Psychiatrist: “Mrs. Barnett, you’re son has autism.” Is that because he can prove an infinite series is convergent?

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This video was passed on to me: ignore the beck and focus on Jacob. I find beck intolerable, especially the sorts of things he says to Jacob, but if you focus on Jacob and his story, it is well worth sitting through beck’s non sequitors.

Mrs. Barnett: “At the time it meant that there was no hope…I talked to every doctor I could find, every therapist I could find: ‘we don’t think he’s going to talk again…we think he will always be in special ed’…”

At 14 months old, the first words coming out of Mrs. Barnett’s son, Jacob, were regarding how to determine the volume of a cereal box.

“His handwriting wasn’t so good…”

Now Jacob, 12, is in college and solving differential equations. At 170, his IQ supposedly measures higher than Einstein’s. He plans on disproving the big bang, and astrophysicists are saying he’s “asking the right questions.”

Mrs. Barnett’s advice to other parents who have stigmatized children is excellent, and she and her husband seem to have been great parents, despite the advice of “medical” “authorities.” The only issue I had was with this statement:

“When you’re given an overwhelming diagnosis, do not give up”

The problem with it is that it is still stuck on the level of “such a diagnosis exists.” Of course, it’s not her fault — because of the specialized structure of our society, we must, inevitably, rely on the “authorities.”

Her statement falls into the narrative of “we proved the doctor wrong and beat x (cancer/asperger’s/autism) disease despite diagnosis.” The problem with falling into that narrative is that it presupposes that autism is like cancer, a disease that has a biological origin that has the ability to be isolated, treated, and cured.

When we listen to cases like this, the idea that autism is a medical illness is reinforced. The faulty inductive/deductive reasoning of psychiatry is never questioned. Her statement follows the narrative that there is nothing wrong with psychiatry in the first place.

What this narrative absolutely does not bring up is that there is nothing to diagnose medically.

More accurately she could have said:

“When your child is given an overwhelming stigmatization in a 15 minute med check, do not give up”

Math, art, science…are all marked by individuals who are not “normal.” In fact, their abnormality IS their muse. My question is not regarding children like Jacob, who are obviously so talented that no psychiatrist could beat them down with prescription drugs, but less outstanding (but still talented) individuals.

If psychiatry is a standardized part of our society, the Jacobs of the world will of course stick out, but what about the more normal but still exceedingly intelligent not-jacobs?

How many of these kids have to be doped up on psychiatric meds, having their happiness, health, and talents put at risk/suppressed, until we realize we are doing something terribly, terribly wrong?

Why can’t we have a different societal view of “abnormal” behavior?

How much utility is lost per year because these persons are stigmatized?

In this case, I’m limiting my points to apply only to the children who have a few quirks, but are still extremely talented and functional. If you’re going to debate/discuss these points, keep that in mind.
 

Related posts:

  1. Vaccines Cause Autism, p<0.05
  2. Why do so many people on the autism spectrum like Japanese anime?
  3. When a psychiatrist sees 40 patients a day, who benefits?
  4. Empathy and evil
  5. The Next Generation of Media: The Fool

About claudius

Philosophy, Medicine, Economics, Marketing

25 Responses to Psychiatrist: “Mrs. Barnett, you’re son has autism.” Is that because he can prove an infinite series is convergent?

  1. FrederickMercury says:

    i’ve used a similar argument for years regarding the generally underresourced of the world, i.e. which starving child in the middle of the rainforest could be/could have been the one to give us teleportation/ftl travel/x impossible scientific thingy.

  2. Guy Fox says:

    It almost seems as if the psychiatrists were talent agents for the kid’s career in the side show. Would the kid be as remarkable if he hadn’t been pronounced handicapped to some degree, or would he just be a gifted, but otherwise unremarkable, nerd?
    It’s always a privilege to see the fruits of ‘God’s work’. Jacob is a divine masterpiece up there with Jeff Hall and Joseph Stalin.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      Interesting point, the incorrect autism diagnosis does give this an edge of news-sexiness that the pre-teen in college story has lost during its overuse in the last few decades.

      Another question to spin off on a tangent: Is this America’s newest/next version of the (teaparty?) underdog? The epic misdiagnosis seems to be overtaking the ugly-person-with-a-skill thing. I got a teaparty shiver when Beck said
      “The message that you were reciveing from doctors and everyone else, teachers and everyone else was ‘well, his handwriting isn’t real good,’ and you were saying, ‘no, no, but look at what he’s writing,’.” Beck thinks that’s the Teaparty which is why he phrases it the way he does.

