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US Autism & Asperger Association
July 21, 2011

Welcome to USAAA WeeklyNews, an email newsletter that addresses a range of topics on Autism Spectrum Disorders including Asperger's Syndrome.


V.S. Ramachandran's Tales Of The 'Tell-Tale Brain'

contributed by NPR.org Excerpt: 'The Tell-Tale Brain' by V.S. RAMACHANDRAN

tell tale brain bookFor the past quarter century I have had the marvelous privilege of being able to work in the emerging field of cognitive neuroscience. This book is a distillation of a large chunk of my life's work, which has been to unravel — strand by elusive strand — the mysterious connections between brain, mind, and body. In the chapters ahead I recount my investigations of various aspects of our inner mental life that we are naturally curious about. How do we perceive the world? What is the so-called mind-body connection? What determines your sexual identity? What is consciousness? What goes wrong in autism? How can we account for all of those mysterious faculties that are so quintessentially human, such as art, language, metaphor, creativity, self-awareness, and even religious sensibilities? As a scientist I am driven by an intense curiosity to learn how the brain of an ape — an ape! — managed to evolve such a godlike array of mental -abilities.

"What we were all taught as medical students a decade or two ago is that connections in the fetal brain are fixed during infancy or fetal life by genes, and then as you grow into adulthood, the maps crystallize and are there permanently," he says. "But we are finding that this is not true.

My approach to these questions has been to study patients with damage or genetic quirks in different parts of their brains that produce bizarre effects on their minds or behavior. Over the years I have worked with hundreds of patients afflicted (though some feel they are blessed) with a great diversity of unusual and curious neurological disorders. For example, people who "see" musical tones or "taste" the textures of everything they touch, or the patient who experiences himself leaving his body and viewing it from above near the ceiling. In this book I describe what I have learned from these cases. Full Story

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Dr. V.S. Ramachandran is a neurologist and professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies the neural mechanisms underlying human behaviors. He has written several books about unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.


For Some With Autism, Jobs to Match Their Talents

By DAVID BORNSTEIN, Commentary from the NY Times

jobsSteen B. Iversen tests mobile phones for the Danish telecommunications firm TDC. Before landing his job two and a half years ago, Iversen, 50, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, spent more than 12 years looking for work. “It’s always been somewhat traumatizing,” he said. “I have had jobs, but I always got fired. People would laugh about me behind my back and laugh at me to my face. Those problems have more or less been a problem for me from childhood.” In the working world, Iversen said, his biggest problem was communication. “Most of the time it simply was that people didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them,” he said.

"To date, the company has hired 35 people with autism to work as consultants for other companies, and is now training 46 others. Perhaps more important, its model is gaining momentum.

Iversen works for a remarkable Danish company, Specialisterne (“The Specialists”), that is improving the futures of many families by opening up job opportunities for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functioning autism who have historically found themselves excluded from employment, largely because they don’t fit in with workplace norms.

Specialisterne was founded by Thorkil Sonne. Eleven years ago, Sonne was a successful executive at TDC when his youngest child, Lars, then 3, was diagnosed with autism. “I had the perfect career and the perfect family,” he recalled. “It was so shocking to realize that one of our family members had a lifelong disability. As parents we wanted to make the best possible future for all of our children, not just the two who were non-disabled. So we had to come up with a new plan for our family’s future.” Full Story

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A seeing-eye ferret? Now 'service animal' defined more narrowly
The Americans With Disabilities Act was vague on what constituted a service animal. But now that definition is narrowed to dogs. Maybe miniature horses.

service animal storyThe landmark Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 stated very clearly that people with disabilities had a right to take their service animals along with them wherever they went.

But in retrospect, the law wasn't as clear as it might have been on one little point: What exactly is a service animal?

""Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

The law termed it "any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability" — but here was the rub: That seemed to imply that an elephant, just for instance, could make an excellent service animal.

Elephants are very smart. And strong. They can carry things for people and give them rides. Yet surely the lawmakers didn't intend for people to have service elephants they could go shopping with in grocery stores and travel with on planes.

Fortunately, in the last 20 years, no one ever seems to have claimed to have a service elephant. On the other hand, plenty of people have claimed to have service cats and rats and parrots and ferrets and llamas and iguanas and at least one snake (yes, really, a boa constrictor). And they've tried to take these service animals along with them everywhere — the way the law assured them they could — including into places where other people told them they were very out of place.

Impasse ensued. Confusion reigned. Until this March, when the government issued a new definition: Full Story

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Hate the Autism, Not the Kid, Please.

Commentary by LJ Goes

“Do they hurt?” A frustrated mom of four snaps at her tween boy. He looks thoughtfully down at the shoes on his feet and takes a bit too long to respond. “Do they hurt?” She hisses as she grabs his bicep and squeezes. He’s taller than her but very thin. He doesn’t respond so she shoves him a little when she releases her grip. “Sorta.” He replies with a half smile. His face is so much younger looking than his gangly frame portrays. Red cheeks, red ears, pale face. He's itching his arms.

He flaps a little.

"Why is mom so angry all the time?” Tim is medically ill. I know, your doctor didn’t tell you. He never will. Mine didn’t either.

“Good!” The mom says, as she yanks a shoe off his foot throwing him off balance. “Maybe, if they hurt, you will learn to stop walking on your toes and walk normal! It’s sad that this is what it takes don’t you think?” She answers herself, “Yep. Very sad, Tim.” She throws both shoes in her shopping cart and rolls her eyes at him. He’s looking at her with that same faint smile but he doesn’t say anything. Quickly as if something in his brain told him it was the right thing to do, he drops his head down and focuses on the task of getting his old shoes back on his feet. He stares at his awkward fingers, willing them to act. I can almost hear the misfiring neurons, so few actually reaching their intended destination. “Okay…you can do this. Pull the strap, pull the strap, something happens when I pull the strap, come on…” He’s moving at a snail’s pace. God, I want to help him with that Velcro before she opens her mouth again. I’m genuinely afraid I might deck her. This is my Target, my happy place. It would be very bad if that happened. Full Story

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