Judge Finds Official Liable for Denial of Special Ed - Parents Gain Tool * Computational Autism
- View SourceSCHAFER AUTISM REPORT "Healing Autism:
No Finer a Cause on the Planet"
Thursday, January 02, 2003
* Judge Finds Official Liable for Denial of Special Ed - Parents Gain
* Students Bring Lessons to Life With I-Movies
* UK Autism Fears Over Mercury In Flu Jabs
* Dose of Danger Dressed Up As Protector
* No Ordinary Village
* Computational Autism - Hope Lies In Flair For Logic
* Computational Autism
Judge Finds Official Liable for Denial of Special Ed -- Parents Gain Tool in
Fight to Make Schools Meet Kids' Educational Needs
[By Joan Osterwalder in the Daily Journal Extra, Dec 30, 2002. Thanks
to Dona Wright.]
A school official is liable for not meeting a boy's needs.
Parents of special education children who claim a school district is
failing to meet their children's needs may have a new weapon against school
On Dec. 5, a federal judge ruled that a Santa Barbara High School
District administrator was personally liable for damages under the Civil
Rights Act for violating a mother's right to get a "free appropriate public
education" for her special-needs son, as required by the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act. Goleta Union Elementary School District v.
Andrew Ordway, CV99-07745 (C.D. Cal., verdict Dec. 5, 2002).
Cynthia Ordway-deNeveu alleged Diana Rigby, director of student
services for the Santa Barbara High School District, placed her son, Andrew,
in a new school four years ago without making sure the school met Andrew's
Ordway-deNeveu's attorney, Steven Wyner, a sole practitioner in
Manhattan Beach, says this is the first case nationwide in which a school
official has been held personally liable for monetary damages.
"I feel this is a landmark decision because it is going to hold school
officials personally accountable for complying with the law," Wyner says.
"That's the only way there will be compliance."
Because school districts in California are partially funded by the
state, they are immune to lawsuits seeking damages under federal law. In the
past, school districts have been ordered to reimburse parents for
educational expenses and to provide compensatory education when they were
found to have denied students a free appropriate public education, according
Marc Miles of Carpenter, Rothans & Dumont in Los Angeles, who
represents Rigby, says he may challenge the ruling.
Eight of the 11 federal appellate courts nationwide have held that a
person cannot recover money damages under the Civil Rights Act for
violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Miles says.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles appeals from
California, is the only remaining district that has not ruled on this issue
yet, he adds.
The 2nd and 3rd U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal ruled in favor of the
parent in 1987 and 1995, respectively, in cases that applied the same legal
Given the discrepancy in findings among the circuit courts, Miles says
he may also appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to rule
on the issue, if the appellate court votes in Ordway-deNeveu's favor.
"There is a split in authority," Miles says.
Ordway-deNeveu alleged that Rigby transferred her son from Goleta
Valley Junior High School to La Colina Junior High School in March 1998
without assessing Andrew's special education and behavioral needs and
without investigating whether his placement was appropriate. In 1993, Andrew
was diagnosed with having difficulties with his short-term memory and
attentiveness and therefore was entitled to special education by law.
When Andrew started 7th grade at Goleta Valley, he joined a gang - his
moniker was "The White Ghost" - and began having academic and disciplinary
problems. He was getting bad grades, suspended for fighting and possessing a
razor knife, and disciplined for choking a student, according to court
On March 24, 1998, after his transfer to La Colina, he was arrested at
Goleta Valley for trespassing on school grounds and for possessing antique
coins he had stolen from his physician, according to court papers.
"He was beyond control - parental control, school control and self
control," Ordway-deNeveu, who was a single mother back then, says. She has
Overwhelmed, Ordway-deNeveu requested that Andrew be taken into
juvenile detention. Ordway-deNeveu requested a hearing before the California
Special Education Hearing Office. She believed her son was denied a proper
public education and needed to be put in a strictly supervised setting,
which would have dealt with his behavioral problem and kept him out of
Andrew was diagnosed with a depressive disorder and placed in
residential group homes in Fresno and Petaluma until last year.