      Wackos, racists, clinic bombers, violent people, that’s the handwriting. But what’s being written could save/change everything. So, if you’re a red-blooded American Grizzly Mom, don’t believe the scientists, the teachers, the doctors… this is about never giving up on what you want to believe.

      • Dan Dravot says:

        “Wackos, racists, clinic bombers, violent people” is the Tea Party? Huh?

        Yes, I know: They all look the same to you. The Right is pretty undifferentiated. A Nazi who wants more government, more laws, and more wars, versus a libertarian who wants less of all of the above… Same thing, really, when you think about it. Anything not Left must be Right, by simple process of elimination, and since Right is only one word, they must all be exactly the same. It’s like the Axis of Evil: They must all be in it together, by definition, because They are Them, and anybody who’s seen a few movies knows what Thems are like. And They are out to get Us.

        I mean, dude. Seriously. Yes, I understand, you’ve got your politics and your identity mixed up, so anybody who wants less federal spending feels like a threat to your very existence, and that makes him the emotional equivalent of a murderer. But it’s really not that bad. I promise.

        • CubaLibre says:

          Don’t people who fit those descriptions call themselves part of the Tea Party?

          I mean, the problem with the Tea Party is that it’s not explicitly libertarian – it’s not explicitly anything, and from what I understand old-school libertarians either hate them as flakey johnny-come-latelys or want to ride their fervor into political positions (which is, of course, the exact same reason that the establishment GOP tolerates them).

          It’s a generalized nationalist nostalgia movement, which makes it protofascist more than anything.

        • Lopt says:

          That was awesome. I could see that in a movie, but I’m not sure if it would register as well without the Important Noun capitalization.

        • sunshinefiasco says:

          It’s cute how you “know” me from what I’ve written, but don’t seem to have actually read anything that I wrote.

          In the context of the metaphor, the (I’ll capitalize so you’re comfortable) Racists/Wackos/Clinic Bombers/Violent People are the handwriting: a Stylistic Element that is somehow Inherent, but overall Distracts from the True Message (what is being written).

          What is Being Written : kill Obamacare, reverse Roe v. Wade (so that we might bring the gov’t closer in line with the LORD), reduce Government Spending, and babble like a South Park mob any time the President tries to do something (this last part is Sarcasm, but after all, It Is the Tea Party).

          The point I was attempting to make: Beck is saying “I’ve probably had my arms around some people who believe or do some pretty fucked up shit (or, maybe, he’s saying the Tea Party has its faults) BUT , the things we want in our hearts would save America.”

        • eqv says:

          Oh calm down.

          What sunshinefiasco wrote was completely valid. So much of the Tea Party’s worldview seems to be based on the idea that “these so-called ‘authorities’, these elitists in universities, these doctors etc. are LYING to us and we are the only ones who can see the truth.”

          Yes, I understand, you’ve got your politics and your identity mixed up, so anybody who wants less federal spending feels like a threat to your very existence, and that makes him the emotional equivalent of a murderer. But it’s really not that bad. I promise.
          Oh yeah. Let me run that again, with a few tiny alterations.

          Yes, I understand, you’ve got your politics and your identity mixed up, so anybody who wants to provide healthcare to poor people feels like a threat to your very existence, and that makes him the emotional equivalent of a murderer. But it’s really not that bad. I promise.

          Oops, think I just accidentally described the entire Tea Party.

          • ThomasR says:

            Dont take this as a defense of the Tea Party, take this as an argument against stupidity and ignorance.

            Generalizing that “the entire Tea Party” is made up of “Wackos, racists, clinic bombers, violent people” is as ignorant as saying that all Republicans love Bush; as ignorant as saying that all Democrats love Al Gore. In fact, it is MORE ignorant than that, because most Republicans DID vote for Bush; most Democrats DID vote for Gore; but the Tea Party (as scary, disorganized, and somewhat irrational as it seems) has not voted for insanity, segregation, terrorism, or violence.

            All I’m saying is, generalizations make you look stupid, no matter what your argument is.

          • JohnJ says:

            All generalizations?

          • ThomasR says:

            Probably a bit of an overreaction, but generalizations are a pet peeve of mine. Sorry.

          • ThomasR says:

            I retract the “all generalizations” tone of my first post. There are many cases where generalizations are very helpful.

