Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Behavioral therapy for emotional disorders

This NYT article was about behavioral therapy for so-called "borderline personality disorder", which could better be renamed "emotional disruption disorder" ...
Personal Health - An Emotional Hair Trigger, Often Misread - NYTimes.com

... Dialectical behavior therapy, a derivative of cognitive behavior therapy, helps patients identify thoughts, beliefs and assumptions that make their lives challenging and then learn different ways of thinking and reacting.

In effect, Dr. Linehan tells patients, “Your problem is that you don’t know how to regulate yourself, and I can teach you how.” She said thousands of therapists have been trained in dialectical behavior therapy, and many others practice it without special training...
I'm generally sympathetic to cognitive therapy approaches. I like the idea of teaching adults to recognize dysfunctional thoughts and assumptions and manage them directly.

I think all adults learn this as a part of getting wise and wizened, the trick is to teach it more quickly to people who have a harder time learning self-regulation.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Early intensive intervention in autism - what's the evidence?

In the past six months I've been repeatedly reading about the immense value of intensive early intervention in the outcome of children with cognitive disorders and autism.

This surprised me. I follow the literature from a distance, and I don't remember a landmark study that defined the clinically significant (rather than statistically significant) benefits of intense early intervention. I especially don't remember a study describing the kind of early intervention.

I figured I'd missed something, so I did a quick review and found these studies ...
Turns out I missed .... nothing.

There's no significant new evidence, and damned little quality evidence of any kind to guide recommendations for early intervention of any kind by any party. The "conventional wisdom" about "intensive early intervention" appears to be more wishful thinking than evidence based.

This is damned frustrating. Intensive interventions strain financial and personal resources for society and families. In the absence of evidence we don't know how best to spend that money, time and energy -- on speech therapy, cognitive exercises, early education programs, adaptive sports, parental training, respite care, behavior modification programs, alternative communication strategies, cosmic ray therapy (ok, I made that one up) ...


Ok, now back to our regular programming.

Special needs and mobile phones: Why we're starting young

In our community neurotypical children begin carrying mobile phones between the ages of 10 and 15. Many parents prefer to defer use of a mobile phone as long as possible.

How should cognitive disabilities and special needs affect the timing of first phone use?

Since cognitive disorders such as ADHD and autism may limit abilities to use a phone effectively or correctly, one approach would be to delay or defer use. Of course even a child with strong executive functions can lose a phone, so there are strong economic reasons to delay use.

We've chosen instead to move the use date forward, to the earliest time that a cognitively disabled child is likely to be able to follow basic phone rules.

I was mildly surprised by this. I thought we'd favor delay, but when we thought things through the reasons for moving sooner became quite strong.

We are starting out with a minimal cost phone and a simple pay-as-you-go T-Mobile plan. When the money is spent the phone stops working until we "refuel". For now we share a single number and phone, though if Google Voice ever goes live each child will get a lifelong GV number.

Our reasons to move now are:
  1. The phone is a mild status symbol, a sign of "normality". For a cognitively disabled child status symbols of any kind are exquisitely rare. For us the middle school years loom grimly ahead.
  2. Mobile phones are almost essential now. We can start training in the pre-adolescent/early adolescent years when we have more leverage.
  3. Once our children are able to safely use a mobile phone, we'll be able to experiment with different social and independent settings. They will have more learning opportunities.
  4. The phone will open some opportunities for "at a distance" social interactions; we want to see if this will provide options for our ASD kids.
  5. Mobile phone skills are essential for many employment opportunities. Training early is an advantage.
  6. At this time we can afford to replace a lost low end phone.
  7. Location tracking is becoming common. This is valuable for all children, but especially valuable for children who are easily lost (many Asperger's children).
  8. The future.
The last is a big reason. I've owned an iPhone for a year now. The opportunities to deliver cognitive aids, training materials, and support systems through these mobile- computers-that-you-can-by-the-way-talk-on is immense.

Just as computers opened (fitfully and erratically) new opportunities for blind persons, so too may these technologies allow the cognitively disabled to take on new life opportunities and employment. We want to explore these options and leverage what's available starting now. Some time in the next 1-3 years the child phone will be an iPhone-equivalent.

To improve the chances of return if it is lost we've replaced the "wallpaper" with a photograph of a handwritten plea to return the phone.

Lastly, this is taken from our current "phone poster" ...
Phone Rules

1. Don’t dial 911 unless it’s a serious, real, emergency.
2. Only dial from the Names list.
3. Don’t call the Voice Mail number.
4. Keep the phone in your pocket when it’s not in use.
5. Remember your phone manners.
6. If you break the phone rules you lose your phone day (or days).
7. Only use the phone on your phone day.


1. We know who you call.
2. Anyone you call gets your phone number.
3. It costs us money when you use the phone.
4. If you do well with the phone we’ll add other names to the number list. You will need to pay two stickers for each call.

Monday, June 08, 2009

iPhone 3GS - accessibility, vision, and speech

The iPhone 3GS will be on sale June 19th. It's the first phone/mobile device I know of to market accessibility features. Since it has no physical keyboard, that's arguably overdue.

The accessibility feature set includes UI zoom, speech recognition (commands), screen reader and speech UI. The device also includes a 3 megapixel camera with broad light sensitivity and autofocus including macro focus. The iTouch 3GS, due out in the fall, will have similar features.

This suggests several applications for persons with disabilities:
  1. Magnify text and other sources: This is trivial. The iPhone 3GS will be fun for macro microscopy, but it will also be a very practical text magnifier.
  2. Read text: The iPhone 3GS has sufficient resolving power to turn text images to text, and it can read the results.
The iPhone 3GS is a very interesting platform for delivering solutions to persons with a range of sensory and cognitive disabilities.