On April 30, 1999, the hearing officer found that the Santa Barbara
High School District failed to give Andrew a free and appropriate public
education. He ordered the district to reimburse Ordway-deNeveu for
educational costs and required that the Santa Barbara County Mental Health
Department repay her for the costs of putting Andrew in a residential group
Ordway-deNeveu says her expenses for Andrew ranged from $3,000 to
$6,000 a month.
The school district appealed the hearing officer's decision by filing
a federal lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson upheld the
findings. Rigby, who was sued by Ordway-deNeveu in a counter-claim, asked
for summary judgment, contending she was entitled to qualified immunity.
Pregerson rejected her argument.
Trial on Ordway-deNeveu's damages is scheduled for Jan. 21, but Wyner
says he will ask for an extension because his client is recovering from
Ordway-deNeveu says the last four years have been a nightmare for her.
"When the decision came in I was ecstatic," she says. "It's not just a
matter of money, it's the issue that is at stake. Being a school official,
your No. 1 priority should be to follow the procedures and protocols. ... I
feel like with this decision I've done something right for the other parents
Andrew, now 17, is a senior in Crescenta Valley High School's special
education program and wants to become an electrician, his mother says.
"It's like night and day," Ordway-deNeveu says of her son's change.
© The Daily Journal Corporation.
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* * *
Students Bring Lessons to Life With I-Movies
Teachers and pupils make Internet films to cover topics from social ills to
math and science.
[This technology might have good application for teaching autistic
children self-help and social skills, although we are not aware of it being
so used today. See also, "Computational Autism" towards the end of today's
posting. Thanks to Maxie. By Sandra Matthews for The LA Times.]
Fifth-grade teacher Max Schafer's class at Fenton Avenue Charter
School in Lake View Terrace has become a mini-film school.
But instead of shooting ghost stories, adventures or romances, the
students are producing, directing and acting in computerized videos about
math, science, vocabulary and other educational topics. These I-movies
(Internet movies), produced and edited on a program in classroom computers,
are an increasingly popular tool at schools in California and nationwide.
Schafer's students, for example, recently began creating a science
movie about the solar system that features Styrofoam planets and narratives
about rotation around the sun.
Besides mastering new technologies on cameras and software and giving
students a sense of independence, the I-movie process teaches them the
subjects themselves, Schafer said. Students become motivated to learn about
science when creative expression and artistry are involved, he added.
"It's really fun. I love learning something new," said a fifth-grade
camera operator, Ashley Hernandez.
Schafer explained that the I-movies, usually 20 to 30 minutes long, do
not replace exams or term papers. "Writing skills are too important at early
grades to cut back. But enhancing their writing with pictures, sounds and
video really develops deeper understanding of the subject."
Such technology has been embraced by more and more schools, according
to Milton Chen, director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a San
Rafael-based foundation started by the "Star Wars" creator to promote video
and computer advances in K-12 classes. Multimedia projects like I-movies,
Chen said, help "students develop the ability to work together in groups and
develop self-knowledge as well."
Making I-movies is a relatively easy multimedia process. The footage
shot in Schafer's class with a digital video camera includes pictures of
planets found on the Internet. After the tape is copied to the computer,
I-movie software is used to produce an edited product that can be copied to
video or burned onto a disc. "What's really nice is that you can put it on a
CD to give to parents, so that they can see what's going on in the
classroom," said Schafer.
I-movie software comes with the Macintosh computers that the charter
school, sponsored by the Los Angeles Unified School District, has purchased
for every fourth- and fifth-grader with district funds and grants.
The students approach the projects seriously. For instance,
fifth-grade movie director Marielle Ordono told students to "take two" when
they didn't speak loud enough or had trouble reciting their lines, or when
props were not arranged correctly. Marielle was ultimately happy with the
final product about outer space and enjoyed being in charge. "I liked
telling them what to do," she said.
Last year, Schafer's class created a math I-movie. Student actors used
props such as baseballs and milk cartons to demonstrate math principles,
such as measurement.
Schafer's fifth-grade students worked on a project last year based on
"Theater Games," the book of acting exercises by Voila Spolin. Teachers were
sometimes uncertain about how to demonstrate the games to the students after
reading the book. "So we thought, 'Hey, why not put this on CD and show
video-clip examples of how to play the games,' " Schafer said. The I-movie
featured students enthusiastically doing improvisation acting, such as
playing "tug of war" without a rope.
