Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Farley et al., 2009

Farley, Mahon, Fombonne, et al.'s recent article, Twenty-year outcome for individuals with autism and average or near-average cognitive abilities is a pretty interesting read for a variety of reasons. It certainly wasn't free of interpretive bias, and sampling bias was a major issue as well, but... still interesting.

First, to take care of the most blatant aspect of the sampling bias. Of the fourty-one people who the authors collected data on, thirty-eight (or 93%) were Mormons -- or, more specifically, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It bears repeating: all but three of the respondants were members of that church. Nothing is said about the religious affiliations of those three participants.

Of course, the study's authors admit this... and then interpret it as potentially biasing the study in favor of superior outcomes. The authors don't even acknowledge the fact that the outcomes in their study could just have easily been biased in the opposite direction.

Anyway, there's a lot of interesting stuff in the paper. For the entirety of it, I suggest reading the paper itself -- there's no real substitute for that. It's worth noting that none of the intelligence tests used are valid for use on autistic individuals, however.

One heading of particular interest, however, was the section on the participant's history with law enforcement. Of the participants, fourteen (or 34%) were found to have a history with law enforcement. This almost seems to support the "autistic criminal" stereotype until you take a closer look.

You see, what's really interesting is just how this is defined. Two of those cases "occured only in early childhood".

Umm... yeah. I'm not quite sure what to say to that.


Behaviors resulting in intervention by law enforcement officers included performing maintenance tasks in restricted areas without any formal relationship to the business; observing children in public from a short distance; engaging in dangerous driving behavior under instructions from peers; sexual behavior aimed at a peer with developmental disabilities; stalking peers in pursuit of friendships; running from a police officer in a reportedly suspicious manner; and failing to pay parking tickets.

So, the participants engaged in inappropriate Good Samaritan acts. Yeah, I can see this happening.

At least one accepted a dare from a peer that involved dangerous driving practices? Good God, an entire generation defined their identy by that sort of stunt! NTs do that sort of crap all the time!

It'd be nice if they gave us figures on the frequency of that, though.

Similarly, the bit about sexual behavior aimed at a peer with developmental disabilities? There's more than a bit of ambiguity there -- for one thing, just what sort of sexual behavior? Was the peer a willing partner in this? Given some of the stuff I've seen, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if this was a case of parents using the police to bust up an autistic romance. Running from a police officer in a reportedly suspicious manner is equally suspicious in and of itself.

And really. "Failing to pay parking tickets"? Again, no further details were provided. Was this a deliberate thing? Was it a matter of inadequate supports leading to problems caused by executive functioning issues? Just how many tickets were involved? This really doesn't provide us with much.

In short -- that neat little statistic tells us almost nothing... and, again, kids whose only history with the police was getting separated from their parents and getting brought back by a police officer as a small child really don't deserve to be counted in the same statistic as those with adult criminal histories. The construct validity here is apallingly poor.

Actually, though, there was one thing that stood out. None of the issues listed were violent crimes... or even "classic" criminal behaivor. None.

Well, maybe the sexual behavior one, but that's so incredibly meaningless as it's written that it could be pretty much anything.

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