I noticed the strange-looking blue pins on the lapels of Doc Rivers and Eric Spoelstra, coaches, respectively, of the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, while watching the game between their teams on Sunday.  I immediately wondered what cockamamie new cause the NBA had taken up to weasel its way into the public’s good graces.  Was it some new homage to the troops?  Paying homage to the troops always seems to garner good PR.  Had there been some natural tragedy about which I was unaware?  A bit later, Mike Tirico explained the pins were in recognition of Autism Awareness Month, and specifically, Autism Awareness Day, coming on the morrow.  Oh, puke.  Why can’t I just watch a basketball game?  Must cultural silliness follow me everywhere?  Why do sports leagues, particularly the NBA and the NFL, believe it imperative that they pay homage to whichever medical malady is the darling of the activist female eye at the moment?  The NFL does it during its pink month of October for breast cancer awareness.  As if its mostly male audience had no inkling that there are a great many women with breasts, and that those breasts sometimes turn cancerous.   Now the NBA has adopted autism as its cause celeb, its vehicle for proving it is about something less banal than three pointers at the buzzer, dunks on the fly, and rebounds in the paint.  But I like banal.  I don’t need to escape from my escapist enjoyment of the game by imposing upon it some higher purpose, such as raising awareness for the disease de jour of the mainly female crowd that ceaselessly agitates for the recognition and funding of its popular causes.  

And really, elevated autism awareness seems to be the problem, not the solution, to the remarkable increase in its diagnosis.  The more people know about its symptoms, the more they seem to believe their child fits the criteria, because the symptoms could describe everything from an introverted personality to a full-blown Rain Man-type autistic savant, from the National Institute of Mental Health’s A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder.:

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary from one child to the next, but in general, they fall into three areas:

  • Social impairment
  • Communication difficulties
  • Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.

Children with ASD do not follow typical patterns when developing social and communication skills. Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviors in their child. Often, certain behaviors become more noticeable when comparing children of the same age.

In some cases, babies with ASD may seem different very early in their development. Even before their first birthday, some babies become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical back-and-forth play and babbling with their parents. Other children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to lose interest in others and become silent, withdrawn, or indifferent to social signals. Loss or reversal of normal development is called regression and occurs in some children with ASD.

Focus is a bad thing?  I suppose so, unless there is an inability to focus, which would likely yield the other competing diagnosis, ADHD, which was the preeminent diagnosis (before autism) of the  pediatric psychosis industry when asked to explain why children aren’t easily and perfectly adaptable to the world, as their American parents believe is their birthright. 

And since when has failure to make eye contact been considered an anti-social attribute?  Did anyone in the psychology profession who devised these standards ever walk the streets of New York City?  Eye contact is the least social behavior one might exhibit.  In some neighborhoods, it’s apt to get you killed.  On a regular avenue, it’s apt to at least leave people wondering from which asylum you escaped.   Maybe babies and children that don’t make eye contact are preternaturally socialized, born knowing that eye contact is an act of hostility, not sociability.  And maybe some babies just aren’t interested in their parents and siblings, but relate to the world in different ways.  Different is not necessarily wrong, except in a world with a fetish for uniformity. 

The massive increase in autism noted recently by the Centers for Disease Control might be readily explained by the methodology with which their study was conducted, as the CDC tacitly admits, from the abstract of the study:

When data from all 14 ADDM sites in the 2008 surveillance year were combined, overall estimated ASD prevalence was 11.3 per 1,000 (one in 88) children aged 8 years (range: 4.8 [Alabama]–21.2 [Utah]) (Table 2). Overall estimated prevalence of ASDs was significantly lower in Alabama (4.8 per 1,000) than in any other site. Utah had the highest estimated ASD prevalence (21.2 per 1,000), which was significantly higher than all other sites except Arizona and New Jersey. The overall estimated ASD prevalence in New Jersey (20.5 per 1,000) was significantly higher than in any other site except Utah.

