kitchen table math, the sequel: is this a clinically-known hypothesis on autism?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

is this a clinically-known hypothesis on autism?

when asked about the yelling, humming, hands over ears, etc., the girl in the video explains that it's because of a sensory overload, saying, "we create output to block out input".


Catherine Johnson said...

oh boy, I don't think I can watch this now (too upsetting)

I wouldn't be at all surprised if that is the the explanation --ALTHOUGH psychiatrists tend to talk about 'stimming' as "self-stimulation": as a need to boost arousal levels to the right levels

Frankly, the 'output to block input' explanation makes more sense to me, especially in light of what I've learned recently about kids who self-injure

Catherine Johnson said...

My two autistic kids have always acted as if they are just fantastically UNCOMFORTABLE

Crimson Wife said...

My little one, who was recently diagnosed with autism, is obsessed with hats and hoods. The developmental pediatrician actually told us she thinks it is a way for DD to block out overwhelming sensory input.

FedUpMom said...

Hmmm .. I'd like to see a lot more detail about how she types and how she might have learned to type.

This reminds me of "facilitated communication", which was pretty thoroughly debunked by a Frontline episode.

Katharine Beals said...

"This reminds me of "facilitated communication", which was pretty thoroughly debunked by a Frontline episode." Yes!

My gut reaction, watching the video, was that there was something phony going on. Did anyone else feel that way?

It also smacks of the "normal child locked inside" model that dates back to Bruno Bettelheim (which I blogged about here:

palisadesk said...

There have been numerous studies of facilitated communication under controlled conditions, where the facilitator and the child were shown pictures on separate screens (neither could see the screen of the other) and the child was required to name the object.

In 100% of the cases, no exceptions, the facilitator typed what s/he saw, and not what the child saw. I don't know how much clearer something can be than that. Although the facilitators were convinced the child was directing his/her keystrokes, the evidence is conclusive.

I have a similar issue with students who get high grades in high school or college courses where the student's assigned teaching assistant/paraprofessional has written the tests and assignments. How much is actually the student's (cognitive) work?

Having scribed for students on occasion, I know it is extremely difficult to resist the urge to "fix up" the student's spelling, grammer or sentence structure, and very easy to think "Oh, he really meant......" and to actually believe you are *not* in fact altering the student's output.

Sometimes our desire to help is an impediment to real learning and assessment.

FedUpMom said...

Palisadesk, that's exactly what they showed on the "Frontline" episode. It was devastating to watch. The client would be looking at, say, a drawing of a boat, and the facilitator would be looking at a picture of, say, a duck. Every time, the client typed "duck" with the "help" of the facilitator.

The interesting thing (to me) was that the facilitators were completely unconscious of what they were doing. They genuinely believed they were helping the client type what was on his mind, but the experiment proved they were guiding the client's typing based on their own perception.

In the video posted above, I thought the original posts "typed" by the girl with autism were suspiciously well-written. The punctuation, syntax, and spelling were all just right. How likely is it that any child could suddenly show that kind of skill, after giving no hint of it for years?

FedUpMom said...

There's an interesting discussion about this video here:

FedUpMom said...

Somewhat off topic, this reminds me of a situation in my own family. My older daughter got a glowing report card for her first semester of 8th grade at Friends Omphalos. The comments from her math teacher included the remark, "she even figures things out on her own!"

Well, no. She's plenty bright, but she doesn't magically figure math out on her own; her mother teaches her math on the side and goes to a great deal of trouble to ensure that she understands whatever the teacher didn't teach clearly.

I haven't said anything to the teacher, because it's OK with me if he has an exaggerated sense of my daughter's abilities. It's probably a confidence-booster for her.

So, if I were a therapist, and the math teacher was the child's parent, and the parent was thrilled that the child had magically figured something out, but really I had coached or "corrected" the child's work ... ?

Crimson Wife said...

I'm not familiar with "facilitated communication" but my little one is doing very well with augmented communication (picture exchange communication system). Her communication ability with the PECS is far better than her verbal communication at this point. It's definitely her communicating because she is the one selecting the PECS not me or her preschool teacher.

It's not unusual for autistic children to be smarter than they have the verbal capability to express. My little one may not be able to talk much yet, but she is no dummy.

FedUpMom said...

Crimson Wife, I don't doubt that sometimes kids are smarter than they seem because it's difficult for them to communicate. Actually, I would include my younger daughter in this group. She has language delays that mean her speech is not as clear as many kids her age, but she's still a bright kid.

I think people in general (and the school system) put a premium on verbal abilities, to the point where we reward glib chatter over any other sign of intelligence.

But I'm still skeptical of the situation shown in the video.

I was reading around on the internet and found others who are skeptical of this case. One person pointed out that Carly always "types" the kind of moving insight that her audience wants to hear. You don't see her type "I hate my parents!" although that would be a pretty normal thing for a teenager to express.

FedUpMom said...

You can watch the Frontline special, "Prisoners of Silence", here:

FedUpMom said...

The Frontline episode is well worth watching.

Speaking of what the audience wants or expects to hear, the episode was filmed in 1993, in the middle of the recovered-memory and child-sexual-abuse hysteria. A large fraction of the kids using facilitated communication made accusations of sexual abuse.