Fenton Charter students soon will be working on an I-movie in which
they will visually act out vocabulary words that may be difficult for
students, particularly those with limited English skills.
Although L.A. Unified does not keep a list of how many schools are
active in I-movie production, the district has installed 35,000 multimedia
computers equipped with the program for students to create I-movies,
according to Jim Konantz, information assistant superintendent for the
district. "The students do independent research to make the movies. They
really get involved," he said.
Similar enthusiasm has been shown in other districts around California
For example, in Atherton in Northern California, Menlo Middle School
students have created various I-movies, including a 10-minute "electronic
scrapbook" based on the eighth-graders' trip to Washington, D.C. "They have
scanned images from brochures, museum tickets and photos. Added music, text
and their own voices," said Nancy Fortman, the school's technology director.
She was pleased with the process and results. "I believe that one of
the most important skills students need is the ability to communicate.
Today's technology allows for students to create a story, use still pictures
or moving video, sound and text to tell their stories with I-movie," Fortman
In the Los Angeles area, Consuela Molina, a senior last year at San
Fernando High School, made a documentary-style I-movie for her social
studies class about sweatshops and women workers in Indonesia, Mexico and
the Los Angeles area. Molina, now a student at UCLA, posted it on the Web,
where it was seen by a teacher in India, the Women's Human Rights Conference
in Paris and students in Australia, according to her high school social
studies teacher Marco Torres.
San Fernando students have made more lighthearted films too, such as a
recent Christmas movie about a snowman in a snow fight with elves.
The research and script writing for I-movies, Torres said, sometimes
can take the place of writing term papers.
Torres explained that scripts are often more clearly and concisely
written than term papers because students are more actively involved in
"I see kids who don't traditionally do well in school succeed because
this was another way for them to express themselves," said Torres.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times
[Editor's note: Yes, Max Schafer is related.]
The Autism Calendar: Subscribe Free Without Daily Reports
* * *
UK Autism Fears Over Mercury In Flu Jabs
[By Fraser Nelson in The Scotsman.]
Four of the seven flu jabs being issued by the [UK] government this
winter contain a mercury-based preservative which is being withdrawn in the
US amid fears of its links to autism.
The Department of Health has confirmed that most of the flu vaccines
being issued through the National Health Service contain thimerosal, a
preservative which is 50 per cent composed of ethyl mercury.
Thimerosal is already being withdrawn in the US, where a government
health authority has warned that it has a "biologically plausible" link to
autism and should not be given to pregnant women.
The UK government has this year chosen seven vaccines to combat three
expected strains of the flu virus, and is aiming to vaccinate 70 per cent of
people aged over 65 in a UK-wide programme.
The Scotsman can today name the four which, according to the
Department of Health, contain thimerosal - and, therefore, mercury. They are
Fluvirin, Fluarix, Influvac and Agrippal. The mercury-free vaccines are
Inflexal V, Begrivac and this years flu vaccine from Aventis Pasteur.
Officials have said they do not recognise any health risk posed by the
mercury in thimerosal. As a result, patients - whether pregnant or not - are
not being advised which vaccines contain mercury.
"There is no evidence of long-term adverse effects due to the exposure
levels of thimerosal in vaccines," a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
"The risk-benefit balance of thimerosal-containing vaccines remains
She added that the Institute of Medicine in the US had looked at the
issue and had "concluded that evidence does not support a causal association
between thimerosal contained in vaccines and neuro-developmental disorders".
The IoMs exact conclusion, however, argued that such a link was
"biologically plausible" - and said there is not enough evidence to accept
or reject a link between thimerosal and neurological disorders.
In a statement which fuelled fears about thimerosal safety, it urged
that "full consideration should be given to removing thimerosal from any
biological product to which infants, children and pregnant women are
Pregnant women are advised to avoid thimerosal because the mercury
affects the foetus to a greater extent than the mother. For the same reason,
pregnant women are advised against having silver dental fillings fitted as
the amalgam is 50 per cent composed of mercury.
However, the Department of Health does not include pregnant women
among the categories of people at risk from the flu vaccine.
It instead lists those with heart problems and people allergic to hen
s eggs, because the vaccines are incubated in a similar substance.