On average, estimated ASD prevalence was significantly higher in ADDM sites that had access to education sources compared with sites that relied solely on health sources to identify cases (RR: 1.5; 95% CI = 1.4–1.7; p<0.01). Relative differences among sites in prevalence estimates and 95% CIs are compared by access to education records and population size covered (Figure 1). In sites with access to both health and education sources, the proportion of ASD cases identified exclusively from education sources ranged from 10% in Arkansas to 72% in Arizona.

In other words, the availability of educational records determined whether the rate of autism was relatively high or low.  Alabama’s prevalence was lowest probably because Alabama was one of four states (Florida, Wisconsin and Missouri were the others) that didn’t allow the researchers access to educational records, and Alabama is something of an outlier in other ways.  A part of Alabama’s rigid conservatism is that it rejects progressivism in all its tenets, which means it rejects the sometimes wacky ideas that grip progressivism’s imagination, such as, that all of the sudden, in a span of about five years, the number of kids with a developmental disorder severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of autism spectrum disease has roughly doubled.   The diagnosis may have doubled.  The kids are much the same.

The fact that including educational records yields a significantly higher rate of autism says more about the educational establishment than it does about the prevalence of autism.  School systems are rewarded with money and resources for diagnosing kids as having “special needs”, and a special needs diagnosis like autism absolves them from blame for their failures at teaching.  Slap an autism diagnosis on every kid that’s below average, and the population of school children that aren’t deemed autistic will miraculously become like the ones in Lake Wobegon, where every kid is above average. 

Genetics play a key role in autism.  Scientists have discovered a genetic predisposition for autism among a population carrying certain genetic markers.  Which genes can be used to identify which child will likely to suffer a diagnosis of autism?  Hint—it’s the same ones that serve as the best predictor of which children will grow up to be incarcerated.  Give up?  It’s sort of a trick question.  The population carrying the genes contained on the Y chromosome (i.e., the male population) is much more likely to be diagnosed with autism (or incarcerated, for that matter), than the population that doesn’t.  From the CDC study abstract:

Combining data from all 14 ADDM sites, estimated ASD prevalence was 18.4 per 1,000 (one in 54) males and 4.0 per 1,000 (one in 252) females (RR: 4.6 for all sites combined). ASD prevalence estimates were significantly (p<0.01) higher among boys than among girls in all 14 ADDM sites, with male-to-female prevalence ratios ranging from 2.7 in Utah to 7.2 in Alabama.

Wow!  Almost five times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism, which rules out environmental factors as a possible cause.  Presumably boys and girls are more or less equally exposed to the same toxic brew of chemicals in their food and water and air produced by this industrial society.  It has to be something else. 

Autism spectrum disorder is, in large measure, a diagnosis of unsociability.  What has changed over the last half century or so that might lead one to conclude that boys are less well-adjusted socially than are girls?  Could it be possible that the gathering effeteness of society can simply find no place for all the severely testosterone-addled boys?  Which child, male or female, is innately better adapted to the tasks of the 21st century, tasks like sitting still for hours on end at a computer keyboard, or talking on the phone all day, or in school, of playing nice, quiet games with their peers and reading?  Which child is more likely to engage socially—the one that finds a welcoming world where its nature is accepted and nurtured as beneficial to society, or the one that arrives to find he is a genetic relic of a bygone era of human development, with energy and muscles and aggression for which society has no use, who must immediately begin suppressing his innate attributes in order to get along?  Had I been born into the world as it exists today, I surely would have been labeled autistic.  I wanted to play with guns and get into fights and scuffles and wrestling matches with my friends.  None of that sort of thing is now allowed, never mind encouraged.  Yet it is the stuff little boys are made of.  No wonder they are genetically predisposed to a diagnosis of autism.

Autism Speaks, the advocacy group for autism spectrum disorders, held its Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2012.  Seems to me they were a day late.  It should have been held on April Fool’s Day, but of course, we are the ones being fooled by this nonsense.  Here are the stated goals of Autism Speaks, from its website:

… Autism Speaks has grown into the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

But there are no know cures for autism, as it isn’t really a disease, and there is no way to prevent it, except by refusing to slap the label on every kid that obsessively lines up his toys, or throws temper tantrums, or fails to make eye contact. 

