Saturday, October 29, 2011

Autism Teaching: America & France

When I began working in the autism field in the early 1970s, most thinking by professionals and non-professionals was greatly influenced by the psychoanalytic tradition of Bruno Bettleheim.  Well-established child psychiatrists showed more interest in the sex lives of the mothers of children with autism, than of ways to help them promote their children’s skills and more typical development.  I know of mothers who literally spent years trying to overcome the offensive comments of child psychiatrists who blamed them for their child’s autism.

My wife, Anneke Thompson (pictured above), is a retired special education teacher who started one of the first special education programs for children with autism in Minnesota. Before she started her program at the Hans Christian Anderson School in south Minneapols, we visited Rosalind Oppenheimer’s Rimland School near Chicago, Gerry Patterson in Eugene, and consulted with Ivar Lovaas.  Ivar referred her first student to her from St.Paul, MN during a visit many years ago.  She attempted to get the best evidence regarding which methods would most benefit her students, including Frank Hewitt’s Engineered Classroom.  My daughter is also a special education teacher who specializes in teaching children with severe behavioral challenges, including autism spectrum disorders.  This is by way of making it clear that I hold special educators in very high esteem. I laud their courage and thei often brilliant and creative ways they create terrific learning environments for their students.  But as with any other profession, incompetence among educators serving children with autism simply cannot be abided.

Many of us were using behavioral intervention methods, working one-to-one with children with autism in families’ homes and in schools before Lovaas’s landmark study, mainly because there were no resources in school programs.  But none of us used comprehensive and intensive interventions as had Lovaas.  There were essentially no meaningful services for the vast majority of children with autism until the emergence of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention following Lovaas’s milestone 1987 article, demonstrating that half of the children receiving 3-4 years of treatment were able to function in regular education settings with minimal supplementary supports, and most of the rest improved as well, but less dramatically. 

Fortunately, the influence of psychoanalytic thinking has largely disappeared from autism treatment in the US, which is a great source of relief, though it lingers in attachment theory approaches.  There is currently a battle waging in France over the domination of of autism services by psychoanalytically-trained psychiatrists who are continuing to spew totally mistaken, unwarranted, undemonstrated and damaging views of alleged maternal causes of autism, which are sheer fantasy.  They are making up stories like shepherds of ancient times who looked up into the sky at night and created captivating tales about the constellations and their symbolic meaning.  You can see examples in the excellent documentary, Le Mur, by Sophie Roberts, which the French psychoanalysts are trying to suppress through litigation.

While we have reason to be pleased that such unprofessional nonsense is mostly behind us in the United States, we continue to have serious problems in our public education systems throughout the country.  While there are some forward-looking school districts, that have embraced the best evidence-based practices that are to be applauded, far too many cling to disproven methods which deprive young children with autism of effective educational services.  

Though there is no objective evidence autism is an attachment disorder as described by Bowlby’s and Ainsworth’s attachment models, or current DSMIV-TR definitions, some school programs employ Floortime® intervention which is based on attachment theory, for which there is virtually no evidence that it is beneficial to children with autism.  Others castigate community providers for employing applied behavior analytic methods for working with young children with autism, warning parents that they will turn the children into “robots” or that it amounts to “dog traning,” while simultaneously adopting ineffective methods based on mistaken extrapolations of Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s developmental models, which were based on studying small samples of very bright typically developing children.  Most of them who make such remarks have never seen EIBI intervention taking place in the real world, or examples of child outcomes such as the child and therapist shown here, robot indeed.  About 60% of the children who received such blended behavior analytic interventions are now in regular education, most without supplementary supports. 

Public schools in the US generally adopt the stance that they are professionals and know what they are doing, and reject the notion they need any guidance from parents or outside professionals about how to do their jobs. They usually hide behind rules or policies that state that outsiders can’t work in schools assisting their students’ learning.  Public schools often do an excellent job in teaching the three-R’s to average and high achieving students.  But regrettably, too few seem to know very much at all about which teaching methods are most effective for young students with autism.  If they are aware of them, they reject them out of hand, almost as a matter of religious conviction.

No doubt many small town general practitioners felt the same way when modern advances in medical practice arrived, introducing ways of preventing infections and treating communicable diseases and reducing deaths due to "childbirth fever."  Those docs thought they knew how to deal with such problems and resented meddling outsiders. But medicine changed and adopted modern methods.  