The Department of Health said its decision to buy mercury-free
vaccines is "a purely precautionary measure", which is part of "a move in
both the US and Europe to minimise the exposure of infants to mercury".
Robert McKay, a Scottish co-ordinator of the National Autistic
Society, said he was astonished that dangers about mercury in vaccines have
not been spelled out by the government. "We need access to the same
information given to parents in other countries."
"If we have a choice in vaccine, we would like to know about it. This
information should be given to families in this country so they can make
decisions for themselves."
Mercurys links to autism and neuro-developmental disorders have been
Children born in the Faroe Islands in 1987 were found to have
developmental disorders after their mothers ate mercury-contaminated whale
Two years ago, the Journal of Neurochemistry ran a study showing brain
cells exposed to even minute levels of mercury developed the exact set of
neuro-deformations associated with Alzheimers disease.
Last year, Canadian research reinforced the suggested link between
exposure to mercury and Alzheimers.
* * *
Dose of Danger Dressed Up As Protector
[By Fraser Nelson in The Scotsman.]
Would you like your flu vaccine with mercury or without? Anyone
familiar with a toxic metal would not hesitate in their answer. But its not
a question that anyone will be asked this winter.
How about your childs immunisations? Would you like a
preservative-free vaccine - or one which contains a substance which a US
governments medical adviser says has a "biologically plausible" link to
This is the thimerosal debate. In the US, a it is huge storm involving
congressmen, medics, some £30 billion in lawsuits and a cover-up which has
left Washington mystified. But in the UK, the storm has yet to break.
Thimerosal is not new. It has been used since the Thirties to kill any
bacteria in vaccines - but by hugely controversial means. Its toxic power is
drawn from its main ingredient: mercury, second only to plutonium as the
most toxic element.
Once injected in the body, thimerosal breaks down into ethyl mercury -
a substance liable to bind with body protein and, most ominously, brain
tissue. Once lodged in the body, mercury traces are exceptionally difficult
Worse, mercury is a proven neurotoxin - that is, even small doses have
been linked to brain defects including fibromyalgia, lupus and depression.
It has not taken US lawyers long to extend this trail to autism.
Other scientific studies have found that mercury placed next to brain
tissue leads to deformities associated with Alzheimers disease. This is the
substance which the government believes is safe to put in flu vaccines.
There must be a good reason for this, is the immediate response. But
this is the most staggering part of the debate. Mercury is not needed in
these vaccines - indeed, mercury-free jabs are available across the NHS now.
So why is no-one being told?
This is being treated as a scandal in the US, where the House of
Representatives has set up a committee to investigate the issue. Suspicion
has been fuelled by the behaviour of the US Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), the supreme decision-making body on vaccines. It decided to phase out
mercury in three years ago. The FDA has adopted a somewhat contradictory
attitude. "Lead, cadmium, and mercury are examples of elements that are
toxic when present at relatively low levels," it advises chemists. But this
is the same FDA which approves the intravenous injection of such mercury in
infants and pensioners.
It does not take a medical expert to spot something amiss. Mercury is
a neurotoxin - no-one disputes that. Its use in child vaccines was greatly
increased during the Nineties - a decade where autism spiralled. Mercury in
the brain induces deformities common to Alzheimers. Might the two be
The House of Representatives committee has produced two booklets of
evidence pointing to the danger of mercury in medicine. Meanwhile, the
lawyers, scenting a tobacco-style payout, have produced their own facts. The
US government has laid down what a "safe limit" of mercury for infants. The
committee found that the vaccination programme could leave children with 41
times more mercury than that laid down by this limit - a key finding which
fuelled calls for its abolition from medicine.
This safe limit is based on studies of 900 children born in 1987 in
the Faroe Islands whose mothers had eaten mercury-contaminated whale meat.
When they grew up, these children had slower reaction times and diminished
The amount of mercury in their umbilical cord blood was minute - 0.1
micrograms per kilo. But even this trace of was enough to trigger a set of
neurological conditions commonly associated with autism.
Mercury is, after all, strong enough for the amount in a thermometer
to pollute a small lake. So how can any amount be considered safe? This is
the conclusion of Dan Burton, a congressman and the chairman of the special
committee, who asked that all mercury-containing vaccines be discontinued,
given that mercury-free substitutes are now available.
