Hans Asperger

Aspergers & the MMR Myth

Dr. Maurice Hilleman - An Unsung Hero

I have encountered several instances lately of people refusing to allow their children to have the MMR vaccination because of the apparent link between MMR and Aspergers Syndrome.

The MMR Vaccine was introduced in the UK in 1988, and it was a welcome relief given that the year before, a localised Measles outbreak had killed 17 children. The chap responsible for the vaccine was Dr. Maurice Hileman, who can only be described as an unsung hero. Dr Hileman was a US based researcher who is responsible for nine out of the 14 recommended vaccines to control childhood illness, who spent over thirty years of his life perfecting and researching vaccines to protect children.

Hans Asperger

Hans Aspergers was another remarkable man. He was an Austrian Paediatrician who did most of his landmark research during the 1940’s having served as a medical officer in Croatia. During 1944 Asperger and his sister opened a small hospital for the study of people with what he then termed “Autistic Psychopathy”, but unfortunately the hospital was bombed before the end of the war and along with all his research, his sister was lost. For a number of reasons Aspergers research never fully recovered from these events. He continued in a slow methodical fashion for years afterwards, but his research and studies continued in scientific obscurity.

Dr Lorna Wing

In 1981 a British researcher called Lorna Wing wrote a remarkable paper which not only challenged the accepted autistic model, but directly addressed the missing elements from the model. Up until this point it had been apparent that there were people with serious Autistic traits, but who could manage very high levels function and didn’t seem to have any early development problems with language, reading and writing. It was very clear in fact that something was amiss, and  Lorna Wing’s paper addressed this – it was the first paper based on Has Aspergers research and she used his phrasing: Aspergers Syndrome.

Between 1981-1990, a great deal of research was carried out with regard to Hans Aspergers findings and they were proven conclusively. This lead to better diagnostic tools and the research also lead to the discovery of ADHD and several other social and personality disorders. By 1990 Aspergers Syndrome had key criteria which could be used for definitive diagnosis.

During the early 1990’s a couple gave birth to a child who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. As parents are want to do, they searched for a cause, and having spoken to a few other parents it seemed that one of the things these children had in common was the relatively new MMR vaccine.

Dr Andrew Wakefield

Within months a medical journal called Lancet published a research paper linking MMR to Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. The research paper was written by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. However the claims in the paper were not substantiated and it later transpired that Dr. Wakefield was in the pay of solicitors who were acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR.

The media of course didn’t help, and that lead to Dr.Wakefield’s findings being widely accepted by the public. And the sad truth is that a vaccination which was designed to save the lives of children became widely disparaged, and many children have gone untreated.

There is no link between the MMR and Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, it is that simple.

It is almost certain that Aspergers Syndrome has a genetic component, which leaves some people vulnerable to the condition, but by no means ensures the condition. The triggers the condition is now thought to occur in the womb, probably within the fist 20 weeks of pregnancy, which triggers some form of auto-immune reaction between mother and foetus which causes developmental factors that affect many or all functional brain systems, as opposed to localized effects. This isn’t damage as opposed to developmental change which ultimately results in what we call Aspergers Syndrome or in extreme cases Autism. These changes in development don’t appear to effect how well these systems work, but rather how they interact with each other and to some extent, which systems take priority over others.

A recent study using a brain-imaging technique called voxel-based morphometry was conducted at Kings College London. It was determined that people with Aspergers Syndrome appear to have substantially less grey matter in their medial temporal, fusiform and cerebellar regions and in their brainstem and cerebellar regions (the regions associated with facial recognition, emotions and reasoning, but it also showed increased activity in these areas far above normal. What is more, it showed that candidates who were diagnosed with Autism had much more grey matter in their frontal and temporal lobe regions; something which the Aspie patients didn’t have, confirming conclusively that they are indeed separate (but related) conditions.

These interesting findings  suggest increased efficiency in brain activity in some areas, but but also some missing or imapired neural functions. It is also worth mentioning at this point that their are a growing group of researchers who believe that Aspergers Syndrome and Autism are not necessarily diseases or disabilities, but simply a natural way of being, whether that involves evolution and mother-nature experimenting or a natural progression of human  development is unclear. I am unsure if I subscribe to this particular theory, but it is interesting nevertheless.

