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Autism: Symposium to Discuss Myths and Misconceptions

Many theories about autism are doing the rounds amongst the media and the general public. Autism experts feel that it is the right time to dissect these theories, and ascertain their validity. // This will help dispel some of the inaccurate assumptions surrounding autism.

A psychologist, an Epidemiologist, a Psychiatrist and a physician will analyze the latest research on autism, and critically study the prevailing stereotypes that have gained popularity. These stereotypes will be addressed during the “Science Of autism” symposium, at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Morton Gernsbacher, a Vilas Research Professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the symposium's chair and organizer has said that, with the focus of attention on autism from scientists and society, there is a responsibility to distinguish between uninformed stereotypes and scientific reality, which will help dispel myths and misconceptions.

Gernsbacher will be taking up the common theory among autism researchers that autistic individual’s fall short of the "theory of mind." When the psychologist began probing into this area, she found that scientists connect perceptions of the mind with tasks that require a high level of linguistic capability. According to her, since autistic children are deficient in communication skills, mind games or the theory of the mind is puzzling with autistic people. "I think we as a society fall prey to a slippery slope when we begin talking about members of our society as not appreciating that they or others have a mind," says Gernsbacher. "An uncritical acceptance of the hypothesis that autistic individuals lack a theory of mind can seriously compromise how autistic individuals are treated in the workplace, the community and society in general."

The other panelists will similarly address other stereotypes about autism. Judith Grether, an environmental epi demiologist who works for the state of California, will discuss the popular notion that North America is suffering an autism epidemic.

Panelist Irving Gottesman, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota, will similarly challenge the widespread idea doing the rounds that certain childhood vaccines cause potential autism risks. According to him, enough literature is available, which disproves this link. Finally, Laurent Mottron, an autism researcher and physician at Montreal's Hospital Riviere des prairies, will debate the belief that autistic people suffer cognitive impairment. He will lay the to statistics on the table to prove that there is an element of exaggeration in the numbers of cognitively impaired autistic people. This will certainly have a bearing on the therapies that autistic people receive.

The symposium should lay to rest all the unfounded theories surrounding autism and establish valid ones. Source: Eureka Alert

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