Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A motion against autism

Liberal MP Andy Scott's motion to create a national autism strategy was passed in the House of Commons today. All national political parties supported this motion, a reflection of their explicitly stated shared goal and ideal of a Canada free of autistic people.

Mr Scott's motion, drafted in consultation with Canada's important autism advocates, can be found in his press release announcing the passing of this motion

This is what I wrote about the consequences of Mr Scott's motion on the TMoB board, many hours before it passed:

[A]utistics in Canada will be more and more seen and treated as though we are sick, defective, diseased and unwanted burdens who have nothing to contribute to Canada except the possibility that we may one day (after undergoing unlimited medical and other interventions) imitate the people who say we have so little worth that we shouldn't even exist.

Starting tomorrow, we'll be more and more likely to be required to undergo unlimited treatment to get rid of our essential traits and abilities. We'll be less and less likely to receive assistance and accommodation to allow these traits and abilities to flourish. We'll be less and less likely to have basic human rights to protect our essential differences.

Interestingly, both the autism advocate Harold Doherty and Liberal MP and autism advocate Shawn Murphy consider that this motion is about autistic children only, though the exclusiveness of the motion to children who Mr Murphy considers to be "suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder" is not specified in the motion itself. The debates in the House of Commons prior to the passing of Mr Scott's motion also revealed that our political leaders see all autistic people who now exist in Canada as being children. In fact, Peter Stoffer, the NDP MP who seconded Mr Scott's motion, invariably describes autistics as children, which is like referring to all aboriginal people in Canada as children.

However, Mr Scott's motion does not go nearly as far as autism advocates wish, or as far as Mr Scott (who sees all autistics as sick and requiring medical treatment) wishes. Also, this is merely a motion against autism, and our autism advocates demand a law against autism. This time, Mr Murphy is leading the charge, to pathologize all autistic traits and abilities under the law, and to have one approach to autism--that would be ABA/IBI--legislated as "medically necessary" treatment for all autistic people in Canada (keeping in mind that Mr Murphy seems to consider all autistic people to be children).

Mr Murphy wrote in his recent press release:

Research shows that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which affects two in every thousand Canadian children, can grow up to function independently in society when they receive Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Intensive Behavioral Intervention (IBI) from an early age through to adulthood.

In fact, research shows that Mr Murphy's epidemiology is out to lunch, and therefore consistent with the standards of all our famous autism advocates.

But I want to see the peer-reviewed research Mr Murphy refers to, which apparently gives data from a controlled trial about the adult outcomes of children who underwent early ABA/IBI, and shows that these adults "function independently" (whatever that means; independently of what?). In fact, Mr Murphy is reporting research on autistics who start ABA/IBI at the age of early diagnosis and stay in it "through to adulthood", and "function independently" (starting at what age?). I'd like to see those controlled trials as reported in peer-reviewed papers.

I'd write to him and ask for the references, but he hasn't answered even one of a handful of much easier questions I sent him a long time ago. Questions like whether his proposed law would make ABA/IBI "medically necessary" for Rett's individuals, or who should be involved in making decisions about autistic people, or which kind(s) of ABA/IBI he wants the law to make "medically necessary", or whether ABA-based interventions would only be considered medical treatment when applied to autistics but not to those with other neurodevelopmental disabilities, or whether behaviour analysts would now be considered medical professionals, etc. I was told by his staff that these questions were too difficult.

They shouldn't be, not for an expert like Mr Murphy, who took one look at a photo of an autistic person and declared that this person, Alex Bain, looked "normal" (Mr Murphy's instant diagnosis). This made Mr Murphy decide that this autistic's mother--janet norman-bain--was ignorant of autism. In true autism advocate style, Mr Murphy thought it necessary to repeatedly inform Ms norman-bain that autism is a spectrum, something he assumed she was not aware of. At least we now know that Mr Murphy is an expert in condescension. He could give lessons.

In any case, I'd sure like to see all that research showing that ABA-based autism interventions are medical in nature and therefore constitute medical treatment. Where is this research, Mr Murphy and Mr Scott? All I see everywhere in peer-reviewed behaviour analytic journals is ABA-based interventions being described as education, as a learning approach, as instruction, as training. And I don't see ABA-based intervention studies being published in medical journals, with medical journal standards (e.g., disclosing conflicts of interest). I also see famous behaviour analysts denying that medical approaches to autism are valid, and emphasizing the effectiveness--by their standards--of non-medical approaches (Lovaas, 1979; Lovaas and Smith, 1988, 1989; Lovaas, 1993; Lovaas, 2002; etc.).

