Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Autistic Children Recognize Stereotypes Based On Race And Sex

Very interesting article. Recognizing mental states and learning social stereotypes are different cognitive processes. This makes sense, as I recall Leo learning stereotypes very early (it seemed). Bad guys drove windowless white vans, had scruffy hair, mustaches, and wore sunglasses....But it took him a long time to get over some confusion between some basic emotions.

Eureka Alert

Autistic children recognize stereotypes based on race and sex
Children with autism, who are unable to grasp the mental states of others, can nonetheless identify with conventional stereotypes based on a person’s race and sex, researchers report in the June 19th issue of Current Biology, published by Cell Press.

“Even with their limited capacities for social interaction and their apparent inability to orient to social stimuli, these autistic kids pick up and endorse social stereotypes as readily as normally developing kids,” said Lawrence Hirschfeld of the New School for Social Research in New York. “One take-away point is that stereotypes are very easy to learn and very robust. They don’t require higher order attention, or apparently even attention to social stimuli, to develop. Stereotypes can be learned even in the face of damage to the ‘social brain’ and under extraordinarily constrained conditions.”

The profound inability of children with autism to engage in everyday social interaction, as well as impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication, had been attributed to a severe delay in “theory of mind” (ToM) development—the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own. If the use of stereotypes and mental states were part and parcel of the same underlying cognitive process, then autistic children would have similar difficulties with both.

In fact, the researchers found that autistic children who have a verbal age between 6 and 7 years—and who fail ToM tasks—know and use gender and race stereotypes just like normal children. Hirschfeld said he suspects the stereotypes originate within subtle and seemingly incidental messages that saturate the culture—for example, through advertising or biased attention by the media. The kids might also learn about stereotypes from parental behaviors, such as locking car doors when in certain neighborhoods, even if parents carefully monitor what they say about race to their children.

Stereotypes are not inherently negative, he said. “We wouldn’t be able to think without social categories,” he said. “Stereotypical roles are important for navigating everyday interactions. Finding a plumber would be difficult if we thought of people only as unique individuals. Getting through the check-out line would be unwieldy if we didn’t have simple scripts about the roles that both shoppers and cashiers play.”

The results suggest that different kinds of social reasoning occur through independent mechanisms in all people. The autistic children’s surprising ability to recognize broad categories of people might also lead to new methods for helping them improve their ability to function in society, he said.

Caregivers today often attempt to teach children with autism ToM skills, particularly techniques that make them more sensitive to other people’s mental states. Capitalizing on the kids’ strengths in understanding social categories might offer an alternative and easier learning method for interpreting the behavior of others, one that doesn’t involve “swimming upstream,” Hirschfeld said.

The researchers include Lawrence Hirschfeld of the New School for Social Research in New York, NY; Elizabeth Bartmess of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI; Sarah White and Uta Frith of UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London, UK.

This work was supported by MRC programme grant 65013 to UF and a research grant to LH and EB by the Culture and Cognition Program, University of Michigan USA.

Hirschfeld et al.: "Can autistic children predict behavior by social stereotypes"" Publishing in Current Biology, 19 June 2007, R451-452.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Colgate Recall

Wow. Quite a coincidence commenting on Colgate in my last post just minutes ago! Everyone be careful out there.....

Counterfeit Colgate Toothpaste Is Recalled in Four States
Fake Brand May Contain
A Poisonous Chemical
June 14, 2007 10:26 a.m.

NEW YORK -- Colgate-Palmolive Co. said counterfeit toothpaste falsely packaged with a Colgate label is being recalled because it may contain a poisonous chemical.

The consumer-products company said there are indications that the fake products don't contain fluoride and may contain Diethylene Glycol, which Colgate has never used. Diethylene Glycol, or DEG, is a poisonous chemical used antifreeze and as a solvent. The five-ounce tubes of toothpaste are being sold in discount stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"Colgate does not import toothpaste into the United States from South Africa," said a statement from Colgate-Palmolive Company. "In addition, the counterfeit packages examined so far have several misspellings including: 'isclinically,' 'SOUTH AFRLCA' and 'South African Dental Assoxiation.' " "Counterfeit toothpaste is not manufactured or distributed by Colgate and has no connection with the company whatsoever," the company said.

In recent weeks the Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers to avoid using any toothpaste with a "made in China" label because the agency found 3% to 4% of the same toxic chemical in Chinese toothpaste. The FDA began testing Chinese dental products after reports that contaminated Chinese toothpaste was found in several countries including Panama. The FDA has issued an import alert to prevent Chinese toothpaste containing DEG from being sold in the United States and has said it will continue to stop brands of Chinese toothpaste for testing.

Colgate said is working closely with the FDA to identify those responsible for the counterfeit product. The agency recently issued an import alert to prevent Chinese toothpaste containing the same chemical Diethylene Glycol.

The company said consumers who may have purchased this product can call 1-800-468-6502.

A Smart Idea by the FSA in the UK

UK's FSA backs folic acid in flour, curbs on food
Thu Jun 14, 5:32 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Food Standards Agency board on Thursday gave the go-ahead for plans to add folic acid to foods in a bid to cut birth defects and said levels should be controlled in some products to prevent over-consumption.

