How to tell apart science from pseudo-science in a field you don't know ?

post by kilobug · 2012-09-02T10:25:41.694Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 71 comments

First, a short personal note to make you understand why this is important to me. To make a long story short, the son of a friend has some atypical form of autism and language troubles. And that kid matters a lot to me, so I want to become stronger in helping him, to be able to better interact with him and help him overcome his troubles.

But I don't know much about psychology. I'm a computer scientist, with a general background of maths and physics. I'm kind of a nerd, social skills aren't my strength. I did read some of the basic books advised on Less Wrong, like Cialdini, Wright or Wiseman, but those just give me a very small background on which to build.

And psychology in general, autism/language troubles in particular, are fields in which there is a lot of pseudo-science. I'm very sceptical of Freud and psychoanalysis, for example, which I consider (but maybe I am wrong?) to be more like alchemy than like chemistry. There are a lot of mysticism and sect-like gurus related to autism, too.

So I'm bit unsure on how from my position of having a general scientific and rationality background I can dive into a completely unrelated field. Research papers are probably above my current level in psychology, so I think books (textbooks or popular science) are the way to go. But how to find which books on the hundreds that were written on the topic I should buy and read? Books that are evidence-based science, not pseudo-science, I mean. What is a general method to select which books to start in a field you don't really know? I would welcome any advise from the community.

Disclaimer: this is a personal "call for help", but since I think the answers/advices may matter outside my own personal case, I hope you don't mind.

71 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-02T18:08:10.374Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Watch out for sensory issues. If the kid reacts to, I dunno, styrofoam like it's full of shards of broken glass and he can't bear to touch it, keep him away from styrofoam (there is no training this sort of thing away, although you could get a learned-helplessness oh-they're-torturing-me-again reaction if you tried too hard - and I'm given to understand that some treatment plans do aim at that, presumably because suffering in silence is less disruptive for caretakers than screaming in discomfort). Keeping away sensory aversives frees up brainpower to do other things, as well as being an important form of not-torturing-the-kid.

Treat stimmy behaviors like ordinary fidgeting. They are only weird relative to a framework that an autistic does not operate within. Specifically, they do not say anything in particular about whether he is paying attention, especially to a person who he wouldn't be likely to make eye contact with anyway.

Explain substeps of tasks that do not get understood promptly. (If "get a bowl of cereal" results in the kid staring blankly into space, try "get a bowl out of the cupboard and put it on the counter, open the cereal box and pour cereal into the bowl until the bowl is mostly full, close and put away the cereal box, get the milk out of the fridge and pour it into the bowl until it comes most of the way up to the line of the cereal, put the cap back on the milk and put it away, get a spoon from the drawer and eat the cereal with it". And if that doesn't work, maybe the kid doesn't want to get a bowl of cereal. I'd certainly look funny at anyone instructing me to get a bowl of cereal for no obvious reason or just to see if I could; maybe I don't want any and don't want to perform tricks for someone who is curious about whether I can do them.)

comment by MBlume · 2012-09-11T07:10:23.403Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Treat stimmy behaviors like ordinary fidgeting. They are only weird relative to a framework that an autistic does not operate within. Specifically, they do not say anything in particular about whether he is paying attention, especially to a person who he wouldn't be likely to make eye contact with anyway.

Sidenote: This applies to us ADHD kids too. Fidgeting is how we make our brains work. It is self-medication. Now, if one kid making their brain work is making 29 other brains not work (ie by making distracting noises) you obviously have a problem. But that problem should be solved with a view to helping us find harmless ways to fidget, not making us stop fidgeting entirely.

Data point: I'm 27, work at a tech startup, and would've had a much harder time staying alert in a meeting today if I hadn't been turning an hourglass over in my hand and watching the patterns the sand made.

Citation: http://adhdmomma.com/2011/12/guest-post-fidgeting-helps-kids-stay.html http://phys.org/news162554898.html

comment by Pavitra · 2012-09-05T21:02:16.123Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Citation needed. This sounds plausible enough that people are likely to listen to it, so I'd like some sort of confirmation that it's based in fact.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-05T22:43:15.774Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have an autism diagnosis and multiple autistic friends. I poked around the literature on autism for a paper in grad school (although it was mostly on theory of mind). I have read books and blogs and aggregated therefrom a general model of autism that has yet to be dinged by any of this.

