The following write-up for our Sunday, May 13th meeting is provided by Glenn Hardie.
“AUTISM AND BIPOLAR DISORDERS”
After the usual hour of socializing and coffee drinking, the 25 members and guests present on this Mother’s Day morning viewed a video produced by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which focused on the roles which genes play in producing anomalous mental states and some scientific advances designed to ameliorate the conditions. A free copy of the video can be procured by accessing http://www.hhmi.org/catalog/main?action=product&itemId=341
The first speaker, Kay Jameson, PhD, a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, spoke of her own personal involvement with manic-depressive episodes starting in her late teen years, a time at which such problems often emerge. This experience led her into a life-long study of the behavioral problems which such disorders cause. She explained that we are now in a position to treat such conditions with appropriate pharmaceuticals which enable those so afflicted to lead relatively normal lives. She mentioned that such patients were often highly creative and energetic during their manic periods. She also stressed that manic-depressive patients are often lightly dismissed as being developmentally deficient when in fact their condition is potentially fatal without proper intervention.
The second speaker, Gerald Fischbach, MD, a consultant with the Simonds Foundation, spoke specifically about autism and its effects and treatments. Although there are no clear answers as yet about the precise causes, research suggests that environment may play a significant role in the disorder, there being for example some indication that living in proximity to busy highways enhances behavioral problems. Apparently autism is not hereditary, but stems from disruption of the genetic coding at or shortly after conception. Furthermore, while it was formerly thought that autism was caused by mercury used in childhood vaccinations, science has now shown that not to be the case. While some drugs can be used to control the most violent of symptoms, the best course of treatment appears to be behavioral, with parents or guardians intervening very early to correct or limit anti-social tendencies in patients afflicted with this disorder.
A question was raised in the video (among many others) about so-called idiot-savants. It was explained that such cases were the exception rather than the rule. One example of the phenomenon mentioned was that of mathematical genius coupled to social dysfunction as depicted by Dustin Hoffman in the movie “The Rain Man.” After the video, there was extensive and animated discussion among the BCHA participants, with several individuals quoting reliable sources of information on the topics, while others related personal anecdotes from their own lives or those of family and friends.