I have tried to keep this post as factual as possible, and I hope it helps make clear the evidence that not only does the MMR vaccine NOT increase the chances of Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, but that these conditions in themselves are slowly being understood and explained.

Are vaccines 100% safe? No probably not. All vaccines, indeed all medications have an inherent risk.There does seem to be a link between autism and mercury – specifically if your parents and/or grandparents where exposed to large doses. It is true that some vaccines use a mercury based preservative, but the MMR vaccine is NOT one of these

OK I shall step off my soap box now and I will put an end to this post, which is unusually serious, for which I apologise. I also apologise if this post has come across a little preachy, but there were some important points I felt needed to be covered.

ZenEmu. X

Edit: Relevant links Added 12th January 2011 –

Report Alleges Money Motivated Doctor Behind Autism-Vaccine Scare

Vaccine study’s author held related patent, medical journal reports

Aspergers and Eye Contact

Aspergers: Eye Contact

Aspergers and Eye ContactI need an analogy or two for this post, and these are the ones that come to mind, so I apologise in advance:

Have you ever walked in on someone who is getting changed? Or have you ever opened the bathroom door without thinking, only to find someone already sitting there on the loo or in the shower? That kind of thing is pretty embarrassing isn’t it?  And it is a hundred times worse if you don’t know that person very well.

I’m expected to make eye contact; it is what most people do very naturally and they seem to instinctively know how much eye contact is acceptable or expected in any given situation. I know some people are better at this than others and it is a lot to do with personality and how assertive or submissive they are, but they usually find a balance without giving it any real thought. I understand it is important too, as people tend to think you are not listening without eye contact or they may think you are lying or have something to hide.

I have Aspergers Syndrome, and when I make eye contact I feel like I have just opened that bathroom door and it feels incredibly intrusive. So for me making eye contact is the equivalent of over riding the urge to quickly shut that bathroom door in order to hide your embarrassment. What is worse is that I carry a mental camera with me, and it automatically takes a thousand picutres every time I look at you. That shocking feeling of intrusion takes me by surprise every time and as you can imagine – it can be quite distracting and sometimes,  even a little upsetting.

I find it easier to make eye contact with people I know well, but even then it doesn’t feel 100%  natural. With strangers or vague acquaintances it requires a concerted effort to make eye contact; I have to physically will myself to make eye contact and I have no idea how much is too much or too little.

For me none of the social rules for eye contact apply. If I am not looking at you, it is often because I am focusing on and processing what you are saying and equally,  if I am speaking and not looking at you, it is because I am concentrating on what I need to say. In short I often forget to make eye contact.

Oddly it isn’t just eyes that create this shocking feeling either. I don’t much care for camera lenses and it is again very much an effort to look straight at a camera when having my photo taken.

Most people with Aspergers Syndrome (there are exceptions), struggle with eye contact and out of all the Aspergers symptoms I suspect poor eye contact is the one that leads to the most misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.

There are tricks that can be learned, for example looking at the nose if you are far enough away for short periods (a count of fifteen for example) is one of many tricks, but there are a lot of other things an Aspie needs to remember to maintain some appearance of normality too, and it can be incredibly tiring after a while and after having to put this kind of effort in for prolonged periods of time, it does tend to have a negative effect on your mood.

I hope this post gives some small insight as to why many people with Aspergers Syndrome have problems with eye contact. If you know or meet an Aspie, then try to bear these things in mind, so hopefully their will be a little less confusion and misunderstandings.

ZenEmu X

sunrise

Insomnia, Disconnection & Aspergers Syndrome

I like watching the sun rise, something about it is quite soothing – especially with a nice hot cup of coffee in hand. I have drunk oceans of coffee and seen countless sunrises. I know, many of you are thinking surely coffee doesn’t help with insomnia, but in my case, actually it does and besides it’s my last vice having been nicotine free for a year now. Hmmm, yeah, anyway, moving on:

I have a life long relationship with Insomnia and in my experience as an Aspie, it isn’t just a simple question of not being able to get to sleep; it is also a question of controlling where your mind takes you. Many people with Aspergers Syndrome have a rather strange symptom called Disconnection disorder. I don’t really like the term “disorder” though, because Disconnection can be a interesting and wonderful experience. Unfortunately unless have  been privy to your own personal Disconnection, I daresay it is a pretty hard concept to grasp.

[stextbox caption="Disconnection"]Disconnection is a partial or complete temporary dissociation from your surroundings.

