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April 02 2008

River Tam -- autistic? EW's PopWatch offers the character as an example of autism.

That's a really good fresh insight.
That was intesting and EW is sure showing the Firefly love lately.
Mental illness, psychological trauma and PTSD are not the same thing as autism. *headdesk*

I really hate autism awareness month. Everyone scrambles for SOMETHING to say about it, and it's all either doom and gloom or SPARKLY BALLOONS!!!! Reality is it's both and neither.

[ edited by hanncoll on 2008-04-02 23:17 ]
Agreed, hanncoll. If she could be said to have a particular mental illness (we don't exactly get enough from the show to make an appropriate diagnosis), my bet would be on undifferentiated schizophrenia. The psychology nut in me always cringed when they said paranoid schizophrenia in the show. She didn't show the right type of symptoms for it (but hey it's TV; we should be glad they got it even close to right).
Summer Glau's River Tam is, for all intents and purposes, autistic. She wavers between lucidity and mania, she "stims" with her hands, she repeats phrases over and over (known as echolalia); the only thing predictable about her is that she's unpredictable. But she can also be sweet, and playful, and a joy to be around.

It's an interesting idea, but I think it's a gross oversimplification of what autism is and how its symptoms manifest in different ways. An autism diagnosis has nothing to do with "lucidity and mania", nor do funny hand gestures and echolalia guarantee an autism diagnosis, as they could be symptomatic of any number of things. As I previously mentioned in my comment on this thread, River bears the signs of someone who is genuinely mentally ill. In contrast, her portrayal of Cameron in T:TSCC actually is a much better reflection of what a teenager with autism or Asperger's Syndrome is like (setting aside that whole superhuman physical powers thing ;-)) in that she knows what is real and what is not, but is kind of clueless on the finer points of social interaction.
I agree with deepgirl187 that we don't get enough of her symptoms to give a full and proper diagnosis. Not to mention modern psychology has yet to deal with the possibility of psychic awareness in regards to symtoms. The "voices" River hears are sometimes real which is what leads to any paranoia. I have worked with autistic children and I am personally connected to at least 3. They are each very different and yet share some similarities. Autism is a very difficult mental illness to diagnose since its a wide and varying spectrum of types. And however misguided EW maybe, there is really no such thing as bad press. Bringing attention to Firefly and Autism is great IMO. But the bottom line River Tam could only be classed as mildly autistic at worst.
D'oh! Just saw deepgirl's comment about paranoid schizophrenia vs. undifferentiated schizophrenia and am blushing to find myself guilty of the same misdiagnosis-by-internet.

And to hanncoll: I feel the exact same way about AAM. It's like, "Thanks for paying attention, but would you please mind not using this opportunity to spread disinformation?" It was bad enough last year when all the networks started reporting without any substantiation that the shooter in the Virginia Tech killings was autistic.
That's more frustrating and unhelpful than it is constructive. I agree with BrewBunny, it's oversimplified to the max. They've only got one of the symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of autism right with the repetitive behaviours. Autism is mostly a communication and social relations problem, and River is very communicative. Her problem is that she is too sensitive to the ways of others, not the other way around.
GothicJossMinion, Autism is more accurately described as a developmental disorder, not as a mental illness. The former is best addressed by educational interventions (e.g., speech and play therapy aimed at compensating for cognitive differences), and the latter is usually addressed by medical and behavioral interventions (e.g., psychiatric drugs).

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2008-04-02 23:51 ]
I agree Brew Bunny as a preschool teacher who has has multiple autistic students. They are some of my favorites since the ones I dealt with were very sweet, very smart, but socially they just didn't do very well. I had one little boy that would only talk to a few people and even then he would only use broken words when he first arrived and stayed at the back of my classroom opening and shutting cabinents and drawers in the home center. I was proud that after a year in my class he was using sentences and proactively starting to play with his classmates. However there is much that we still do not know about Autism. There are sections of the Autistic Spectrum as they call it that kinda cross the border from development disorder into mental disorder. I do apologize for my use of the word illness, that is not what I meant I merely laxed in my terminology. And it is entirely possible to have some people suffer from both as does my 17 year old nephew.
As a mother of an autistic four year old, I have to say kudos to EW for giving us the Firefly love and also giving Autism Awareness month a shout out. Yes, River probably wasn't autistic and yes, EW could have done better with the specifics on what exactly autism is. But you know what, I'm very happy that it got a mention. Anything to spread awareness for the disorder gets a thumbs up from this mother who struggles with it every day. That is all :) End rant.
I must be missing something... wouldn't River's diagnosis be simply, "they took a scalpel and thrashed it all about it River's brain" ? You know, "stripped her amygdala/limbic system/whatever"?

(Though I do appreciate the shout-out for its autism awareness.)
For some reason, this makes me think of Adam Sandler in the movie, "The Waterboy," yelling, 'Medulla oblongata!'
Quoter Gal - I agree, I think the term would be acquired brain injury :)
Oh so many things about that article are innaccurate. Mania and a lack of lucidity are not symptoms of autism. Yes someone could have a comorbid disorder that causes those symptoms, but it is kind of offensive to assume that people with autism are automatically out of touch with reality. Yes many people with autism stim but it is not a diagnostic criteria and lots of people who don't have autism also stim. Is the actual diagnostic criteria for autism.

