Autism and violence

Adam Lanza had Asperger’s Syndrome and a personality disorder, his brother reportedly said. Can autism explain the Sandy Hook tragedy? asks Amy S. F. Lutz in Slate Magazine. Overall, people with autism are less likely to commit crimes than “neurotypicals.” Very few plan and execute an attack, as Lanza did.

However, some erupt in short episodes of violence: “Studies have found that up to a staggering 30 percent suffer from aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviors of varying degrees.”

As president of EASI Foundation: Ending Aggression and Self-Injury in the Developmentally Disabled, Lutz helps “many families struggling to manage their autistic children’s dangerous behaviors.”

Autism alone doesn’t lead to violence, writes Lutz. The problem is autism plus a psychiatric disorder.

One 2008 study by scientists at King’s College London found that 70 percent of their young autistic subjects had at least one co-morbid disorder, such as childhood anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, oppositional defiant and conduct disorder, or ADHD. Forty-one percent had two or more co-morbid disorders. . . . A 2008 review by Stewart S. Newman and Mohammad Ghaziuddin reported that “an overwhelming number of violent cases had co-existing psychiatric disorders at the time of committing the offence”—84 percent, to be precise. And Newman and Ghaziuddin couldn’t rule out personality disorders, such as anti-social personality disorder, in the remaining subjects.

School shooters “are almost always mentally or emotionally ill,” said Katherine S. Newman, author of the 2004 book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings in a CNN editorial.

. . . those of us who care for a person on the autism spectrum . . .  need to watch for those secondary psychiatric disorders our loved ones are vulnerable to. Often, parents and clinicians assume that patients are anxious or depressed or manic or aggressive because of their autism, when in fact those symptoms may have a different etiology. . . .  it was only once my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated accordingly that the frequent, unpredictable, and intense rages that characterized his childhood finally subsided.

 People with Asperger’s Syndrome and their parents are very worried about being seen as cold-blooded killers. On I Speak of Dreams, Liz Ditz rounds up reactions from people with autism, parents and others.

It’s a bit off topic, but everything you thought you knew about autism is wrong, writes Bookworm in a review of Ido in Autismland, a collection of essays by a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t speak but learned to communicate with a letter board. Ido Kedar also blogs.

How a Kansas farm town saved its school

With only 70 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Walton School faced closure.  People in the small Kansas town saw the school as “the only thing standing between their community and a future as a ghost town, writes Susan Headden.  The district turned it into a K-4 charter school, the Walton Rural Life Center, with a hands-on curriculum linked to farming.

  One of only two such elementary schools in the country, Walton, which now has 170 students (it pulls from outside the district), is considered an unqualified success. It scores in the top 5 percent on the state’s standardized achievement tests; it has been celebrated by the U.S. Department of Education; and educators come from across the country to learn its secrets. The school is so popular that its waiting list, now at 40, extends as far out as 2015. Some parents try to register their children while they are still in the womb.

Natise Vogt, the principal, says her school “is not out to produce the next generation of American farmers.”

 Walton picked agriculture for three simple reasons: kids love it, Kansas is a farm state, and as it turns out, there is almost nothing in elementary education that can’t be explained by relating it to cows and plows.

Take eggs. If second-grade teacher Staci Schill were running a standard classroom, she would be drilling her students on double-digit addition with the help of a prescribed textbook. There is still some of this kind of instruction, but building lessons around the agricultural theme lets kids see how they use their math facts in daily life. In this case, the students sell eggs produced by a small coop of hens. Every morning they rush out to collect and wash the eggs, inspect them for cracks, and box them for sale for $2 a dozen.  (They recently bought a sheep with the proceeds.) The students learn not just how to tell the difference between a Delaware Blue and a Rhode Island Red, but also about profit and loss and, when the chickens don’t lay enough to meet projections, supply and demand.

Walton kids take their rulers and protractors to everything from tractor tires to goat horns. They learn their ounces, cups, and pints by measuring grain for animal feed and oats for granola. Math and science come alive with trips to the grain elevator and a cruise inside a modern tractor, complete with GPS. The fourth-graders recently made a mockup of a wind turbine, learning about things like torque and the behavior of different blades.

Walton is attracting students with disabilities such as Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder: 25 percent of students have special needs, nearly double the rate for the district.

 

New autism definition excludes many

new definition of autism – renamed autism spectrum disorder — proposed by the American Psychiatric Association could exclude 45 percent of those now diagnosed as high-functioning, reports the New York Times. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and mild autism could find it harder to qualify for health, educational and social services.

Autism spectrum diagnoses have skyrocketed in recent years. The new definition could end the surge, said Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine.

 

Korea: 1 in 38 kids have autistic traits

Autism diagnoses — including children somewhere on the “autism spectrium” — are soaring. Is it a real rise or a change in diagnosis?  Korean researchers say 1 in 38 children have autistic traits; two-thirds attend mainstream classes and receive no special help.  This looks like seek and you shall find.

Bipolar or TDD? Asperger's or autism spectrum?

Proposed changes in psychiatrists’ diagnostic manual could introduce “new mental disorders,” reports the Washington Post.

Children who throw too many tantrums could be diagnosed with “temper dysregulation with dysphoria.” Teenagers who are particularly eccentric might be candidates for treatment for “psychosis risk syndrome.” Men who are just way too interested in sex face being labeled as suffering from “hypersexual disorder.”

Asperger’s Syndrome and autism could become “autism spectrum disorders,” a change opposed by many Asperger’s advocates.

Advocates say the new categories are more precise. Critics say people in normal distress will be misdiagnosed, put on medication and stigmatized by insurance companies.

Among the concerns are proposals to create “risk syndromes” in the hopes that early diagnosis and treatment will stave off the full-blown conditions. For example, the proposals would create a “psychosis risk syndrome” for people who have mild symptoms found in psychotic disorders, such as “excessive suspicion, delusions and disorganized speech or behavior.”

“There will be adolescents who are a little odd and have funny ideas, and this will label them as pre-psychotic,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the DSM revision process.

“Temper Dysregulation with Dysphoria” is intended “to counter a huge increase in the number children being treated for bipolar disorder by creating a more specific diagnosis,” the Post reports. But some fear it will encourage unneeded treatment of moody kids.

In addition to classifying the symptoms of grief that many people experience after the death of a loved one as “depression,” the proposals include adding “binge eating” and “gambling addiction” as bona fide psychiatric conditions; they also raise the possibility of making “Internet addiction” a future diagnosis.

The American Psychiatric Association will listen to feedback before deciding on the proposed changes for the new diagnostic manual, due out in 2013.

Left-brained child, right-brained world

Once they called it “marching to the beat of a different drummer.” Now the eccentric kid who does his own thing may be labeled a nerd or diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder” or Asperger’s Syndrome.

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World by Katherine Beals offers “strategies for helping bright, quirky, socially awkward children thrive at home and at school.” Beals, who blogs at Out in Left Field, argues that left-brainy children do best with a structured, analytical curriculum. New ways of teaching, such as unsupervised, group-centered discovery and open-ended, interdisciplinary projects may leave them confused, bored and floundering.

Beals suggests how parents can advocate for their children and reminds them that it’s not so bad to raise a non-conformist.

My nephew is one of those left-brainers. Despite an Asperger’s diagnosis, he was told in class after class to write about his feelings, which he considered an invasion of privacy, rather than being allowed to analyze a book or a historical issue or whatever. He’s now studying computer science with his fellow lefties.

In keeping with my self-promotion vow, I will mention my book, Our School:  The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.