Imagine being able to simply take your mind on holiday for a while and disconnect from your surroundings for a bit. This vacation has defined rules and limitations, but you are in charge and you can visualize, experiment or do anything you want. You can run through scenario’s, you can visualize shapes, patters or places; you can rehearse conversations and interact and it is very nearly as real as, well reality. It sounds pretty trippy really doesn’t it?  Well it’s not quite Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, but its close, sadly its just missing the high. [/stextbox]

This description is just a generalization, people with AS Disconnect in all manner of different ways, and some don’t even realise they do it at all. For me Disconnection is usually a subtle and relaxing thing and I have full control over it, so I am lucky. I can usually choose to do it at will, which gives me a method of examining and analyzing things that are happening.

For me the problems start when I have Insomnia. I’m not talking about missing a night’s sleep here; I’m talking about real insomnia, where you may have grabbed an hour or so sleep every night for a week or so. When that happens I loose the ability to control Disconnection and more importantly I have no control of the things I experience during Disconnection, so it is like a semi lucid waking dream / nightmare without the benefit of any real sleep. I suppose it is a bit like being half awake half dreaming, but experiencing real time and not getting the usual Circadian rhythm. It can be quite monotonous or worse it can be outright unpleasant or disturbing.

Caffeine helps to prevent these unpleasant episodes, so when I have insomnia, I tend to drink a lot of caffeine to keep me more lucid and a little more active. Yes, I am perfectly aware that makes no sense in battling insomnia, but it is better than the half life alternative. I have to be active when I have Insomnia, usually I read books, play computer games or write blogs like this one that few people will ever read, but it is quite therapeutic.

For me Insomnia is a random and usually inconvenient event, and I tend get several attacks of it per year, but then I can go for months sleeping perfectly normally. I remember it being much worse as a child, not helped by the fact that I required very little sleep up until my teenage years. I don’t think I have a trigger either, although obviously stress doesn’t help.

Unfortunately the Aspie brain seems to have a hard time slowing down sometimes and switching off and Insomnia is very common among people with Aspergers Syndrome. I’ve tried in the past to battle Insomnia with medication and every other recommended method. In the end nothing really worked for me so I have simply learned to accept it and now I enjoy watching the sun come up.

If anyone has some remedies for Insomnia that don’t require imbibing something that would down a large horse or break the law, please feel free to share them!

Remember, the last refuge of the insomniac is a mild and slightly deluded sense of superiority over the sleeping world.

Sleep well.

Zen Emu X

moo_screen001

Free Orion

The year was 1993 and to be honest not a lot of nice things happened. The world trade centre was bombed, the Northern Ireland talks weren’t looking promising, Sadam was being difficult about weapon inspectors and there was a rather nasty nuclear accident in Tomsk-7,  a small town in Russia. On the brighter side Microsoft released Windows 3.1 and much more importantly Sid Meier’s most excellent software development company Microprose struck gold again with a game called Master of Orion and made an otherwise depressing year a little bit more bearable.

Master of Orion (or MoO – yes I know), was a turn based strategy game based in space, where your goal is to take over the entire galaxy by colonizing solar systems and a rather clever combination of diplomacy and war. Victory is achieved when you have either taken over the entire galaxy or you have been elected the High Leader by the Galactic Council.

In short it was probably the best game released up until that point for PC and Apple Mac, and three years later, the sequel: Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares (MoO:2) was even better! There was a third game, but it wasn’t a Microprose game and it should never have been released, it was that bad – enough said.

Free Orion

A few years ago a fantastic team of programmers decided they wanted to realise the untapped potential of the Master of Orion games and they began work on an open source project called Free Orion. There have been a few buggy releases over the years, but now it is fully playable and absolutely excellent, with full multiplayer and online modes too! Along side Oolite, this is now probably one of the best open source games available.

I’m not going to rant and rave about this game too much, because you need to play it yourself  to see how good it is. If you played the original games, all I can say is that this project really does embrace the spirit of the Master of Orion Series.

Here are the useful links:

http://www.freeorion.org/

FreeOrion – Download

FreeOrion – Forum

Enjoy and watch out for the Guardian!

ZenEmu

rainy mood

Rainy Mood

Rainy Mood is another one of those really bizarre websites that I think is great.

