Time: Jerry Seinfeld Says He Is Not on the Autism Spectrum After All

“I’m not on the spectrum”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has backtracked on recent comments he made stating that he was on the autism spectrum.

In an interview with Access Hollywood, Seinfeld said he does not fall on the spectrum, contrary to an interview with NBC a few weeks prior in which he said he did.

“I don’t have autism, I’m not on the spectrum,” theComedians in Cars Getting Coffee star said Wednesday. “I was just watching a play about it, and … I related to it on some level.”

The comedian was commended by members of the autism community after he told NBC’s Brian Williams in early November that he might be autistic. “I think in a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum,” he said, adding that he didn’t see being on the spectrum as dysfunctional but merely an “alternative mind-set.”

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WashPOST opinion: An autistic man caught in the criminal justice system

December 12

FOR THE apparent crime of wearing a hoodie in public, an 18-year-old black man was approached by a sheriff’s deputy in Stafford County four and a half years ago. A caller had reported that the man, sitting on the grass across the street from an elementary school, might be armed. As it turned out, the suspicion was unfounded; the man, Reginald Latson, who has an IQ of 69, was doing nothing more than waiting for a public library to open its doors.

Yet that unprovoked encounter between the deputy and the teenager, which culminated in the teenager’s arrest and felony conviction for assaulting the deputy, triggered a tragic sequence of events. As The Post’s Ruth Marcus has detailed in two op-ed columns, the story of Mr. Latson is a case study of how ill-equipped the criminal justice system is to handle people with mental, developmental and emotional disabilities.

Specialists who have examined Mr. Latson describe him as a boy in a man’s body, given to violent impulses and outbursts. State officials concluded last year that he belongs in a secure therapeutic treatment center, not a prison. They arranged for just such a placement, at a facility in Florida, and a judge signed on to that plan.

But a prosecutor in Stafford County, Eric Olsen, has pressed ahead to keep Mr. Latson in prison rather than at an equally secure facility where he could receive appropriate treatment. Last spring he brought a fresh assault charge after Mr. Latson punched a prison guard — the sort of incident that is sometimes treated as a disciplinary matter in prison, not a new criminal offense.

The effect has been to prolong a toxic cycle of incarceration, violent outbursts and criminal charges. All this for a young man whose problems would be better managed outside the prison system at a secure treatment facility.

No one is suggesting Mr. Latson should go free. But it seems clear that punishment — he has been segregated for long periods from other inmates, deprived of TV, radio, books and magazines and, at various times, Tasered (after punching the guard) and straight-jacketed into a chair — is doing no good. Since his arrest in 2010, Mr. Latson has cycled through 10 or so facilities in Virginia, including jails, prisons, group homes and psychiatric hospitals. He has had recurrent suicidal urges and has lost 40 pounds from an already-lean frame.

Yet as long as Mr. Latson faces pending charges, he cannot be transferred to the treatment facility in Florida.

Given Mr. Olsen’s insistence on further criminal charges, it appears that this senseless cycle can be broken at this point only by a guilty plea or conviction at a new trial for Mr. Latson, which is scheduled for next month. Once that happens, the judge could see that Mr. Latson is moved to the treatment facility after serving a mandatory minimum sentence in Virginia, or Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) could immediately grant a pardon conditioned on Mr. Latson’s transfer to the facility in Florida. It’s not too late for Virginia to get its act together and recognize the distinction between disability and criminality.

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WPOST: Parents don’t cause autism in their kids: stop blaming them for it

Since the condition was first recognized in the 1940s, parents have been and felt blamed for their children’s autism. Today, most people no longer believe this, but a lingering doubt continues to niggle many parents.

Autism was first identified in the era of psychoanalysis, when professionals looked closely at relationships to explain disability and mental illness. Childhood “autistic withdrawal” was thought to be an emotional and relational problem.

Parents were blamed for their children’s autism because psychoanalysts thought cold, detached parenting must be the cause of their extreme withdrawal from the social world. Some parents were seen to interact with their children in ways that were interpreted as demanding and emotionally distant, rather than supportive and warm.

But the predominant psychoanalytic view has gradually been replaced with a biomedical approach to understanding autism.

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ABC: Pope Meets With Autistic Children

Pope Francis tenderly embraced children with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom avoided meeting his gaze, during an audience Saturday aimed at offering solidarity to people living with the condition.

The pope urged governments and institutions to respond to the needs of people with autism to help break “the isolation and, in many cases also the stigma” associated with the disorders, which are characterized by varying levels of social impairment and communication difficulties.

“It is necessary the commitment of everyone, in order to promote encounters and solidarity, in a concrete action of support and renewed promotion of hope,” the pontiff said.