 It is unconscionable that American public school personnel in the 21st century have the option of rejecting evidence-based interventions out of hand, in favor of demonstrably ineffective methods, simply because they say they prefer them.  That would be like a doctor deciding to use poultices or purging to treat epilepsy or hypertension because he or she preferred them.

 Because school personnel nearly entirely determine what goes on in public schools, educational practices in the US for children with autism mirror what is going on with psychoanalysts in France.   Uninformed people who seem to have no obligation to be aware of objective evidence of what works best for the benefit of children with autism, in both cases, are determining the future American and French children with autism spectrum disorders.  The fact that far too many parents of children with autism have been shut out of their children’s education by defensive school personnel who reject any suggestion that more effective teaching methods be employed or any assistance whatsoever from the highly trained staff in many cities throughout the US who are generally ready and willing to assist them, the youngsters, far too often, are inappropriately and incompetently served.

There are colleges of education in the United States that do not even teach applied behavior analytic strategies for teaching children with autism.  That would be like medical schools not teaching would-be doctors how to effectively treat and manage diabetes.  No college of education that offers autism specialty training should be accredited that does not teach their special education teachers in training how to use state of the art teaching methods for students with autism.

I am a professor who teaches in a college of education.  I teach courses in autism for special education teachers.  I want to be very clear, I do not disrespect or disapprove of teachers or educators.  I greatly empathize with their very difficult jobs and admire those true heroes who do remarkable work day in and day out and receive very little to no credit. Autism teachers are hit, bit and sometimes spit at. I get it.  It’s very hard work.   For years I watched my wife working on lesson plans for the next day for her students with autism until late into the night, and purchasing her own teaching supplies.   

But I continue to be shocked and appalled that school systems permit the use of incompetent practices that seriously impede the future development of our children with autism.  That has to change in both the US and France.   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On-Line Betting and Bass-O-Matic

On-line investment companies are very aggressively hawking their wares to average television watchers, a bit like Dan Akroyd’s Saturday Night Live, ‘BassOmatic” TV ads.  The online investment ads try to convince ill-informed people to gamble with their savings.  What they are doing is ethically very questionable.  If a gambling establishment did the same thing, they would have the US Justice Department on them immediately, since internet gambling, that accepts bets from customers in the United States violates Sections 1084, 1952, and 1955 of Title 18 of the United States Code, each of which is a Class E felony. The bets made at on-line investment companies are called investments, but they still amount to bets.

Today most Americans have little money to begin with, as evidenced by limited retirement savings, which amounts to around $22K for 35-44 year olds, and $6300 for people under 35, a mere pittance in terms of their life time needs.  Average Americans know very little about stocks, bonds, futures, mutual funds, ETFs, FOREX, gold, and all kinds of exotic “financial instruments” these firms offer.  Financial Instrument has a technical sound to it, a bit like a proctoscope. 

Companies like Scott Trade, E-Trade and TD-Ameritrade are peddling their junk on television all hours of the day and night to people, many of whom badly need money. These companies are like drug dealers standing on the corner offering poor kids their first hit of Coke for next to nothing, knowing that once they’re hooked, they’ve got ‘em. When people are desperate for money, they will do all kinds of irrational things they later regret, that they believed at the time might make them an easy buck, like buying lotto tickets or signing up for electronic online trading.   

One of the online trading companies begins their ads, “You can open your account and begin trading (i.e. gambling) within 10 minutes.” That’s right. Any yokel like you or me can sign up and begin frittering away what little money we have by signing on the dotted line and providing a few other details, like that they are 18 years old or older.  These companies try to sink the hook in by making you think you’re special and actually a very shrewd investor.  The strategy reminds me of devious computer or home sound system sales person trying to convince the newbie that the beautifully streamlined device s/he is ogling and fondling, the shiny one with the glowing blue-green LED panel, “is only for the power user.”  The newcomer is dying to think they are a power user, even though he just learned where the on off switch was last week.  TD Ameritrade offers “tools for serious traders.”  And as a “serious trader,” of course you will be delighted to learn that “SPX is within its Bollinger Bands,” which is announced breathlessly near the top of their home page.  Whew! You can’t believe how relieved I was to learn that, which only us “serious traders” would understand.

