Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kids Say the Darndest Things

When I was young, Art Linkletter had a show on TV, one segment of which was "Kids Say the Darndest Things". He would interview young children (about 4-11 years old) and elicit some "unusual" answers from them.

In the spirit of that show, here are two snippets of conversation involving Buddy Boy that Liz related to me.

Buddy Boy went to his psychiatrist's office today, and Liz told Buddy Boy that he had to talk to the psychiatrist, and not just sit there and play with his Nintendo DS. So Buddy Boy went in there and after a bit said,

"So, are you like an occupational therapist for the brain?"

"Not exactly. I'm actually a child and adolescent psychiatrist."

"So do people come to you if they have problems with their brainstem?"

"No, actually, if they had problems with their brainstem I wouldn't be the right person to help them."

After a bit, Buddy Boy said,

"I know! I know! I know! Instead of talking, we could just e-mail each other back and forth!"

That's my boy. He's always thinking.

Later, when he was getting out of the bathtub, Buddy Boy asked Liz,

"Can I join the NAACP?"

"Umm, I don't know, dear. I don't know if they take child members, I'll have to look into that. Why do you ask?", responded Liz.

"Because then if someone treats me bad, I could just say I was a member."

Oh, that it were so easy. I'd have signed him up with them, as well as ASAN, a long time ago.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

No More Training Wheels

Sweet Pea is 6 now. Last year she briefly expressed the wish to take her training wheels off of her bicycle, so we tried it. It didn't work out so well (despite putting extra knee, wrist, and elbow pads on her, lot's of encouragement, etc.), so we put them back on.

This year she decided that she wanted to try again. So about 6 weeks ago I lowered her seat all the way down, and helped her glide down the incline on the cul-de-sac next to our home, with her feet out to the sides to keep her balance/keep her from falling. We did that for two weeks, then I bribed her to put her feet up on the pedals while I started her off and had her glide down the incline.

Well, one thing's led to another, and after two trips to a local parking lot with an ever so slight incline to it, I can say that those training wheels are off for good.

Sweet Pea still doesn't have quite enough control for a trail or a sidewalk, but she can start herself, turn, and control her bike better every time. Her confidence (fashion sense?) is such that she refuses the extra protective pads, and her competitive nature on the last outing had her complaining that Buddy Boy was pedaling faster than she was.

Buddy Boy, for his part, was being a great older brother. He demonstrated various things to her (like how to keep your pedals level while you're turning so they don't catch the pavement and dump you on the ground) and did a good job of keeping far enough away from her so that she didn't feel like she was going to crash into him. I also took the time with Buddy Boy in the parking lot to work on such skills as looking before you turn, signaling, and pedaling while standing up.

I must admit to feeling a bit of a pang during our last outing. My baby girl is growing up, and we'll never raise a baby again. Soon she will tire completely of her parents, and be primarily involved with her peers instead of us. While I have some inner trepidation that Buddy Boy will not be able to live independently, I also fear that Sweet Pea will grow up too fast, and leave too soon. She already pushes limits constantly, considers herself the center of the universe, and can pout and throw a fit like the hardest core 'tweens around.

Meanwhile, summer carries on, with the kids going to day camps and us going to festivals and carnivals. Life is good. Soon we will depart on our annual vacation (holiday). It's really a shame that kids don't realize how good they have it. What I wouldn't give to have a summer filled with playing outside, going to camp, ice cream, and no school or work.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ribbit From the Headlines (aka Kneedeep in Controversy)

photo credit-Parksy1964
creative commons license

Amongst all the commotion regarding Savage things said by one individual, Neandarthal comments from a Canadian source, and initial forays into genetic testing for autism, one little story seemed to slip under the radar.

Human-frog hybrids reveal autism's secrets says the headline in The New Scientist magazine article.

Human-frog hybrids might reveal the neurological secrets of autism. By fusing cells from the preserved brains of deceased autistic patients with the eggs of a carnivorous African frog called Xenopus, scientists have started investigating the way the brain cells of people with autism behave. ...