But anyone who's familiar with autism advocacy knows that autism advocates believe that autistics don't deserve even the most basic standards of science, ethics, and advocacy, much less the high standards that benefit and protect themselves. After all, their ideal Canada is not one in which autistics participate as equals, but one in which autism is prevented and therefore autistics do not exist at all. In the meantime, we have a motion against autism, and a law can't be far behind.


Lovaas, O.I. (1979). Contrasting illness and behavioral models for the treatment of autistic children: A historical perspective. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 9, 315-323.

Lovaas, O.I . (2002) Teaching Individuals with Developmental Delays: Basic Intervention Techniques. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Lovaas, O.I., & Smith, T. (1988). Intensive behavioral treatment for young autistic children. In B.B. Lahey, and A.E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, 11. New York: Plenum Press.

Lovaas, O.I., & Smith, T. (1989). A comprehensive behavior theory of autistic children: Paradigm for research and treatment. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 17-29.


Autism Reality NB said...

Ms Dawson

Your hostility to parents and advocates trying to improve the lives of autistic children AND adults is puzzling. Your interpretation of my comments and activities and those of others though is not even close to being accurate. Yesterday was a great day for those who are actually trying to improve the situation of persons with autism in Canada.

Harold Doherty
Conor's Dad

jypsy said...

Autism Reality NB said...

Ms Dawson

Your hostility to parents and advocates trying to improve the lives of autistic children AND adults is puzzling.

As is yours. Why have you chosen to silence and ignore this parent/advocate?

Lucas said...

Proof of brain damage is where? Another wonderful fact-free comment.

Mr Doherty, when you have objections to make, I think we'd all ask that you make them specifically rather than apply a tarred brush like 'hostility to parents and advocates trying to improve the lives of autistic children and adults'.

At absolutely no time have any of us said anything even implying to the effect of parents and advocates not meaning-well with good intentions. Always the focus has been on specific objections to specific actions with specific personal criticism reserved for specific people, not wholesale tar-brushing.

I am glad I'm not a resident of Canada and that the UK National Autistic Society is mindful of the information Autistic people it gives to the government and public.

Do you actually have any specific objection to make beyond the fact that someone is disagreeing with you?

Joseph said...

Your hostility to parents and advocates trying to improve the lives of autistic children AND adults is puzzling.

In case you missed it, Michelle does not believe you're improving anything (maybe you are trying), but doing exactly the opposite of that. I do not think you would be able to address the scientific arguments Michelle has put forth. I do not believe for a second you're trying to do anything about adults. Give me an example to prove otherwise.

I'm speaking as a parent of a classically autistic child, BTW.

(Anon 8:16 is obviously John Best Jr. again)

Lucas said...

I believe Mr Doherty's efforts in regards to helping adults centres on the fact that adult Autistic Canadians will be saved from institutions when the national Autism stratey based on no science is put in place.

Well, of course it takes non-science to beat non-science, so fighting the non-science idea that Autistics should be in institutions unless they have ABA can ONLY be done with a non-science national Autism strategy.

So Mr Doherty's 'help' for adults consists of saving them from the doom Canada's Autism advocates inflicted on them in the first place.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Mr Doherty,

I work with parents of autistic children every day, and people who would be recognizable as advocates. So you are referring to some parents and some advocates.

I'm waiting for you to explain where and how what I wrote (any of my writing) is inaccurate. I'm always willing to correct errors.

I'm also waiting for you to explain how dehumanizing autistics (see the report ASNB commissioned and distributed to Canada's political leaders, while you were in charge of ASNB, as well as the Auton and Wynberg trial decisions that you support) improves our lives.

Then there's the low or no standards of science and ethics you promote for autistics (as opposed to demanding them for yourself). How do those lousy standards improve our lives? How does your implacable opposition to high standards (or for that matter, even minimal standards) of science and ethics for autistics improve our lives?

I still really want to know why autism advocates are unwilling or unable to make your demands (for whatever services you want) accurately, ethically and respectfully.

Re "hostility", I'm vividly aware that any criticism of autism advocates, or any disagreement with them, is not allowed in any form. Autism advocates have defined themselves as infallible, as above criticism, above science, above ethics, above the law, and above scrutiny.

But how about taking a look at what autism advocates write and promote about autistics (on fact sheets, websites, etc), what autism advocates have testified and argued, what autism advocates have put in our jurisprudence and in Hansard, what autism advocates have said in the media.