They urge you to “implement your unique trading strategy”(i.e. just like you do when you’re playing poker), and emphasize how essential it is to get streaming real-time data, so you can invest and trade anytime, anywhere on your BlackBerry smartphone, iPhone, iPad, or Android,using cutting edge investment tools,” like when you’re out standing in line waiting for a job application or at the welfare office. They want you to be constantly thinking about, fretting over and pondering your puny investments, absolutely relentlessly.  Every time you change your bet they make money.

And of course there is the E-Trade baby making trades via his tablet computer in his crib, where’s he says he’s  “In Time Out’ for riding his dog like a horse, suggesting, just suggesting, you understand, that it’s reeealy easy to become an E-Trader and make money hand over fist.  They didn’t exactly SAY that even baby could do it, did they, not exactly in those words?

The software company Stock Market Studio sells graphic projection software used by investment professionals, but which they sell to the general public as well.  On their website they sum it up nicely.  “Here you can test your favorite trading techniques and strategies, evaluate and compare effectiveness of various trading systems. Think about our site as of a training polygon, a research laboratory, or, better, an art studio.  Well, after all, trading is an art!”   Got that, trading is an art, and since it’s an art, anyone can do it given they have crayons and a coloring book.   

Surely, you don’t doubt for a minute that your average high school grad or college French  or Anthropology major, who gets entirely flummoxed by seeing the isotherm lines on television weather broadcasts, would thrive on messing with those projection charts, with their whisker box error bars and aperiodic squiggles and dashed lines going off this way and that.  I especially like the ones that include the full moon, really, no kidding, the full moon!  It has been widely demonstrated, that even college students in the sciences often have difficulty interpreting graphs correctly.  What does that say about the likelihood a typical high school graduate or a non-scientist/non-math or statistics major will be able to so on their own with these investment projection graphs?

According to Common Dreams.Org,,  “despite the growth in stock ownership in the US, more than half of American households still do not possess a single share. And those that do generally don't have the kind of portfolio that would replace the level of security found in government programs. It is entirely possible for an American family to have both a growing stock portfolio and falling in economic security at the same time….  Since 1989, non-elderly middle income families actually experienced the largest losses in wealth,” stock investments or not.

And of course those companies that bombard viewers with their misleading electronic investment ads offering a quick easy way to get rich, are required by the Feds to provide a bunch of warnings and disclaimers at the end of their television ads. They amount to saying you fully understand that you are doing all of this investing (i.e. betting) at your own risk, and that they are not responsible, and that you may well lose all of your life savings (not exactly, but that’s more or less what it means).  The words flash that on the screen for several seconds, all in about 8-point font that you couldn’t possibly read if you wanted to. Example: The E-Trade disclaimer totals 7200 words (which I actually counted), which at the average reading speed of 180 words per minute adults in the US would require about 40 minutes to read… two-thirds of an hour just to read their lousy warning and disclaimer, which they give you 10 seconds to read.  Sleazy? What do you think?

When my father was a kid on a in Northern Minnesota around 1920 he told me about the snake oil salesman standing on a wooden box out front of the drug store in the small town six miles from their farm, hawking their linament and nostrums, “Guaranteed to cure all your aches and pains, gout and bowel problems.”  Sometimes things never change in America.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mr. President, It's Time to Act...Now!

Since 2001 under President George W. Bush’s orders, the US has been in a state of national emergency, which has been continued by President Obama. One of the provisions of the US national emergency legislation concerns powers over the control and regulation of property. Under this provision, the President has the authority to order the stockpiling of certain strategic materials and authorize allocation of materials to promote national defense, and can require industries to give priority to government contracts. 
Among the highest national homeland security priorities is the condition of the United States Electrical Power Grid, which requires upgrading and steps toward securing American power equipment.
Producing more effective and efficient equipment for airport passenger screening and screening of materiel entering US ports, which is currently virtually unscreened.  Under numerous federal contracts the President has the authority to order such steps.
The upgrading of nuclear power plants with fail-safe mechanisms in the event of terrorist attacks is essential. The US Dept of Energy has the power to order such upgrades.
Remodeling and upgrading hospitals and clinics is necessary to accommodate increase numbers of patients in the event of a biological or nuclear attack, which are currently woefully inadequate.  This is an authority of the Dept of Health and Human Services.
Upgrading of public schools as sites in which to secure children in the event of a terrorist attack calls for renovation and replacement of badly outdated schools.  This is regulated by the US Dept of Education.
Upgrading interstate and state highways making it possible to more rapidly facilitate the evacuation of major population centers in the event of a terrorist attack or nuclear disaster is among the highest priorities.  This is an authority of the US Dept of Transportation.