Also, "don't do things to people that they find abhorrent for no goddamn reason" and "if someone never makes eye contact anyway their rocking is insignificant information about whether you have their attention, and rocking is only atypical, not fundamentally different from pen-twirling" and "one thing to try if giving someone an instruction doesn't work is making sure they have it taskified; also don't expect giving the people around you commands to work all the time" all seem pretty basic to me. And really ought to be status-quo, requiring citations to deviate therefrom. I would certainly require a citation if I had a kid and someone told me that they should be forced into contact with objects they don't like, and aren't to be allowed to move around as they please even if they aren't hurting anyone, and that their not doing everything I say is a sign of a Serious Problem. The allistic equivalents would be unambiguous abuse, and plenty of autistic people are capable of telling others what the autistic-specific versions of those abuses are.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-10T03:24:48.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if someone never makes eye contact anyway their rocking is insignificant information about whether you have their attention

Which way? Is the stimming more likely when you have their attention or when you don't?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-10T03:37:58.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure. Naively on priors, someone under stress is more likely to stim - and someone who's paying attention to another thing is more likely to be under stress.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-09T22:50:57.500Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Following this advise strikes me as likely to result in the kid growing up with phobias and habits that will make it hard for him to fit into the adult world.

Seriously, you give this kind of advise to parents raising autistic children and then wonder why gatherings with a high proportion of autistic adults are full of people that come of as creepy.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-09T22:54:35.968Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I cannot abide the taste of mint or the feel of apricots. I don't happen to rock, but I trace patterns on surfaces sometimes. I tell people to operationalize or rephrase or break-into-steps things they want me to do, if I need them to. Miraculously, I can function as an adult. It's actually way easier than functioning as a child, since people don't feel entitled to manipulate my environment or make demands on me as much as they used to.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-10T01:49:03.089Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Miraculously, I can function as an adult.

So can I (I'm also autistic), but I know autistic people who aren't that lucky.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-10T01:51:42.610Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think torturing, restraining, or incomprehensibly bossing them as children would have helped?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-11T02:48:27.768Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, "incomprehensibly bossing" is how a lot of people see the creepiness thread.

comment by Rubix · 2012-09-10T02:43:53.372Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This comment seems like it could be perceived as straw-manning. Backing up your statement with evidence that this is an accurate model of what people do with their autistic children would help.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-10T03:39:30.310Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This comment seems like it could be perceived as straw-manning. Backing up your statement with evidence that this is an accurate model of what people do with their autistic children would help.

It could be perceived as such. Given the context however it seems that Alicorn isn't making an additional claim about what most people do and is instead adding labels to the behavior that Eugine did actively advocate (or criticise the deprecation of). Even if those things were never done by anyone the adovcation thereof could still be criticized. (And so any weakness in the argument is of a different kind to 'straw man'.)

For better or worse there are the implied premises here that:

  • Doing things that are abhorrent to people for no goddam reason is torture.
  • Stopping people from moving around as they please without good reason is restraining.
  • Ignoring the principle "one thing to try if giving someone an instruction doesn't work is making sure they have it taskified" results in incomprehensibly bossing people around.

The second two seem straightforward and while using the word 'torture' has its own problems the meaning is at least clear.

comment by Rubix · 2012-09-10T04:53:48.606Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This comment does all of the things I was concerned about Alicorn's not doing. The conversation I'd expect to ensue from her comment would be an argument over the definitions of "torture," "incomprehensible bossing" &etc, which wouldn't be explicit so much as the bashing together of "Doing these things to autistics is good" and "Doing these things to autistics is evil." I have good reasons to expect this, because it's what I've seen take place subsequent to such a remark a million times and with no positive outcome in any instance. (Add any amount, to taste, of "You're not a real autistic so you can't remark on the subjective experience of the Less High Functioning" and "People are actually being tortured and killed, so I shouldn't have to be nice to you or explain these things out. Therefore I'll just vaguely antagonize at you until you go away.")

I'll also point out that "doing things that are abhorrent to people for no goddamn reason" doesn't pay attention to the fact that people who do e.g. ABA do believe that what they're doing will improve the quality of life of whoever they're doing it to.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-11T02:56:06.844Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  • Doing things that are abhorrent to people for no goddam reason is torture.
  • Stopping people from moving around as they please without good reason is restraining.

So is your claim that increasing the chances that the child will be able to fit into adult society doesn't count as a good reason?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-11T03:28:11.013Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So is your claim that increasing that increasing the chances that the child will be able to fit into adult society doesn't count as a good reason?

