Jonathan Mitchell on NeuroTribes

A FASCINATING BOOK REVIEW.  The reviewer also points to others’ reviews and commentary on Steve Silberman’s “neurotribes” book.  One of his quotes stands out for me, above the rest of his blog spot:

Most of the autistic people Silberman wrote about in his book are at the mildest end of the spectrum (assuming they’re autistic at all).

Where does he derive this understanding from, I wonder?

Source: Jonathan Mitchell on NeuroTribes


Autism and Spirituality

Not long ago, I tried kick-starting an initiative on Facebook called “Autism & Spirituality'”… for anyone interested in reading more about others’ views on Autism & the God Connection – but I ended up having to abandon this effort, sadly; as I must have ruffled some feathers (based on some of the posts written in reply to my notions of this topic). So I’m beginning to understand that judgemental attitudes reign supreme in Aspiedom as it does with most NT’s. Stillman (2006) wrote a book seven years ago by this very same title… I still need to read it before I comment any further. However, my curiosity was piqued greatly by this review of his book: “This book is a must read, whether you love someone with an autistic-spectrum disorder, or work in the field. William Stillman describes a parallel process of discovering his own spirituality, while exploring the heightened spiritual connectedness of those he works with. The result provides a deep sense of hope and understanding that I’ve not experienced with other books on autistic-spectrum disorders.”

As a spectrumite, I’ve always felt ‘different’ — like you admit. Different from everyone else, I mean… But this became even more evident to me in early adulthood… when I decided to leave home for my first stint Uni in 1972. Off into society I went to win favour and fortune as suits the fantasy of most ― all the while, the redeeming possibility of intimacy with the world and a true loving of life diminished — a loss that gradually makes us all ill and sends us into emotional exile. The alienation I feared so much is the very alienation I ended up making for myself. Painful to watch (I’m told) and even more painful to be, a seeker after approval ― upstanding yet crawling, smiling yet deeply hurt; breathing and exhaling conflict, composed while decomposing. Above all, I rarely, if ever, felt like I ‘fit in’…

If Gerald May is right, we all live on a spectrum of sorts – the spectrum between Love and fear. But I reckon the antidote for fear is truth (wisdom) and hope. We ASpie’s truly sense that hope is good. True hope surely must arise from the innocence of the soul ― oth­erwise it’s just plain, old-fashioned wanting and Ego. Hope, as a spiritual condition, is what seems to matter most and this is a deeper thing. ‘Wherever there’s life, there’s hope’ may denote that hope is life itself, or the very spirit of life – the sparkle in the eye, the fire in the belly, the lead in the pencil, the life force. Eros!

Paradoxically, hope is known to thrive in adversity and improbable circumstances. But I often wonder if humanity is slowly losing its hope and if so, the vacuum is most likely being filled by wanting – a more vigorous and simple state of mind that is often wrongly identified as hope. Perhaps too much wanting actually kills hope, by displacing it, and actually takes life away. According to the vernacular, hope is so like an innocent child — it needs to be raised or held onto ― and not given up on, or lost sight of. I try very hard not to lose sight of my child-like hope.

Autism and Loneliness

Reprinted from — posted August 29, 2013 by Laurel Joss

One of the main symptoms of autism spectrum disorder is a lack of social reciprocity. People with autism have difficulty reading and using social cues appropriately. Human beings are social animals, and a disorder that impairs one’s ability to create and maintain satisfying relationships is a deficit that affects many aspects of life, both personally and professionally.
Some would argue that people with autism aren’t interested in close personal relationships. They prefer to avoid social situations, and are in fact happier when they are simply left alone. This may be true to an extent, for some individuals, but it is also possible that this attitude of preferred avoidance is a learned behavior stemming from repeated rejections after unsuccessful attempts to connect with others in social settings.

A study by the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior found that young adults with an autism diagnosis who suffered from social anxiety reported higher levels of loneliness in relation to their friendships, families, and romantic relationships. A similar study by Susan White in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found a positive correlation between anxiety, loneliness, and the degree of social skill deficit in school-age children with autism.