There are multiple examples of the ways autism advocates describe autistics, and what they recommend for us, on this blog, on my website, and on other websites.

I realize that spreading false, anti-scientific, harmful and pejorative information about autistic people, and enshrining this in our law, isn't called "hostility". It's called "autism advocacy". But I sure would never describe autism advocates in the entirely false and grossly prejudicial ways they describe autistics, nor would I defame them the way they've defamed me and any autistics who do not agree with them.

Alyric said...

>I realize that spreading false, anti-scientific, harmful and pejorative information about autistic people, and enshrining this in our law, isn't called "hostility". It's called "autism advocacy".<

And a good example of this is Offner's offerings to the Canadian Senate. If one lies to such a committee, I suppose they can't be held to perjury, can they? Pity, because her testimony from one end to the other was fabrication, very emotional, which one Senator found compelling, but factually out to lunch.

Alyric said...


You're being a lot less than honest about where the hostility is coming from and, it's worth repeating, completely unsceptical where you should be.

Let's see how your theory of mind capabilities are holding up. Try this thought experiment.

If you could see that a certain treatment was being touted for a group of children, which at best was shown to 'work' in 13% of cases, would you be so insistent that this is the one true way?

If you knew that this treatment had absolutely no basis in science, but that didn't stop it's practitoners and proponents from pushing it as "Science" every time you turned around, would you still be touting it quite so strongly?

If as far back as 1957, it's theoretical underpinnings were shown to be false, would you still insist that this had to have merit? If on examination of their own literature, you found that even as recently as last year, they still didn't have a coherent theory about how this method is supposed to work, would your faith remain undiminished?

Worse, if you knew that the practitioners were so wedded to their own belief system that they never ever admitted that their practice should be informed by research from other areas in psychology, would'nt you object to this 'closed shop' approach? After all, the autistic child stands only to benefit from the best information available being applied to interventions. Wouldn't you agree?

If you knew that the 'belief system' was developed with rats and pigeons and 'assumed' to apply to humans, wouldn't you be inclined to dig below the rhetoric and examine the foundations a bit more closely?

This is ABA and it bears a close resemblance to a form of cult religion.

Timelord said...

I think there's no doubt that this situation proves that the Canadian government is not looking at the bigger picture. Institutionalisation is for the dark ages, and to try that on anyone is disgraceful.

I will say this though. ABA (used properly is better than the lazy idea of mercury poisoning. The problem is at the moment - from what I'm reading - it's being treated as the be all and end all of treatment of ASD's. If you don't respond, you get dumped (AKA dehumanised). I can hardly call that a good thing and yet Mr.Doherty is effectively stating that it is.

Just off topic slightly, Michelle - I noticed on another blog that someone spoke of Canada taking Thiomersal out of childhood vaccines some years ago - and there has been no drop in the DX rates. Any confirmation of this?

Anonymous said...

Wanting to contact the folks at Autism Hub and not quite knowing how, I decided to put it here.

Something I came across and is probably better to have read than not:

Jennifer said...

Indeed, this is correct. The title of the study is

Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations.

Published in Pediatrics. 2006 Jul;118(1):e139-50.

The conclusion reads: "The prevalence of pervasive developmental disorder in Montreal was high, increasing in recent birth cohorts as found in most countries. Factors accounting for the increase include a broadening of diagnostic concepts and criteria, increased awareness and, therefore, better identification of children with pervasive developmental disorders in communities and epidemiologic surveys, and improved access to services. The findings ruled out an association between pervasive developmental disorder and either high levels of ethylmercury exposure comparable with those experienced in the United States in the 1990s or 1- or 2-dose measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations."

Michelle Dawson said...

Thanks for answering that one, Jennifer.

All I can add is that thimerosal was removed from Canadian vaccines (those in the routine childhood schedule) starting in 1994. In Quebec, the change was made in 1996. This was not a gradual change, but a comprehensive one-time change-over replacing thimerosal-containing with thimerosal-free vaccines. This is the same thing the UK did in 2004.

For Timelord, there are several kinds of problems with ABA-based autism interventions. One is the ways in which they've been promoted and demanded (legally, politically, etc). Another is the quality of the science, and another is the absence of ethics. All these things have had and continue to have a lot of consequences for autistics who are and aren't in ABA programs.

There's no consensus in the behaviour analytic literature about how to "properly" provide ABA-based interventions. There's a whole lot of disagreement among behaviour analysts as to what kind(s) of ABA are "effective" (by their ethics-free standards), and even as to whether some kinds of interventions are or are not behaviour analytic. I'll write about that later, I hope.