My claim? The grandparent doesn't make any claims about autism or the optimal development strategy for those with particular symptoms. It describes claims already made and draws conclusions about whether "straw man" can apply.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-11T03:10:26.439Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Doing things that are abhorrent to people for reasons is still usually torture. (Sometimes it might be self-defense, or surgery, or something.) Stopping people from moving around for reasons is still usually restraining. (Sometimes that is self-defense, or protection of your privacy, or something.) The claim that these measures will help as you describe require support, but even if you could demonstrate strong reason, there would be reason to be suspicious of this kind of therapy!

If the kids involved were not autistic, and the torture/restraint were something corresponding to allistics, you would never get approval for human trials. ("I'm stabbing my son with this thumbtack repeatedly for ten to fifteen minutes every day. He has a really low pain tolerance, so this organization I found says that that will make it hard for him to function as an adult - I mean, he'll still have to show up to work if he has something like a broken toe, right? - so they recommend this intervention." "I don't let my daughter out of her room. Ever. It's okay, she has an ensuite bathroom. When she grows up she'll probably have an office job, and she'll just have to get used to not being able to run outside and play or get herself a snack or anything.")

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-11T05:34:52.373Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Doing things that are abhorrent to people for reasons is still usually torture.

Didn't we just have two threads about this fallacy?

comment by MBlume · 2012-09-11T07:21:22.932Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Explain how this is a non-central case?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-12T04:58:01.323Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Central case of torture: thumb screws or the rack.

Alicon's example: keeping the child from running around.

comment by MBlume · 2012-09-12T15:02:11.614Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Watch out for sensory issues. If the kid reacts to, I dunno, styrofoam like it's full of shards of broken glass and he can't bear to touch it, keep him away from styrofoam

Central case of torture: thumb screws or the rack

Obviously within spitting distance of the central case: Forcing someone to press their hand down on broken glass

Still pretty obviously in the neighborhood: Forcing someone who reacts to styrofoam like it's broken glass to touch styrofoam.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-13T02:53:03.461Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Forcing someone who reacts to styrofoam like it's broken glass to touch styrofoam.

By "react" do you mean that it feels to them like broken glass would, or simply that he reacts that way?

comment by MBlume · 2012-09-13T07:17:42.590Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think either of us is going to say anything the other finds interesting at this point.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-12T04:59:41.708Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're mixing up the cases.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-13T02:52:22.951Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which case were you talking about?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-13T02:56:49.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Keeping the child from running around" falls under restraint, not torture.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-09-13T03:02:48.882Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For someone who suffers from situation-dependent panic attacks, restraint and torture are not mutually exclusive. (Depending on how we define torture, of course.)

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-13T03:03:48.937Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. Could be both, but is closer to central case of restraint.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-09-13T03:05:40.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-14T00:54:03.019Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, the central example of restraint is a straitjacket, so my complaint still stands.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2012-09-10T14:56:09.477Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Dude, people would totally do all these things if they thought a more normal seeming kid would be the end result. Many people would do these things in the full knowledge that they were "torturing, restraining, or incomprehensibly bossing" their children; justifying it as being for their own good.

How do I know this?

I have Asperger's and I can see pretty clear ways my childhood could have been marginally to vastly less pleasnt that would have resulted in faster social functionality, and they would have been annoying as fuck to deal with. I've come to this realisation as result of the education/social skills subthread on the startup post. I would probably have had even worse social skills tha I actually did at 17 without being forced to spend time with people I mostly didn't like, didn't care about and didn't have any common interest with. I'd be willing to do something similar with any of my children in a similar situation. Obviously I'd prefer better options.

As for restaining or incomprehensibly bossing, people do this with neurotypical children all the time. I fail to see why they'd behave any differently with autistic children. No torture though; pointless negative utility for all.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-10T16:10:54.949Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As for restaining or incomprehensibly bossing, people do this with neurotypical children all the time. I fail to see why they'd behave any differently with autistic children.

They may, for instance, learn that the meaning and effect of their 'bossing' behavior is different on the child in question and realise "Hey, me keeping up the incomprehensible bossing and restraining despite knowing the (significantly negative) consequences in this case would mean I'm a total asshat, I'm going to stop!" So, crudely speaking the reason you claim to fail to see is that not all people are one of ignorant, incompetent or malicious. I can only assume that you are intending to deny the premises (regarding the degree of negative effect those behaviors can have.)