*deep breath* Ok I feel better now
As a parent of an autistic child I find the article on the whole to be rather offensive.
Its an interesting theory, but would have preferred more insight into why (ie relating it to real cases etc) or whether she suffers another illness as many seem to be suggesting, but I'll admit I know very little about them.
Reading this discussion has been a lot more informative for me than reading the article. As someone familiar with - though not particularly informed about - autism, I think exposure that spreads disinformation is a bit dangerous. I found it interesting that the author dismissed Rain Man as portraying a rare type of autism , but then brought up River, who, though questionably autistic, is most definitely a savant. However, I really like the bit of the article that points out the show's excellent depiction of both the joys and the hardships of being with River. Like I said, I've had very little experience with autism, but I've had quite a bit with mental illness/disorders in general, and that really hit home.

Side note: Brewbunny, when I saw the link, your previous comment (on River and Cameron) was actually the first thing I thought of.

Other side note: what does "stim" mean?

[ edited by KnitWit on 2008-04-03 01:35 ]
I'm very sympathetic to the perspectives of those responding here who deal with autism directly and find the article lacking in many ways, but I guess I see it as potentially sweet that the author of the article sees common ground between their child's special needs and River's--perhaps it would have been a nice angle to say that Firefly is a winning depiction of the stressful-yet-rewarding bond between someone with very atypical mental/behavioral patterns and a caretaker figure (or a couple of them). I don't know how often a mistake-making, frustrating, but truly loving caretaker-type relationship is seen in fiction, and I know I find it moving.

One potential bone of contention I can see, though, is that River's problems really are problems and we hope as viewers to see her "cured" of the most debilitating elements. I don't have personal experience with autism, but the accounts I've seen tend to indicate that autism is part of who people are, and not necessarily something that can be nicely "cured" out.
Here's my two cents ... my son has autism (and my daughter was recently diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome), and he has always identified with River. Granted, she's definitely not autistic (there are too many symptoms missing, not to mention the fact that it's a developmental disability and can't be acquired by one's brain being mucked about with), but she's definitely a person with an inability to grasp or conform to social norms. He actually wrote a letter to Summer which I gave to her at Flanvention, telling her how much he identified with her. It actually made Summer cry! I think it gave him hope to see someone with social difficulties being portrayed in a positive, even heroic light.

Other side note: what does "stim" mean?

KnitWit, it's short for self-stimulation, which is what autistic kids are doing when you see them flapping their hands or doing other repetitive movements.

I really hate autism awareness month.

Hancoll, I can respect that, but I think it does a world of good to bring light to a disorder that far too many people still either don't know about, or have distorted understanding of. Especially with the numbers skyrocketing like they are. The latest numbers I read are that 1 in 150 kids born today will be diagnosed with autism, and, even more shockingly, 1 in 94 boys will be diagnosed autistic.

Also, for purely selfish reasons, I want more people to be aware of autism so that when they see my son or my daughter doing something odd, especially as they get older, their first reaction won't be one of disgust or ridicule.
KnitWit, "Stimming" is slang for what is known clinically as stereotypic or self-stimulatory behaviors, such as flapping hands, spinning or rocking. An adult autistic named Amanda Baggs has been making a lot of videos on YouTube to give non-autistics a sense of how an autistic experiences the world and this one shows what her version of stimming looks like, along with her own explanation of why she's doing it.

But to step away from mom-advocating-for-her-autistic-kid mode and to get back to proper fangirl mode, one thing I recall from the show is Simon saying that the academy had monkeyed with River's amygdula, and amygdula dysfunction is associated with autism, which could account for River displaying autistic-like behaviors.

BTW, many thanks to those who listen to people's experiences with autism with open minds and open hearts. :-)

[ edited by BrewBunny on 2008-04-03 02:50 ]
BrewBunny, thank you thank you for making the distinction between developmental disorder and mental illness. If you hadn't, I would have.

My brother was diagnosed with Autism for the purposes of receiving services at school, but his symptoms line up more closely with Asperger's. I appreciate the mixed feelings that a lot of us have about this article: we appreciate the attention drawn to the disorder, but could do without misinformation.

While much of River's behavior comes from her stripped amygdala, I think when we see her as a child in both the show and in the movie, there's definitely a disconnect there between herself and her peers. Not so strong as to be diagnosable, I think, but close. I think my mom told me that she learned in her research on autism/Asperger's that a lot of times they will find multiple symptoms in relatives of diagnosed individuals; if you put the symptoms of various family members of a person with autism together, you will end up with enough to make one diagnosis. (I feel like I'm not explaining that well. Sigh.) I could see if Simon and River perhaps had a third sibling, a likelihood that this child would have autism, based on Simon and River's social interactions. For all that Simon knows how to be "appropriate," I don't think he knows how to be natural.

Education is one of the key ways of intervening. The problem you run into is in families like mine: my brother's doctors told my mother she needed to explicitly teach my brother social behaviors. She has such difficulty in social situations herself, however, that she felt like she needed someone else to teach them to her first.

