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Autism

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Brad
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0 posted 03-28-2002 05:14 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Where's Jim when you need him? I found this interesting because Hobson seems to be arguing many of the things I've been trying to get across. It's the last part, the reviewer's belief that some autistics can learn language and that implies a refutation of Romantic Holism with regards to language.  

I don't see why. It may be true of course but as far as I know, we don't know the causes of autism (yet) and while I like the simplistic definitions given here, it is unclear to me why we should work from the definition to the exception to the refutation.

Doesn't it seem that the reviewer is taking a too clear one to one correspondance between our definitons and the world around us?

http://www.consider.net/forum_new.php3?newTemplate=OpenBookObj ect&newTop=200203250043&newDisplayURN=200203250043

from the text:

"Hobson pursues what it is to be human by investigating a group of people who are in many ways distinctly unhuman - autistics. Autistics are not always retarded; they may be exceptionally intelligent. Their specific problem is understanding other human beings. It is only with great difficulty that they learn to recognise human beings as human beings, distinct from mere things. "I really didn't know there were people until I was seven years old," said a young autistic adult. "I then suddenly realised there were people. But not like you do. I still have to remind myself that there are people." Autistics, in other words, have to "work out" that there are other people. This is what Descartes and many other philosophers following him thought that we all do. But the very strangeness of autistics demonstrates that this is not how most of us relate to others. It illuminates, by contrast, how our knowledge of other minds is direct, not inferential. Hobson quotes Wittgenstein: "My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul." Autistics, you might say, are of the opinion that other people have souls. "

Brad

[This message has been edited by Brad (03-28-2002 05:16 PM).]

Ron
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1 posted 03-28-2002 08:17 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I agree, Brad, but for two reasons rather than one.

Autism, as you suggest, is much less simple than implied in this article, and the autistic condition even less so. One might argue there is no such thing as an "autistic child," but only a child who is autistic, perhaps blind, misunderstood by confused parents, with a chronic heart problem, et cetera, et cetera. Indeed, the only reason the reviewer felt a need to point out that autistics aren't necessarily retarded is because autism is SO often accompanied by that and other conditions. The severity of autistic symptoms describes a typical bell curve, running from mild to severe, with most clustered toward the mid-point. Those most severely disabled in social interactive skills, language, and communication are sometimes classified has having classic autism, also called "Kanner's autism." Those are actually (and thankfully) rather rare.

While I have no doubt Jim knows a great deal more than I do, it so happens I wrote an article about autism in 1995, and my focus coincidentally was on language - which is only ONE of the six major symptoms associated with the condition, each of which can be present in any given child with varying degrees of severity. Some of these were briefly addressed in the review, but not all.

Social Skills The inability of autistic children to develop normal social skills is probably the most noticeable characteristic of autism. Children with autism don't interact with others the way most children do, or they don't interact at all. They have difficulty understanding and expressing emotion, and show few, if any, signs of attachment.

Communication Autism's second major symptom is speech, language, and communication problems, with approximately fifty percent of all autistic children being effectively or completely mute. This is NOT simply a matter of language. Children with language disorders typically can use gestures or other methods of communications, something the autistic child has a great deal of trouble doing.

Sameness Children with autism are usually unable to relate normally to objects and events. Many exhibit, to some degree, a "need for sameness," and may become very upset if objects in their environment or schedules are changed. The way autistic children play may be very unusual, often making no attempts at "pretend" play.

Sensory Children with autism may overreact to sights and sounds, or have almost no reaction whatsoever. For example, some children find certain tones very distressing and may cover their ears and throw a tantrum until their parents eliminate the source of the sound, while other children may appear enthralled with sounds they make themselves or with "background" sounds such as distant police sirens. Similar reactions are seen in the realms of sight, taste, smell, and touch.

Development Rate The fifth symptom of autism is the different rates of development, particularly in communication, social, and cognitive skills. While children without special needs generally progress at a relatively even pace across all areas of development, either slow or fast or in between, the autistic child's development is not at all smooth and will likely be different for every autistic child.