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-10T03:41:19.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did you read the whole thread? This is my summary of more specific behaviors.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-11T03:02:28.234Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say it's more guilt by association.

comment by Rubix · 2012-09-11T03:17:39.962Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Today I learned that I should go re-read the Wikipedia page on fallacies.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-02T15:54:58.438Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

To the best of my knowledge (and I've looked) there is not a single scientific long-term randomized study showing the effectiveness of any type of treatment for autism. This means that when deciding on the best way to help the kid you are going to have to rely on the judgment and intuition of family, friends and special needs specialists. Besides the normal biases the huge problem with doing this is that as an autistic child gets older you would expect him, in an absolute sense, to make improvements in many metrics (just as typical kids do) even if whatever special stuff was being done for him had absolutely no impact on his condition. Another problem is that, based on my observations at least, the women who devote their careers to the needs of "special children" tend to be of the very happy/uplifting/optimistic types which undoubtedly causes them to have a more positive assessment of treatment than should be justified and this bias outlook negatively impacts the research that makes use of the subjective judgments of autistic professionals.

Rather than spending time reading about autism you can probably better help this child by playing with him and doing stuff for his parents so they have more time to play with him, although ignore this advice if you enjoy reading about autism and so your doing so isn't a cost.

comment by Emile · 2012-09-02T16:32:46.780Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Rather than spending time reading about autism you can probably better help this child by playing with him and doing stuff for his parents so they have more time to play with him

In my (very limited) experience autistic children aren't very interested in playing with people, so a minimum of reading might be useful if only to understand what kinds of "playing" are likely to interest an autistic child, and also which kind of "playing" have chances of slightly improving his communication/interaction skills and interests.

There's an autistic three-year-old that often plays in the sandbox with my kid - he's much more interested in playing with a single toy than in the other kids or his parents; unlike my 20-month-old who evaluates toys by how much attention the other kids are paying to them (resulting in the classical "everybody fight for the shovel, five minutes later everyone fights for the truck"), or uses toys to bribe other kids (preferably bribing with someone else's toy). The autistic kid can eventually tolerate playing with another kid (like, both fill up the same bucket), but has to be prodded to do so, and will usually end up going back to playing alone. The only "game" I've seen him play with someone else is being chased around by his parents, which he seems to find fun.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-02T16:52:29.247Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

so a minimum of reading might be useful if only to understand what kinds of "playing" are likely to interest an autistic child,

One theory is that you start with what the kid will do without prompting and then gradually introduce yourself into his play using trial and error to identify actions he appreciates and responds to. This is called floortime. The other main paradigm is Applied Behavior Analysis.

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-09-03T00:50:41.811Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To the best of my knowledge (and I've looked) there is not a single scientific long-term randomized study showing the effectiveness of any type of treatment for autism.

Why isn't there? There would seem to have been more than enough time & funding for at least one. Is there some more subtle problem here?

(I'm thinking a scenario like "parents of autistic kids are constantly trying new approaches both quack and genuine, and would refuse to stop this, thereby making the results worthless; and this is foreseeable in advance by any would-be experimenters.")

comment by CharlesR · 2012-09-03T10:33:15.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No one wants to be in the control group.

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-09-05T15:19:13.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know that, or are you guessing?

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-03T05:29:12.394Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because there's no cure?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-03T07:00:39.180Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But there could still be studies demonstrating that some treatments had no effect.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-09-04T19:34:29.206Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That raises the question - did that opening sentence of the head reply mean 'showing the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of any method', or 'showing a method to be effective'?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-04T19:59:22.317Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant to imply "effectiveness or ineffectiveness"

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-09-05T13:38:36.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks

comment by CharlesR · 2012-09-03T10:28:22.251Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Rather than spending time reading about autism you can probably better help this child by playing with him and doing stuff for his parents so they have more time to play with him, although ignore this advice if you enjoy reading about autism and so your doing so isn't a cost.

This is very good advice.

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2012-09-02T21:11:21.141Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

To whatever degree you find firsthand reports from autistics useful (and we are able to introspect and such, just in case your reading had led you to believe otherwise - there are some ridiculous misconceptions out there), those are a thing you can look for.

Wrongplanet.net is large, but has had some unpleasant evaporative cooling going on for several years - it may still be a useful place to ask questions. Similarly, reddit has a subreddit for autistics, but the demographic there is affected by the overall tone of the site.