This is one topic I'd love to hear Joss weigh in on.
not to mention the fact that it's a developmental disability and can't be acquired by one's brain being mucked about with)

Also not to mention that unless I'm seriously behind on my reading, it always manifests in early childhood, and there's no such thing as adolescent onset autism.

Joss is great at loving relationships with people with intractable problems. That is rare. The press should be more careful with their pop psychology.
BrewBunny, thank you thank you for making the distinction between developmental disorder and mental illness.

I second that. I've often thought that people who have reactions such as lexigeek mentioned don't know that there is a difference.
Thanks lexigeek and BrewBunny! And thank you also for the youtube link, BrewBunny; that was beautiful. :-)
menomegirl, I'll third that, but as far as your next sentence, when it comes to those negative reactions, I'd rather people didn't have them regardless which it is.
"In contrast, her portrayal of Cameron in T:TSCC actually is a much better reflection of what a teenager with autism or Asperger's Syndrome is like"

Well having Asperger's syndrome myself, that sounds offensive... :( I don't find it offensive but yeah...
It sounds like your saying that someone with asperger's is very much like a robot...
I can see where your coming from but Cameron is not a good example to use...

From my understanding this article wasn't stating that River was autistic. She just acted like someone with autism might act. There are many autistic levels and many autistic people act differently from others who have autism.
siwangmu, yeah, I'd rather they didn't, too. I don't know much about autism and I don't know big medical terms but I do know what it is to grow up with a family member with a developmental disorder. I was ten years old when my sister was born. Still playing with Barbie dolls and thinking whatever silly stuff girls that age do. My sister couldn't talk but she was more expressive than a lot of people I know. She had a hug for everyone, more love in her heart than anyone I ever knew. She never got angry and she didn't know how to hate. Growing up, learning to adapt with her handicaps, was an education in itself. I became very sensitive to the things people said, the way they reacted to anything different from what they thought was normal and I've often thought that physical perfection doesn't mean a damn thing if a person is ugly on the inside because that's where it really counts.
Well having Asperger's syndrome myself, that sounds offensive... :( I don't find it offensive but yeah...
It sounds like your saying that someone with asperger's is very much like a robot...

I may very well be digging myself into a bigger hole of ignoramusness and offensiveness, but...I have read some of the literature, as have apparently many people on this very well-read board. It does not say that people with Asperger's are like robots, it says that they may have some of the same pattern-recognition problems that frustrate the efforts of inventors who are trying to program computers for human-level pattern-recognition.

To me, that doesn't mean at all that people who might have similar problems are like computers. It just means that if some sensory-organ-to-brain-functions go wrong, some people might have a very hard time interpreting things the way that most people do. But it doesn't necessarily affect cognition. Someone who has autism might be much smarter than me, but their idea of a color might be different than the one that most people can easily agree on.
xerox, My apologies for having caused offense - I sincerely mean that I meant none. I didn't mean to say that those with autism or Asperger's are like robots. What was behind the statement was the thought that those on the spectrum do not for whatever reason seem to come hardwired for the same sort of things that most people do. So as a parent, you spend a lot of time trying to articulate for your child the logic underlying something that the rest of the world pretty much just takes for granted, especially in the finer points of social graces. (A task that's not so easy when the parent is kind of clueless in that regard too, as Kiba observed.) And after the first episode (where Cameron's behavior seemed outwardly typical), they show us a lot of Cameron learning about those very details.
also, isn't autism highly genetic based and has an onset by a few years old?

we see river in serenity at age what 7-12? and she doesn't seem to have the same mechanistic signs of autism.

just my 2 cents
I never took offense BrewBunny... I just think that using a fictional robot character as an example of how asperger teens act is just not a good idea... Some people might take offense... I didn't though. :)

And just because computers might share similar problems with people with asperger's, including me, doesn't mean a fictional robot on TV is a good example for what an asperger teen is like. Computers are made by scientists. Humans are made by crazy monkey love between a man and woman.

And BrewBunny, I understand completely how hard it is to socialize with people while having aspeger's. I only really had one, maybe two, friendships that have lasted. The reason was because these two people enjoyed the way I precived life and they were very understanding. Everyone at my school pretty much globbed together and rolled around laughing and having group fun. I couldn't relate to them... especially because I hated sports and that was pretty much all people at my school did. But I found two people who related to me and didn't like big groups either. They sort of helped me learn social skills and would comment every few months about how much I'd grown in my maturity. At the time I didn't know I had asperger's. I thought I only had ADHD and Bi-polar. Only recently I discovered that I have asperger's. It was a relief finding out because it explained why there were so many things about myself that I couldn't seem to get past.
Those two friends I will probably never see again. But everything I learned from our friendships are still there.
But yes I acted extremely differently from everyone at my school and people thought I was weird, but most people seemed to like having me around because I was funny (ha ha funny) and brought a fresh prospective to group activites (the ones that I eventually started becoming part of) as I got older and learned how to find out the things I could change about myself and the things that were and still are unchangable.

