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Archive for January 11th, 2011

First Published Friday, 9 January 2009

Rebel Without A Cause

People who behaved badly at school are more likely to suffer mental health and social difficulties as adults, a 40-year-study of Britons suggests.

Canadian researchers writing in the British Medical Journal examined data from 3,500 people from the age of 13 until they reached their 40s or 50s.

Those who had school behaviour problems were more likely to be depressed, divorced or have financial problems.

But a psychologist questioned whether the same would apply in other eras.

I’d like to think that things are much different today, and that today’s children would not have these problems later in life
Linda Blair
Clinical psychologist

In the late 1950s and the start of the 1960s, teachers across Britain were asked to rate the behaviour of a nationally representative sample of children, all of them born in 1946, as they entered their early teenage years.

A quarter of the children were described by the teachers as having some sort of mild or more severe behavioural problem.

The participants were then reinterviewed between the ages of 36 and 53, asked about their mental health, and social and economic status.

Those who had been described as having behavioural problems by their teachers decades earlier were more likely to have left school with no qualifications, and to suffer a number of problems in adulthood.

These included depression and anxiety, failed relationships, teenage pregnancy, and financial difficulties.

Even when the results were adjusted to take account of other factors, such as sex, the social class of parents, depression in adolescence and IQ, the link to behaviour held true.

Discipline change

The researchers, from the University of Alberta, wrote: “Given the long-term costs to society, and the distressing impact on the adolescents themselves, our results might have considerable implications for public health policy.”

However, Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist who works with families, said that she believed that in general the children born in the 1940s faced a completely different school and home environment to those born today.

Harsh criticisms and discipline for bad behaviour would have contributed to a “vicious cycle” of low self-confidence and poor achievement, she said.

She said: “You can’t imagine anyone back then asking a child how they felt about something.

“I’d like to think that things are much different today, and that today’s children would not have these problems later in life.

“The key thing is how you respond to behavioural problems in schools – hopefully we now handle them in a way that will increase self-esteem, not reduce it.”

Source:   http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7818636.stm

Outcomes of conduct problems in adolescence: 40 year follow-up of national cohort — Colman et al. 338: a2981 — BMJhttp://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/338/jan08_2/a2981

First Published Monday, 12 January 2009

Gary McKinnon, the hacker accused of breaking into the Pentagon and Nasa, could be tried in Britain

Gary McKinnon, the hacker accused of breaking into the Pentagon and Nasa, could be tried in Britain Photo: PA

Previous Updates


January 12, 2009

Gary McKinnon signs confession to avoid hacking extradition

Computer hacker Gary McKinnon

(Dave Bebber/The Times)

Gary McKinnon denies that he damaged any computers while searching for evidence of alien encounters

A UFO enthusiast who hacked into US military computers looking for evidence that aliens have visited Earth today signed a written confession in a last-ditch bid to avoid extradition.

Gary McKinnon, 42, from north London, faces a sentence of up to 80 years in prison if he is found guilty in an American court of hacking into and damaging 97 US Navy, Army, Nasa and Pentagon computers.

Mr McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, has failed in numerous appeals against the extradition. His lawyer hopes that by handing a signed confession to the Crown Prosecution Service he could be tried in the UK.

Karen Todner, his lawyer, said he still denies causing damage to the computer equipment, which cost $800,000 (£532,500) according to the US authorities. He signed a statement offering to plead guilty under UK law to hacking into the computers in breach of the Misuse of Computers Act.

Ms Todner said she was awaiting a response from the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, but added she was hopeful prosecutors would accept the deal.

“They are different offences to what he was being extradited for, but it reflects his culpability for what he did,” she said.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman confirmed they had received the letter and were considering it.

The US military claims Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, left 300 computers at a US Navy weapons station unusable immediately after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

He is accused of hacking into 53 US Army computers and 26 US Navy computers, including those at US Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey, which is responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet.

He is also accused of hacking into 16 Nasa computers, one US Department of Defence computer and one machine belonging to the US Air Force.

