By Dan Olmsted
There is so much sheer nonsense uttered every day by the “experts” on autism that one hardly knows when silently to shake one’s head and when loudly to open one’s mouth. I’ve decided on a useful way to avoid wearing out my vocal cords. I’m going to be selective: Most of it can just sail on by. But every time another needless, pointless and/or erroneous study comes out of Yale, I’m going to yell about it -- and call it what it is, Yupidity.
Actually, I still may end up quite hoarse, as their Child Study Center appears to be a fountain of retrograde nonsense. But because it is my alma mater, and because it is always asking me for money (you would, too, if you had managed to lose at least $8 billion in the past few months), I figure they will especially appreciate my thoughts. Right?
So here goes -- in a story headlined “Study: Autistic Children Miss Social Clues,” The Yale Daily News reported Monday: “According to new Yale research, 2-year-olds with autism lack a key social mechanism that normally allows non-autistic children to recognize human movement.” Well, alert the media -- because “Instead, autistic children focus on the physical aspects of motion and fail to pick up on important social information, according to the study, which was published in the March 29 online edition of Nature.”
Aren’t I remembering that this has been established about a million times, starting in 1943? Am I dreaming, or didn’t one study show autistic kids were looking at the pictures on the wall, and other such extraneous objects, when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were emoting about as hard as it is possible to emote in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
So, more wasted time and money. Big deal. But the next sentence really sends me around the bend: “The findings provide new clues about the origins of autism that researchers hope will help with early diagnosis and treatment.” That sentence must be on an “insert” key of every autism study publicist in the known universe. New clues, new treatments! Hot damn!
But what are those new clues to the origins of autism, and how will they help real live kids? The co-author, Ami Klin, director of the Autism Program at the Yale Child Study Center, opined thusly:
“Klin said he hopes these results will begin to answer lingering questions about the neurobiology of autism, adding that it could lead to earlier diagnoses and hence, the probability of effective treatments.
“’Autism is a neural developmental disorder, the most strongly genetic of them all,” Klin said. “We hope to capitalize on early neuroplasticity and actually make amends into natural course of the condition, optimizing the child’s outcome.” (Make amends into natural course of the condition? I’m cringing on behalf of my fellow English Literature graduates.)
What we here at the Yale Child Study Center hope to capitalize on, I’m afraid, is the promiscuous availability of research money when it is used to reinforce safe, evidence-free assumptions about the origins of autism. Sorry, but autism is NOT genetic, and research is hardly at the point that it is should focus on “lingering questions” about that allegedly established truth. Give us all a break! Maybe they will -- maybe, with $8 billion less to spend, someone at Yale will decide that studies like this don’t need to get funded.
Oh, but wait, Yale didn’t pay. Y-O-U DID!
The last line of the Yalie Daily piece is this: “The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health.” That would be Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, or to put it possessively, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Mental Health, or the NIH'S NIMH, the Monty-Pythonesquely repetitive entity that is driving deeper every day into the heart of the autism epidemic by paying for repetitive stuff like this. How ‘bout that vax-unvax study -- which hasn't been done, not even once -- while you’re on a spending spree, Doc?
We’ll keep you posted on future instances of Yupidity from Yale.
Dan Olmsted Yale '74 is Editor of Age of Autism.