Wow. Thinking ahead by a government? Prevention? I wonder if our government knows the meaning of that word. Why can't our FDA do the same thing? Flouride comes to mind. Now all our food and water is filled with this metal that can be helpful at moderate levels. Who is monitoring the big picture? No one. And now Tom's of Maine the maker of one flouride-free toothpaste was bought by one of the biggies, Colgate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Being Different - How Not Vaccinating Is Affecting Us

Over Memorial Day weekend Mary Kate, Sydney's best friend, was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia. She has no immunity because she can't make healthy blood cells, so she must "live in a plastic bubble" over the next 2 years or so, because any virus can potentially kill her. She must be home-schooled, meaning Sydney and Mary Kate won't be going to 1st grade together. Her exposure must be carefully monitored, and her circle of friends must be small and as risk-free as possible.

I know as an Autism mom what it's like when the life you think you are leading changes. A shot out to the Holland writings. But I can't imagine what it must be like for Mary Kate's mom since this is quite different, her baby's life is at risk.

It's still quite fresh, but not as raw so feel strong enough to write about how this has affected us. I know it's not all about us, it's about a very sick little girl, but this is my blog so I can write about how this has changed our lives.

At first, I thought really the only thing I can do is be a good friend, make my children available as much as possible for support. And of course offer information on alternative treatments to the mom. As the week went on we learned that because we do not vaccinate, Sydney (and Leo) are a risk to Mary Kate. Abruptly pushed to the periphery of their best friend's lives.

The biggest current threat to Mary Kate was an exposure to Chicken Pox. This was the biggest barrier to Sydney and Mary Kate reuniting. An older girl (10 maybe) had it at our school. This girl was vaccinated plus a booster but still got it. 40% of our nation gets this shot, and in our area I'm certain most people get it along with the rest of the vaccine protocol. This vaccine has increased the incidence of Shingles and increased the incidence of adults getting chicken pox even when they had it when they were children. This is because us adults aren't getting occasionally exposed to the virus which "reminds" the antibodies to be on alert. Little boosts in our adult immunity. Since fewer children are getting it in highly vaccinated areas like ours, no one is safe either by having it or getting vaccinated. A giant mess. I also have a friend tell me both of her children got the chicken pox (no biggie) through exposure at school to a recently vaccinated child - on two different occasions. This is because it's a live virus, and the incubation period is 3 weeks from the date of the shot.

In crisis mode, I put on my old Autism Hat. I searched online for hours into the night, learning about this disease. I made an emotional decision to get Sydney the chicken pox vaccine. Nothing else, just that since it was such a high risk thing for Mary Kate. I realized I didn't have the time to special order something or collect any alternative information. Months would be lost. I couldn't even get my ped on the phone to give me some options, if any.

On the good side it was thimerosol free. However it contained: fetal bovine serum, hydrolyzed gelatin, MSG, MRC-5 cells (aborted human embryo's lung cells cultures), neomycin (an antibiotic), and sucrose. Leo held her hand and Sydney held on to her stuffed bunny. So interesting, Sydney had no experience with shots so at 6, it was a different experience. She wasn't afraid and was fine. I think she liked all the attention, as the nurses were moved by the reason we slipped her in to get it done.

Both girls miserable, I knew I had to make that decision - a mental wellness choice or a physical one, in order for them to be reunited. The ONLY thing we could really do to help this little girl get well - visits from her best friend. Her mom tells me every day Mary Kate asks for Sydney, and was crushed when Sydney couldn't be at her birthday party (thankfully, she could be home on her birthday from the hospital and have a party before she started to get really weak and change). Sydney got her shot that day and has to wait 3 weeks incubation period before she can see her.

The sad thing is that Mary Kate's mom may still make a decision to keep them apart. Sydney is considered a high risk exposure, and Leo is as well with playing with her big brother. Her doctors tell her to cut us out of her life.

This news prays upon all my weak spots - because I have "foundation" issues due to being raised with no real family and adopted later, I easily succumb to feeling "abandoned" as they say in psychology. I feel like I'm different and judged for our lifestyle. Suddenly we really stand out. The moms ask me why we don't vaccinate, something that just doesn't come up. They know how "granola" we are, but we never broadcasted that we didn't vaccinate because I thought it sounded like I would be judging them. After all, they haven't studied environmental toxins, developmental disabilities, and the food supply like I have. All this information I've collected in my mind.

And the irony is no one knows WHY we live the way we do, because of Autism. Another frustration added to the list of our double identity. I considered telling the mom, but I just can't. She's not someone that keeps secrets well, and she's understandibly very emotional and unstable, for now. We'll have to see.

My daughter Sydney and Mary Kate have been inseparable since they were 3. They met in preschool. Ballet classes. Recitals. Birthday parties. And a wonderful uneventful Kindergarten shared experience. Mary Kate has always been a given. We never thought for a moment that she wouldn't be around. It was a relief to know that Sydney had a good friend that has a great mom and big brother, which also happens to be Leo's best friend. A double pleasure. Now it's a double challenge. I'm strong today, and hope we'll all adjust to their absence, to hearing about them from others. All we can do is hope, and keep in contact through writing and drawing.