Onset The final symptom of autism is that it begins during infancy or childhood and can generally be diagnosed before the child is three years old.

While I actually like Hobson's attempt to define autism in terms of emotion deficit, I don't think it takes into account many of these symptoms. As you said, Brad, the definition seems a bit too simplistic. When we escape that simplicity, the obvious questions arise. Yes, some autistics learn to use language. But which of the MANY levels of autism are we discussing?

My second objection is similar, in that I also don't think the definition of language can be that simple. Yes, some autistics learn to use language. But HOW are they using it?

I use a computer language, just about every day, to make a computer do what I want it to do. That does not mean that I am communicating with the computer in any traditional sense of the word.

Language development is usually divided into two areas: the acquisition of receptive language and the acquisition of expressive language. Receptive language is the ability to understand words and gestures, while expressive language is the ability to use words, gestures, and written symbols to communicate with others. In most children, receptive understanding of a word will precede its expressive use. In autistic children, this isn't always the case. There is at least some evidence to suggest that language for the autistic child is sometimes a means to control the environment, much in the same way I control the computer. If this is true, I don't think this kind of language use necessarily invalidates Hobson's contentions about communication.

I have to admit, you've piqued my interest this time, Brad. I have something of a distinctive distrust of reviewers (dare I say, critics?), especially when I catch them calling psychology a "hard" science. I think I'm going to track down a copy of the book and see what the author is REALLY trying to say.    


jbouder
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2 posted 12-04-2002 02:08 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

I happened upon this a few minutes ago and was immediately sorry that I missed it (but most definitely not sorry about why I missed it).

Ron's description of the disorder is very good.  Autism is a spectrum disorder that is evidenced by two core deficits in communication and socialization.  The other deficits Ron mentioned are often present, but not necessarily always present in a person with autism.

One item I would add to Ron's is in regards to language being either expressive or receptive.  When remediating a child such as mine who has significant language impairments, expressive and receptive is too general.

B. F. Skinner in his work, Verbal Behavior broke classes of language down even further in order to better describe the functions of language.  Trying to remember them all from rote, I think they are: (1) mands, (2) tacts, (3) intraverbals, and (4) receptive language by function, feature and class.

Manding is simply requesting.  It is by manding that we communicate our wants and needs.  Brad, when you daughter was an infant, he first mand was probably crying to tell you and your wife she was hungry or needed a diaper change.  

Tacts are acquired later ... they are simply labeling objects or people.  

Intraverbal language use goes beyond requesting and labeling, and is basically what we are doing here in this forum ... communicating our thoughts verbally.  

Receptive language can also be broken down into receptive by function, feature and class.  You eat bread (function), bread can be soft (feature), and bread is a carbohydrate on the food pyramid (class).

In teaching language to people with autism, the behaviorist approach is to teach manding first.  My son learned to do this first using icons with pictoral representations of what he wanted.  Through practice and reinforcement (giving him what he requested), we taught him how to request consistently and appropriately (without crying, tantruming, self-injurious behavior, etc.).

I wasn't able to access the complete review, so I'm not sure if I got the gist of it from the portion you copied.  I am concerned, however, that people would assume the response of the single autistic example given to be the norm.  I've heard of similar accounts, but then I've heard of just as many that differ from those accounts.  

At his current rate of progress, I expect my son to be able to tell me himself within the next couple years.  I'll be sure to let you know what he says.

Brad, I'd be very interested in seeing more of what you have to say on the holism issue.  I've been trying to wade through the "Theory of Mind" research and I think you may be able to help me.

Ron:

Why am I not surprised that you've dabbled in developmental psychology?

If you (or Brad) ever find yourself in Central PA, I'd be thrilled to give you a tour of my son's private school.  I think you might modify your thinking a little bit as to the "hardness" of certain schools of psychology after watching the staff work for a short time.

Thanks for giving me the chance to write on my favorite subject.