These studies show that people with autism have the same desire for connecting with others, and that they can feel just as lonely as anybody else. Behavioral interventions like ABA can teach social skills, but it is notoriously difficult to teach people with autism all of the nuances and unspoken rules of social interaction, which can vary between different people and different situations. Social stories can teach specific skills, such as how to order food at a restaurant, but it’s incredibly challenging to teach someone how to read the subtle social cues that let you know when your significant other is upset, or that your friend may be getting bored listening to you talk about the same topic again and again.

Dr. Steven Gutstein of the Connections Center in Houston Texas created a therapy model called Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®). He spent years teaching social skills to children and adults with autism, but found that many of his patients continued to have difficulties in social situations and interpersonal relationships. He created RDI® after studying the ways in which interpersonal relationships are built between typically developing children and their caregivers. These early interactions form the foundations of all later relationships, but they go off-track when the child has autism. Dr. Gutstein developed a program that systematically trains parents to offer their child a re-do of these critical early interactions, guiding the child towards joint attention, social referencing, and emotion-sharing. For more information about RDI®, see Dr. Gutstein’s website at

Social isolation is a real problem for people with autism, even those who are diagnosed as “high-functioning.” Everybody want to belong, to connect with others, and to be understood. Developmental models such as RDI® may help people with autism bridge the gap, and lead to a higher quality of life.


In keeping with the Theory of Mind hypothesis (Baron-Cohen, 1995) subsequent research like that conducted by Smith (2009) [1], Silani et al. (2007) [2] and others [3],[4],[5] have declared that persons of the Spectrum display an “imbalance” or even an inability to have empathy for others. Alexithymia and lack of empathy are supposedly correlated, indicating a link between understanding one’s own and others’ emotions. I find these points-of-view particularly curious ― as an AS counsellor, who believes, that I’ve shown much empathy for my clients.

I’m very keen on adhering to the words of Jesus as a plumb line in my therapeutic approaches. One such axiom is His greatest commandment ― to “love our neighbour as ourselves. Even a preliminary gloss of this basic axiom is that it binds Christians to a love that can say “This person claims my love, no matter what” my own interests are in describing the situations to which Jesus’ teaching binds us, specifically in terms of the challenges autism throws up for Christian love.

Few would debate that loving those with autism has its own special demands, and calls forth a special sort of patience and empathy, even suffering. Saint Paul with his thorn in the flesh called this process “sanctification.” In sanctification, our self-satisfaction, illusions, and pride are revealed for what they are—barriers to love.

One of my favourite authors, Neil F. Pembroke (2007, p. 287) [6] wrote about his unique view of empathy as living the love commandment:

The strong interest in empathy shown by mental health practitioners represents an attempt to strengthen the human element in the clinical (therapeutic) relationship. There is debate, however, over exactly what form clinical empathy should take. On the one hand, there are those who view empathy as a purely cognitive understanding of the subjective experience of the client. The purely clinical (psychotherapeutic) aim here is to relate to the client with a ‘‘detached concern.’’ The other view is that clinical empathy involves both cognitive and affective elements. In line with this view …empathy is more than simply labelling a feeling state. Genuine empathy involves recognizing what the suffering of the client actually feels like.

Empathy requires a reaching out to the Other. It is an imaginative projection into their inner world of experience. In the Western religious traditions, going out of the self has been referred to as ekstasis. Ekstasis has as its goal the establishment of communion. God reaches out to the world through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit ― calling people into fellowship with Him. In living the love commandment, do human persons go out to others to join in communion with them…and can this concept of ekstasis make a unique contribution to our understanding of empathic attunement in the therapeutic encounter?

Can ASpies truly love? Can they understand the concept of loving another person selflessly? If so, then by Pembroke’s definition, can ASpie’s have empathy in the form of ekstasis? If any readers are ‘Spectrumites’ or live with or know well other ASpies, do you have any viewpoints on this topic? Care to share your views with other readers?


