All entries for November 2010

November 05, 2010

Group dynamics in seminar classes

This term I am in charge of a few seminar classes for an international business course for 2nd year Undergraduate students. I have been quite impressed with the quality of the discussions most of the time. Contrary to the views of many people outside the University, that boozing and partying are all University students ever interested in, I found most of the students to be quite serious with their studies - many coming to the class prepared. 

Most of them are highly intelligent anyway - the fact that they got into Warwick is proof of that.

You might notice that I use the word "most" and it's quite interesting to observe the group dynamics of the various seminar groups. I was quite surprised to see how one or two enthusiastic students could animate the whole class and enliven the proceedings. I wish I had more of these guys in all my seminar classes.

November 02, 2010

The Autism epidemic

When we set off to do our PhD at the University of Warwick, both my wife and I had no idea that during the process, we would face something that would change our life forever. Our son was diagnosed with autism when he was around 2 years old even though we had realised that something was wrong much earlier.

All the professionals we saw told us that there were some therapies could help them (autistic children) to some extent “but ....” and they would trail off.

We got that it was a lifelong condition and there was nothing much we could do about it but just accept the fact and live with it.

At first we were in shock and as it sunk in, came extreme depression. We didn’t have anyone to turn to. However, my wife was not willing to accept the opinion of the professionals – that there was no cure for autism – after all it was just their opinion. I mean no offense to all “autism experts” reading this. She couldn't concentrate on her PhD work for a year and instead focussed on researching on autism. 

Anyway, during our research we came across different alternative therapies and several parents who claim to have successfully treated their autistic children who were now normal. Later on we even met a few people who claimed that they had once been diagnosed with autism and were now considered neuro-typical (normal). Of course, we were really sceptical but as experienced researchers we were not going to just ignore these claims without checking them. And what we found was astonishing; several of the children had actually been diagnosed with autism once and had now lost their diagnosis. However, whenever we asked the professionals, including our paediatrician, they straightaway rejected these claims or simply told us that there was not enough evidence.

After depending on the NHS and Coventry city council for around a year and not seeing any progress, we decided to explore various alternative therapies with amazing results. We were not going to hang around for the evidence to emerge. You can read our experiences in our Journey with Imaan.

According to official reports, 1 in every 100 kid now falls in the autism spectrum. However, according to Lilias Ahmeira, a practitioner of complimentary therapy/energy medicine and mother of a child with autism, 1:54 children born in the UK will have a spectrum disorder.

We also recently found out that out of all the kids starting reception this year in Coventry, around a 100 have been diagnosed with autism. No one is sure about the number of kids without a diagnosis.

Given these fact, it was really surprising that so little research has been carried out in this area. Is this apathy from both the medical community and the politicians alike due to the fact that unlike AIDS, cancer or other medical condition, the issue of death does not normally come up for the people diagnosed with autism and is thus not seen as a priority? If we look at the definition of an epidemic, it does look like we now have an autism epidemic. Moreover, what does this mean for the society in the future especially since it is estimated that the figures given above will increase every year - double approximately every five years according to Lilias? What is the long term impact?

I can understand the ignorance of politicians but the lack of interest from the medical community is baffling. I put this question to my own father who a professor of Pathology. He was surprised himself when he did some research and found a lack of literature on this area. He guessed that this may be related to funding issues – something I am well aware about. Most of the big funders of medical research are the pharmaceutical companies and according to him, they are probably not interested. Another reason I guess, may be because of the fallout of Dr. Wakefield and the autism-vaccine-mercury controversy. And talking about Dr. Wakefield, even though it had been ruled that he acted unethically in carrying out his research and his co-authors all washed their hands off, this does not mean (contrary to news reports) that their research results are incorrect.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this epidemic facing us or is it even an epidemic?

Dilip Mutum

This blog records some of the thoughts and experiences of Dilip Mutum at the University of Warwick. He has been blogging since 2003 and this is but one of his many blogs.

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