After offering a prayer, Francis greeting the young children and teens with autism and their families, kissing the children and cupping their faces in his hands as he circulated the auditorium at the Vatican. Some appeared to avoid the pope’s eyes, while one teen whom the pope had greeted followed the pontiff and gave him another hug from behind.

Families of children affected with autism were touched by the pope’s words.

“It was an explosion of emotions,” said Maria Cristina Fiordi, a mother of a child with autism. “For us, we are parents of a child affected with autism, this meeting was very important. It was as an outstretched hand through a problem that is very often not considered in the right way.”

Franco Di Vincenzo, another parent of a child with autism, said he took strength from the pope’s call not to hide, “that we should live with this problem in serenity.”

The audience was attended by some 7,000 people, including health care workers who had international conference on autism hosted by the Vatican’s health care office this week.

While autism is increasingly being diagnosed in places like the United States, where about 1 in 68 children are said to be on the spectrum, it is still largely unknown and undiagnosed elsewhere, including in the Vatican’s own backyard of Italy, according to Dr. Stefano Vicari, head of pediatric neuropsychiatry at the Vatican-owned Bambin Gesu hospital in Rome.

The Hill: Jobs Where They Are Most Needed

A recent report has warned that the trust fund undergirding the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) is nearing depletion.  At the same time we hear reports – mostly from states – that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are a vital safety net for many individuals and families.

We believe there’s a way to relieve these pressures and create a path to meaningful lives for many individuals with cognitive and physical challenges. That path is bound up in a single word: Jobs.

But first, let us introduce John D.

John D. is a 21-year-old with autism. He has learned to read, do basic math and master skills that help him get along in the community. John also now has a job – a full-time job – at the National Institutes of Health. It is not a “special” job. It is a job that requires him to file papers, follow orders for materials to be delivered, maneuver across the large NIH campus and interact with other employees. He has this job because NIH saw value in and agreed to participate in a program called Project SEARCH.

With a few of years of work-experience training at The Ivymount School, John and several classmates were selected by NIH as Project SEARCH interns for a year. They worked on the NIH campus in a variety of jobs with the support of a job coach. At the end of the year, John was one of eight young adults offered a job. He lives at home, gets himself to and from work using public transportation and, most important, is a self-supporting, contributing member of society. John’s supervisor will tell you that he is among his most dependable employees, arriving every day on time, often being the first to volunteer to work on holidays.

Once a candidate for SSI support that averages about $6,600 annually, John D.  now pays taxes that support the system.

In our experience, for every John D., there are many others who can find only part-time work or no work at all. Even though some may have more significant deficits, they are clearly capable of holding a job. The problem is that there just aren’t enough jobs for individuals with disabilities – a problem that has grown worse under current economic conditions.

For John D.’s classmates, it means they cannot find a job. Some of them, undoubtedly, will end up on SSI as parents look to the years ahead, when they may not be around to support their children. Continue reading The Hill: Jobs Where They Are Most Needed

Impaired Prediction Ability May Be Behind Autism

From Disability Scoop (a source for Developmental Disability news)The brain is a biological machine that makes predictions. But what happens when a wrench is thrown in the works, and jams up the ability to foresee the trajectory of a moving object, or what happens after a frown?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe such a wrench lies at the core of autism, a disorder with widely disparate symptoms that strike with varied intensity.

Social and language deficits, repetitive behavior, hypersensitivity to stimuli and other symptoms may be manifestations of an impaired ability to predict the behavior of the outside world, according to an analysis published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An impairment in the ability to place stimuli in context with what came before and after them leaves people with autism struggling with a seemingly capricious world that makes excruciating demands on their attention, according to the report.

Continue reading Impaired Prediction Ability May Be Behind Autism

NYT: Study Finds That Brains With Autism Fail to Trim Synapses as They Develop

As a baby’s brain develops, there is an explosion of synapses, the connections that allow neurons to send and receive signals. But during childhood and adolescence, the brain needs to start pruning those synapses, limiting their number so different brain areas can develop specific functions and are not overloaded with stimuli.

Now a new study suggests that in children with autism, something in the process goes awry, leaving an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brain.

The finding provides clues to how autism develops from childhood on, and may help explain some symptoms like oversensitivity to noise or social experiences, as well as why many people with autism also have epileptic seizures.

It could also help scientists in the search for treatments, if they can develop safe therapies to fix the system the brain uses to clear extra synapses.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Neuron, involved tissue from the brains of children and adolescents who had died from ages 2 to 20. About half had autism; the others did not.

