Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Five siblings with varying flavors of autism spectrum disorder

USATODAY.com - Autism's echoes fill this home

We sometimes feel challenged, but we know we're still in the 'minor leagues'. This family is in the major leagues. Of their six children two have classic severe autism, one has Apsergers, two are "PDD/NOS" (autism spectrum disorder) and one is "normal" (aka "mundane"). Aside from the staggering parental burden the range of presentations is astounding. This collection of genetic siblings with diverse presentations has shifted me back towards the traditional school of thought that Aspergers, PDD and classic autism actually have some common underlying pathophysiologies.

USA Today complements this article with a good autism overview.

Really, a nice set of articles. Good journalism. I must also extend my respect and appreciation to this family, and to thank them for the help they're providing to autism researchers.

PS. Tonight Blogger, the service that hosts this blog, is again almost completely dysfunctional.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Suicide risk and parent/child IQ discrepancy

Boston.com / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Suicidal tendencies

The Boston Globe summarizes a British Medical Journal review article on suicide risk for men. This is a well written newspaper article; actually, it reads more like a review in a medical journal:
... Men with low IQ scores and only a primary education were no more likely to kill themselves than men with high IQ scores and a higher level of education. But men with low IQ scores and higher education were at a greater risk of suicide. And men with low IQ scores and highly educated parents were at the highest risk of all...

...the ''Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology,'' published in 2000 and coedited by Berman, lists at least 62 independent risk factors for suicide, including mental disorders, alcoholism, substance abuse, social isolation, poor problem-solving, problems with aggression and rage, a sense of worthlessness, and a sense of hopelessness.

Most of these factors stem from beliefs people hold about their lives and the world but-crucially-not from intelligence. ''IQ can't be changed significantly,'' said Thomas Ellis, a psychology professor at Marshall University. ''But with therapy, many of these other risk factors can.''
This is of obvious interest to parents of children in special needs programs. We can invent all kinds of potential explanations and possible interventions, but we really don't have enough data for informed speculation.

One important limitation. The study measured IQ among Swedish men at age 18 (military service) through 44. It therefore 'missed' suicides prior to age 18 and after 44. It may the study identified a subgroup who's suicide risk is above average during this interval, but lifetime risk might be higher in other groups.

Tentatively, I'd suggest that high IQ parents of low IQ children might follow developments in 'suicidology' and focus on early detection and the use of 'recommended' interventions. For complex reasons I'm skeptical about the evidence base for 'suicidology', but it's the best we have to go by.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Write:OutLoud from Don Johnston: preliminary review

Write:OutLoud SOLO, Don Johnston Incorporated

Our school asked me to take a look at an old copy of "Write:Outloud" from Don Johnston Inc. This is a text reader and simple word processor application targeted at children with reading and writing disabilities. Kurzweil has a much more ambitious, expensive and more complex application in the same space.

I'd never heard of WOL; Don Johnston Inc appears to be a one person business based in Volo, IL.

The CD I have is version 3.0 - it was released in 2000. The current version, according to the web site, is slated for release 3/05. From the screenshots they look fairly similar.

The CD contains a Mac and Windows version. The Mac installer would not install in OS X. The Windows installer installed in both Windows 98 and XP SP2. Installation was simple; it takes up about 17MB of disk space. That's nothing nowadays, I've installed hardware device drivers that require more resources.

The PC version installs a runtime version of IBM's ViaVoice text to speech generator. Both OS X and XP have built-in text to speech generators with similar sounding voices (that "Flo" got around!), Windows 98 has nothing.

This is a very simple and straightforward application with abundant documentation -- though I just fired it up and started using it. It lets you author text or open a text document. It will open txt documents or .WOL format files. You can copy and paste text from anything else. You can highlight words or paragraphs and WOL reads the text.

Did I mention this was a simple application?

In theory OS X has built-in services to do this, but WOL provides keyboard and mouse interfaces to make this easy. You can vary text size, color and background color to help children with visual disabilities.

I assume the 3/05 version will run on OS X (in Classic emulation probably). I'll ask and post an update here. More experiences to come.

Update: A Don Johnston support person tells me OS X will be supported with the new release. She thought it would run as a "native app" under OS X, that would be nice but a bit surprising. Most small vendors typically revise their "classic" apps to work with OS/X.