"To ignore an avoidable risk and to put 8,000 children a day in harms
way is not only inhumane, it may be criminal," he said in a report to George
Bush, the US president.
The Department of Health does not use the term "avoidable risk". It
simply says its committee for safety of medicines (CSM) has reviewed the
issue and "concluded that the risk- benefit balance of thimerosal-containing
vaccines remains overwhelmingly positive". This is a trick statement. The
CSM, it says, believes that a mercury vaccine is safer than no vaccine at
all. This is true - but is a mercury-free vaccine safer than a
thimerosal-based vaccine? There is no answer on this point.
But the choice facing Britain is between a complete portfolio of
mercury-free vaccinations - including three out of the seven flu jabs being
made public this winter - or those still using thimerosal. The question is
why GPs are not advising patients that one vaccine contains mercury and the
other does not.
The latest statement was made last month by Lord Hunt, a health
minister, who said the CSM has its findings backed up by the Institute of
Medicine (IoM) in the US.
He said: "The IoM published a detailed review of the evidence relating
to possible neurotoxicity of thimerosal in vaccines in October 2001. The IoM
findings were consistent with the CSM conclusions."
Lord Hunt is not telling the whole story. This was the same IoM report
which said the link between thimerosal and autism is "biologically
plausible" - and that the mercury may well kill enough brain cells to
scramble childrens thinking.
Dr Marie McCormick, who chaired the IoM expert panel, advised parents
to ask doctors for mercury-free vaccines if they are available. Wise
advice - available from absolutely no-one in Britain.
The Department of Health says that the IoM report "concluded that the
evidence did not support a causal association between thimerosal contained
in vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders."
Here, for the second time, is a slightly misleading statement. No
evidence? Compare this to the FDAs summary of the same IoM report into
"It concluded that the evidence is inadequate to either accept or
reject a causal relationship between thimerosal exposure to childhood
vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders of autism," it said.
It is, in other words, a grey area. Mercury may lead to autism; it may
not - we dont have the evidence to accept or reject this. We just dont
So why is the Department of Health not admitting this doubt? It may be
connected to the 200 lawsuits which were filed, claiming a total of £30
billion on behalf of parents of autistic children. This was seen off by the
US government when it passed the anti-terrorist homeland security bill last
month - guaranteeing Eli Lilly & Co, a former maker of thimerosal,
protection from multi-million-dollar lawsuits.
What had this to do with terrorism? Not very much - but it is a sign
of how seriously the link between thimerosal and autism is being taken in
the United States. The Department of Health is falling increasingly victim
to the compensation culture.
There is one final aspect to the IoM report which is not being
reproduced in the UK. It urged that "full consideration be given to removing
thimerosal from any biological product to which infants, children and
pregnant women are exposed".
The Scottish Parliament has the power to ban all mercury from vaccines
now. Health is devolved, the vaccines are available and GPs have the freedom
to order what they want. It can be an example of Holyrood using its smaller
size to innovate.
The medical evidence is mounting. One study suggests it is
hypersensitivity to thimerosal, not necessarily mercury poisoning, which
triggers autism. A new study into mercury and Alzheimers is expected later
In the mean time, being injected with traces of ethyl mercury is a
risk that no-one in Britain needs to take. The latest, mercury-free vaccines
are freely available on the NHS - for those who know how to ask for them by
name. Sooner or later, the government will tell us about it.
Free Readers' Posts in the Schafer Autism Report
* * *
No Ordinary Village
[By swissinfo, Switzerland.]
At first glance, the village of Aigues Vertes looks like any other
development constructed in the 1960s.
But what makes it different is that its 84-strong community is
entirely made up of mentally handicapped people.
This unique project based at Bernex in the Genevan countryside, aims
to promote the independence of the mentally handicapped by giving them jobs
and encouraging them to live on their own.
The village has been constructed around a farm and includes 11
residences and four workshops plus a bakery, a grocery shop and a church.
There is even a daily bus.
All the residents, men and women aged between 19 and 82, have
conditions such as autism or Down Syndrome. Most of them live in the village
but several travel in for the day.