These are all steps the President has authority to undertake under the President’s National Emergency Powers, and he should do so expeditiously. Since these activities require release of funds by banks and other institutions that are currently withholding them, which is further depressing the economy, the president has the authority to order them to make such funds available, at risk of seizure if they fail to do so.  
Many of these steps can be undertaken within the constraints of current 2011-2012 federal budgets through re-allocation, but others will require using the President’s emergency powers in accordance the US Constitution Article II, Section 3, which gives presidents the power to control the budget process, if necessary using Executive Orders.
In each instance, priority should be placed on hiring unemployed workers to undertake these very important national security activities, with hiring Iraq and Afghanistan veterans being among the first in line.
Some may argue these steps involve exceeding the President’s authority.  They don’t. Mr. Bush initiated such steps and Mr. Obama would be continuing them. 
It’s time to quit messing around and get something done.
Please REPOST this Blog entry to interested individuals, and send to your elected representatives and the President.  Be sure to add your own comments, at

Monday, October 24, 2011

Theocracy and Plutocracy in Iraqi and America

American politics increasingly resembles Iraqi politics. Medina in Saudia Arabia during Muhammad's time, was an early example of a truly democratic state, but the development of democracy in the Islamic world eventually came to a halt following to the Sunni-Shia split. In modern Iraq the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council party became one of Iraq's most powerful political parties and was the largest party in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (like the House of Representatives).  It is a Shia Muslim party previously led by prominent Shia Ayatollahs. No confusion there, it is a theocratic party (like the Ayatollahs in the US Tea Party which now runs the Republican Party).  The other major party, The Iraqis, consists of an alliance of Sunni tribal leaders, led by those of al-Yawar's Shammar tribe. It is also a religious party, but somewhat more secular (i.e. more like the US Democratic Party).  Aside from the periodic throwing of shoes, and insults hurled at one another, the most striking feature of the Iraqi Parliament is its lack of activity. The Iraqis can’t come to any agreement about most things, but are entirely stalemated as to how to divide their enormous oil wealth. 

You will recall the catcalls, jeers and spitting at African American House members by members of the Tea Party in 2009.  The Iraqis would no doubt find it familiar to the way their own Parliament operates.  You will also be aware that nearly the only legislation passed by the Republican House of Representatives has been to oppose abortion and Gay rights, and Paul Ryan’s bizarre budget proposal designed to end Medicare and Medicaid.  They have also blocked nearly every bill designed to address unemployment, housing foreclosures, consumer protection and other economic problems of working Americans, proposed by the White House.  They have also blocked nearly all federal judge appointments, and most appointments of senior administrative personnel who are essential to running federal government agencies. They want to make certain federal agencies aren’t working well.  Despite the fact that from 60-70% of Americans agree with the basic objections raised by the “Occupy/We are the 99%” group, the Republicans in Congress have decided to ignore the public will. They hope to demonstrate the Athenian ideal of one-person-one vote democracy is now hopelessly defunct.

During a recent Iraqi parliament session, it was announced the Parliament will be on holiday until November 20th.  That’s right: Despite continuing political stalemate regarding major issues facing the nation, Iraqi lawmakers will not meet for another 6 weeks or so. Ostensibly, the reason for the long holiday is the fact that it coincides with the pilgrimage to Mecca in early November. It is expected that a large number of deputies will actually be out of the country making deals with foreign businesses and governments.  If this sounds close to home, it is basically the same strategy of the Republicans in the US House of Representatives, which is the party of the Evangelical Christian Religious Right, whose goal is to demonstrate that democratic government by elected officials can no longer work in America.  The goal of the Religious Right in the US is the same as the Shia Ayatollahs in Iraq and the theocracy in Iran, to create a government with the superficial appearance of democracy run by major corporations and extremely conservative religious groups, a total merging of plutocracy and theocracy.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams must be turning over in their graves.