Private blogs are a better bet for thoughtful information - Urocyon has a list of neurodiversity and disability blogs in her sidebar that seems like a decent starting point for that. Also, tumblr has a fairly good autistic community - we tend to post in the actuallyautistic tag, which you shouldn't post in as you're not actually autistic; you can post questions to the autism or autistic tags, and there's a very good chance we'll see them and respond. (Do your research first, though; the standard reaction to uninformed mistakes is derision here just as much as it would be anywhere else. Also, person-first language tends to go over poorly; it's a point of etiquette in the community that we should be referred to as autistics or autistic people rather than people with autism, though you'll occasionally run into individuals who prefer the opposite and that should be respected too.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-09-02T21:21:05.776Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

+1 to Urocyon - I know her, she's great.

comment by billswift · 2012-09-02T15:15:17.278Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You might find this useful, it isn't a source of papers, it is first-hand accounts by autistics and what life and other people were like to them. This one, Don't Mourn For Us, is probably the best general description. A quote from it:

You try to relate to your autistic child, and the child doesn't respond. He doesn't see you; you can't reach her; there's no getting through. That's the hardest thing to deal with, isn't it? The only thing is, it isn't true.

Look at it again: You try to relate as parent to child, using your own understanding of normal children, your own feelings about parenthood, your own experiences and intuitions about relationships. And the child doesn't respond in any way you can recognize as being part of that system.

That does not mean the child is incapable of relating at all. It only means you're assuming a shared system, a shared understanding of signals and meanings, that the child in fact does not share. It's as if you tried to have an intimate conversation with someone who has no comprehension of your language. Of course the person won't understand what you're talking about, won't respond in the way you expect, and may well find the whole interaction confusing and unpleasant.

The best single source I know of is Tony Attwood's Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome.

As a more general response to your title, you need to learn more about the science, and especially pay attention to how the ideas in the field hang together. A less effective method is to consider how well what you are reading relates to what you already know to be true; unfortunately a lot of real science cannot pass this latter test unless you already know a lot of science.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-09-02T11:20:56.284Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you're looking for reputable textbooks and introductory reading, I would suggest going to one of the many open courseware sites at major universities (such as MIT, Berkeley or Yale). Look at the courses available for the subject you're interested in (psychology, in your case), find one that matches your interests, and check out the syllabus for that course. It should direct you towards good learning material for that subject.

Here, for instance, is a list of readings from the MIT intro psych class. Here's an MIT class specifically on autism.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2012-09-02T17:10:46.617Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To answer your general method query, this essay by Karl Popper deals with the issue of distinguishing science v pseudoscience. However, from my reading of, you need to know a bit about the topic, or at least observe it in action, to make a judgement.

autism/language troubles in particular, are fields in which there is a lot of pseudo-science... There are a lot of mysticism and sect-like gurus related to autism, too.

What gives you this impression? I'm not saying you're wrong - just that it's something I haven't picked up on myself.

Regarding Freud, I get the impression that his therapies have some merit (placebos work; all talk therapies seem to have some benefit iirc) but his theories are utter horseshit. I know a lot of people that work in special needs education, particularly dealing with autism, and there seems to be no real professional consensus as to what the best approach is. I will ask some questions for you though. I'd hazard a guess that it's important to reinforce whatever methods the kid's parents or educators are using, as long as those methods aren't counter-productive.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T18:39:35.842Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Up-vote for Popper!

Ask your friend: "How would you know if that treatment was not working?" And by 'not working' I mean (a) no change (b) a change for the worse (c) a change for the better, but not related to that treatment (d) a change for the better, but at a greater cost than benefit. The more clear the idea of how to know if that treatment was not working, the more likely it's science.

I don't know you, your friend or your son's friend. I don't know what any of you need, although I'm sure just being compassionate instead of always being right is a part of it. My Popper-inspired suggestion above is good for distinguishing science from non-science. It may not be helpful to what any of you need.

comment by CharlesR · 2012-09-03T09:49:21.203Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

UPDATED: It has been pointed out that Autism Speaks still funds research looking for the supposed link to vaccines! People have resigned over this. Do not give your money to this organization.

Some books on autism:

There is also the 100 Day Kit from Autism Speaks.

The Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit and the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit were created specifically for newly diagnosed families to make the best possible use of the 100 days following their child's diagnosis of autism or AS/HFA.

