Tag: autism

Far-Right Pastor Enrages Parents With 'Autism Is Demonic' Sermon

Last Wednesday, Pastor Rick Morrow of Beulah Church in Richland, Missouri ignited fury when he asserted in a sermon that autism was the result of demonic forces corrupting children's minds .

"I know a minister who has seen lots of kids that are autistic, that he cast that demon out, and they were healed, and then he had to pray and their brain was rewired and they were fixed," Morrow said. "Yeah, I just went there. I mean, you can get online and see lots of examples of it. If it's not demonic, then we have to say God made them that way. Like, that's the only other explanation."

Morrow continued, 'Why [does] my kid have autism?' Well, either the devil's attacked them, he's brought this infirmity upon them, he's got them where he wants them, and/or God just doesn't like 'em very much and he made 'em that way. Well, my God doesn't make junk. God doesn't make mess-ups. God doesn't make people that way."

According to Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, who helped Morrow's remarks receive public attention, "infuriated people in the community, some of whom have children with autism and have no trouble reconciling it with their faith." Mehta pointed out that the "sentiment was shared by many people who commented under the church's video on Facebook, with responses ranging from 'This whole congregation needs to run away' to 'I'm embarrassed this is in our community.'"

Mehta noted at the time that "one Missouri mother was so upset about his sermon that she reached out to Morrow personally to tell him how her son, who has autism, is a blessing. She explained that he doesn’t have an 'illness.' Rather, he's a 'brilliant child' who simply communicates differently. She also asked Morrow if he felt the same way about children with Down syndrome. He said that, too, was Satan's fault."

Mehta stressed that "Morrow isn't merely some random ignorant pastor. He's also a school board member for the Stoutland R-II School District. This guy oversees education for public school students, at least some of whom we have to assume are on the autism spectrum. That would mean he believes the devil has attacked all of them and the only way to handle those students is with prayer instead of therapy or academic intervention."

On Sunday, September 10th, Mehta updated that Morrow finally responded to the criticism that his beliefs received. But instead of making amends, Morrow doubled down .

"I made a statement Wednesday night talking about demons, and we're going to keep talking about them on Wednesday night. And I made a statement. I said, 'Let's talk about something demonic.' And I said, 'autism.' And then I said, 'God doesn't make junk,'" Morrow recalled. "Those of you that know me know that I love people and I would never say that people are junk. It has been perceived that I'm evil, that I am full of the devil, that I am possessed myself because I said kids with autism are junk. That's what has been perceived. What was intended was autism is junk. People that have it are loved by God and loved by me."

Mehta rejected Morrow's defense.

"Let me remind everyone that Morrow claimed kids with autism could be 'healed' with prayer," Mehta wrote. "That's a lie. He said that the only alternative to believing autism is caused by demons is saying, of children, 'God just doesn't like 'em very much and he made 'em that way.'"

Mehta added, "Oh. And he’s still on the local public school board."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet .

Quick and Healthy: Bad Medicine

“Quick & Healthy” offers some highlights from the world of health and wellness that you may have missed this week:

  • After decades of giving it a free pass, the Food and Drug Administration signaled this week that it may begin to finally crack down on homeopathic treatments . Homeopathy, which involves the use of plants, herbs, and minerals to combat a variety of ailments, is widely considered to be a quack pseudoscience. Although the “remedies” may have some short-term value as placebos, it’s possible that they interfere with, or preclude patients from attaining, actual medical treatment.
  • Surprise! A new, highly exhaustive study shows that vaccines still do not cause autism — even among children who are at a higher risk. Researchers studied more than 95,000 children and found that receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine did not lead to an increased chance of developing autism. Unfortunately, the anti-vaxxer crowd staunchly adheres to its discredited studies and paranoid theories, and other studies suggest that new scientific information not only won’t change their minds, but will make them more likely to double down on their beliefs.
  • 3D printers that use organic material  — known as “bioprinters” — have made incredible advances in the last few years, replacing body parts and generating entire organs. And now, a new biotech startup plans to begin creating synthetic eyeballs , a feat that eluded previous bioprinting efforts due to the eye’s complexity. As planned, the most advanced of the artificial eyeballs won’t just be a replacement body part — it will be an enhanced eye that allows you to apply filters to your vision or share what you see via wi-fi.
  • A startup is working on a new way to screen for breast and ovarian cancer that is non-invasive, effective, and, crucially, inexpensive. The new procedure tests saliva for the gene mutations most likely to lead to breast and ovarian cancer and Color Genomics, the startup behind the effort, plans to charge $249 for the procedure—a mere tenth of what other tests on the market charge. The hope is this will, in the words of Color Genomics’ chief executive, “democratize access to genetic testing.”

