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News / Spotted

Autism author; new leadership; cannabis crush and more

by  /  14 July 2017

July 10th

Autism author

Naoki Higashida, who has autism and is the author of “The Reason I Jump,” has a new book out: “Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8.” Writer David Mitchell and his wife KA Yoshida translated both books from Japanese into English. Mitchell, author of “Cloud Atlas,” wrote 7 July in The Guardian that Higashida’s books have helped him and Yoshida better understand their own son with autism.

The Toronto Star ran an excerpt from Higashida’s book on 9 July. In the wide-ranging section, Higashida talks about laughing, banging his head, obstacles in his life, and friendship.

“I would like people to stop pressuring children to make friends,” he writes. “Whether or not we have lots of friends, every single one of us is the main protagonist of our own existence. Having no friends is nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s all follow and be true to our singular path through life.”


New leadership

The Trump administration has named Brenda Fitzgerald, currently Georgia’s public health commissioner, to head up the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The New York Times reported 7 July that Fitzgerald is an OB-GYN who has twice run for Congress as a Republican but is considered a moderate.

Fitzgerald has “strong ties” to two Trump associates from Georgia: Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, according to the Times. She has raised some eyebrows over her lack of scientific research experience and her promotion of controversial anti-aging therapies in her private practice, according to an editorial in Nature on Wednesday. However, she also has a reputation as an effective leader known for prioritizing maternal and child health.

The New York Times / 07 Jul 2017

Georgia’s health commissioner named to lead C.D.C.

Budget bypass

A U.S. House of Representatives spending subcommittee has largely ignored most of the steep reductions in the Trump administration’s proposed science budget for 2018. The House proposal includes a limited reduction for the National Science Foundation and little change for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from its 2017 allocation, Nature reported 28 June.

Evaporating appointments

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and a “commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity” are on a 7 July Business Insider list of putative Trump administration plans that have evaporated since the presidential election. Kennedy announced the appointment and commission on 10 January following a meeting with Trump, but neither has since transpired.

Stem cell caution

An international group of 15 researchers has called for tighter global regulations on stem cell treatments. Writing in Science Translational Medicine on 5 July, the scientists express concern about the dangers of inappropriate marketing of the unproven therapies. Such treatments have interested some in the autism community but continue to be a minefield of unknowns.


Murine misstep

Two Vanderbilt University researchers have retracted their own 2016 paper after discovering that they used the wrong transgenic mouse line for their work. Maureen Gannon and Raymond Pasek contacted Retraction Watch, which reported 12 July on the pair’s decision to pull their paper from the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researchers said they were “devastated” at their discovery but felt it was crucial to acknowledge the mistake. “Honesty is always the best policy,” they told Retraction Watch. “Especially in today’s climate of ‘fake news’ and science being under attack. The scientific community and the public needs to trust published scientific results.”

College transition

Almost 70 percent of people with autism do not complete college. This sobering statistic compelled Susan White of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and her colleagues developed a program called STEPS (Stepped Transition in Education Program for Students with ASD) that provides support from high school into college.

Satisfaction with STEPS in an ongoing randomized controlled trial is “quite high,” the researchers write in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


Electrified neurons

Electrical current can draw human neural stem cells away from their usual destinations in rat brains, according to results published 29 June in Stem Cell Reports. The cells also differentiate into various cell types, including microglia. The findings raise the possibility of luring cells to different brain regions to repair areas of damage.


Researcher detained

A Boston Children’s Hospital cancer researcher from Iran and his family were detained at Boston Logan International Airport on 10 July.

The researcher, Mohsen Dehnavi, has a J-1 visa for visiting scholars, according to The Boston Globe. He and his wife and three children, ages 7 months, 3 and 6 years old, were detained for several hours before being sent back to Iran, the Globe reported. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not specified a reason for the deportations.


Spectrum hero

Samuel Hookham, a young gamer with autism, detected similarities between himself and Symmetra, a character in the popular video game “Overwatch.” As part of a project for his high school English class, Samuel wrote to famed game designer Jeffrey Kaplan, who oversaw development of “Overwatch,” asking about the character. Kaplan confirmed that Symmetra is indeed on the spectrum, reported Wired on 12 July.

Symmetra is a 28-year-old woman from India named Satya Vaswani who uses a photon projector to bend light, as befits a character on the spectrum.

Goodwill ambassador

The World Health Organization has named Saima Wazed Hossain as its Goodwill Ambassador for Autism in South-East Asia Region. Hossain, a native of Bangladesh, has worked for several years championing the integration of the needs of people with autism into the region’s health and socioeconomic development plans.

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  • aba skeptic

    Is anyone else surprised that so few members (scientists, bloggers, winners of the Samuel Johnson prize) in the autism commentariat have expressed any skepticism about the questionable legitimacy of Naoki Higashida’s work? Articulate, mature, peculiarly alive to the concerns of neurotypical adults, The Reason I Jump (RIJ) presents a highly idealized portrait of a non-verbal autistic 13 year-old, one that, as Michael Fitzpatrick, author and father of a high-support adult autistic man has noted ( may only serve to perpetrate certain myths, i.e. that such children are not only “inside there” but also spiritual savants, environmentally-attuned, more articulate than typical teens etc.. All this despite a dearth of detail about Higashida’s writing process and a general skepticism (misplaced or not) of far more modest authorship claims related to, e.g. facillitated communication. Does no one else find that Reason I Jump reads suspiciously–cynical as it may sound–like the ultimate just-so story for autism parents? Fitzpatrick thinks so. He writes: “I believe that my son enjoys swimming pools because he likes water, not because, in the fanciful speculations of Higashida, he is yearning for a ‘distant, distant watery past’ and that he wants to return to a ‘primeval era’ in which ‘aquatic lifeforms came into being and evolved’. Like Bartleby in Herman Melville’s wonderful short story of 1853, he is ‘always there’, completely himself. As Melville memorably concludes, ‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!’” Surely Higashida deserves the same respect for difference that Melville gave Bartleby?

    • aba skeptic

      “I wish The Reason I Jump included more documentation on Naoki’s ability to communicate independently. It should have included descriptions of how he was taught, in either the foreword or the afterword.”–Temple Grandin, Cerebrum, 2014 Jan-Feb; 2014: 3.


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