  1. Smith A. (2007).  “Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis of Autism”.  In The Psychological Record, 59: 489-510.
  2. Silani, G., Singer, T., Bird, G. et al. (2007).  “Levels of emotional awareness and autism”.  Social Neuroscience, 3: XX-XX.
  3. Fitzgerald, M., Bellgrove, M. A. (2006). Letter to the editor:  “The overlap between alexithymia and Asperger’s syndrome.”  In Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(4): 573–76.
  4. Guttman, H., Laporte, L. (2002). Alexithymia, empathy, and psychological symptoms in a family context. In Comprehensive Psychiatry, 43(6): 448–55.
  5. Hill, E. L., Berthoz, S., Frith, U. (2004).  “Cognitive processing of own emotions in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder and their relatives”.  In Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34: 229–235.
  6. Pembroke, N.F.  (2007).  “Empathy, Emotion, and Ekstasis”.  In Journal of Religion and Health, 46(2): 287-98.


Because individuals with autism have difficulty communicating socially and understanding the emotions and intentions of others, it has been hypothesized that they may have a dysfunction in their mirror neuron system. This hypothesis has received a tremendous amount of attention in both the popular and scientific literatures following a number of studies that reported weak mirror neuron system responses in individuals with autism. The issue of movement-selectivity, however, had not been addressed.

To further test this influential theory, the researchers asked individuals with autism and a control group to observe and execute different hand movements while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI measurements allowed the researchers to infer the strength of neural responses in mirror system areas of each group during movement observation and execution. Their results showed that mirror system areas of individuals with autism not only responded strongly during movement observation, but did so in a movement-selective manner such that different movements exhibited unique neural responses. The mirror system responses of individuals with autism were, therefore, equivalent to those commonly reported (and observed here) for controls.

These results, they conclude, argue strongly against the “dysfunctional mirror system hypothesis of autism” because they show that mirror system areas respond normally in individuals with autism. The authors, therefore, suggest that it may be more productive to re-focus autism research in more promising directions.

A Beautiful Poem by a Parent who truly ‘sees’ Children on the ASD

I see you.
I see you.
Others see you flapping your arms, screaming and melting down.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
Autism is a part of you BUT you are more than that.
You are a whole person with hopes and dreams and the ability to contribute to the world in amazing ways.
I see you.
I see you.
Others see a Mom who is frazzled, tired and easily offended.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
The Mother of a child with special needs who does more in one day then others get done in a month.
You are a Mom, Caregiver, Teacher, Therapist, Advocate, Lawyer, Insurance Claims Adjuster, Taxi Cab Driver, Employee and Wife.
But you are more than that you are also a woman with hopes and dreams and the ability to contribute to the world in amazing ways.
I see you.
I see you.
Others see a Dad grumpy, depressed and full of fear.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
You are a Dad raising a child with special needs the best you know how.
You’ve had to redefine what it means to be a Father and you have done it with grace.
Instead of coaching basketball you spend your nights discussing dinosaurs for the umpteenth time while you child squeals with joy and you are happy.
But you are more than that you are also a man with hopes and dreams and the ability to contribute to the world in amazing ways.
I see you.
I see you.
Others see a child who is struggling in school and refusing to do their work.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
You are a child who learns differently but is brilliant in other ways.
You need to be taught to your strengths and once that happens you will flourish.
Having a Learning Disability is a part of you BUT you are more than that.
You are a whole person with hopes and dreams and the ability to contribute to the world in amazing ways.
I see you.
I see you.
Others see a Teacher who seems exhausted and unapproachable.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
You are a Teacher without the necessary supports to teach a classroom full of 35 children but you forge ahead anyway.
You spend a lot of your own money on your classroom and your students because you need supplies and it’s not coming from the School District.
Your students learn in spite of budget cuts and that is because of you.
You are a whole person with hopes and dreams and the ability to contribute to the world in amazing ways.
I see you
I see you
Others cannot see past the autism, learning disability, epilepsy, down syndrome, cerebral palsy or other special needs.
Not me.
I see the person you really are.
You are amazing, you are incredible and if no one else has every told you I see it.
If I see it then others will see it too.
Don’t give up because you make this world a better place and I see you.

What did the original article from Nature Magazine say about Autism and ageing fathers

First the French psychoanalytique insisted autism began with inadequate ‘mothering’ (i.e. refrigerator mothers).  Now some are nitimating it’s due to a degradation of male genetic material with age.  Who do we believe?

Fathers bequeath more mutations as they age (2012) Nature Magazine

Do we even know this for sure???