Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nature November 2011: Special issue on Autism, Mottron's view of the employed autistic and Calgary's Ability Hub

The Nov 2011 issue of Nature (v479, n7371, pp5-144) focuses on "The Autism Engima". It includes 3 reviews/news articles and 1 research article:

I followed up on the Mottron article and came across an excellent National Post article ...

Autism’s advantages: Researcher says autistics need opportunities more than treatment | News | National Post

Because autism — characterized by repetitive behaviours, restricted interests and preoccupations and difficulties in basic social and communicative behaviours such as eye contact, intonation and facial expressions — is a lifelong disorder, parents can be caregivers for life. But as the population ages and parents get sick and die, there’s an even greater need to integrate people with autism into society by giving them the skills they need to become independent adults, experts say. Children tend to be the focus, autism organizations admit. Adults are overlooked.

“After 18 years of age they’re not kids anymore and they’re forgotten,” Dr. Mottron said over the phone this week from Lyon, France. “People have a cliché, that if he’s autistic you can do nothing with him. That’s not true. The fact that you have some terrible autistic life is not representative of autism in general.”

In his commentary, Dr. Mottron cites recent data, including an epidemiological study from Korea published this June that found the disorder is three and a half times more prevalent than common statistics suggest. “Among these 3.5%, about two-thirds have no adaptive problem at all,” he said, meaning they function relatively normally in society and should be able to take on a job.

... Ms. Dawson said it’s unfair to categorize someone as low functioning or high functioning. She and Dr. Mottron believe many tests that are used to determine level of functionality are inappropriate. Less commonly used tests such as Raven’s Matrices, which doesn’t require verbal instruction to complete, can actually reveal very high intelligence levels.

“To estimate the true rate, scientists should use only those tests that require no verbal explanation,” Dr. Mottron wrote in his paper. “If we were to measure the intelligence of a person with a hearing impairment, we wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate the components of the test that can’t be explained using sign language; why shouldn’t we do the same for autistics?”

Ms. Dawson said an entire session at this year’s International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego focused entirely on finding out how to measure the intelligence of non-speaking autistics, who might be considered low-functioning....

... The founder of Specialisterne, a Danish company that has helped more than 170 autistics find work since 2004, said it’s OK to start such a movement with people who would be considered higher functioning.

“If we will be able to run a business on the skills of medium- or low-functioning, I’m not sure,” Thorkil Sonne said from Copenhagen. “But everyone deserves a chance to feel that they can produce something that others appreciate.”

... the Sinneave Family Foundation’s Ability Hub, a 17,000 square foot centre on the University of Calgary campus dedicated to helping people with autism gain life skills and work training...

... The Ability Hub opened in October and is just one of a few new centres devoted to getting autistic adults ready for the real world, said its executive director, Dr. Margaret Clarke, who has spent a career working with people who have autism — the Ability Centre is under construction in Whitby, Ont., and the Pacific Family Autism Centre to be built in Vancouver.

“Around the world we know that average lifetime cost to society to an individual with autism … is $3.4-million per individual. Three-quarters of those costs are incurred in adulthood largely around services to enable and facilitate individual vocations,” Dr. Clarke said, adding that some data suggests every dollar you invest in pre-vocational programming for people gives you a $7 return. “I actually think that number is going to be even better in the area of autism because individuals with autism have a great capability to learn, they’re just often held back by specific skill deficits or not given a chance.”