Don’t get me wrong.  There are real cases of autism, of the type experienced by the character Dustin Hoffman played in the film, Rain Man.  It is a condition, not disease, of biochemical, i.e., genetic origin.  The brain of someone truly autistic like Hoffman’s character does not process information in the same way as the average brain processes information.  It is sometimes capable of remarkable feats, like knowing which day of the week any calendar date in history fell, or being able to do long division with a few seconds of mental calculation.  The flip side of an autistic savant’s incredible mental capacity is social incapacity of the sort that often renders them incapable of negotiating life outside of mental institutions, or without other long-term care.  Their brains seem to operate something like calculators or computers, neither of which are yet capable of independent living.  Autistic savants have always been with us, a result of the incredible unpredictability in the outcome when three billion base pairs of DNA are stitched together to create a new human.  

Autism of the anti-social variety as described in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition’s explanation of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is nothing more than an attempt to make a psychosis out of differently-adapted personality types.   It assumes that humans are naturally social beings, ignoring mountains of evidence and human history in the breach, to reach the conclusion that any human that interacts with society differently than is the average is necessarily psychotic.  Lest there be any doubt as to what comprises ASD, consider the following excerpt from the National Institute of Mental Health’s A Parent’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder, previously cited, discussing the details of the social impairment aspect of ASD:

Recent research suggests that children with ASD do not respond to emotional cues in human social interactions because they may not pay attention to the social cues that others typically notice. For example, one study found that children with ASD focus on the mouth of the person speaking to them instead of on the eyes, which is where children with typical development tend to focus.3 A related study showed that children with ASD appear to be drawn to repetitive movements linked to a sound, such as hand-clapping during a game of pat-a-cake.4 More research is needed to confirm these findings, but such studies suggest that children with ASD may misread or not notice subtle social cues—a smile, a wink, or a grimace—that could help them understand social relationships and interactions. For these children, a question such as, “Can you wait a minute?” always means the same thing, whether the speaker is joking, asking a real question, or issuing a firm request. Without the ability to interpret another person’s tone of voice as well as gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal communications, children with ASD may not properly respond.

Maybe some kids just aren’t overly concerned with social cues.  Maybe they are concerned with other things than how they fit into whatever society in which they are born.  I would imagine many of humanity’s greatest minds would have been diagnosed with ASD had today’s psychiatry profession been around when they were discovering things like how gravity worked (Galileo and Newton), or the subjectivity of all experience (Einstein).  Human genius always stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, but it is not through social interactions that great discoveries are formulated and expressed.  It is individual genius, acting alone and brooding over problems, that reaches insights by seeing the world as others, consumed with only their place in the society of man, fail to see it.  The most socially-adapted people are really not much good for anything except membership in the herd, allowing others to dictate their priorities and behavior.  It takes a bit of a social outcast and a renegade thinker to conjure new and useful insights that the herd might adopt, which will then slap a designation of ASD on anyone that refuses to accept the new dogma. 

Sheldon Cooper, the nerdy physicist on the popular television sit-com, The Big Bang Theory, would surely have been diagnosed as ASD as a child, and perhaps even as an adult.  He routinely fails to appropriately interpret the facial expressions, tone of voice and other communicative clues of others on the show.  His social ineptitude juxtaposed against his towering intellect is the wellspring of the show’s jokes.  Sheldon’s so smart he’s stupid, and particularly so when it comes to social interaction.  Surely he has ASD.  But so what?  Where would the world be without ASD people like Sheldon?

Incidentally, I almost always focus on a person’s mouth when they are talking to me.  It’s the thing that’s moving (I must have a predator’s heart), and the part of the face from which the communication is being directly issued.  People don’t talk with their eyes.  I’ve frankly never understood, in a first-hand sort of way, the saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  Does that indicate I might also be ASD?  If being ASD means I don’t quite fit the sociability paradigm, then I certainly hope so.  Maybe I should get me one of those awareness pins.