This might sound like I just had trouble with developing social skills but there are many other things that I deal with that I don't feel like getting into. I mean this isn't about me... ;)
And just because computers might share similar problems with people with asperger's, including me, doesn't mean a fictional robot on TV is a good example for what an asperger teen is like

You didn't read that carefully. And I wasn't excluding myself.
Firs off, I've only seen Serenity. As a special ed teacher who has taught several students with both Asbergers and autism, plus a number of other syndromes and conditions, I doubt very much that River is autistic. First, there's the age of onset issue. Sure, it's posssible to misdiagnose, and Asbergers often is, but the symptoms show up in early childhood. Secondly, autistics are not the only ones who self-stimulate. Self-stimulation can be a part of any number of disablities or conditions. Or trauma. Also, I can't see that she has any compulsive tendencies. As for the question of genetics, yes, Asbergers tends to run in families, but then so do a number of other disabilities. The part I didn't get in the article was when the author said that autistics are unpredictable. All of my students, with the exception of the extreme ADHDs, have been predictable. It's merely a question of understanding the child, or teen in my case. They have also been intelligent, articulate, and a lot of fun to teach. They are, by far, my favorite group.

That having been said, it is possible to create a disibility, or the appearance of a disibility, in a child through negative influence. And that's what I think River is - a traumatized teen. She's also psychic, and please don't all go running for the hills because I brought out the p-word and talk about it as if it were a real thing. But if she is seeing and hearing things that others don't, it might make her withdraw a bit, because it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't, especially with the trauma. It would also explain her brother's concern for her, as psychic children tend to be little bit at odds with their surroundings.

My thoughts on the matter anyway.

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 22:35 ]
Forgive my extreme ignorance but have we identified some actual biological indicator for Asperger's yet, like a genetic marker or reduced levels of a neurotransmitter or similar ? I ask because almost every male I know (myself included) exhibits traits in common with Asperger's and i'm wondering when you go from "being anal" or "geeky" to having an actual diagnosed condition ? Is it literally just being diagnosed that marks the turning point or is there something objective, like a blood test ?

(and without meaning to cause any offence, here - with some futzing on my part ;) - is wikipedia on Asperger's - usual caveats
This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as insensitive ... they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions [but] they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations ... People with AS may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward ways—such as forced eye contact—resulting in demeanor that appears rigid or socially naïve.

... but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.[1] Individuals with AS appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language that include humor, irony, and teasing.

which sounds quite a lot like Cameron to me, so I don't see why she's such a terrible example. We're ignoring the "killer robot from the future" aspect obviously but then we're also ignoring the psychic abilities and almost psychopathic lack of remorse that River displays when we compare her to people with autism.

The article raises awareness I guess (and inspired this interesting thread) but apart from that it doesn't seem all that meaningful. River isn't autistic and that's the simple, bald fact of the matter.

(and re: psychics, if you know any and like them, point them towards the Randi institute or a reputable scientist and then sit back as they become multi-millionaires, as well as helping advance human understanding of the universe immeasurably. Seriously, it's bordering on a civic duty)
No Saje, a blood test won't diagnose it. It would be nice if it did though. As far as I know, there is no defining genetic marker as yet, but then I am not a geneticist. Usually it's an observation of the child's behaviour in all of its social arenas, combined with IQ testing, etc. Long process and I don't do it. Compulsive behaviour, self-stimulation (in re. autism) and lack of social adjustmant are just two of the defining characteristics.

Please excuse my giggle here, but what you have asked about men in regards to Asbergers is kind of endearing. Men and women are different socially and they develop differently. Girls are, generally speaking, 2 years ahead of their male counterparts in juniour high, or so the theory goes.(Explains a lot, doesn't it?)Culture - both macro and micro- also play a role in how people interact. Yes, more males get diagnosed than females. It also tends to get overdiagnosed, but isn't alone in that. And it's also got some positive stuff going for it. Unless you and your male friends have any compulsive behaviour from which you absolutely cannot be budged (and participation on this website does not count :)), I wouldn't worry about it.

If we really get down to it, ALL children self-stimulate, as do adults - just differently. We're all a bit isolated, and feeling out of place, and not quite knowing how to act is part of the human condition. River is an extreme case because she has been traumatized. Cameron is literal because she is a machine. Machines are literal. When machines stop being literal, you get Cylons.

Thanks for the tip on the Randi insitute. I will check it out. There is an interesting theory here though in regards to autism and Asberger amongst some psychics. The increase in the number of what they call "sensitive children" is necessary for a psychic shift which should be coming around 2012, if I remember correctly. Their take is that these children are essential and play a role. I have not read the books, so can't say any more about it. And I ABSOLUTELY appologize to any parrents of these children if this offends. It is not my intent. Far from it.

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 13:03 ]

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 13:18 ]
Well, be warned, after a lifetime of seeing con artists and well meaning people that are just kidding themselves, Randi's a sceptic (as am I) but wow, if psychic abilities were actually shown to exist ? That'd be Earth shatteringly important for our understanding, literally a whole new realm for science to explore.

I don't think I know anyone that's actually compulsive in their behaviour but I have several friends that are, let's say, "very keen" on having their possessions alphabetised etc. Personally, I have this on/off "thing" with the switches on wall mounted power sockets - I really don't like them being asymmetrical, so if one is in the "on" position they both have to be. Which strikes me as a bit odd, if not exactly debilitating ;).