Social workers 120 in all - are on hand to help them in their jobs
and in their daily lives. Serge Bednarczyk, President of the Aigues-Vertes
Foundation (swissinfo) Bread and cakes The bakery, on the corner of the
village square, sells croissants, bread and cakes, all made by the
villagers. It makes the bread for the village but also takes orders from
Seven villagers, plus the baker-social worker are at work. Arnold, who
originally comes from the Congo, is concentrating on making pains au
chocolat. He carefully cuts the dough before adding the little squares of
What I like doing here is all sorts of bread and croissants, and also
what Ive learnt is how to do some types of cakes, Black Forest or some
mille feuilles, he says cheerfully.
So if its my brothers birthday, instead of my parents buying a cake
at Migros, I can do it myself as a surprise for my brother.
Serge Bednarczyk, Aigues Vertess director, is pleased with the
progress that Arnold who comes in daily has made.
At the beginning he was not able to do anything. Now he can do
everything on his own and this is exactly what we are looking for -
independence, he said. Down on the farm The farm, at the heart of the
village, bustles with activity as its 25 workers go about their allotted
The farm houses a variety of animals: cows, which are raised for their
meat, donkeys and horses, as well as ducks and chickens. Vegetables are also
grown, although the village is not yet self-sufficient. All the methods used
are environmentally friendly.
Workers start at nine in the morning and finish at five in the
evening, just like a normal working day. They even receive a salary but
smaller than average because they do not produce as much as regular workers.
But Bednarczyk is careful to point out that Aigues Vertes is not
interested in how much they produce but in how they produce it.
He explains that it usually takes a lot of time to train a handicapped
person for a job and the task is made more complicated by the fact that they
can normally only learn one thing thoroughly. But sometimes they are
surprised at how well the residents do.
There is even one handicapped person who is able to drive a tractor
around the farm. This is fantastic because its not easy for them to drive
and when you see him on the tractor he is very proud, Bednarczyk told
The pride that the villagers take in their work is evident. Nicole
looks after the rabbits and the cows at the farm.
I love my work at the farm because I love animals and I wouldnt like
to be sat down all day in a workshop. I prefer to be outdoors, she said.
I am the only woman at the farm but my friends look after me well,
even if some of them say that I am the only woman and its not my work.
Having her independence is very important to Nicole. Apart from
working on the farm, she also lives in accommodation with three other
handicapped people and is learning to cook on her own an important step
In the evening I do my cooking myself. Im trying to follow a diet
and I eat lots of vegetables. My favourite meal is pasta but Ive stopped
eating that because it makes you get fat, she explained.
Not everybody is as independent as Nicole. There is also a workshop
which makes candles and paper for those who are unable to carry out tasks in
the farm or in the bakery. Another workshop specialises in weaving and
The idea for the village came about in the 1960s, when some parents in
Geneva who were worried about the future of their mentally handicapped
children, asked a group of anthroposophists to help them create a village
based around a farm.
Bednarczyk explained that at the time the only alternatives for
mentally handicapped people were hospitals or asylums.
The idea was to give mentally handicapped adults some freedom and the
ability to develop through their relationships with the animals and other
According to Bednarczyk, the effects of the villages environment on
its residents have been astounding. Their life expectancy has jumped from
just 40 years to 80 years old with the oldest current resident being 82.
Once you stop progressing, you start dying and this is absolutely
unacceptable for me and for everybody in the village, he said.
Although Aigues Vertes exudes a very warm and content atmosphere it
is hardly possible to walk down the street without people shouting out
greetings to each other or giving friendly hugs - the social workers can
sometimes encounter problems with the residents.
We have to be careful because if you lead them too far, they are
going to meet their limits and if you pass those limits, they become
frustrated and can become depressed, warned Bednarczyk. Future development
The success of the Aigues Vertes concept has lead Bednarczyk to declare the
village a model for the social reintegration of mentally handicapped adults
To achieve this goal, a SFr64 million (~US$ 39.3 Million) rebuilding
programme is planned, starting with the farm and moving on to the other
buildings. A nursing home will also be built in which the residents can live
out their final days.
It is hoped that a further 30 people can be welcomed to Aigues Vertes
at the completion of the work in 2010.
Financing will come from the Swiss government, the canton of Geneva as
well as from donations.
