Wednesday, May 30, 2007


MK thinks differently. Obviously. He classifies things differently. He sees all sides of the question and does not accept that anything should be put into an arbitrary box.

Someone other than his doting father might simply say that it is impossible to get a straight answer out of him.

Me: Was Darth Vader a good guy or a bad guy?
MK: Sometimes he's good and sometimes he's bad.

Me: Which do you prefer, french fries or rice?
MK: Both.
Me: But if you had to choose?
MK: I'll choose both.

And so on.

But it's not just indecisiveness. For several years he approached each new thing that he learned about in the following way.

Me: This is a hard book.
MK: What's not a hard book?
Me: Well, for example, Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is an easy book. (This works.)

Me: This is purple.
MK: What's not purple?
Me: Red, yellow, blue, black, brown and white. Those are all different colors. (This is a bit unorthodox, but it can be done.)

Me: This a refrigerator.
MK: What's not a refrigerator?
Me: (Trying very hard not to sound exasperated.) Everything else in the entire world.
MK: Even me.
Me: Yes, that's right. You are not a refrigerator. Nor am I. We are both not refrigerators. (This really is not the way I'm used to looking at the world.)

He doesn't ask the "What's not a..." questions anymore, but I thought the conversation we had tonight about gravity was good proof that his penchant for inclusive thinking is still strong.

Me: ... so without gravity, you and I wouldn't even be on the ground. We'd be floating around.
MK: Birds float around, even if there's gravity.
Me: Yes, but a bird is doing work to beat gravity, He's flapping his wings.
MK: Or her wings.
Me: Yes. Or her wings.
MK: Or his and her wings. If it's a boy and a girl bird. Like a fem-male. Does that exist, a male and a female at the same time, born that way?
Me: Yes, that's a hermaphrodite. (It's really a shame that he dropped his previous line of questioning. "What's not a hermaphrodite?" would have been quite easy to answer.)

Friday, May 25, 2007


A while back I posted about the strange results of the IQ test that MK got as part of the many batteries of tests that he was put through in order to get his autism diagnosis. It came back showing him on the MR borderline. As I mentioned here, with some arguing and explaining on my part (which included links to this blog) the psychologist agreed that it did not fit with the way he got Bs on standardized tests in grade four. We were pretty sure that MK had simply not been there during the test. He is capable of playing Sonic-X videos in his head, while simultaneously creating the illusion that he is engaged in a conversation.

We had to wait two months for a retest, which was not fun. The reason it was not fun is that his teachers, whose combined knowledge of learning differences could be written out on a grain of rice using a magic marker, had decided that the problem with MK was that he was not smart enough to handle the things they teach in school, and that all of his odd behavior could be explained as a stress reaction to the unreasonable demands placed on his wee little brain. The fact that he got As and Bs in his last school (where, unlike his current school, the teachers had Masters degrees and were required to rack up continuing education credits) was seen by his new teachers as proof of their hypothesis. To earn those kinds of grades, he would have had to have been beaten every day, which goes even further to explaining his odd behavior. So you can imagine how good for our morale it was to be trying to set these teachers straight, while we knew that, down at the psychiatrist's office, there were a set of test results that, if used as is, would have proved his teachers right.

At long last, however, the retest date rolled around. By that point we had discussed what an IQ test was and why it was important to pay attention during one (the last time we had told him it was just for fun). The psychologist also suggested that I stay in the room so that I could call for a break if I noticed that MK was in fact watching videos (it's possible to tell, but you have to know what to look for).

Long story short, MK did fine this time around. He is back to having an IQ squarely in the normal range. In order to get a measure that was not going to be contaminated by the practice effect, the psychologist did a non-verbal battery that he hadn't done on the previous occasion, but he also repeated some of the standard WISC subtests so he could see if MK was actually performing differently. Apparently his score jumped 20 points across the board. He only got bored and started playing videos in his head once (that I was able to notice). I suggested a break when I saw it was happening. After the break, the psychologist repeated the last few questions, which he had answered incorrectly. Naturally he answered them correctly when he wasn't watching internal videos, which gave us a very specific and clear example of what had gone wrong the last time round.

We were very lucky to have a psychologist who was interested in testing MK in a way that would reflect what he could do, rather than what he happened to do. I have a feeling that it was something of a learning experience for the psychologist, too. I shudder to think, however, about what happens when these tests go wrong without anyone noticing. We had previous testing and various other numerical measures to back our contention that this psychologist's first attempt had got it wrong. If we had not had that, I doubt we would have gotten the retest. And that, of course, would have meant that MK would have been pulled out of the academic curriculum. You can be sure that this very thing has happened before to other kids and that many of those kids have been stuck with their inaccurate scores.