Photo: Homeopathic remedies (Jason Testler Guerilla Future via Flickr )

Rise Of The Know-Betters: Just The Facts About Anti-Vaxx

The anti-vaccination movement, a species of stupidity that crosses party lines and is immune to evidence (if little else), has emerged from the curio cabinet of fringe lunacies and ambled into the spotlight on the heels of a public health crisis — and is now becoming an unfortunate flashpoint in the opening salvos of the 2016 primaries. Why, after all, are we even talking about this?

The Republican Party, so unmoved by science on climate change and evolution, for the most part has refreshingly come out in rousing support of vaccines. Even Ben Carson says there should be no exemptions from vaccination. So who exactly are editorials like this aimed at? Why are too many children under-vaccinated ? Why are pundits and pols waffling on the merits of discredited studies and paranoid theories? In the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fifteen, how has the efficacy of vaccines entered the political discussion? Into what fresh hell have we blundered?

The current measles outbreak has thrust a conversation about the supposed dangers of vaccines — as useless and noxious as a pertussal wheeze — into the mainstream. Chris Christie and Rand Paul, perhaps sensing a nucleus of vaccine skeptics in Florida or Ohio, contributed their thoughts , suggesting that vaccinations might actually become a touchstone issue for the 2016 elections (as we dread they might ). And in the scrimmage of wacky one-upmanship that is a hallmark of primaries, you may reasonably expect to see a spectrum of weaselly, “teach the controversy” positions, all in a cynical bid to poach votes from anti-vaxxers of both parties.

The to-vaxx-or-not-to-vaxx issue has forged a strange fellowship between black helicopter right wingers, who believe vaccination is just a step away from martial law , and crunchy granola left wingers who buy into the fallacy of an “all-natural” lifestyle. A poll on the main page of Life Health Choices (a resource for anti-vaxxers) asks: “Is vaccination choice a fundamental human right?” — erroneously positioning the issue as one of individual liberty and a parent’s right to raise his or her child without government intervention. Such attitudes mesh with the folly of well-educated, liberal parents who want to raise their children completely free of all “chemicals.” In both cases, the cri de coeur is “I know better!”

Together they form an unholy union born of shared unreason, which an acquaintance of mine calls the “Know-Better Party.” All the studies and medical testimony in the world doesn’t nudge the Know-Betters. Their self-perception as responsible parents and free thinkers depends on their rejection of whatever wisdom they hold to be conventional: It doesn’t matter exactly where they fall along party lines; all that matters is they know better than you.

If you’re a Know-Better, then what are you doing here? Whether or not facts have any currency with you, whether or not you agree with the overwhelming majority of doctors, you’ve already made up your mind. So thanks for reading this far. Did you come here to be outraged; to shake your head in disapproval; to decry us as child murderers, cynical clickbaiters, choir preachers; to urge new research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines; to tell us that none of this is news?

In that, if nothing else, we may agree. There is no news here. There is no ethical dilemma. There is no startling research waiting in the wings. There is in fact no controversy. This article is an ouroboros decrying its own existence. The Know-Betters have taken enough of our time. All that’s left are the same old facts, to which we dutifully direct you:

But perhaps most sobering of all is a recent study in Pediatrics suggesting that whatever you believe, your mind cannot be changed:

Current public health communications about vaccines may not be effective. For some parents, they may actually increase misperceptions or reduce vaccination intention. Attempts to increase concerns about communicable diseases or correct false claims about vaccines may be especially likely to be counterproductive.