(and being quite literal is an occupational hazard for techies/geeks - though that might come from trying to "think" like a machine to some extent. Know your enemy ;)
Actually, I already knew about Randi, now that I've checked the site. I just didn't know his name. A psychic friend of mine considers him an offensive joke. Her take is why should she have to prove anything, and there's the "People will do anything for money", so why go there. And "Why should I play HIS game?", etc.

Science is actually investigating this under the guise of quantum physics (Now, don't all attack the Slug at once, guys.) Check out a film called, "What the BLEEP do I (We? I forget.)Know". Presents some interesting arguments.

As for compulsive behaviour, I have a thing about pictures, candles, my pens and hair. Pictures MUST be straight, burning candles scare me, no one gets to borrow my pens or touch the top of my head. Everybody's got something. Of course, a good homeopath would say that a dose of nux vomica would fix me right up. And now we are soooo off topic.

Let's bring it back on topic. Yeah, I've lost track of where that is...
River isn’t autistic or intended to be portrayed as such but as the mother of autistic twin boys I do understand how the EW writer might have seen a connection. Understanding autism means different things for psychologists, for teachers, for people who have autism/are autistic and for their parents/people with a close personal connection to them. As a parent you’re not trying to develop a general theory of autism and how it differs from other developmental disorders, you’re trying (desperately sometimes) to understand what things are like for your child. How he (and it is usually he) feels when he’s wrapped up in pouring water from one cup into another again and again and again or being freaked out by some unknown environmental factor.

Speaking personally I found the River POV sections of Objects in Space quite helpful, the idea of having no boundaries between her own thoughts and other people’s (one popular hypothesis about autism is that it involves difficulties with Theory of Mind) and the sequence when she picked up the gun but saw it as a twig conveyed a sense of what it might be like not to have all the usual reference points and filters for interpreting the world. The other thing that resonated was not River herself so much but her relationship with Simon. That bit at the beginning of Safe when they go to the store and she wanders off while he’s distracted was very reminiscent of almost any trip to public places with my boys when they were younger. Also the moment of lucidity River has later in the episode – with autistic children it's moments not of lucidity but of connection, understanding, eye contact that you come to treasure but the overall feeling of the scene was very recognisable.

[ edited by hayes62 on 2008-04-03 14:54 ]
Interesting to see the prejudice against autism and autistic people in this thread "River didn't have autism! Because that's sick - she just had a problem"
Some quotes to back up that opinion would be simply splendid Pumps ;).

Her take is why should she have to prove anything, and there's the "People will do anything for money", so why go there. And "Why should I play HIS game?", etc.

Why would she not "play his game" MysticSlug ? $1 million is a lot of money and even if she gives it all away to charity, isn't it better it go to a good cause than stay with someone she considers an offensive joke ?

Course, it's always been the case (so far) that psychics either don't want to "play his game" or have problems reproducing their feats in front of people used to evaluating evidence. Pity, as I say, it'd be incredibly exciting if someone could actually demonstrate it to the world at large.

And there's quite a lot of mysticism surrounding quantum physics, mainly because it's kind of weird and counter-intuitive ;). As it stands right now though, it doesn't provide an explanation for psychic phenomena though I could see how an incomplete understanding of e.g. the concept of non-locality (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance") might seem to furnish one. A deeper understanding might lead to some link between the two but of course, as long as people that apparently have genuine psychic abilities don't help science investigate then we'll never know (i'm curious about that film now though).

I guess i'll give you "good homeopath" BTW, not all of them are actively conning people, some are just mistaken ;).
That was very beautiful, hayes62, what you said about moments of connection. I understand what you mean. It also points to River's case being more one of psychic ability combined with psychosis as a result of trauma. I'm going to have to get Firefly and watch the episodes.

What you said about boundaries makes sense for a psychic interpretation, too. The theory is that everything is energy and connected. So while a non-psychic sees boundaries, the psychic sees a continual flow of connectivity where nothing is solid. This includes thought, as well, so there's really no boundary between one person's thought and another's. Without filters, it can be quite destabliizing and some do go nuts, which again would explain River.
Saje, you are just lovely! Quatum physics actually leads to a better undetstanding of what intuition is. Go watch the film. Marlee Matlin is in it, and she is easy on the eyes. I think you will also be suprised that several of the people interviewed are serious scientists with doctrates, no less.

As for Randi, it just isn't about the money. His tests won't prove anything because it just doesn't work that way.

Thanks for giving me the homeopath. I love my homeopath - very sexy man, never quacks.

Pumps, the only group of people I have any prejudice against are pedophiles. Please don't include me in "people".

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 15:38 ]
"Well, i'm alright" ;).
I've seen the movie in question and am also a fan of Randi (and P&T as well, much of their series Bullshit! is awesome). Its definitely interesting, but see the Wikipedia entry for info on who is behind it (always important to consider) and some criticism of its fast and loose approach to science.