Jim

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3 posted 12-04-2002 04:30 PM       View Profile for Midnitesun   Email Midnitesun   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Midnitesun

I am delighted to have stumbled onto this thread today. Can you recommend some reading material? I work with a lady who suffers from a brain injury from an auto accident and has short term memory and motor coordination problems. I may also soon be helping in a childcare situation with a three year old  boy who has been diagnosed with autism. Any suggestions? Thanks, Kacy
jbouder
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4 posted 12-05-2002 08:40 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

Let me know if this sheds any light on your question of "why" the existence of people with autism may refute Romantic Holism.  Granted, the article only presents one side of the argument, but I think it may give you an idea of the reasoning behind the claim.

http://www.yorku.ca/andrewsk/autism.htm

Jim
Brad
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5 posted 12-05-2002 05:46 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

It's an interesting article. However, I get the feeling that one of us is reading Davidson wrong. I do have problems with coherence (and it's a term Davidson has retracted), but much of the terminology here seems to be used slightly differently than the way I see Davidson using it. Using a language and getting around in the world is the same thing according to Davidson (the collapse of the scheme/content distinction), but that doesn't mean that animals don't get around in the world, they don't think about the world, we think they get around in a world.

No language and we wouldn't be thinking about worlds.

But I'm not sure. There is a kind of magic moment in Davidson between the Pragmatist child (as he calls the pre-linguistic infant) and the child who lives in a semantic world, but I don't think this necessarily demotes the abilities of a pre-linguistic child. I had always assumed it was a continuum.

Nor do I see it as necessarily counter-intuitive simply to say that a person without a concept of belief simply doesn't speak a language. I'm thinking of Searle's Chinese box experiment with regard to AI. You can go through the motions, but not necessarily be a competent speaker.

I'll come back to this.  

jbouder
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6 posted 12-06-2002 07:49 AM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

I suppose the problem I have with the article is the presupposition that many autistics are mind-blind, unable to grasp that others have thoughts that are different from their own.  In my opinion, it is entirely possible that neurotypicals are often just as mind-blind when it comes to apprehending the autistic mind.  I've ordered Baron-Cohen's book, so I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to see how he builds his case.

The article provides some anecdotes of adult autistics who seem to have to remind themselves that others have thoughts that differ from their own.  A friend of mind related a story to me of a conversation he had with an adult autistic.  The adult autistic didn't tell my friend that he was not aware of his mother or her thoughts.  He simply said that he was seven years old before he "needed" his mother.  I believe this is one reason why the behaviorist approach to socal and language remediation in children with autism is so effective ... it prompts children to engage in social and verbal behavior by rewarding them with a reinforcer (could be candy, tickling, a favorite toy, etc.).  The reinforcer is gradually "faded out" as the social and verbal interactions begin to become self-reinforcing.  So, there is a difference between not recognizing the existence of other minds and not feeling the need to acknowledge their existence.

I am intrigued by Davidson's theory regarding triangulation.  I don't think it is inconsistent with a fixed, "objective" environmental stimulus that prompts verbal behavior in two people.  Although I prefer not to focus on the deficits of people with autism, I think it is pretty fair to say that many autistics have some difficulty with the "knowledge of self" corner of Davidson's triangle.  My son, Donovan, seems to be able to "read the thoughts" of others quite capabably ... he is an expert manipulator and I think, from his previously negative educational experiences, is able to ascertain whether an instructor wants to be around him or not.  He is also very affectionate and finds reciprocation of his affections to be very rewarding.  So, at some level, I am certain that he is aware of "other minds" by the behavior I've seen him exhibit.  Expanding the spectrum of rewarding interactions has been an important element of his education.  I've read recently of one teen-age autistic who was asked why he flaps his hands.  He responded by saying (typing) that he did so he could know where his hands are.

I think the complexity of the autism disorder actually undermines the attempts of some who use it to refute Davidson's holistic approach to language and meaning.  It does not necessarily follow that, because autistics do not appear to be able to recognize that others "have minds," that they cannot.  What has been evident in my experiences (still modest but growing), is that autistics do not often engage in social and verbal behaviors because those interactions are not intrinsically rewarding.

