Sunday, March 28, 2010

Autism Speaks Attacks Ari Ne'eman? Christ Almighty!!!

This is truly disgusting.

When President Obama nominated Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability, many families touched by autism took it as a positive sign. Mr. Ne’eman would be the first person with the disorder to serve on the council.

But he has since become the focus of criticism from other advocates who disagree with his view that society ought to concentrate on accepting autistic people, not curing them.

A hold has been placed on Mr. Ne’eman’s nomination, which requires Senate confirmation. Whether the hold is related to the criticism of Mr. Ne’eman (pronounced NAY-men) and what it might take to lift it is unclear.

But Mr. Ne’eman, the 22-year-old founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, seems to be a lightning rod for a struggle over how autism will be perceived at a time when an estimated 1 in 100 American children and teenagers are given such a diagnosis.

Mr. Ne’eman is at the forefront of a growing movement that describes autism as a form of “neurodiversity” that should be embraced and accommodated, just as physical disabilities have led to the construction of ramps and stalls in public restrooms for people with disabilities. Autism, he and others say, is a part of their identity.

But that viewpoint, critics say, represents only those on the autism spectrum who at least have basic communication skills and are able to care of themselves.

“Why people have gotten upset is, he doesn’t seem to represent, understand or have great sympathy for all the people who are truly, deeply affected in a way that he isn’t,” said Jonathan Shestack, a co-founder of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, whose mission is to help finance research to find a cure.

Mr. Obama’s seven other nominees to the council were confirmed this month. But parliamentary procedure in the Senate allows one or more members to prevent a motion from reaching the floor for a vote by placing an anonymous hold on the action, which an official with knowledge of the proceedings said had been done in Mr. Ne’eman’s case.

The hallmark of autism is impaired social interaction, but the disorder can take an array of forms. Some people may hurt themselves or be unable to speak. Others may be hyperarticulate but unable to parse body language or facial cues. Some may have cognitive disabilities; others may have savant skills.

Mr. Ne’eman declined to be interviewed, citing the pending action on his nomination. But in previous interviews with The New York Times and other publications, he has argued that those most severely affected by autism are the ones who benefit least from the pursuit of a cure, which he suggests is unattainable anytime soon. Instead, he says, resources should be devoted to accommodations and services that could improve their quality of life.

Historically, the kind of genetic research supported by many parents of children with autism, Mr. Ne’eman has said, has been used to create prenatal tests that give parents the ability to detect a fetus affected by a particular condition, like Down syndrome, so that they can choose whether to terminate the pregnancy.

“We just think it makes more sense to orient research to addressing health problems or helping people communicate rather than creating a mouse model of autism or finding a new gene,” Mr. Ne’eman has said.

A senior majoring in political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Mr. Ne’eman himself has a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Mr. Ne’eman, who grew up in East Brunswick, N.J., has said his condition caused him to be bullied in high school. His social anxiety was so great, he sometimes picked at his face until it bled. He was eventually transferred to a school for students with developmental disabilities.

He founded his self-advocacy organization, which has grown to have several chapters across the country, in 2006, and he served on New Jersey’s Special Education Review Commission, where he wrote a report calling for legislative action to end the use of aversives, restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities.

Mr. Ne’eman also became a critic of Autism Speaks, the largest advocacy group in the country, organizing protests last fall over a fund-raising video.

But the split among autism advocates, suggests Lee Grossman, director of the Autism Society of America, may simply reflect the unmet needs of a growing population, for both research into potential treatments and for programs to support jobs and independent living.

“We have this community out there frustrated and bewildered and reaching out for any assistance, and that makes us battle-hardened,” Mr. Grossman said. “We need to reframe the discussion. From our perspective, it’s great to have a person on the spectrum being nominated to this committee.”

So NT parents are allowed to speak for their autistic kids but fellow autistics are not? What kind of disgusting reasoning is THAT?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nicholas Taleb Blames Financial Crisis on Aspie Finance Analysts?


I don't know how to respond to this abject stupidity.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Reuters) - Did the financial system blow up because it was built and largely operated by people with many of the characteristics of a mild form of autism called Asperger's syndrome?

As explanations for the crisis go, it's on the extreme side but forms an interesting counterpoint to the "blame the looting bankers" story line.

People with Asperger's, a mild form of autism, are characterized by, among other things, a deficit of "theory of mind," essentially the ability to understand that other people have different beliefs or knowledge than themselves. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has written that a lack of theory of mind left many in positions of responsibility without the ability to conceive of and guard against black swans, which are rare, high-impact and hard to predict events.

There were, after all, a remarkable number of people blaming "hundred-year storms" for the crisis, which was at least in substantial part caused by an over-reliance on risk management controls and models that proved to be far too narrow. There was a love of data and a refusal to conceive of the data being not wrong, but incomplete, which led many to cling to their models of how the world was working even as it fell around them. Remember all of those reassurances that problems in subprime were "contained"?

"Note that the very same people who attack me, on grounds of political correctness, for discussing Asperger as a condition not compatible with risk-bearing, and its dangers to society, would be opposed to using a person with highly impaired eyesight as the driver of a school bus," Taleb writes in his typically provocative style.

"All I am saying is that just as I read Milton, Homer, Taha Husain, and Borges (who were blind) but would prefer to not have them drive me on the A-4 motorway, I elect to use tools made by engineers but prefer to have society's risks managed by someone who is not affected with risk-blindness."

As someone with a family member with Asperger's, I think there is a lot of truth to what Taleb says, though perhaps he expresses himself too gruffly. A love of data and models and an unwillingness to engage with ambiguity that can often mean missing the big picture are characteristic of both Asperger's and of the global financial system circa 2007. This is a far different thing from blaming the crisis on people with Asperger's, which Taleb does not.

Actually, and here I am fishing in shallower waters than Taleb, there are elements of a typical Asperger's personality which are extremely useful in guarding against manias and bubbles.


People with Asperger's Syndrome are largely immune to social pressures; they often do not recognize them, or if they do, dismiss them as silly. They can be, in many ways, like the child in the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Emperor's New Clothes." In the story the emperor is sold a new suit made of a fabric that supposedly will be invisible to anyone who is not fit for the position they hold. The suit is a fraud, but the emperor, afraid of being one himself, pretends to be able to see it. Everyone else plays along until the emperor meets a child who calls it as he sees it and pierces the illusion.

Typical people, in order to make the numberless decisions they are forced to make with only limited data, rely heavily on taking their clues from what other people are doing -- following the herd. This has a certain efficiency but, as people place a heavy weight on what others are doing, leaves them open to be swept up in manias or bubbles.

This is true for individuals buying houses in 2005 because "everyone knows they will only go up" and it is true for fund managers making "momentum" investments in dotcom stocks. Fashion, for most people, is a powerful faculty-numbing force; just leaf through some old magazines and check out what people were wearing round about 1971.

For people on the Asperger's spectrum this is far less true; regardless of what people are talking about at cocktail parties, they won't believe that we can all grow rich by buying up one another's houses, nor will they take assurances from "authorities" as the final word. Having less fear of looking stupid than the rest of us, they will stand by what they perceive. They are also, at least in my experience, far less likely than the average person to hold a position cynically; because it benefits them rather than because they believe it.

That might not be the only type of person you want in a financial system, but those are some pretty valuable characteristics for a fund manger or banking regulator.