He was caught in 2002 as he tried to download a grainy black and white photograph which he believed was an alien spacecraft from a Nasa computer housed in the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

He was easily traced by the authorities because he used a personal e-mail address.

If the case is heard in the US it is thought that he would receive a relatively light sentence and that, under a plea bargain offer, he would spend six to 12 months in a US jail before being returned to Britain to serve the rest of his time.

McKinnon says he was looking for UFO files and his supporters have said this was an obsession that went too far.

He has previously said: “What I did was illegal and wrong and I accept I should be punished. But I am not a member of al-Qaeda. I believe my case is being treated so seriously because they’re scared of what I’ve seen. I’m living in a surreal, nutter’s film.”

An application for permission for a judicial review of the proposed extradition is expected to be heard at the High Court in London on January 20.

Source:  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article5503814.ece

Gary McKinnon’s mum tries to stop his extradition

14:28 12 Jan 2009

Self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon‘s mother has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions in a renewed effort to stop his extradition to the US and have him tried in the UK.

Karen Todner, McKinnon’s lawyer, has also asked the Crown Prosecution Service to try her client in the UK. Todner believes an admission of guilt signed by McKinnon and sent to the DPP entitles him to a British trial under the Computer Misuse Act.

>> Read the full letter: Gary McKinnon’s mother’s appeal to the DPP

McKinnon is wanted by the US to face charges that he hacked into Nasa and US defence computers and caused damage worth thousands of dollars. McKinnion admits the hacking, but denies causing damage.

Mckinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp told Keir Starmer that she wanted her son to receive equal treatment to that received by Aaron Caffrey, a 19-year-old whom the Americans wanted extradited for a denial of service attack on one of the US’s business harbours, Houston, on 20 September 2001.

“I am not asking for Gary to be excused I am merely asking that he can be tried in the UK on all of the charges already brought by the Americans and if need be, punished here,” Sharp wrote to Starmer.

“I am not requesting this merely for compassionate reasons but am asking on the basis of the right for my son Gary to receive equal treatment to Aaron Caffrey,” she said.

Demonstration outside Home Office to halt the extradition of Gary McKinnon

According to Sharp, the same CPS official dealt with both Caffrey’s and McKinnon’s cases. She said this person led Gary and his solicitor to understand at the time that he had been instructed from “the very top” to basically stand aside for America to prosecute Gary. “What we did not know at the time was that simultaneously the CPS was deciding to approve the prosecution of Aaron Caffrey in Southwark Crown Court,” she said.

Caffrey, who admitted he was a member of a white hat hacking group, admitted the attack came from his computer, but said it was due to a Trojan that ran without his knowledge. A forensic examination of Caffrey’s computer showed no evidence of the Trojan. Caffrey was tried in the UK and acquitted because the jury was not convinced he had hacked the port’s computers.

Sharp said the Home Secretary (Jack Straw) had previously turned down extradition requests for former Chilean dictator leader Augusto Pinochet, and alleged IRA terrorist Roisin McAliskey on health grounds. He had also tried to negotiate the release of Michael Shields from Bulgaria, who had been convicted for attempted murderer.

“(Jack Straw) should feel it only fair to allow a gentle person like Gary to be tried in the UK as Gary has no criminal record and has never hurt anyone and his crime was merely his obsessive behaviour caused by Asperger Syndrome,” Sharp said.

Source:   http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2009/01/12/234178/gary-mckinnons-mum-tries-to-stop-his-extradition.htm

NAS –  Media  Statement – Gary McKinnon

14 January 2008

Statement on NAS involvement in the case of Gary McKinnon, a man with Asperger syndrome who is appealing against extradition to the United States, where he will face charges of hacking into US government computer systems.

The National Autistic Society’s chief executive Mark Lever said: “We are calling for urgent action to prevent this extradition and allow Gary McKinnon to stand trial in the UK. We believe that the extradition, and a possible maximum security prison sentence, would be inappropriate and very damaging for anyone affected by Asperger syndrome.”

