Strange things about Strange Son

I first became aware of Strange Son when I was trying to publish my own autism memoir. My agent was told that the reason we weren’t getting bites was that an autism memoir was about to come out that would dwarf all the others. The author was a huge name in autism–Portia Iversen, the co-founder of Cure Autism Now–and the book was a miracle cure memoir. Only later did I find out what the miracle was; for now, it was looking like all that publishers wanted in terms of autism memoirs were memoirs of this particular sub-subgenre (cf. Let Me Hear Your Voice and Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, recounting full recoveries, respectively, through ABA therapies and gluten-free diets). My agent advised me to retool my material into a non-autism non-memoir, and the result was Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World. The irony was that this title, chosen by my publisher, made my book sound more pseudoscientific than the miraculous autism memoirs it was distancing itself from.1

Reading Strange Son for the first time this week, I learned that there’s one additional way in which Iversen’s book connects to my own projects. It was shortly after its publication that my then-collaborator and I were awarded a Cure Autism Now Innovative Technology grant to do a pilot study of my software program. And it is shortly into Strange Son that we meet, at a Cure Autism Now Innovative Technology conference, one of the book’s protagonists. The person in question is Tito Mukhopadhyay, and, brought over to the U.S. from India via Iversen and CAN, he’s making his first appearance—as the conference’s keynote speaker.

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Speechless about Speechless

The original source of US-based facilitated communication is the Australia-based Rosemary Crossley. In 1989, Douglas Biklen visited her clinic, and was so impressed by FC’s efficacy there that he took it back to upstate New York. It’s therefore not surprising to encounter in Crossley’s book Speechless: Facilitating Communication for People Without Voices, published in 1997, many of the justifications for FC that we continue to hear to this day.

Speechless recounts Crossley’s work facilitating the communication by typing of an assortment of individuals with minimal speaking skills, from victims of traumatic brain injury, encephalitis, and untreated PKU, to individuals with cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and autism. While some of these people type via head pointers (pointing rods mounted on head bands), most use an extended index finger, and most require support at the wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder or sleeve while typing.

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Talking back to Talking Back to Autism

You’ve got to wonder how many of the enthusiastic reviewers of “A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism”—in the NYTimes, in the LA Times, and on NPR—actually watched, through anything but tear-blurred eyes, the final scenes of the movie. You’ve got to wonder the same thing about the various autism experts who appear in the movie: David G. Amaral, PhD, Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, Geraldine Dawson, Phd, and Catherine Lord, PhD. (There’s also a clip of Dr. Sally Rogers, but this was lifted from a 60 Minutes episode; she had no role in this movie).

First released in 2009 as “The Sunshine Boy”, and later as an HBO documentary, “A Mother’s Courage” tips its hand within its first ten minutes. On a pilgrimage from Iceland to the US to learn more about autism, the mother in question, Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, is shown seated on an airplane with a copy of Portia Iversen’s Strange Son in her lap. Strange Son (say tuned for a full review) recounts Iversen’s efforts to bring Soma Mukhopadhyay and her Rapid Prompting Method from India to the US to unlock Iversen’s son and other non-speaking American autistics. Having foreshadowed the miracles to come, the film takes a long and winding road, making stops at the offices of the autism experts, Temple Grandin’s ranch, the homes of several autism families, and an ABA clinic, with detours through the countryside and rough shores of Iceland with Ericsdottir’s family, including her two non-autistic older sons and the severely autistic Keli. Then the film reaches its destination and devotes its final act to Soma.

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The myths of Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone

Today’s episode of my series of reviews of pro-FC books and movies looks back to 2005 and a book called Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone. Published by NYU Press and authored by Douglas Biklen, best known for bringing Facilitated Communication to the US in the early 1990s, this book attempts to challenge the prevailing scientific understanding of autism. Its evidence? Testimonials about autism that purportedly come from autistic individuals. 

Purportedly is the key word here: all of these individuals communicate by typing, and though Biklen claims that all but one of them have learned to type (or, in some instances, write) independently, all require a helper to sit next to them while they do so. As Biklen puts it, “I found that the contributors could converse fluently with me, but only if their mothers or other trusted, familiar persons in whom they felt confident were nearby.” Each person, furthermore, underwent years of active facilitation in which these trusted, familiar persons maintained physical contact with them during typing. 

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Can the captain of an airplane teach 5th grade?

One thing led to another, and we found ourselves, mid-January, on a flight to Aruba.

The announcements began not long after we boarded.

“When you purchased your tickets with Jet Blue, you agreed to a contract stating that you would wear a mask on the airplane. If something has changed between that time and now, and you feel you are no longer able to wear a mask, please contact the stewardess and she will help you make other travel arrangements.”

Mask contract?


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‘We don’t need AI, we just need I’

I love this!

About 12 minutes in, “ZDogg” and Marty Makary talk about their problems with AI censorship. ZDogg says he’s had whole pages taken down by Facebook, no reason given; Makary says he’s managed to evade the AI censors thus far, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

Makary says he’s constantly getting people telling him ‘What medicine needs is artificial intelligence.’

(off-topic: Makary also says the UK medical establishment has done a much better job than ours … and that the two risk risk factors they found most predictive of COVID mortality (I think it was mortality per se) were sickle cell anemia and kidney disease. Which means vaccines ought to be delivered to dialysis centers, but no…)

His complaints about medical-journal style sheets are hilarious.

Out on Good Behavior is Out! Here’s my review

Barry Garelick’s Out on Good Behavior: Teaching math while looking over your shoulder has just come out, and it’s a fantastic read.

It is, among other things, a fascinating insider account of the struggles and insights of a novice grade school teacher who is also a seasoned mathematician and a proponent of traditional, evidence-based math instruction. We watch Garelick in action as he teaches struggling, under-motivated students how to subtract negative numbers and factor polynomials. We eavesdrop on the often awkward feedback sessions he has with mentors and other supervisors who are sometimes taken aback by Garelick’s commitment to traditional teaching methods—and by the compelling case he makes for them.

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