Timelord said...

Thanks, Michelle and Jennifer!

It certainly looks like the lack of consistency in the application of ABA is part of the problem, and it looks the Ottawa is holding back the process because of their belief in one variety of application which certainly seems to be the wrong one. The lack of consensus in the wider community (if I'm reading that right) bears that out.

Do you have an actual link for that piece, Jennifer? I want to use it elsewhere to hopefully shut a few mouths.

Anonymous said...

Hello Joseph

Sorry it took a while to get back to your question/challenge about adults but I am actually involved, and have been for several years, in tring to improve conditions for autistic adults and older autistic youths who reside in New Brunswick's residential care and mental health facilities (Centracare).

Last year I was involved in bringing to light in New Brunswick (Canada) the fact that an autistic youth was housed on the grounds of a correctional facility in New Brunswick when he had neither been convicted nor even charged with an offence.

I hope that answers your question.


Anonymous said...


You stated:

"I am glad I'm not a resident of Canada and that the UK National Autistic Society is mindful of the information Autistic people it gives to the government and public."

Actually the Autism Society New Brunswick has had an autistic person on its Board of Directors for several years until he stepped off the board in October 2006 after having been one of the longest serving members of our provincial Autism Society Board.

The Autism Society Canada also specifically includes participation from autistic persons. The gentleman from the ASNB to whom I just referred in the previous paragraphs is one of those autistic persons.

It might also shock you to learn that the same individual autistic person from New Brunswick gave his own testimony before the Canadian Senate. His testimony was substantially different than Ms. Dawson's though so you may wish to discount his participation.

I hope these facts are of assistance to you in dispelling your prejudices about autism advocacy organizations in Canada.


Michelle Dawson said...

Well, I sure got behind in things here. Let's look at a bit of autism reality.

Mr Doherty supports the Auton trial decision, in which most if not all autistics (all spectrum diagnoses) who do not receive ABA/IBI starting very early in life are said to be irrevocably doomed and to belong in institutions. That is, he supports the writing off of all autistics who have not had ABA/IBI starting from very early in life.

He has also expressed surprise that autistics do not flourish in institutions. In fact, when autistics do badly in institutions, he has concluded that this must be because we are so low-functioning.

Mr Doherty has promoted grossly false, negative and dehumanizing views of autistic people (see his support for the Auton and Wynberg trial decisions, for Autism Every Day, for FEAT, etc).

Indeed, Mr Doherty praises Jean Lewis, who has promoted the view that not only must autistics be institutionalized, we have to live in restraints and have our teeth pulled.

This seems to be what Mr Doherty means by improving the lives of autistics.

Re including autistics, Mr Oldford was, like all other autistics, banned from the Canadian Autism Research Workshop and resulting White Paper (2004). Mr Doherty is saying that this was done with Mr Oldford's full support and enthusiasm (for an exploration of this phenomenon, and the "new" reformed ASC see We Are Not Your Community; also see the origins and rules of ASC's autistic ghetto here and here).

If I accept that autistics are fully and equally participating in ASC, then I have to accept that these autistics, including Mr Oldford, support Canada's autism advocacy flagship website--which is commonly referred to as the "hate site". This site is promoted by ASC. It is truly a tribute to autism advocacy that there are autistics who support the view that autistics are "festering", have no personhood, etc. Also, these autistics (if they are fully and equally participating) must, like ASC, support the Auton trial decision, which states that unless they received ABA/IBI when young, they are doomed and need to be institutionalized.

It's interesting that Mr Doherty allows Mr Oldford to be an expert in "autism reality", even though Mr Oldford has multiple university degrees. So expertise in "autism reality" isn't dependent on a person's characteristics, but on their political position. I too could be an "autism reality" expert if I were prepared to agree with Mr Doherty and write off (as Mr Oldford has written off, in his published writing) all autistics who have not had Lovaas ABA starting early in life...

I commented on TMoB about the extreme hypocrisy of autism advocates like Mr Doherty, who promote the denigration and dehumanization of autistics, being surprised when autistics are as a result so devalued that we are mistreated and abused.

Re the boy in NB who ended up in a jail, the future Mr Doherty offers to any autistic who has not received ABA/IBI since early childhood is being institutionalized, living in restraints, and having our teeth pulled. As someone else has pointed out, the kind of mistreatment and abuse in institutions promoted by FEAT (and praised by Mr Doherty) would not be allowed for criminals (criminals have rights and organizations to defend them).