Mr. McKinnon has applied for Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision to order his extradition to the USA. The hearing will take place in the High Court on 20th January 2009. The NAS has already written to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith urging her to take Mr. McKinnon’s Asperger syndrome into account and we are now providing a written statement to the court expressing our concern that his diagnosis be taken into consideration in his application for judicial review.

The evidence we plan to submit explains the nature of Asperger syndrome and the fact that diagnosis in adults is often late, as in Mr. McKinnon’s case. In addition, we have included information explaining that people with Asperger syndrome may be particularly vulnerable because of their difficulties with social awareness and communication, and may be susceptible to additional mental health problems as a result of their disability.

As Mr. McKinnon was only diagnosed in August 2008, his Asperger syndrome was not taken into account in earlier legal proceedings dating back to his arrest in March 2002. The NAS strongly believes this new information needs to be taken into consideration before any decision is made about his extradition.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism – a serious, lifelong and disabling condition which effects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. Without the right support it can have a profound effect on individuals and families. As autism is a spectrum condition, no two people are affected in the same way.

Take action for Gary McKinnon by following this link.

Source:   http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=2074&a=18512

January 15, 2009

CPS considers last attempt at halting Gary McKinnon extradition

Gary McKinnon

(Andy Rain/EPA)

Gary McKinnon has not denied he hacked into Pentagon computers

The head of the Crown Prosecution Service is considering a request to try Gary McKinnon in the UK, delivering one last, legal lifeline to the Briton accused of the biggest hacking operation in American military history.

With just five days left until a final decision is made on his controversial extradition to the US, Keir Starmer QC will examine whether Mr McKinnon should instead be prosecuted on a lesser charge in the British courts.

Pressure is mounting to halt the extradition of Mr McKinnon, who has not denied hacking into a high-security network of American Navy, Army, Nasa and Pentagon computers.

Mr McKinnon, 42, from Wood Green, north London, insists he was looking for evidence of UFOs when he broke into the sensitive military networks in 2001 and 2002.

He says his behaviour was the result of Asperger’s Syndrome, which was only diagnosed in August last year.

If extradited, he faces up to 70 years in a high-security prison.

Today, Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor at the University of Cambridge and one of the leading experts in Asperger’s Syndrome, said Mr McKinnon was a vulnerable adult, who was acting through “social naivete” rather than criminal intent.

Mr Baron-Cohen told a press conference: “There are questions about whether he should be imprisoned at all because someone with Asperger’s Syndrome will find it very difficult to tolerate a prison environment.

“If, as I believe, the crime was committed through naivety and through an obsession – in this case with computers and trying to find information – without any intent to deceive, without any attempt to hide what he was doing, we should be thinking about this as the activity of somebody with a disability rather than a criminal activity.”

Professor Baron-Cohen also said Mr McKinnon’s behaviour was typical of people with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“It can bring a sort of tunnel vision so that in their pursuit of the truth they are blind to the potential social consequences for them or for other people,” he said.

The Crown Prosecution Service today confirmed it is considering a request from McKinnon’s lawyers in which they have said their client would plead guilty to an offence under the Misuse of Computers Act.

His lawyers have asked to adjourn the judicial review, due to take place at the High Court on Monday, pending Mr Starmer’s decision, which is expected to be made within four weeks.

Mr McKinnon’s solicitor, Karen Todner, said: “If this fails, it will be likely that Gary will be on a plane within days with no guarantee he will ever return. This is the end of the road.”

Mr McKinnon, a former hairdresser and systems analyst, who is now unemployed, told The Times: “I can only think as far ahead as the next legal step. I don’t want to think about the rest.

“I am very controlled, which is probably not a good thing, but inside the fires of hell are burning. It’s not a good place to be.

“I’m on beta-blockers at the moment and I’m extremely stressed.”

He conceded that after losing every appeal, he was now running out of options.

James Welsh, of the civil rights group, Liberty, said the computer hacker had been the victim of an “unfair imbalance” in Britain’s extradition agreement with the US, which does not require the US government to provide any evidence of alleged crimes.

