: California Study: Autism Cases Rise In Spite of Vaccine Changes).

McCain's statement came in response to a question at a forum Feb. 29 in the days before the Texas primary, according to the ABC News Political Punch blog. Here's a snippet from the coverage:

At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that "there’s strong evidence" that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. -- a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.

McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.

"We’ve been waiting for years for kind of a responsible answer to this question, and are hoping that you can help us out there," the woman said.

McCain said, per ABC News' Bret Hovell, that "It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines."

McCain said there’s "divided scientific opinion" on the matter, with "many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it."

The ABC News article goes on to cite a number of studies and statements from the medical establishment refuting McCain's view.

There is great interest among parents and families of people with autism spectrum disorders in this election year, and for good reason: the next president will have an influence over federal research dollars devoted to autism research; what kind of approach the Department of Education (and its experts on special education) will pursue in administering special education laws; how much federal aid to devote to education; what kinds of actions to take (or not take) in addressing the needs of disabled Americans; what kinds of judges to appoint to make decisions in cases involving disabled citizens including those with autism; and more (like whether to make autism an issue at all).

It's no wonder that more than half of Autism Bulletin readers who have voted in an unscientific poll cite "autism services" as a key issue in their vote. (See, Where Do Autism Services Fit Into Your Views on the Presidential Race?)

So McCain's views are interesting on this issue, and have raised hackles in the scientific community, as this post from The Chronicle of Higher Education indicates.

So far, this is McCain's only statement so far relating to auitsm during the campaign. A search on the McCain for President website using the word "autism" turns up a blank.

If you know of more statements by John McCain relating to autism, that involve more than the vaccine issue, please post a comment here.

Also see:

Obama Unveils Disabilities Plan, Includes Autism in Agenda

Autism Makes Ripple in Presidential Race as Clinton Promises to Spend $700 Million Per Year

Where Do Autism Services Fit Into Your Views on the Presidential Race?