"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hillary Clinton Announces Her Plan for Autism

Warren Cornwall of news.sciencemag.org used this title first for one of his news articles, "Autism rates are up, but is the disease really on the rise?", but later changed it to "Autism rates are up, but is it really on the rise?" The word "disease" was dropped from the title after readers posted comments such as "I thought this was a science mag.... Autism is NOT a DISEASE" and "Autism is not a disease - it is a neurological difference".

Above copied from Muck Rack

The main point of Cornwall's article is that autism diagnosis is on the rise, as he cites a study from Penn State University:

"This graph shows the number of students (per 10,000) diagnosed with autism (blue) and intellectual disability (red) in special-education programs in the United States from 2000 to 2010. The increase in autism diagnoses during this period was offset by decreases in the diagnosis of intellectual disability, suggesting that shifting patterns of diagnosis may be responsible for increases in autism diagnosis."
 Credit: Penn State University
Unfortunately, focusing on the rising incidence of autism seldom leads to a discussion of what people with autism and their loved ones need. The quick revision of the title, however, shows that we may be finally setting our foot on the right track.

Education Week has a new article in its Special Education section. And its first paragraph (shown below) parallels the change that occurred in the title of Cornwall's article.

Above copied from Education Week

Talking about vaccines focuses on finding the cause, which therefore regards autism as a "disease". But in this election year, the conversation may be dramatically shifting.

One of the candidates, Hillary Clinton, is changing the conversation into one that talks about how to support those who have autism and their families. Her plan is summarized in the following:

Above copied from The Briefing

Autism is now diagnosed at three different levels. The lowest severity level is described as follows:

Severity levelSocial communicationRestricted, repetitive behaviors
Level 1
“Requiring support”

Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. Difficulty initiating social interactions, and clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful response to social overtures of others. May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions. For example, a person who is able to speak in full sentences and engages in communication but whose to- and-fro conversation with others fails, and whose attempts to make friends are odd and typically unsuccessful.
Inflexibility of behavior causes significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts. Difficulty switching between activities. Problems of organization and planning hamper independence.

Clearly, even the least severe case requires support. Interventions to improve social communication and behavior are existing. Autism Speaks lists general strategies for interventions:

  • employ the knowledge and perspective of the family
  • communication among team members is critical
  • establish appropriate expectations for growth and competence
  • meet the student where he is
  • motivation is critical to attention and learning
  • respect the individual
Interestingly, the above actually applies to all students.

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