            But when describing a political movement as whackjobs, the generalization is just intellectual laziness/stupidity.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            Oh in the name of Pete. I apologize if I sound annoyed, but I don’t think anyone said any of those things.

            Racists/Wackos/Clinic Bombers/Violent People are the handwriting: a Stylistic Element that is somehow Inherent, but overall Distracts from the True Message (what is being written).

            I’ll edit that to say that instead of inherent, I should have written “part of the core” or something like that. But I think we should be able to agree that handwriting ≠ content. As in the racists/wackos/clinic bombers/violent people DO NOT form the substance of the Tea Party, the same way that this font does not form the substance of my post.

            Also: perhaps no one here writes as clearly as they think they do, but i’m noticing a lot of responding to what isn’t there (indeed, almost responding to the straw enemy of one’s dreams) lately. Let’s keep an eye on that.

          • ThomasR says:

            RE the responses and straw men, it’s probably a function of having a website based on pointing out flaws in arguments and opinions. It probably tends to draw the didactic argumentative type. We will tend to find any ambiguity or weak point and point it out.

            I agree with your original point, but the analogy was flawed and displayed some serious stereotyping of the tea party. I just couldn’t resist pointing that out.

  3. Lopt says:

    First: This is pretty elementary calculus. Kind of cool, but with an IQ of 170[1] you kind of expect something more Artemis Fowl than class factotum. And don’t say “but for a twelve year old…”– give me a motivated twelve year old and I’d be able to teach them this sort of math over a lazy afternoon.

    Second: Are we so scientifically illiterate/ credulous that anyone capable of talking about physics theories in qualitative terms (I’ve seen the videos, and the phrase “asking the right questions” isn’t supposed to be praise; it’s a way of saying “you’re wrong but at least you’re taking an interest in these things”) or demonstrating easy math is proclaimed a genius?

    Third: I have no idea where “stigmatization” enters into it. Perhaps I am abnormal myself, being outside of those circles where pimping out your kid as some sort of intellectual freakshow is an appropriate parenting technique, but
    a) no one has to know your kid is “autistic” or “adhd” or whatever.
    b) What about the times when psychiatric medication provides a benefit to the patient. I know, I know, it’s much more appealing to imagine a nation of Harrison Bergerons[2] handicapped by cruel institutional psychiatry, but you’ve gotta admit that a lot of people are Living Better Through Chemistry.
    c) Just because the doctor says so, doesn’t mean you have to take your drugs.
    d) If you were in fact, mostly functional with some sort of savant-esque ability, you’re not stigmatized, you’re celebrated.
    e) Savant-like skills are probably about as rare as 170 IQs. There are no genius savages, and behind every scientific prodigy is a good education system and usually some fairly solid parental involvement. Everyone who makes a difference makes it through hard work and constantly stretching the limits of what they understand[3].

    1. Note how whenever anyone quotes an IQ test, the scores inevitably range from about 140 and up, and if it’s over 162 you’re supposedly smarter than Einstein, who was never actually tested because if you come up with general relativity it’s kind of moot. Also note that whenever an IQ test is mentioned, it’s almost always some sort of maneuver to excuse the lack of other intellectual accomplishments.
    2. Was also considering “…a nation of Atlases too doped up to shrug”, but that would send the discussion in a fairly predictable, hence uninteresting direction. To be honest though, this does read as one of those attacks launched against either centralized power generally or psychiatry specifically. Maybe Claudius is a libertarian scientologist? Do those exist?
    3. Note how the belief in these natural-born prodigies is itself a bit of a cop-out; it denies any possibility that you, yes you– the guy reading these words– could accomplish something spectacular through sustained effort. It’s so much easier on the psyche to have never been a contender, isn’t it?

    • Dan Dravot says:

      …pimping out your kid as some sort of intellectual freakshow is an appropriate parenting technique…

      The rest kind of distracted me and I didn’t think about that part, but it’s important, isn’t it? This exposure isn’t helping the kid at all.

      But what the heck, he’s not likely to end up like Michael Jackson or Mozart. There isn’t that much of a market for watching a kid do calculus. A mere fifteen minutes of fame at that age isn’t enough to deform you for life.

      The parents must feel like what they’re doing may help other parents of autistic kids do the right thing, and help the kids. That’s not completely unreasonable. But they must have a warped sense of how likely it is that a given autistic kid is a savant, instead of just plan autistic. Your average parent of an average autistic kid has a hopeless case on his hands, and you’re doing him no favors by encouraging him to imagine otherwise.