Rainy mood plays a thirty minute audio loop of a raging thunder storm, which is actually surprisingly relaxing. It’s creators claim that it can help you get a better nights sleep a bit like a white noise generator, but to be honest I have my doubts about that, but next time I get Insomnia I may give it a shot, although I daresay Avaloncariad will solve my insomnia by killing me if I play this at 3am :)

I will add that laptop speakers don’t really do it justice, or at least mine don’t. It’s very popular, with over 40,000 fans on facebook and over 15,000 retweets, so give it a go and see what you think.

http://www.rainymood.com/

Remember there is no such thing as bad weather, there is just a poor choice of clothing and a lack of preparation.

ZenEmu X

Steve Jobs

Steve, Steve, Steve…

Steve, Steve, Steve…

Oh Dear, Steve Jobs has been making waves again. Now it looks like he is prepared to go to war against Adobe, but who will the casualties be? I suspect it will be us. Still, whether he’s a genius or a madman, you have to respect his determination.

As you know I am a fan of his holiness – Steve Jobs. Recently he has been let down by his website design team. While instilling the virtues of HTML 5 and the evils of flash recently, Steve pointed out how easily HTML 5 can work easily across all platforms and how quickly it can be adopted. Apple posted examples on its website, but they are limited to Safari, not a good move by Apple. Steve, if you read this, take my advice and fire the lot of them. It wouldn’t surprise me if they design  Apples websites on Windows XP machines just to laugh behind your back.

So whats the deal with HTML 5 anyway?

Well HTML4 and CSS are messy to begin with, you see different browsers deal with HTML and CSS in slightly different ways, meaning the final output is not necessarily exactly how you would want it in every single browser. Although there are tricks to get around these minor browser niggles, it can often mean using lots of snippets of code which are superfluous to other browsers. In short, browser developers hate website developers.

HTML5 doesn’t change any of the above. What it does do is add some new functions which will remove the need for some third party browser plug-ins like Flash. The most common use of flash these days is to play video, but most flash video is also encoded in a format called H.264, which HTML5 supports naively. It has greater built in audio support as well for most of the common formats. It also adds some much needed advanced animation options and commands too. Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it? And it would be if everybody was on-board and all the browsers adopted it and agreed to compile it in the same way, unfortunately there are already arguments, disagreements and poor development of the new generations of HTML 5 browsers.

Steve may be making his stand against flash (and to be honest, there is a definite element of sour cider, between Apple and Adobe who own Flash, as they have had a long and often fiery history. Adobe it seems, have been woefully slow in updating flash and making it run more smoothly. Flash has always been a system resource hog (try playing a flash game on a laptop while running on battery, you will see what I mean), and things simply haven’t been improved enough if at all for small portable devices like the IPhone, Ipad, Ipod and Blackberry to name a few. Flash eats vast amounts of memory and takes up a surprising amount of CPU time, whereas HTML5 performing similar functions doesn’t really. Newer portable devices have hardware specifically for decoding H.264 video for example, which dramatically increases battery life over flash.

Adobe, to be fair make some fairly decent products like Photoshop, but they also make some dire products too like acrobat reader, which many of you will have installed.  Their mainstream products tend to be pretty good, if somewhat over priced, but things like Acrobat Reader, Flash, Shockwave and Air are simply not updated often enough and as any web developer will tell you, they are poorly coded and unnecessarily bulky and worse still, you have to wait for Adobe to update them. So Steve has some pretty valid points here.

Unfortunately, what Steve is not going to get around is the plain and simple fact that a truly vast amount of websites use flash these days, and as such possibly as much as 25% of websites will have some non-viewable Flash content on them which Apples portable devices simply can see. In short Steve appears to be in a bind, to flash or not to flash? Steve shose to protect his modesty. A brave if somewhat questionable choice. Still with two million Ipads sold in two months, it seems the public are backing Steve on this one.

It seems that his website development team aren’t the only ones letteing poor old Steve down. Recently when presenting Iphone 4 to the press on stage, Steve’s Iphone broke. Happily Steve didn’t kill anyone for these mistakes, well not personally anyway.

Remember, Men love war because it makes them look serious. Sadly it is the one thing that stops women laughing at them.

Zen Emu X

EDIT – AUGUST 2012: Just recently Adobe announced it was no longer actively developing Flash for Android devices – It seems Steve knew what he was talking about after all!