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Crypto-spiritualism: The return of facilitated communication

8 Mar

Spiritualism is the belief that it is possible to communicate with the death through trance mediums. While there are historical antecedents, modern spiritualism began in 1848 in New York state, when the young Fox sisters claimed the power to produce raps from the spirit world.

Spiritualism promised communication with the  dead, and for the bereaved this was often an irresistible  hope.  Fraudulent mediums were happy to provide solace, for a price. Exposures of fraud, probably contributed to the decline of spiritualism, but even today there are believers.

Sunday’s Washington Post brought the sad news of a revival of the discredited technique called facilitated communication. Facilitated communication is supposed to allow people with severe autism and other developmental disabilities to communicate. It is easy to see why parents would want to believe that their non-verbal children could actually communicate, but our evidence shows that that facilitated communication does not work and that the messages are actually authored by the facilitators via the ideomotor effect.

Here is the American Psychological Association’s statement on facilitated communication.

And here is the powerful Frontline documentary on the subject.

Paternal age and autism, an alternative explanation?

7 Dec

There is evidence that fathering a child as an older man, increases the child’s risk of autism. The assumption has been that, as a man ages, there is a greater risk of mutation to the genes carried by the sperm cells.

However, here is an interesting alternative explanation:

Gratten and his colleagues developed a fifth model to test an alternate explanation for the paternal age effect: that men with a high genetic risk for autism — and who show autism traits — tend not to have children until they are older.

“We don’t think that this alternative mechanism, which is really just a hypothesis, accounts for all the risk on its own,” Gratten says. “Probably de novomutations contribute, and this mechanism may also contribute, and many others may as well.”

Still, this alternative hypothesis “makes sense for autism and seems quite likely for schizophrenia too,” says Bernie Devlin, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the work. That’s because de novo mutations are believed to contribute to only a small fraction of risk for either condition. For autism, de novo mutations are thought to account for about 3 percent of risk.

Uta Frith on her Ph.D. thesis

11 Jul

Uta Frith is one of the giants of developmental psychology, here, as part of a series presented by Nature, she describes her Ph.D. thesis on autism:



I think all the videos in this series are interesting, so many of the scholars have some ambivalence about their dissertations; looking back at their work as novice scholars from the vantage point of expertise.

Sesame Street and autism

30 Oct

You can find more details here.

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