      …the belief in these natural-born prodigies is itself a bit of a cop-out; it denies any possibility that you … could accomplish something spectacular through sustained effort …

      True, but… Tiger Mother!

      The internet is like the old joke about the prison inmates who’ve numbered all their old jokes. But “old” means “six weeks”.

      That actually makes me wonder, though, off topic, about twin studies: How many of them include hardass stereotypical Asian parents, instead of (relatively) be-yourself-dear Western parents?

    • derKapitalist says:

      This is pretty elementary calculus. Kind of cool, but with an IQ of 170[1] you kind of expect something more Artemis Fowl than class factotum.

      Agreed. I would point to the selection factors, given that this is the Glenn Beck Show not, I don’t know, the Discovery Channel. They probably sat him down and asked him what high-level math he could do on the board with relative ease; he probably didn’t know how to answer that, didn’t understand the criteria by which they’d say yes or no; and the producers and parents probably narrowed it down to elementary calculus from there. “Anything with integrals and sigma notation– and a problem where we can use the word “prove” because that sounds better than “solve.”

      You’re right, it would’ve been nice to see him do something higher level. But this is a TV show. The problem he did do still impressed 98% of the audience. To get that extra 2%, you’d be taking risks. Can’t have the kid get up there and blank.

    • claudius says:

      outside of those circles where pimping out your kid as some sort of intellectual freakshow is an appropriate parenting technique

      Beck asked him to come on. Also, see the points others made regarding “inspiration for other parents fighting autism diagnosis”

      2. Was also considering “…a nation of Atlases too doped up to shrug”, but that would send the discussion in a fairly predictable, hence uninteresting direction. To be honest though, this does read as one of those attacks launched against either centralized power generally or psychiatry specifically. Maybe Claudius is a libertarian scientologist? Do those exist?

      What’s your point here? Would you oppose an attack to phrenology? You haven’t addressed whether or not the current fundamental assumptions of psychiatry are rationally defensible. You haven’t outlined in any way shape or form, how a psychiatric disease (e.g., ADHD) qualifies as a MEDICAL disease. The point isn’t to wipe psychiatry off the face of the planet, but to reform it.

      But I have an idea about how you can rationally defend your position and (tacit) support of the current practice of psychiatry. Make an ad hominum attack. Oh wait…

      3. Note how the belief in these natural-born prodigies is itself a bit of a cop-out; it denies any possibility that you, yes you– the guy reading these words– could accomplish something spectacular through sustained effort. It’s so much easier on the psyche to have never been a contender, isn’t it?

      I don’t see how this has anything to do with what I wrote about. My point was regarding utility — how much of it we could potentially be losing per year (in the specific case of gifted but a bit abnormal children) due to the fact that the current standard of psychiatric practice is not rationally defensible. Getting a label like “autism” or “asperger’s” does change the child’s life in a negative way; I could go on and on about this with countless examples, but just look at some of the other comments that have been posted.

      As someone whose career (figuratively) and sport (literally) is in the arena, I find your third point not only irrelevant to the points I brought up, but a logical stretch. How do you go from talking about potential utility lost to shoddy psychiatric practice to doubting oneself because of the belief in prodigies?

      You’re basically saying “the belief in prodigies makes people think they cannot achieve goals through hard work.” First, you try tacitly to defend the belief in psychiatric “medical diseases” which have no real medical basis (hence, no real basis for “belief”), and then you try to propose that “belief” in prodigies is somehow flawed and harmful.

      It’s not about “belief” — if someone can play Beethoven without formal training within a few minutes of touching a piano, he fits the semantic definition/meaning of “prodigy.” ADHD is not like this, there are too many gray areas — the diagnosis could be given to a kid who is hyperactive from too much sugar/caffeine, or a college student who wants legalized meth to study for finals. I agree that hard work and diligence are still required, but you can’t deny that some people are born with more talent than others. I do not see the case of Jacob as an excuse to give up, but a call to get to work. E.g.: he is going to change the world in a positive way, what have you done lately?

      People will always have excuses for why they “can’t” do something — to say that this is somehow BECAUSE of a belief in prodigies is ludicrous. People are unmotivated and apathetic BECAUSE that’s the easy way out. It’s hard to live a life where you constantly challenge yourself, even though it’s much more rewarding.