And while I am on the subject of IQ tests, let me just wax eloquent and say that they really suck. A big component is just checking to see which words the kid knows. In the year 2007 you would have thought that learned people would have come to understand that the words a person does or does not know are determined by which words are used around the person. Even some of the non-verbal tests were actually tests of knowledge. If you don't know what a stage coach is and how the drivers of these vehicles dressed, you are not going to be able to pick those two items as corresponding pair to an astronaut and a spaceship. I would have expected almost all the tests to be centered on processing, but almost none were. Our guy came off more or less OK. I imagine that his IQ test will continue to improve with time (at the end of the retesting, it was up as compared to the tests done two years ago). But other kids, who are just as intelligent or more so, will get low scores for reasons that have nothing to do with intelligence. It does not seem that we have learned much over the past 50 years.

Given the cultural biases of the ordinary classroom, I guess that these tests will give a fairly accurate predictive measure of how well a kid will fare if dropped into such a classroom, but I think it would also be useful to have a measure of how well a kid is likely to do in a theoretical culturally neutral learning environment. Which is to say, how well the child will do if taught in a manner adapted to his or her preexisting knowledge of the world. The reason I care so much about cultural biasing is that autistic people are, almost by definition, culturally deviant. For example, even if they are exposed to the same story as their NT peers, they are likely to focus on different aspects. They listen for different things in conversations. They focus on different places in pictures. And so on and so forth. The end result is that their cultural experience is different from the cultural experience of their NT peers. In many cases this difference in cultural experience will be even greater than that of, for example, someone who grew up in China vs. someone who grew up in Brazil. I know that there do exist supposedly culturally neutral IQ tests. In my opinion, those should be the only tests on persons suspected of being on the spectrum.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who's the boss?

Our guy, who speaks well enough to be understood by everyone, but poorly enough that everyone notices how oddly he speaks, is very interested in a non-verbal 13 year old who is in some of his pull-out classes this year. He was talking to me about the tough time that the 13 year old must have, what with not being able to speak, when he commented that kids who are younger than this boy (which includes my son) act like they are the boss of him, just because they can speak and he can't. Then he mused about how unfair that was, and how if must make the 13 year old feel like a baby. Then he resolved to let the older kid "be the boss" from now on.

I didn't have any input in this conversation because it really did seem to be a tricky situation to me, so I never got beyond, "Uh huh" and "Really?" It's going to be interesting to see how the practicalities of letting the older boy take the lead play out, but I guess it only really comes down to adjusting one's timing and remembering to look at the older boy's communication device. If grown-ups can do it kids can too. The older boy has been invited over for video games so, with luck, I should get to see this in action.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Houston, we have humor

Yup, that's right. And not just the rote repetition of 'jokes' either. We're talking about saying things that dance the borderline between what makes sense and what is absurd. What is more -- and what is everything when it comes to humor -- we have timing.

OK, I'm not talking about masterful plays on words or cleverly barbed comments at the expense of Alberto Gonzalez. In fact there are probably a dozen wittier eleven-year-olds on your average suburban block, but the fact remains that we have humor.

I'll give you an example. He was making Kraft Dinner tonight and had misplaced the box. So he asked aloud, "Where did the box go?" Then he answered himself, "Maybe it went to look for its mother." Alright, wipe the coffee off your monitor and try to get a grip on yourself. Or not, as the case may be. The point is the concept. It's a massive leap forward.

I started noticing it only about a week ago. Actually, I first started noticing that he was getting my jokes. For example:

MK: When can we go to Playland?
Me: I don't know, 2012, 2014, something like that.
MK: Slowly spreading grin, followed by a laugh.

A few weeks earlier this would have been, "You're joking right? We couldn't wait until 2012 because I would be too old by then."

Don't get me wrong. I was very pleased with that response. We considered that a triumph. It had replaced what we would have got two years ago, to wit, "No!!! Now I never get to go!"

And of course, two years before that, we were only just getting the hang of sentences, so the whole conversation would have been impossible.

What is particularly odd is the pace at which this is coming on. The past couple of days he's been getting off a good one two or three times a day. This follows on an explosion of vocabulary. The vocabulary thing started a few weeks earlier still. It went from a new word or phrase every day to it's peak about a week ago, at which point I would swear he was using something new in every sentence. -- Yes, don't worry, I did give kudos to his new SLP. (More on her later.)

You know, Steve D over at One Dad's Opinion had a great post on balance that really got me thinking about how having lots of stuff to deal with in my life is a plus, not a minus. I can forget that at times. What I am getting at is that, since MK turned about 2, I cannot ever remember being bored. How many people out there go nine straight years without complaining of boredom once? Steve D reminded me to see richness for what it is and to appreciate it.

It may seem that I have wandered off topic, but I'm actually getting to something. The thing is that I was thinking about segueing from this progress report to a bitter lament about the stupid things some of the school staff said at this week's IEP. It's absurd that MK be doing so well and, at the same time, be evaluated as doing poorly by people who have only known him for a few months and are thus incapable to noticing that he is developing at the speed of light, right beneath their upward-turned noses. But thanks to Steve D's reminder, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to revel in the absurdity. I'm going to say, "Look at me! I'm so lucky. I've got two opposite things going on at the same time, and me and my wife are the only ones who can see 'em both!"

I will write about the IEP itself shortly. It went pretty well actually. But this post is long enough.