He urged politicians to “remedy this obvious and glaring defect” in the legislation.

The US military alleges that Mr McKinnon caused $800,000 worth (£532,500) of damage and shut down 300 computers at a US Navy weapons station, in the wake of the September 11 2001 terror attacks.

He is also accused of hacking into 16 Nasa computers, one US Department of Defence computer and one machine belonging to the US Air Force.

Mr McKinnon, who was operating from a bedroom in north London, was caught in 2002 as he allegedly tried to download a grainy black and white photograph which he believed was an alien spacecraft from a Nasa computer housed in the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

He was easily traced by the authorities because he used his own email address.

Source:   http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5526034.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

Computer hacker in plea for Bush pardon

Published Date: 16 January 2009

SUPPORTERS of the Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon have urged George Bush, the US president, to pardon him as one of his final acts before leaving office.
McKinnon is only days away from finding out whether he will be extradited to the United States. The High Court judgment will be delivered on Tuesday, the same day as the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president.

But McKinnon’s lawyers hope Mr Bush will carry out a last act of clemency. It is common for outgoing presidents to pardon some people when they leave office, and McKinnon hopes his name will be on Mr Bush’s list.

At a news conference in London yesterday, his solicitor, Karen Todner, said she had written to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, asking him to appeal to Mr Bush to pardon her client. The 42-year-old has Asperger’s syndrome, and autism campaigners fear for his future if he is extradited to the US to face charges.

McKinnon hacked into US military computers from his North London home, but the UK’s extradition treaty means he can be sent to the US to face punishment there. He could face up to 60 years in prison.

He has asked to be charged under the Computer Misuse Act in Britain, where he believes would get a fairer trial.

11th hour lifeline for computer hacker

16 January 2009

COMPUTER hacker and former Crouch End resident Gary McKinnon has been given an 11th hour just days before a final decision on his extradition is made.

Mr McKinnon, 42 and a former Highgate Wood pupil, is currently awaiting extradition after being accused of causing $700,000 worth of damage when he allegedly hacked into US security systems from his Hillfield Avenue home in 2002.

His lawyers received a letter from the director of public prosecutions (DPP) yesterday stating it would take up to four weeks to deliberate over Mr McKinnon’s signed confession.

Last month, Mr McKinnon, who faces up to 60 years in an American prison, signed a formal confession pleading guilty to computer misuse, in an attempt to have him tried in this country.

On Tuesday (January 20), he faces an oral application for a judicial review at the High Court, where his lawyers now plan to delay the extradition until after the DPP has come to a decision.

“If that fails, we really have come to the end of the line,” Mr McKinnon’s solicitor, Karen Todner, said. “Gary would then be extradited within the next 10 days.”

Meanwhile, the leading authority on autism has defended Mr McKinnon in a plea to prevent his extradition.

At a special press conference on Thursday, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who diagnosed Mr McKinnon with Asperger’s syndrome in August, pledged his support to the UFO enthusiast.

“We should be thinking of this as the activity of someone with a disability, not a criminal activity,” he said. “There are questions as to whether he should be imprisoned at all. Someone was Asperger’s would find it very difficult to deal with it.

“He believed that what he was doing was right.

Source:   http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/content/camden/hamhigh/news/story.aspx?brand=NorthLondon24&category=Newshamhigh&tBrand=northlondon24&tCategory=newshamhigh&itemid=WeED16%20Jan%202009%2011%3A13%3A54%3A240

McKinnon extradition on hold until February

Tom Espiner and David Meyer ZDNet.co.uk

Published: 20 Jan 2009 11:58 GMT

Gary McKinnon’s potential extradition to the US for hacking military systems is on hold for the next few weeks, McKinnon’s lawyer has told ZDNet UK.

On Tuesday, McKinnon appeared at the High Court in London for an oral hearing about his extradition. McKinnon has always admitted hacking into Nasa and Pentagon systems — a crime for which he could face up to 70 years in prison if he were found guilty by a US court — but denies causing damage to the extent claimed by the US.