What I like about Davidson's theory (admittedly, having only read about it in the past two days) is that it sets forth the requisites for language, providing a sort of road map to follow for those who are seeking to teach language to people who may have difficulty engaging their environent, "reading" the thoughts of others, or having an adequate knowledge of self.  What is encouraging to me is that the behaviorist approach to treatment of autistics seems to be well equipped to "close the triangle" wherever it is broken.

I apologize if my rudimentary understanding of Davidson is too obvious.  Please feel free to correct my error.  I actually hope you do.

Jim

[This message has been edited by jbouder (12-06-2002 07:54 AM).]

Brad
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7 posted 12-06-2002 04:31 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Unfortunately, while my understanding and curiosity in Davidson may have been around longer, it may be no less rudimentary than yours. I pretty much agree with what you say above, I see no contradiction with Davidson's view and behavioralist approaches to education (at least as you describe them) nor do I think Davidson would ever deny that empirical studies need to be made concerning whether his theory is 'correct' or not.  

If we take the two 'essential' elements posited to Davidson's work (I don't consider Davidson an essentialist):

quote:
(A)All speakers must be interpreters of other speakers.

(B)All believers must be speakers.


A is the distinction between ourselves and a tape recorder. A tape recorder, strictly speaking, speaks a language but very few people today would say that a tape recorder is a speaker of language. Davidson's point is actually that many previous theories of meaning don't take this into account.

B is the distinction between "I'm hungry" and "I believe I'm hungry". In common, everyday speech, the distinction probably isn't all that important, but a tiger can't feel "I believe I'm hungry," it can only feel, "I'm hungry." The distinction (and this is why a lot of his writing is sometimes called a theory of error rather than a theory of truth) is based on the fact that a tiger simply can't verbalize something like, "I believed I was hungry, but I was wrong." The tiger might feel however, "No longer hungry" or something like that. This distinction is significant for Davidson. I think it is too.

I get into trouble here because thought and language are indeed interdependent here from Davidson's point of view and I agree with that but a lot of people (a lot of people who read philosophy) believe that thought is whatever is going on inside your brain. Particularly, the representationalist view argues that language is a tool that represents thought, and, if so, it necessarily represents it incompletely, crudely, or falsely. I think this is backwards, language allows us more complexity in our lives, not less, it is the result, an 'advance', on the rudimentary dispositions, emotions, instincts that the tiger has. It allows us more flexibility, not less.

One can accuse Davidson of a certain vagueness, "Most of our beliefs must be true," etc. but from the opening of the article, one gets the feeling that what really chap's this person's hide is armchair philosophizing versus empirical research. But empirical research is never 'conclusive' of anything, is it? Without a little philosophizing, empirical research isn't just inconclusive, it's impossible.

One of Davidson's key points is that people who speak two different languages can understand each other without having to learn each other's language. Or rather language is always translatable (because of the Principle of Charity and Triangulation)It is difficult, he says, but we can do it. I think this is right, but difficulty is a continuum thing, is it not?    

What struck me about the article was that when an autistic person could actually verbalize, she points out that these statements do not, in fact, invalidate Davidson's theory. As you point out,

quote:
What I like about Davidson's theory (admittedly, having only read about it in the past two days) is that it sets forth the requisites for language, providing a sort of road map to follow for those who are seeking to teach language to people who may have difficulty engaging their environent, "reading" the thoughts of others, or having an adequate knowledge of self.  What is encouraging to me is that the behaviorist approach to treatment of autistics seems to be well equipped to "close the triangle" wherever it is broken.


Davidson's road map is towards language competence, what is it for words to mean what they do? Contrast that with Derrida's approach, "How is it that words can mean what they do or mean anything at all?"

Davidson has never said that that road map is finished, he's still working on it, but very exciting things are happening between the Continental and Analytic approaches to philosophy, and perhaps between philosophers of language, mind, and education theorists. Maybe some barriers are finally going down and we'll see some real breakthroughs in education theory.

It all just seems so, so pragmatic to my mind.
 
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