P.S. - I should mention that Tom Cruise told me psychology is bullshit ;) For only $350 (and eventually $3,500,000) I can find out more!
I think the problem there is that he says that River is an accurate depiction of autism, whereas what he really means is that the show's take on Simon is a pretty good depiction of what it's like to love someone whose brain doesn't work like yours. His point isn't really about River: it's about how Simon relates to River. He didn't articulate that very well, though.
Wikipedia is always interesting. You do know that in academic circles, Wikipedia isn't a reliable souce, and yeah, neither are movies. But it's an interesting theory. Also intersting to note that that page is closed for editing because this is such a hot topic. I can see several things that the page itself misrepresents. I just figure we don't know everything yet, and I'm keeping an open mind. I'm a mystic slug, as you may have noticed.

Reminds me of this story I read in a book once about Psychology and Buddhism. The author was discussing monotheism contra polytheism with his roommate, who was all insenced about how misguided the ancient Greeks were. He basically won the argument by saying, "What if they were right?" So, what if?

(But why oh why must you bring him and them into this. Gleh.)

I knew people would go all wonky if I brought out the p-word and pretended there might actually be something to it. But we can't discuss River unless we address her psychic abilities. It's pertinent, and I think it explains more than trying to diagnose her as autistic.

Do the Dr. Phil thing. Love it for 15 minutes before you dismiss it. Ha ha... :) *sound of can opening. worms everywhere*

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 19:50 ]
Regardless of what River may "have" or have had "done to her," I've always appreciated her as one of the greatest examples of how Joss offers up characters who don't present behavioral norms or "desired" behaviors and yet have equal (or greater) dignity and power. The Other no longer seen as The Other, etc. Good for us all, methinks.

And though I don't have in-home experience with autism, I'm interested in the evolution of our understanding of it. A medical researcher/writer friend who has serious questions about the vaccine protocols for children in the U.S. believes that in terms of the suggested link between vaccines and autism, there's enough there there to be concerned. He suggests evidence of overwhelmed, immature immune systems, and given that boys have less mature immune systems than girls (estrogen's protective) the gender discrepancy in autism diagnoses makes sense. I know we keep veering off-topic here, but interesting discussion, all.
The thing is, measles, mumps and rubella epidemics are actually dangerous.

A possible link (for which, BTW, there's no evidence and some against) between autism and vaccination is a much less certain killer of children than those three diseases.

(for instance, here's a study from Japan which shows that diagnoses of autism continued to increase even after the MMR jab was withdrawn)
You do know that in academic circles, Wikipedia isn't a reliable souce, and yeah, neither are movies. But it's an interesting theory. Also intersting to note that that page is closed for editing because this is such a hot topic. I can see several things that the page itself misrepresents. I just figure we don't know everything yet, and I'm keeping an open mind.

I realize that (though I would point out that in most academic circles, neither are psychics or cult members), but the reasons I linked it for are things that it is not misrepresenting. One also imagines that the contents of it as frozen might well be the facts as verifiable. The article points out criticism and links to it, it does not take a position on it. This is a film made by folks from RSE and that is a fact that no one is disputing. Perhaps not shockingly it features Ramtha herself, JZ Knight, who was sued by her husband when he realized Ramtha's magical psychic powers weren't going to cure his HIV infection, in spite of what she'd been telling him for years. Too late now, he's dead. This is the sort of thing that drives Randi and Penn (and Houdini, by the way). And the film does start out with some quantum mechanics and then abandons actual quantum mechanics in favor of further out there theories. I enjoyed the film and agree that we don't know it all yet, but blindly believing and blindly disbelieving are both the wrong way to go.

I am with you on your thoughts on withdrawn psychic children as a theory of River's behavior and personality construction (or deconstruction, you take your pick :)).

Reminds me of this story I read in a book once about Psychology and Buddhism. The author was discussing monotheism contra polytheism with his roommate, who was all insenced about how misguided the ancient Greeks were. He basically won the argument by saying, "What if they were right?" So, what if?

What if indeed. Not sure how this relates to Buddhism, but what if :)

(But why oh why must you bring him and them into this. Gleh.)

Because as with so many things, there are well meaning people and there are con artists. Randi and P&T are happy to believe in anything proven to them. I realize thats the other dirty p-word in this thread, but being asked to demonstrate something you claim shouldn't cause you to get your back up. That's the general you not any particular you in this thread. It seems to me the people not willing to address the question of psychic abilities are the psychics.

I'm certainly fascinated by anything that attempts to integrate science and mysticism, I've enjoyed a number of Ken Wilber's books on the subject and know a lot of folks (Buddhist, Contemplative Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, and otherwise) who are interested in integral theory as well.
The thing is, measles, mumps and rubella epidemics are actually dangerous.