      People have to change themselves from within at some point. They aren’t going to change themselves from within if you somehow eviscerate the belief in prodigies, even though prodigies are real, unlike a “medical” diagnosis of ADHD. Even if you eviscerated the belief in prodigies, another excuse will be used as to why they shouldn’t work hard. E.g., “I can’t focus on my studies, I have ADHD.” Except in the case of extreme cases (e.g., incapacitating mental illness) the excuses aren’t the problem, the person is. Losers will always have some sort of excuse like “there’s no point because I wasn’t born that way” — winners quit whining and get to work.

  4. I will say this much for psychiatry: initial evaluations of a child, especially a middle class child, take up a lot of time and involve lots of testing. The problem is that after all of that data comes in, the equivalent of about 200 pages, the diagnosis is “on the spectrum” or “ASD” or something else vague.

    Psychiatrists understand that the diagnosis is a catch-all, and then recommend specific things depending on what flavor of symptomatology is seen. (assuming the doctor doesn’t suck.)

    The crisis comes that the psychiatrists don’t realize that they are telling the parents something else: “AUTISM”= game over. Nothing can be done. So on the one hand the parents feel like the doctor has given up, which puts them in the position of feeling like they have to beat the doctor and the diagnosis by themselves. ; when, all along, the psychiatrist may have had very good advice to give.

    The whole thing would run much better if there was simply no diagnosis at all, i.e. you describe the kid the exact same way you describe your boyfriend to your parents before they meet him. “Well, he’s…

    • CubaLibre says:

      But parents want the diagnosis, don’t they? It relieves them of responsibility. Not every autistic kid is a prodigy, many (most) are kids of average ability that also cannot socially function, which is a net negative. We would want to “cure” their autism if we could. But we can’t, because it’s autism, so phew, right? I mean, I have to deal with it my whole life, but if my kid never improves it’s not my fault. He’s got a disease. I couldn’t cure his cancer either.

      • derKapitalist says:

        I assume you’re talking about parents who kind of “know” already. They’re the only ones without real hope that their kid might turn out normal-ish, and you only want the diagnosis if you’ve given up hope of that.

        That said, lots of parents who do kind of know still don’t want a diagnosis for fear that their kid’s school will put a big “F4″ on him, or just treat him differently than they otherwise would have. Some believe that the best treatment involves regular social exposure with normals, and a label of “autism” is a big hindrance toward that end. My younger brother had the Asperger’s label, and I only saw him get worse as we grew up. I’m not nearly as severe as he is but am probably weird enough to just barely place on the spectrum. But unlike him, I never got a diagnosis. And you would. not. believe. how different our experiences in school were.

    • JohnJ says:

      The crisis comes that the psychiatrists don’t realize that they are telling the parents something else: “AUTISM”= game over. Nothing can be done. So on the one hand the parents feel like the doctor has given up, which puts them in the position of feeling like they have to beat the doctor and the diagnosis by themselves. ; when, all along, the psychiatrist may have had very good advice to give.

      I think that’s true with all diagnoses labels. Once we’ve put something into a pigeonhole (especially if there’s the authority of expertise behind it), we tend to treat everything within that pigeonhole the same. But isn’t that what stigma is? Is there a difference between a descriptor and a diagnosis? “My boyfriend is autistic/a doctor/rich/charming/Latino/conservative/a Democrat/a singer in a rock & roll band.” It’s only through getting more information or by association with the person (which is just a way of getting more individualized information) that we begin to develop nuance to these labels or decide that they don’t apply at all. I.e., maybe he’s a singer, but he’s not like the prototypical singer we visualize in our heads.

      All labels carry with them certain expectations, some positive and some negative. Some people want to do away with labels altogether, or do away with the association (stigma). But I think a better solution is to make the information that these labels carry more accurate.

    • Comus says:

      It would also help if doctors and other professionals would explain that the diagnosis does not define, it describes. The word “autism” just appears to block the receivers brains, so that everything is fatally set already, despite the professional continuing to talk about the positive aspects etc. The doc is bad, he said the A-word.

      The kid was a selective mutist. It’s hard to do a diagnostic interview to a mutist. The parents must have been scared of their asses, so they are not also the most reliable sources of their own childs performance. (Especially when they begin by saying that the his very first words were on determining the value of a cereal box)

      Glenn Beck is annoying^10.

  5. Pemulis says:

    Am I just missing something, or does that series not actually converge? It’s the ratio of two trig functions, so it’s going to just oscillate as n increases.

    Maybe I’m not reading the summand right. I read it as sin(2n)/(1 + cos(n)^4). That should definitely oscillate, I think.

    Kind of disappointing. Beck doesn’t have an intern who took enough calculus to make up a good problem?

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