The researchers, from Columbia University Medical Center, looked closely at an area of the brain’s temporal lobe involved in social behavior and communication. Analyzing tissue from 20 of the brains, they counted spines — the tiny neuron protrusions that receive signals via synapses — and found more spines in children with autism. Continue reading NYT: Study Finds That Brains With Autism Fail to Trim Synapses as They Develop

NYT: The Kids Who Beat Autism

At first, everything about L.’s baby boy seemed normal. He met every developmental milestone and delighted in every discovery. But at around 12 months, B. seemed to regress, and by age 2, he had fully retreated into his own world. He no longer made eye contact, no longer seemed to hear, no longer seemed to understand the random words he sometimes spoke. His easygoing manner gave way to tantrums and head-banging. “He had been this happy, happy little guy,” L. said. “All of a sudden, he was just fading away, falling apart. I can’t even describe my sadness. It was unbearable.” More than anything in the world, L. wanted her warm and exuberant boy back.

A few months later, B. received a diagnosis of autism. His parents were devastated. Soon after, L. attended a conference in Newport, R.I., filled with autism clinicians, researchers and a few desperate parents. At lunch, L. (who asked me to use initials to protect her son’s privacy) sat across from a woman named Jackie, who recounted the disappearance of her own boy. She said the speech therapist had waved it off, blaming ear infections and predicting that Jackie’s son, Matthew, would be fine. She was wrong. Within months, Matthew acknowledged no one, not even his parents. The last word he had was “Mama,” and by the time Jackie met L., even that was gone.

In the months and years that followed, the two women spent hours on the phone and at each other’s homes on the East Coast, sharing their fears and frustrations and swapping treatment ideas, comforted to be going through each step with someone who experienced the same terror and confusion. When I met with them in February, they told me about all the treatments they had tried in the 1990s: sensory integration, megadose vitamins, therapeutic horseback riding, a vile-tasting powder from a psychologist who claimed that supplements treated autism. None of it helped either boy.

Together the women considered applied behavior analysis, or A.B.A. — a therapy, much debated at the time, that broke down every quotidian action into tiny, learnable steps, acquired through memorization and endless repetition; they rejected it, afraid it would turn their sons into robots. But just before B. turned 3, L. and her husband read a new book by a mother claiming that she used A.B.A. on her two children and that they “recovered” from autism. The day after L. finished it, she tried the exercises in the book’s appendix: Give an instruction, prompt the child to follow it, reward him when he does. “Clap your hands,” she’d say to B. and then take his hands in hers and clap them. Then she would tickle him or give him an M&M and cheer, “Good boy!” Though she barely knew what she was doing, she said, “he still made amazing progress compared with anything he’d gotten before.”

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WashPost: Coping with adult children’s autism, parents may face ‘least bad’ decisions

Adult twins with autism locked in a barren basement room every night. No lights. No bed. Their parents charged with abuse.

The criminal allegations against Janice and John Land that erupted last week in Montgomery County have captured the attention of many — but no group more so than other parents who are caring for the growing number of autistic children entering adulthood.

“We can’t condone their choices,” says Mark Bucknam, a professor at the National War College who lives two miles from the Lands. Court papers say that the young men were kept in a room with no working lights and a comforter on a bare tile floor.

“But it’s possible that, in their minds, this was the least bad way to deal with this,” Bucknam says.

As he speaks, his 18-year-old son John starts to pace and moan in the kitchen. John typically won’t sit down for dinner until he and his parents are around the table, holding hands, his father saying the blessing. Mark walks toward the kitchen, past the locked front door, the locked door to the garage, the locked door to the basement. Those barriers, along with a tracking device John wears, the burglar alarm and the fence around the house, are designed to keep him from wandering off.

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The Hill: Senate panel advances autism research bill

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee quickly approved legislation Wednesday to reauthorize federal autism research and services for five years.

The bipartisan bill, which now advances to the Senate floor, is identical to a measure passed by the House on Tuesday night and has a strong likelihood of becoming law this summer.
The bill’s approval in committee is a victory for autism advocates who pushed Congress to renew programs before lawmakers leave for the August recess. The underlying statute, the Combating Autism Act, is due to expire at the end of September unless it is extended.

The new legislation would require the Health and Human Services secretary to designate a deputy to oversee federal autism research and services. The official would help coordinate activities related to autism across federal agencies to ensure they are not duplicative.

The measure also orders the government to study the needs of autistic children as they transition to adulthood.

The HELP Committee advanced the measure on a voice vote Wednesday with no amendments, according to a committee spokeswoman.

It is called the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act instead of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act. The title change is a nod to individuals with autism who called the old name hurtful.

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