Of course they are. Suggesting that their might be a link between young people with immature immune systems, a cocktail of immunizations and autism certainly doesn't = don't vaccinate. Nor does it mean all kids/all vaccines/all autism. It's just a possible thread to follow to a possible bigger picture ball-o-twine related to overall health. There's rarely a cut/dry black/white causative relationship of a+b=c in health. One theory posits that metal-based preservatives in vaccines may trigger the condition in pre-disposed children. It's not much of a leap, when you consider the accepted science about metals in adults and how overload (way less than you'd expect) can trigger the development of unrelated conditions that the patient is predisposed to.
Yeah, Mercury, right ? Nevertheless, i'd say unless it's since been disproven then that study of Japanese kids is fairly conclusive - the rate of autism actually increased post 1992, when the MMR jab was withdrawn. Over here, the study by Andrew Wakefield that first caused the panic actually proved to not support statements he made in the press leading to him retracting some of his own conclusions but, like apologies/retractions in newspapers, that bit didn't spread nearly as far and wide as his initial baseless claims did.

And it's fine to say we don't know and that it doesn't equal don't vaccinate, I agree and think that's very reasonable. The thing is though, people are extremely bad at judging risk (especially when it comes to their kids) and, most people in the West having never witnessed a measles epidemic, they're going to refuse to get their kids vaccinated because autism seems like a more present danger (possibly partly because major Hollywood films about people with the measles are pretty thin on the ground ;).

In the UK we've had two record years of measles cases and a boy died in 2005 precisely because MMR vaccine uptake has dropped. It's below the 90-95 % coverage required to keep us safe from outbreaks all across the country and in some places it's dropped to 50%. That's what happens when you put those kinds of doubts into people's heads.
Just another comment. The vaccines that were being used were changed b/c of this study. It takes alot of money to change vaccines so that they are generally safe, effective and cost effective to produce. There is a very obvious link between the vaccines and autism. Yes many of the cases may have been with "pre-disposed" children but not all and certaintly some of the children may never of had to deal with the development issues had it not been for the vaccine. That said yes measles, mumps and rubella are also very dangerous and I would prefer that my child deal with development challenges instead of possibly dying from disease.
I have a nephew and also a friend with Asperger's Syndrome and they are both very intelligent and have specialized humor but their biggest problems lie in knowing when they are being teased and when they are being joked with. Also they love to read and play online but actual physical interaction can be somewhat stressful on them. They are both working on becoming helpful members of society just like the rest of us. They just view the world a little differently than some of us. And I applaud anyone who can learn that just because someone has a specific challenge them must over come they are not the label. If you say a child has dyslexia or a speech impetament no one bats an eye when not so long ago they wanted to put them on the short yellow bus and keep them in remedial or special education classes. I hope that one day children with Autism will recieve the same acceptance and understanding as these children. As a teacher I understand the challenges but with better communication between parents/teachers/doctors there is no reason why with just a little extra patience these kids couldn't be in the normal classrooms and slowly learning the social interaction part not to mention last summer when I working with the school age kids 2-6 grades I taught them that the kids in the class who happen to be deaf, one autistic, and one with MS weren't really that different. And by the end of the summer I think I really got through some of the social stigma. But I'm ashamed that our public school systems perpetuate this sort of crap. Just some of what I feel, take with a grain of salt if you will.
OK I've read most of what has been written here with interest. I am also the parent of a high functioning Autistic/Aspergers child and probably married to one (not formally diagnosed yet). My 11 year old son falls into the category of Autistic Savant and Gifted as well. I often quote the bit that Simon says about River being a gift when talking about my 8 year old daughter, as young River and my daughter are so similar. But from being of the same genetic stock as the rest of the family she shows what can only be described as Autistic tendencies, although she can show empathy which means she is not on the Autistic spectrum herself.I thought it was interesting that a poster mentioned River as a child in Serenity, she is seen as not complying to the norm, she tells it as she sees it, not towing the party line. A high functioning Autistic child is far more likely to do this than the neuropathically normal child. If they believe that they are right they cannot let go of the argument.

Kiba, I found your post particularly interesting, the approach in this country is family therapy, which we have found really helps because my husband does not have the ability to teach social interaction either. Also here a child with Aspergers is treated under the umbrella diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with Aspergers being the more independant functioning end of the spectrum.

For anyone that is interested the diagnostic criteria for an ASD is what is known as a "triad of impairments" Which are difficulty with social communication, difficulty with social interaction and difficulty with social imagination which is no where near as clear cut as it sounds!
And it doesn't sound that clear cut to begin with ;).

There is a very obvious link between the vaccines and autism.

You mean apart from the evidence which suggests otherwise ?

This is my problem with "magical thinking" - people interpret any uncertainty as complete uncertainty, some unknowns as complete lack of knowledge.

Yes, it sounds plausible, yes you might have had anecdotal experiences that suggest a link and yes it might even be true but right now, the evidence says it isn't true, that's what's obvious.