You're right. There is a lot of mis-information out there about autism. The problem isn’t you’re a non-expert. It’s that the “experts” really don’t know.

You can't do controlled studies. You can't say to one parent, “Give Jonny OT, but don't give him speech therapy or ABA (or horse therapy), and come back in 10 years,” and tell another parent, "Just give Jonny horse therapy."

That said, a mainstream view is forming. Get speech therapy to help with pragmatics. Get some form of behavioral therapy (ABA, RDI, etc.) Get occupational therapy to help with sensory. Don’t try to do all of this on your own. You want good therapists.

A bad therapist is worse than no therapist. Until you've had a few, it can be hard to tell these apart. There are a lot of bad therapists.

Some other generally accepted good uses your of money (probably!), include:

  • some form of behavioral intervention at home (ABA, RDI, etc.)
  • some form of behavioral intervention at school

Depending on the part of the world in which you live, the school component might be free. You would do well to keep in mind that free is not be the same as good, or even appropriate. (Remember: No bad therapists!)

I would also get the child in to see a developmental peditrician to create a treatment plan. Your pediatrician probably knows less about autism than you do. You want a specialist.

There are lots of other things you can try, but it’s best to think of these as unproven/highly experimental. I, myself, would probably add another hour of OT or speech (or create a cash buffer) before trying anything else.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-03T16:09:55.762Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

General antiendorsement of Autism Speaks.

comment by CharlesR · 2012-09-03T17:02:08.059Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you be more specific?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-09-03T17:14:59.358Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

They're just pretty shitty as an organization. Very focused on the neurotypical parents of autistic children, very cure-oriented, no autistic people involved in their decisionmaking, they spread harmful memes about nasty "treatments" and have a history of spending way too much time looking into vaccines on a cause. Most autistic people don't like 'em, is the short version. Googling "autism speaks criticism" or similar will get you lots of specificity.

comment by CharlesR · 2012-09-03T22:39:45.752Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the info. I didn't know they were anti-vaxxers.

comment by void · 2012-09-02T21:03:04.229Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Observe advocates. An idea only with stupid advocates probably is stupid itself. If you notice someone smart applauding it, look closer. In not popular ideas with few adherents it's probably best to examine the inventor. Don't look to supposed experts as you have no way of evaluating their knowledge.

comment by kilobug · 2012-09-02T19:46:30.513Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for all the answers and support; I wasn't looking as much for actual answers to my situation than to general method on how to dive into a new field, but I do appreciate them. Some of the advices were things I already was doing, but I'm glad to have confirmation I was on the right tracks. Other advices were new and interesting, I'll see how to try them.

I don't want to give too much details on a public site (it's not like my "kilobug" pseudonym is very stealthy, to start), so some advice don't apply to that specific case, but thanks anyway. (Note : I don't mind giving more details in private if one of you has knowledge and the topic and the time to answer me, I would appreciate it a lot, but it wasn't my goal).

For the more general question, I did have a look on PLoS (as suggested), and I did find interesting studies in absolute, but most studies aren't really helpful to actually deal with the child. So I was more looking to comprehensive books, textbook or popsci, that summarize and collects studies, giving practical insights and advises. I did order the "psychology" textbook suggested by MIT, thanks for pragmatic for linking me to it, I'll see how much that'll help me to do further research.

Thanks to all anyway!

comment by satt · 2012-09-03T22:31:04.752Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't looking as much for actual answers to my situation than to general method on how to dive into a new field,

Possibly helpful older LW posts:

comment by fiddlemath · 2012-09-02T23:01:24.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To try to answer the title's question, rather than directly answer the post's problem:

For the general problem of discerning pseudo-science from science, there's Massimo Pigliucci's Nonsense on Stilts. What I've read (and heard) by him seems like pretty sound stuff, but I haven't read the book itself. Does anyone have strong opinions about this book?

comment by pabloernesto · 2019-03-02T02:25:11.735Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you add a brief summary of his ideas to your comment? Something like the "baloney detector" mentioned on this review of the book.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2012-09-03T22:57:06.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone have strong opinions about this book?

I haven't read the book, but I do have a strong negative opinion of Pigliucci. See, for instance, his intemperate, poorly argued critique of David Chalmers's talk on the singularity (cf. Michael Anissimov's analysis of that critique and Chalmers's response to that analysis).

