Atypical white matter possible precursor to autism

Wow! This is “science”? Notice any bias in a statement like this?

According to researchers, children with ASD had higher fractional anisotropy “followed by slower change over time relative to infants without ASDs.” Radial and axial diffusivity also seemed to be associated with ASD. These results appear to indicate that infants with aberrant white matter development go on to develop ASD.

I have no problem with the title of the article linked above. But in the body of the article, the words “atypical” and “autism” disappear and are replaced with “aberrant” and “ASD.” Use your own favorite dictionary, but one I found defines “aberrant” as “straying from the right or normal way.” That’s very judgmental, as opposed to “atypical” which is much less value-laden. And, of course, the “D”  in “ASD” stands for “disorder” — which is also a very judgmental word. Autism, in my view, is not a “dis”order but a “different” order. Neither better nor worse, but certainly different. It is, however, clearly a disability in a world that demands conformity with the way the other 97% of the population thinks and acts.

When you strip away all of the loaded language, what this study confirmed is that the autistic brain has more white matter and develops more slowly than the (neuro)typical brain. This is hardly news, but has been known for years. But I guess if you accept a research grant, you have to publish something if you’re to have any hope of getting more grants, and the more incendiary you can make the language, the more you are making the case that more research needs to be done to get at the “cause” of this serious disorder.

What malarkey! How about some research into the implications this has for the way that autistic people think and learn? Perhaps that way we could develop training programs to help neurotypicals think like autistics.


    • Lucy on February 28, 2012 at 8:25 PM
    • Reply

    One of the big problems here is in the dictionary — equating “right” and “normal”. Normal should mean “most common” — a neutral descriptor. “Right” shouldn’t come into it. If most of the exam candidates answer a question wrong, they’re the norm, but it doesn’t make them right.
    If we sorted that out, “aberrant” wouldn’t mean “not right”.
    But I wonder why they can’t stick with “unusual”.

  1. Lucy, I always appreciate your thoughtful contributions.

    That said, um, not sure your terminology suggestions are correct. There is a term in statistics for “most common” — it is “modal.”

    “Normal” to me is still very value-laden. For example, “When people do not conform to the normal standard, they are often labelled as sick, disabled, abnormal, or unusual, which can lead to marginalization or stigmatization.” This statement is in a much larger discussion at

    Different words mean different things to different people. Or, even different things over time or in different contexts to the same people. Language is very dynamic. But that means we can influence its development!

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