Another wake up call for us. Life is short and very vulnerable. Anything can turn it upside down, even if it doesn't happen directly to you. Any info about natural alternative treatments would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, June 11, 2007


Back in March, Leo decided he wanted to play baseball. In my town, it's quite unusual to have a boy that's never played at his age. Of course they try T Ball and if they don't like it they move on. When Leo was T Ball age we were light years away from doing it.
Since he no longer wanted to do Tae Kwon Do, I really wanted him to do some type of sport. I bravely said "Yes", knowing we'd be yet again in uncharted territory, facing the ultimate challenge, a ball, a SMALL HARD ball coming very fast towards Leo's face. I was very proud of him for wanting to try, knowing that most kids would have some experience. I was mostly proud that he wanted to try something new.

For about a year or so Leo has been playing catch regularly - football, and baseball, with Dad. He's also been playing some ball sports at school. Amazing to me that with his sensitivities he sought these things out. His obsession with sports and statistics helps I'm sure. He practiced on his own, replaying real plays in his head, almost every day after school as a decompression/transition activity.

The first few games were torture. Pure torture for old Mom here. Although this league is very laid-back and very supportive, I truly felt for him. Here was Leo, this giant kid (single A since he's never played and the oldest kid)that couldn't hit the damn ball. Not a surprise, the timing and the pitching machine really threw him. They gave him extra chances in still no luck. He was the ONLY kid on his team (and the other) that just couldn't hit the ball. He sat at the end of the bench, by himself, completely bummed but not giving up. I think what saved him was that he could throw and catch well enough in his position on first base.I sat there, deer in the headlights, wondering what I should say. Should I let him quit? At what point? On the drive home he said "I'm upset but I'll survive Mom". I reminded him about how it took him a long time to overcome his fear of swimming, but that he did overcome it and now LOVES to swim. The next game the coach brought a T-Ball thingy just for him to practice with. Leo was a little put-off by it since no one else had to use it, but I reminded him that it doesn't matter, and no one cares. The point is learning how to do it.

The next game he finally Leo "touched" the ball with the bat. Everything changed. I was crying behind my sunglasses. Big smile from Leo. He did it! He couldn't hit it the rest of the game but it didn't matter.

After that game we stopped at the grocery store across the street for a treat to celebrate - Tofutti, natch. Sydney, Leo, and I were getting in line when I saw a very familiar face in the aisle nearby. It was Amy! Leo's former ABA Clinical Supervisor - the person that designed and implemented Leo's ABA programs. It was like seeing family. She WAS like family for years. And I do miss our long conversations and our former closeness. I was overjoyed to see her and I immediately told her that we just came from baseball practice. I squinted and shook my head and she immediately got my message - those issues no longer keep him from playing a ball sport.

Leo looked at Amy and said in an inquisitive voice, "Who are you?" noticing that I am super-friendly with this person and Sydney knows her. We exchange looks and smiles, and quickly says "I'm Amy". He says he doesn't know her. Amy says "Don't worry about it." We then tell him she's a friend of his former shadow. He remembered HER alright. Tailed him for years.

I can't describe that feeling - having a "normal" day I suppose? Baseball. Grocery shopping. Leo not remembering his past as much.

The next game Leo catches a ball as 1st baseman, a close one. As the ball was landing in his glove, he shut his eyes tight. The reaction I'm more accustomed to seeing. I smile with seeing that familiar face. Leo opens his eyes and smiles at the site of the ball and confirmation from the coach's face.

The coach says, "You can open your eyes now Leo."

Leo wanted to march in the Memorial Day Parade. He had so much fun! Just a few short years ago that would've been suicide, just attending a parade. It was so cute seeing Leo and his team in their uniforms walking.

Just one more game. He's going to miss it.

Lenny Schafer's Commentary on Vaccines in Court

I just read this in today's Schafer Report. I think it's perfect so I thought I'd post it. More soon...I've been buried. Ashley

Brief Commentary: The editorial conclusion, "Research to discover what
causes autism, including possible environmental triggers, must be a top
priority" is disingenuous for the author to assert. The purpose of this
editorial, and of all the experts who labor to deny the growth of autism, is
to sow complacency -- to turn the public's attention away from autism.
This is a backhand defense of mercury containing vaccines as the cause
of autism. If there is no "epidemic", then there is nothing there to cause
it. It's an instant alibi for mercury tainted vaccines. The reality is that
the CDC has arduously avoided conducting epidemiological research to track
the real incidence and prevalence of autism, despite all "better diagnosing"
over the last dozen years.
Why, with all the growing suffering of autism across the country has
the CDC avoided counting our children? Perhaps, they already know the
answers and are willing to sacrifice thousands of children in the name of
promoting herd immunity -- for the greater good against infectious diseases.
This may sound good in theory, unless you have a child with autism.
- Lenny Schafer