Late last December, McKinnon sent a confession to Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), in the hope he might be tried in the UK under the Computer Misuse Act, rather than in the US.

Before the hearing, McKinnon’s solicitor Karen Todner told ZDNet UK that the home secretary’s counsel had promised her the Home Office would stay the extradition until the DPP had issued his decision.

“The counsel for the home secretary has undertaken not to extradite Gary pending a decision from the DPP,” Todner said. The DPP said a week ago he would make a decision within four weeks, so that decision is expected in mid-February.

McKinnon, speaking to ZDNet UK before the hearing, described himself as “nervous”. He was, however, jubilant at the news of the delayed extradition.

“It’s brilliant news — they’re delaying the whole thing until we’ve got the DPP’s decision,” McKinnon said. “It’s such a relief.”

McKinnon added that he and his team would also apply for a judicial review of the home secretary’s October rejection of his appeal against extradition. McKinnon’s lawyers had argued that he should not be extradited on the grounds he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the autistic spectrum, but the Home Office rejected the appeal, claiming the diagnosis did not provide sufficient grounds for overturning the extradition order.

Source:   http://news.zdnet.co.uk/security/0,1000000189,39597073,00.htm

Hacker ‘faces suicide risk if extradited to US,’ High Court hears

(Tuesday 20 January 2009)

A BRITISH computer expert accused of hacking into US military networks would be at real risk of psychosis or suicide if extradited to the US, the High Court was told on Tuesday.

Gary McKinnon faces a lifetime in jail if he is found guilty in the US of sabotaging vital defence systems after the September 11 terror attacks.

But his supporters say that he acted through “naivety” as a result of his Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and should not be considered a criminal.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, appearing for Mr McKinnon, told the High Court that his medical condition was likely to give rise to psychosis or suicide if he were removed to the US, far away from his family, and that he should be allowed to stand trial in Britain.

The QC said: “The very fact of extradition will endanger his health.”

Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Simon, sitting in London, are being asked to grant the hacker permission to seek judicial review of the Home Secretary’s extradition decision.

Government lawyers are claiming that the decision to extradite does not infringe either Article 3 or Mr McKinnon’s Article 8 rights under the European convention to private and family life.



Autistic hackers can be extradited, says UK

Appeal for common humanity resisted

Wednesday, 21 January 2009, 20:55

PENTAGON HACKER Gary McKinnon’s autistic anguish is not painful enough to stop his extradition and confinement in a notorious US prison, the British government told the High Court yesterday.

Gary’s legal team asked the High Court to consider how his autism could turn a foreign trial and sentence into a terrifying ordeal that could make him go mad and even take his own life. The briefs argued Gary should face his hacking charges in a British court and serve any resulting prison sentence in his home country. The court was asked to review the Home Secretary’s decision in October to dismiss this question.

Hugo Keith QC, acting on behalf of UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, argued that Gary had survived a near four-year legal battle that had taken him through the local courts, High Court and House of Lords, so he ought to be able to cope with life in a US jail.

The lengthy legal battle had caused Gary anxiety and depression. But the symptoms hadn’t been bad enough for his lawyers to bring them up when Gary was fighting his extradition in the courts, said Keith. So why should it be any different now that Asperger’s, the catalyst, had been identified?

Expert evidence had warned that, if Gary were extradited and put through a foreign judicial process, away from his supporting family, his Aspergic vulnerabilities would be tested perilously more heavily than they were by his UK court battles.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Gary, appealed to the Home Secretary’s “common humanity” in considering Gary’s case. He argued that the Extradition Act 2003 allowed her to act humanely, and the European Convention of Human Rights compelled her to.

The court heard how the Extradition Act contained a provision for someone’s mental health to stop their extradition. But the Act had been designed to stop the government interfering in the extradition process, so only the courts could stop Gary’s extradition on these grounds. The Home Secretary did have the power to intervene, but only in limited circumstances: the Extradition Act was also designed to make people’s removal from their home country more efficient.

