Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Noise-Part 2

There are a lot of subcultures in American society, and when Buddy Boy was diagnosed as being on the spectrum, I immediately became aware of this subculture, which had it's own abreviations (ASD, IEP, FAPE, IDEA, FBA, LRE), language with specialized meaning (inclusion, para's, advocates, facilitated communication), and organized groups (ASA, DAN, FEAT).

The other thing I immediately noticed were the plethora of different treatments that were espoused as being either helpful or necessary.

Having been trained in the scientific method (I am a physician), I was very interested in the physiologic basis of how these treatments worked, and what scientific proof there was of there efficacy. Behavioral therapy, communication strategies, diet modification, supplements, chelation, etc., etc., etc. My head reeled with all the things that I could be doing. Unfortunately, the more and more I looked at it, the more empty it all seemed. Sure, ABA has a couple of studies that support it, and some things (like diet modification) have so little downside that trying them might be worthwhile. But the majority of interventions seemed to be just so much noise. All of us have precious little money to spend on interventions (after spending money on evaluations, OT's, PT's, advocates, doctors, etc.).

So why do so many people seem enamored of so many interventions that are probably not even useful, and may be harmful? Kristina Chew, Ph.D., over on Autism Vox talks today about "flocking". This indeed may be important in this phenomenon, but I have a slightly different take on this. Personally, I think it is a combination of the decline of science education combined with magical thinking. For a good discussion of magical thinking, see this.

Over the last few decades the number of college graduates obtaining degrees in science subjects has declined in America, Canada, and Great Britain. This article briefly talks about the impact on the US economy, but I think there is also a tangible effect on how we as a society view many things in the world. Unless one has some basic grounding in statistics and has some facility in critically reading scientific papers, the difference between causality and correlation disappear, and anecdotal evidence is viewed as equivalent with controlled studies.

And if you have no way of differentiating between junk science and real science, then it all becomes just a lot of noise. And noise and autism don't go together very well.


kristina said...

White noise?

I think there is some magical, and wistful, thinking going on.....

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