In 2003, which is officially the year of the handicapped, the director
also plans to go to Brussels to help form working groups on how to improve
the lives of handicapped people - a theme very close to his heart.
We want to change peoples opinions, said Bednarczyk. Often we look
at handicapped people as though they are completely different from us, but
they are like us - they are us.
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* * *
Computational Autism - Hope Lies In Flair For Logic
[The article below is from NewScientist July 20, 2002. Greater
detail comes from researcher Boris Galitsky, following. This is presented
for our readers' information only and has been neither evaluated nor
necessarily recommended by the Schafer Autism Report. By Duncan
Autistic children can be taught to interact more naturally with other
people simply by programming them to understand how other people think.
The technique, invented by Russian researcher Boris Galitsky, exploits
the aptitude of many people with autism to understand logical formulae.
Galitsky claims it has already helped 10 autistic children lead more normal
The technique makes sense, says Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the
Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, as there is anecdotal
evidence that autistic people often create their own logical rules to help
them interact with others. If you take it to the extreme it sound unethical
because you are training them to perform unnaturally, he says. But if it
works then I think its a good way forward.
Autistic people generally find it difficult to comprehend the mental
states of others. For example, they dont know what it means to pretend,
Galitsky says. Yet they can be particularly adept at understanding formulaic
rules. Galitskys technique, which he calls computational autism, tries to
exploit this talent.
Working with children at Sunny World school in Moscow, Galitsky
started with rules that use mental states familiar to autistic people, such
as want and know. He then used them to derive more complex mental states
normally beyond the childrens grasp.
In a basic example, Galitsky may tell Peter, who has autism, that
Jane knows something. This is expressed as know(Jane, something).
These logical units are then built up into compound formulae to derive
more complex expressions such as to inform, deceive, explain, forgive and
Galitsky admits that is sounds confusing, but claims this isnt a
problem for children with autism. His technique involves repeating
particular rules with different variables. In trials presented last month to
the International Conference on Development and Learning in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, he assessed the childrens ability to recognise certain
mental states before and after training.
He found that the children could easily take these rules, and
generalize from them to interact in a similar way to children who are not
autistic. If you show them the rule for pretend, he says, then they pretty
much start pretending.
Galitsky tailors training sessions to individual children, as the
abilities of people with autism can differ widely. Some respond better to
verbal instructions, while others prefer the rules to be written down.
Galitsky, who works for Knowledge-Trail, a start-up specializing in
computational linguistics based in Massachusetts and Moscow, hopes that the
children will start to derive their own rules as they encounter new,
unknown mental states.
This novel approach aims to merge the traditional autism research
community with the researchers who study the reasoning and perception
capabilities of humans and machines, which are actually corrupted under
We target the introduction of ideas from computer science, artificial
intelligence and mathematics on the possible mechanisms of reasoning to the
autism practitioners. Autism phenomena needs the thorough study of autistic
behavior and reasoning, backed by the strict representation of what it means
to reason in a normal versus an autistic manner.
What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the
first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that
affects functioning of the brain, autism and its associated behaviors occur
in approximately 3 of every 1000 individuals.
Autism interferes with the normal development of the brain in the
areas of reasoning, social interaction and communication skills. Children
and adults with autism typically have deficiencies in verbal and non-verbal
communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. The
disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the
outside world. They may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping,
rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resist
any changes in routines. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious
behavior may be present.
Does the above description of autism symptomotology sound like a set of bugs
(or possibly even adaptive features) characteristic of a broken software
We think it does. To put it more precisely, we believe that useful
insights may be gained by viewing autism in humans via computational
How to find these bugs? Can one talk about fixing them?
Psychological, biological, linguistic loci of autism is very hard to
find. It seems productive to focus on the reasoning-specific locus, that is
more experimentally viable and can be done with higher strictness and
accuracy at least for individual patients. Phenomena of computational autism
is expected to provide a convincing background for both diagnosis and
rehabilitation. The latter is connected with teaching autistic children the
internals of mental world.
+ Article continues:
News Archive Autism Database - Free Access
Lenny Schafer, schafer@... Kay Stammers Edward Decelie
CALENDAR EVENTS@... Michelle Guppy Ron Sleith
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