The creation of chimeras, or combinations of two different species, is not new. But the creation of animal-human hybrids is a relatively new endeavor. In 2005 Dr. Eugene Redmond went to the Caribbean to implant human stem cells into the brain of African monkeys. He hoped to get those cells to produce dopamine, and lead to a cure for Parkinson's disease. In 2007 British regulators approved human animal hybrid creation to create new stem cell lines. And now this type of research is coming to California, with little fanfair.

...To see if abnormalities in neurotransmitter signalling also underlie autism, Miledi's team collected brain samples from six deceased autistic patients, aged eight to 39. They fused brain-cell membranes, which house neurotransmitter receptors, together with Xenopus egg membranes. As a control, they did the same thing with brain cells from patients with no history of mental disorder. ...

While some, like the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, issued cautionary statements regarding this type of research, it would appear that most of the public goes along with this type of research, "if it might improve understanding of diseases." The Danish Council on Ethics has a nice summary of some of the issues involved, including whether certain rights would accrue to such chimeras, whether such creations could be owned, and whether they could be killed.

Evidently there have been chimeras produced in the U.S. for some time now, but ethical questions (other than public discussions regarding human cloning) have largely been ignored.

I'm not positive that I might not change my mind in the future, but as of now, I would definitely count myself in the camp of being against chimeras, whatever the purpose. While I am sure that Peter Singer would approve, as he sees no difference between humans and other animals, I see a lot of potential problems with blurring the lines of what is human and what is not.

Another thing that bothers me about this is that perhaps autistic humans were chosen to do this because they were viewed as diseased and damaged, and not quite human anyway. Therefore anything would be okay with such a population. This was never stated anywhere, but just a nagging little thought at the edge of my consciousness.

I don't think that "the ends justify the means" in the vast majority of circumstances. Thus I don't believe that the results of unethical studies should ever be published, or used by other researchers as a basis for their own work. Too many scientists forge ahead to be the first in their field, and don't stop to consider whether what they are doing is right or not. I think the least we owe ourselves and our descendants is a full and honest discussion of the ethical concerns of such research. Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean that we should.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Old Dog, New Tricks

photo credit-Avolore
creative commons license

Well, I did it today. I registered to go back to school.

One would think that after spending most of my adult life in either higher education or advanced training, and after reaching an age where I should be actively planning my retirement, I would have more sense than this.

Perhaps I am addicted to education. Or is it just Pomp and Circumstance?

Over the last 2 years my interest in bioethics has increased. I regularly attend and participate in a monthly ethics conference at my institution, and have done some reading on the subject. We have discussed such issues as the exhibit of human bodies in Body World, sham surgery, and the "Ashley Treatment". So I have decided to formally add some credentials to myself in the area of bioethics.

Rather than commit to a full Master's degree at this time, I am starting with a certificate program, in which I will take 4 Master's level 3 hour courses, followed by participating in a 5 day seminar in Chicago. If I like it (and still think it's worth the money), I can apply those courses towards a Master's degree in Bioethics, for which I would need a total of 30 hours of coursework, including a thesis.

I can't afford to take off work to do this (especially with the cost of college nowadays), so I am going to do this via an online program. So even though I work and teach about 70 hours/week, I am hoping that this won't interfere too much with my home life.

What it very well may interfere with is my blogging. Summer is kind of hectic around here, so I haven't been doing much blogging lately. But once I start school in August I suspect that my coursework may keep me offline a fair amount.

I've always felt that while blogging was good (both for me as well as for spreading a positive message regarding autism), that we were all most effective when we leveraged our connections on the net to do things in other venues.

I am hoping that my writing experience in this blog will assist me as I go back to school, and that my exposure to all of you will help me as I attempt to translate a philosophy of respect for all people back to the medical community, as well as applying that philosophy to ethical questions that occur.

So I am not closing down the blog, but don't be surprised if I am even more scarce around here once August rolls around. Know that I will often sneek peaks at your blogs, and even write some comments when I can.

Now, I wonder if I should get myself a cyber backpack to carry my cyber assignments in?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

A few short weeks ago it looked like this:

Now the first cherry tomatoes have come in:

With more on the way:

Some full size tomatoes:



and Beans:

The pumpkins, watermelon, and cucumbers have spread all over the place, but no fruit yet. And unfortunately, after harvesting one early strawberry from the strawberry plants, no further fruit as of yet.

But we remain optimistic.