Humane or not humane
This exasperated Fitzgerald, the famed human rights layer: “What would you do with someone who discovered they had cancer or schizophrenia after the conclusion of the judicial process of an extradition?” he asked the judge. If the Home Secretary couldn’t intervene, then who could?

The case appeared to hinge therefore on whether the Home Secretary was obliged to stay Gary ‘s extradition under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Her decisions must pass the human rights test. But her position was that it wasn’t inhumane to let Gary the Aspergic be taken from his home country.

Fitzgerald argued that Gary was destined to face up to 60 years in a US supermax prison that had been criticised as inhumane by human rights bodies. Combined with his autism, this would breach Article 3 of the ECHR, which states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Moreover, removing someone with Asperger’s from their home country and incarcerating them in a foreign prison would breach Article 8 of the ECHR, which obliges prosecutors to respect people’s right to a private and family life.

“If exposure to potentially inhuman conditions and mental deterioration is avoidable by trial in this country, then that is a highly relevant factor to the assessment of inhumanity under Article 3 and disproportionality under Article 8,” Fitzgerald said.

Keith said there was not enough evidence to say Gary would serve time in a supermax prison, nor that he would be treated inhumanely if he did. The US was a civilised country. It might not have signed international human rights treaties, but its prisoners were given the right to complain about their conditions.

Is he or isn’t he?
Had Gary been a Muslim terrorist he might have had reason to fear mistreatment in a supermax, said Keith. Had he been a home-grown US terrorist like Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, Eric Rudolph, the Olympic bomber or Terry Nichols who conspired with Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, then he might be guaranteed to serve supermax time. There was some debate about whether the US wants to try Gary as a terrorist at all. Though it did want to have him for damaging military computer systems “for ideological reasons”.

Neither did the Home Secretary think she had a right to protect Gary’s Article 8 right to a private and family life, because the US gave their prisoners psychiatric care. This, it was implied, would compensate for any additional hardships he might suffer as an autistic in a foreign jail. And the US courts were anyway civilised enough to see that Gary’s Asperger’s was taken into account.

But the Home Secretary hadn’t even bothered to get assurances from the US that Gary would get the support he needed: that he would be given bail, kept in humane prison conditions, and repatriated to serve most of his time in a UK prison. In this she had neglected her duty and her “common humanity”, said Fitzgerald. The Home Secretary thought she didn’t need to get any such assurances unless there was a real risk to Gary’s human rights. But had she considered this question properly?

These were all interesting points, but it all boiled down to whether removing an Aspergic from their home country to face a long sentence in a foreign jail would be cruel, and illegally so. Why put someone with Asperger’s through such an ordeal when it was possible to prosecute them in their home country? The judge will rule on the matter on Friday.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Hacker wins court review decision

Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon says he was looking for classified documents on UFOs

British hacker Gary McKinnon has won permission from the High Court to apply for a judicial review against his extradition to the United States.

The 42-year-old from London, who was diagnosed last August as having Asperger’s Syndrome, has admitted hacking into US military computers.

His lawyers had said Mr McKinnon was at risk of suicide if he were extradited.

Lawyers for the home secretary had argued against the review, saying the risk to Mr McKinnon’s health was low.

Fresh challenge

Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Simon ruled that Mr McKinnon’s case “merits substantive consideration” and granted him leave to launch a fresh challenge at the court in London.

His lawyers had previously told the High Court that if he were removed from his family and sent to the US, his condition was likely to give rise to psychosis or suicide.

The condition was not taken into consideration by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith last October when she permitted the extradition.

However, her lawyers said she acted within her powers.

The judges said that although Ms Smith’s decision might be found to be “unassailable”, Mr McKinnon had an arguable case that should be tested in court.

We have always been outraged by the Home Office’s decision to have him extradited to stand trial in a foreign land where he would face an out-of-proportion sentence for what is essentially a crime of eccentricity
Janis Sharp

Mr McKinnon, who is from Wood Green, has always admitted hacking into the computer systems in 2001-2 -which the US government says caused damage costing $800,000 (£550,000).