If that is true — and it seems in poor taste for us to discount a study when it suits us — then, well, our bad.

Photo: v1ctor Casale via Flickr

Is Autism Like A Magic Show That Won’t End

By Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times

The brain is a biological machine that makes predictions. But what happens when a wrench is thrown in the works, and jams up the ability to foresee the trajectory of a moving object, or what happens after a frown?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe such a wrench lies at the core of autism, a disorder with widely disparate symptoms that strike with varied intensity.
Social and language deficits, repetitive behavior, hypersensitivity to stimuli and other symptoms may be manifestations of an impaired ability to predict the behavior of the outside world, according to an analysis published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

An impairment in the ability to place stimuli in context with what came before and after them leaves people with autism struggling with a seemingly capricious world that makes excruciating demands on their attention, according to the report.

“We sometimes affectionately call this the magical world theory of autism,” said MIT neuroscientist Pawan Sinha, lead author of the study. “The hallmark of a magical performance is the surprise, the unpredictability of the outcome. … Although for a brief period of time, a magic show might be pleasurable, if one is constantly immersed in that kind of a magical world, one can begin to get overwhelmed.”

Those who follow developments in the field of autism research can be forgiven if they sometimes think scientists are grasping at different parts of an elephant in a pitch-dark room. Studies often isolate the oddities of certain brain regions or genes, focus on isolated symptoms or examine niches of the disorder.

About 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new analysis does not offer new data – it instead surveyed developments in the field and tried to unite them under one over-arching hypothesis. It is likely to draw the attention of neuroscientists in large part because it was led by Richard Held, an emeritus MIT professor who has researched the brain for a half century. (His 92nd birthday is Friday.)

“This paper is deliberately a theory-heavy paper,” said Sinha. “We wanted to take a broader look at many pieces of experimental evidence that have already been collected by many different labs and see whether there were some commonalities, some way to explain the very diverse collection of results.”

The MIT researchers believe that impaired prediction often leads to anxiety, which can lead to many of the behaviors that have come to be associated with autism spectrum disorder.
For example, many people with autism are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, even though studies show their senses are no more acute than those of others. Some can’t wear tight clothing because they find it irritating.

The authors suggest that people on the autism spectrum don’t habituate well to outside stimuli. While typical brains “get used to” touch, sounds and sights, and can prioritize them, the autistic brain is unable to do so and is constantly aroused.

That hypersensitivity is at the heart of another attempt to unify the symptoms of autism, known at the “intense world theory.” It holds that hyper-reactive brain circuits can become autonomous and follow their own development path. This could explain many extremes in relatively narrow areas, such as near-photographic memory as well as acute sensation, emotion and attention, according to the theory outlined by Swiss researchers Kamila and Henry Markram.

The theory, however, “leaves open what is causing the intensity of the world,” said Sinha. “We are saying that the world perhaps is appearing hyper-intense because it appears unpredictable,” he said.

Under the predictive impairment hypothesis, social difficulties could stem from an inability to place behaviors in context, such as what usually comes before or after a smile, a cry or a shout.

In addition, people with autism often fill their lives with routines, and some even resort to repetitive or self-stimulating behaviors, which “almost seem to be an attempt to impose order on a seemingly chaotic world,” Sinha noted.

The report suggested several general ways to test the hypothesis, and highlighted brain regions related to prediction that also are implicated in autism, such as the cerebellum, basal ganglia and anterior cingulate cortex.

“This theory is intuitive; it makes sense,” said University of California, Los Angeles neuroscientist Dr. Carlos Portera-Cailliau, who was not involved in the analysis. “It’s very exciting that people are thinking about autism beyond experiments like I do in the lab.”

Nonetheless, the hypothesis does not address “the underlying defect in the brain” that impairs prediction, Portera-Cailliau said. “I think that’s where more work needs to be done — what are the experiments that can be done to test this theory and prove it right or wrong?”

Photo via Wikicommons

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