Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A visit to Melbourne Australia

One of the most remarkable things about this new writing career is that it's taken me all over the world.  My books are sold in over sixty countries, and I am now getting invitations to follow them.  These next two weeks I am in Australia, at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, the University of Western Australia, and the Brisbane Writer's Festival.

I hope to see some of my Australian friends on this trip. For those of you who are far away, here are some images of my travels.

It's a most amazing journey.  Thank you all for joining me, welcoming me, and making it possible.  

This is Melbourne at night:

Here are some images of the historic sailing ship Polly Woodside, at anchor in the Yarra River

I never knew my long lost cousin Zebediah Robison went to Australia and set up a boiler factory.  We thought that animal ate him.  He must have got away.

The city, as seen from the river

They tell me you could walk across this river twenty years ago.  They need to get some more fill in there now, because this is not enough debris to support my weight.  

Trolley riders look the same all over, lost in their thoughts

Twelve tracks lead out of the Melbourne passenger station

You see some unusual vehicles on the street here.  Also, they drive on the wrong side.

The Sofitel is famed worldwide for the floor to ceiling windows in its bathrooms.  The have not heard of that Strauss Kuhn fellow down here, I guess

Ships at anchor in the harbor

Me, in a mirror and a hall

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Flooding from Hurricane Irene

Some images of flooding as Hurricane Irene hammers Western Massachusetts with rain last night and today

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ten Days in Australia

A scene from Travels With My Dad, fifty years ago in Kodachrome.  Somewhere in the Western United States . . . .

I am pleased to present my schedule for Australia, beginning next week.  I've corresponded with so many of you via email, FB and a blogger over the years.  I'm looking forward to seeing some of you in person.

Thursday 1 September 2011 - Melbourne

9:15 AM         Interview - Radio National Life Matters (live)
11:00 AM       Interview - Radio Australia (taped)

1:00 PM         Interview - Qantas Up & Away Radio (taped)

7:00 PM         Melbourne Writer’s Festival Author Reception
            North Fitzroy Star Corner Newry Street and St Georges Road N Fitzroy

Friday 2 September 2011 - Melbourne

9:30 AM         Interview - The Circle
11:00 AM       Network Ten
2:00 PM         Interview - Radio 4BC
2:30 PM         4BC Radio 77 Southgate Avenue Cannon Hill QLD 4170
9:00 PM         MWF Event - Friday Night Live
10:30 PM       BMW Edge Cnr Swanston and Flinders St Melbourne VIC 3000
            The Festival’s Late Show, hosted by the peerless Julia Zemiro (RocKwiz) in Letterman mode. Live music, festival guests, no safety net. Tonight, Julia’s joined by Lynda La Plante, John Elder Robison, Simone Felice, Rachel DeWoskin and Casey Bennetto.

Saturday 3 September 2011 - Melbourne

2:30 PM         MWF Event - Writing from the Autism Spectrum
            ACMI Cinema 1, Federation Square, Cnr Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne VIC

Sunday 4 September 2011 - Melbourne

4:00 PM         MWF Event - In Conversation: John Elder Robison
            The Cube, Federation Square, Cnr Flinders and Swanston Streets, Melbourne VIC

Tuesday 6 September 2011 - Perth

9:00 AM         Interview - 720 ABC Afternoon Program in Perth

7:00 PM         University of Western Australia Event - Be Different: adventures of a free-range Aspergian
            Venue: UWA Extension - University Club, Stirling Highway, Crawley, Perth WA 6009
            Link for booking tickets:

Thursday 8 September 2011 - Brisbane

7:00 PM         Brisbane Writers Festival - Festival First Night (Optional)
            Auditorium 1, State Library of Queensland
            Festival First Night includes the Official Opening by The Minister for Finance, Natural Resources and the Arts, Rachel Nolan; Opening Address by Ann Patchett; and performances by Shane Koyczan and Voices of Birralee - Birralee Blokes.

Friday 9 September 2011 - Brisbane

11:00 AM       BWF Event - Aspergers: Difference and Disability
            Venue: Auditorium 2, State Library of Queensland
            Panellists: John Elder Robison Chair: Guy Coaldrake Description: John Elder Robison, a guy with Asperger’s syndrome, shares entertaining and meaningful stories about learning to cope with problems. He demonstrates that many Aspergians possess unique gifts and emerge from the shadow of disability to lead full lives.

Saturday 10 September 2011 - Brisbane

1:00 PM         BWF Event - God Bless Humanity!
            Venue: Breezeway, Maiwar Green
            Chair: Krissy Kneen Panellists: John Elder Robison, Cathrine Ann, Dave Bidini Description: John Elder Robison and Cathrine Ann transformed their own lives to become ‘seemingly’ normal and successful. Dave Bidini knows the power of sport to transform lives. These three writers discuss humanity at its best with Krissy Kneen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Autism in theFamily - more common than we thought

This morning I read a striking a new study which addressed the question of autism in siblings – how common is it?  The findings will be of vital interest to many; most especially young families with an autistic infant.

Earlier studies and “conventional wisdom” suggested the incidence of autism in siblings was in the 3-10% range.  This new study shows those numbers to be very far from the mark.

Scientists in this new study found autism in 19 percent of the younger siblings.  High as that seems the incidence is even higher in families with two or more autistic kids.  In that case, a new sibling’s chances of being autistic rose to more than 32 percent. 

Being a boy makes a difference too.  “Only” 9% of girl siblings were autistic, as compared to 26% of boys.  I found this difference quite interesting because I often wonder if autism is under-diagnosed in females.  In this study, all the kids were screened with the gold-standard ADOS or ADIR tests prior to age three.  So even with top-notch screening, we still have more autistic boys.

Those are some strikingly high percentages.  As high as they are, and knowing autism is a spectrum condition, I have to wonder how many non-diagnosed siblings will eventually turn out to have less severe but still noticeable “differences.”

There were a few more points I found interesting.  First of all, the IQ of the child did not predict anything.  Neither did severity of autism, as defined by the ADOS diagnostic scales.  So your odds of having a second autistic kid are higher, but those odds and knowledge of the first kid don’t combine to give any insight into how a second kid might end up.

The conclusion is inescapable:  autism does run in families.  According to these findings, the more autistic kids you have, the more you are likely to keep having. 

We talk about autism having both genetic and environmental components.  This study, with 664 infants distributed all over the country, shows a very powerful genetic component.  That certainly does not diminish the role of environment, but it’s sobering.

I predict the results of this study will have a profound impact on family planning, because it casts parents’ chances of having a second or third child with autism in a strikingly different light that any previous study.

We already know (from other studies) that many parents stop having children when their first child receives an ASD diagnosis.  This new finding may significantly reinforce that tendency.

Read the study yourself at this link

The study involved 664 infants from 12 U.S. and Canadian sites, evaluated as early as 6 months of age and followed until age 36 months.  Kids with previously identified autism-related genetic factors such as Fragile X were excluded from the study group

“It's important to recognize that these are estimates that are averaged across all of the families. So, for some families, the risk will be greater than 18.7 percent, and for other families it would be less than 18.7 percent,” said Sally Ozonoff, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute and the study's lead author. “At the present time, unfortunately, we do not know how to estimate an individual family's actual risk.”

This study was based on data from the Autism Speaks High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium (BSRC) and led by investigators from the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Your correspondent (John Elder Robison) is a member of the Science Board of Autism Speaks, one of the organizations who funded the work.