This is, of course, only limited evidence against the book, which might still be worth reading for all I know.

comment by siodine · 2012-09-02T16:09:03.529Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When bridging an inferential distance, see where you are now, and then see where the experts are. That should help uncover the ignorance of your ignorance and make it possible for you to move towards the experts in knowledge-space. If you don't know where the experts are in knowledge-space, then you can easily stumble along in the dark until you end up at bullshit.

The next course of action is to actually move towards the experts in knowledge-space. Textbooks, expert blogs, wikipedia, classes, and so on are all viable methods for that.

But besides understanding the area well, I think you also want to understand or mentally model autists. In which case, you should become familiar with actual autists (through e.g. documentaries, books, and personal communication).

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-09-02T11:59:53.206Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very sceptical of Freud and psychoanalysis

There is an ancient and noble tradition of burning a straw-Freud, which started during the Freudian analysis vs Jungian analysis and analysis vs behaviorism conflicts decades ago, and it is still used today to signal your allegiance to a specific tribe, usually either skeptical or religious, depending on context. On LW this tradition is honored during the winter solstice, too.

I would recommend against classical Freudian psychoanalysis in this case simply because it was developed for dealing with stuff like this, which is fairly uncommon in our society; and is probably completely unrelated to autism.

I'm sorry I can't give you a more specific advice than this: try to contact families with similar problems and ask what worked for them. Seems to me that no therapy is scientifically proved yet, but I would probably bet on something like CBT.

When dealing with an autistic child, my impression from reading some blogs is that you should not expect any "common sense" at people-related things. Just accept that the autistic child has greater inferetial distances and problem understanding metaphors, therefore explain to them everything very simply and literally.

comment by siodine · 2012-09-02T15:58:26.398Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Seems to me that no therapy is scientifically proved yet, but I would probably bet on something like CBT.

I assume by "scientifically proved" you mean well supported by the available evidence, in which case CBT has already attained that [edit: I don't mean specifically for autism; Villiam_Bur's comment leads me to infer that he's referring to CBT being a potentially useful therapy more generally]. And the reason Freud is so disparaged is because his methodology was at best proto-scientific and at worst speculation, and yet people still take him seriously. For that reason, I speculate the hostility ostensibly directed towards Freud is actually intended for his current supporters.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-09-02T19:52:03.986Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I wanted to say that there is no proof that CBT works for autism; but because it was proved to work for other things, I would bet on it anyway. I don't believe it could cure the cause, but I believe it could teach some useful behaviors to somehow compensate for the missing skills.

comment by Rhwawn · 2012-09-03T00:40:37.972Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I'm missing a point here, but when I look in Google Scholar there seems to be enough existing research on CBT & autism to say whether it helped or not.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-09-03T13:42:52.743Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Those articles seem mostly about CBT used to reduce anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior at autistic children. Yes, that's an area where CBT is successful, and it's a great news that it works for autists too.

But to me it seems like it does not address the "essence" of autism (not that I know exactly what the essence of autism is), only fixes some symptoms. At the end, if everything succeeds, you will still have an autistic child; some of the problems will be fixed, some of them will remain. Yes, it's worth doing, just don't get your hopes too high.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-02T11:05:24.711Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very sorry to hear about your friend's son. For whatever it's worth, I think it's awesome you're taking the time to educate yourself in order to better help the child.

Do you have a name for his particular form of autism? You mention it is atypical, and the specific symptoms may be important.

Once you have the particular name, Google Scholar and the Journal of PLoS Medicine may be good places to begin your search. Do database searches for a review article on the particular form of autism.

Review articles are the best way to come up to speed on any given scientific subject. They also provide a massive list of resources for further study. Specifically, look for review articles published in the last few years. To ensure quality, they must be published in a peer-reviewed, academic journal. In this case, peer-review is your best defense against pseudo-science. The more prestigious the journal, the better. IIRC, Science and Nature are the top two of the life sciences.

If you can't find any review articles on his particular form of autism, try to get one on autism in general. Heck, maybe try to do that, anyway. Between those two papers, there should be a wealth of citations for further research. Best case scenario, they cite a recent textbook.

Another approach would be to speak with a professor from a university. An expert in the field, particularly with knowledge of the specific form of autism, would be the jackpot. You can check their CV for a list of published papers and chapters. If their work on the subject is reputable - e.g. published, peer-reviewed, highly cited, etc. - then they are more likely the be a genuine authority. He or she can more aptly answer your questions and point you in the right direction.