Then explain WHY pray tell they changed the vaccines long before they normally have to update such things? Take the Singular study for instance. There is a strong anecdotal evidence this causes bi-polar tendencies & suicidal ideations and behavior. They haven't recalled it, the FDA hasn't banned it. A study came out that the vaccines may be linked in the uprise in autism and they went through the difficult and costly measures to reformulate the vaccines. You want to know why so many contradictory studies come out, people who want to avoid law suits pay people to conduct studies. Studies are not irrefutable proof I'll agree, but just like everything else they tell us is bad for us, a study somes out and says this causes blue hair disease stop eating it immediately, and then anywhere from a week to a couple of years later a study will come out that says no this doesn't cause blue hair disease its pefectly safe. Nothing is every truly clear cut. So nothing I guess is obvious. You may be right the newest study does say that most of those cases would have been set off by something else its immpossible to tell. But people in the Prescription Drug Industry do not recall or reformulate things very lightly, that I do know. I do NOT know for sure there is an undenieable link or not between the vaccines and the rise in autism, but neither do you unless you were one of the doctors on the latest study and you saw with your very own eyeballs and your highly trained scientific methodical mind that it was all bollocks. And if thats the case then I apologize sincerely, but if not I take serious offense from you labeling my opinion (which is the opposite of a fact and never claimed otherwise) as "magical thinking". From what I've seen you like to post things as the devil's adovocate and stir up things, that I can respect but petty labels and near name calling needs to be reserved for the playground.
I still think there may be a viable connection, despite what any studies may have published. Note, I said "publish". I happen to know of a case where a pharmaceutical company paid for a study to be done, but also said they wouldn't publish the findings if it didn't suit their adgenda. For the record, it had nothing to do with this topic.

Consider the following: Unopposed estrogen causes cancer - no longer denied, and they tried for years. The use of progestine in hormone replacement therapy may cause asthma, and I think they're starting to come around on this one. Some asthma medicines have been linked to osteoperosis - no longer denied. The use of certain anti-biotics can lead to a loss of hearing in children - no longer denied (also my daughter).

I could go on. As I write this, I recall a student of mine who had a hearing loss. She was TOLD it could have been the result of a vaccine. As far as I know, pharmaceutical companies test drugs in isolation, not in combination. And I don't believe for a minute that they are entriely forthcoming.

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-04-03 23:43 ]
I think when we see her as a child in both the show and in the movie, there's definitely a disconnect there between herself and her peers.

I think this is an "exceptionally gifted" thing.
Yes, it sounds plausible, yes you might have had anecdotal experiences that suggest a link and yes it might even be true but right now, the evidence says it isn't true, that's what's obvious.

But Saje, who makes science? And more importantly, who pays for it? I would tend to agree that, as a method of inquiry, it's vastly preferable to others. But when it's controlled by industry or government with very poor measures for its independence, it's not necessarity superior to word of mouth or folk methods.
It most definitely is better than word of mouth dreamlogic, you only need to look at the way rumours and misinformation spread around here for proof of that (as a "method of inquiry" I mean, I agree not always necessarily in individual cases). I also agree that there's a lot of good, valuable information "stored" in folk wisdom - when it's checked and verified i've no problem relying on a lot of it (a lot of it's plain nonsense as well of course but so it goes ;).

Is science perfect ? Absolutely not. Is it ever wrong ? All the time, in fact it's predicated on being wrong and then learning from those mistakes. Is it still, however, by far the best method for examining the world around us ? I'm in no doubt whatsoever but i'd love to see the evidence against if anyone has any.

Regarding autism and MMR, well the CDC, the National Academy of Sciences, the NHS and others have all stated that there's no evidence for any link. Maybe they're all wrong or involved in a (multinational) government conspiracy and maybe we can't believe anything "they" tell us but how then are we to believe one study over any other ? They're pretty much all products of this shadowy "military industrial complex" after all, which means evidence for is precisely as useless as evidence against which in turn means we're back to no evidence there's a link.

What's more, reports came to light after the Wakefield publication that, in fact, the most biased party in all of it might well be him - he apparently received money from lawyers pursuing a case against vaccine manufacturers and there have been allegations that he was applying for patents on alternative vaccines.

For people genuinely interested (and with all the usual caveats - it's far from 100% reliable but it's often a good place to start ;) the wikipedia page has citations for some of the (numerous) subsequent papers that indicate there's more or less zero evidence for a link and plenty against (it also outlines the controversy re: Wakefield et al and in doing so explains why there probably never was any).

... but if not I take serious offense from you labeling my opinion (which is the opposite of a fact and never claimed otherwise) as "magical thinking".

You said "There is a very obvious link between the vaccines and autism.". In what way is that not a simple assertion of fact ? I don't see an "It seems to me ..." or "In my opinion ..." or "It's at least possible ..." there and the nature of the discussion doesn't imply one either (if we were talking about Buffy then it's mostly opinion but we're talking about real, verifiable facts).

FWIW, if I caused you "serious offense" then I apologise unreservedly, I wasn't attacking you personally, merely your approach to evidence. Also FWIW, if i'm playing devil's advocate i'll normally say so (and have in the past), otherwise you can normally assume I actually think what I claim to think (except when i'm kidding - what can I say, it's not an exact science ;). If I stir things up it's because I have a low tolerance for bullshit, especially the kind that kills.

I'm interested in those changes to the vaccine you mention BTW but a quick google doesn't turn much up, do you have a link ? Ta ;).

(and no, I wasn't one of the doctors that directly observed there was no connection but why is that relevant ? Even if I was I could still be wrong about what I saw, personally I make mistakes all the time, possibly you're the same GothicJossMinion, and that's why non-magical thinking stresses repeatability, objectivity where possible, careful analysis and as many different people's systematic contributions as it's possible to get).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-04-04 10:23 ]

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