He hacked into 97 government computers belonging to organisations including the US Navy and Nasa.

He was caught as he tried to download a grainy black and white photograph which he believed was an alien spacecraft from a Nasa computer housed in the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

He was easily traced by the authorities because he used his own email address.

He has always said that he had no malicious intent but was looking for classified documents on UFOs which he believed the US authorities had suppressed.

He has signed a statement accepting that his hacking constituted an offence under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Mr McKinnon’s mother Janis Sharp relayed the news to her son after the hearing.

She said: “We are overjoyed that the British courts have shown sense and compassion by allowing our son Gary, a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, this judicial review.

“We have always been outraged by the Home Office’s decision to have him extradited to stand trial in a foreign land where he would face an out-of-proportion sentence for what is essentially a crime of eccentricity.””

Gary McKinnon and Janis Sharp

Mr McKinnon and his mother Janis say he should be tried in the UK

Mr McKinnon has said he believes he will get a fairer trial in the UK and that he found the situation stressful.

“I am very controlled, which is probably not a good thing, but inside the fires of hell are burning.

“It’s not a good place to be,” he said.

Those with Asperger’s Syndrome commonly become obsessed with certain activities and interests and have a level of “social naivety” when it comes to evaluating the consequences of their actions.

Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, who diagnosed Mr McKinnon with the condition, has said of the hacker’s actions: “We should be thinking about this as the activity of somebody with a disability rather than a criminal activity.”

Mr McKinnon’s legal team have sent a request to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, asking for him to face trial in the UK rather than the US.

The home secretary has agreed to postpone Mr McKinnon’s extradition until the DPP gives his response to the case in four weeks.

If the DPP is persuaded to try Mr McKinnon in the UK, the hacker would face a three to four year sentence, rather than a potential 70 years in US courts.

Mr McKinnon’s full application for judicial review is likely to be heard after 16 March, by which time the DPP is expected to have made his decision.


Take action for Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon, a man diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in August 2008, is due to be extradited to the United States to face trial for allegedly hacking into US defence computer systems.

On Friday 23rd January, the High Court granted permission to apply for a judicial review against the decision to extradite Gary. The National Autistic Society has been particularly concerned about Gary’s case and provided evidence in the legal proceedings expressing its concern that Gary’s Asperger syndrome be taken in to account in deciding whether to grant judicial review. In particular, The National Autistic Society provided evidence relating to the nature of Asperger syndrome, the behaviours associated with it, and late diagnosis. The National Autistic Society is pleased that in line with the evidence it submitted, the Court acknowledged that Gary had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome late and that it seemed that late diagnosis was not uncommon.

The judicial review hearing is likely to be listed in March.

Although this is a great step forward for Gary, there is no guarantee that the hearing in March will succeed and we still need as many supporters to carry out our campaigner action now, urging the Attorney General to reconsider her decision not prosecute Gary in the UK.

Please take a moment to email the Attorney General now

You can also read our media statement on the case and find out more details about it below.

Related resources

Relevant areas/articles elsewhere on this website Media statement: Gary McKinnon

‘Gobsmacked’ Scot wins right to challenge extradition ruling

computer hacker could commit suicide if moved to us, say lawyers

Published: 24/01/2009

Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon said he was “gobsmacked” yesterday after winning the right to launch a fresh High Court challenge against moves to extradite him to America.

Lawyers for Mr McKinnon, 42, originally from Glasgow, said he would be at real risk of psychosis and suicide if extradited to face charges of hacking into US military networks.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Simon, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled the claim that his forced removal could infringe his human rights merited “substantive consideration”.

The judges granted him permission to seek judicial review of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s decision last October that extradition should go ahead.

He faces a lifetime in jail if he is found guilty in the US of sabotaging vital defence systems after the September 11 terror attacks.

Supporters say he acted through “naivety” as a result of Asperger’s syndrome – a form of autism.

Mr McKinnon, who lives in London, said of yesterday’s ruling: “I am gobsmacked. I am really, really pleased that there has been light at the end of the tunnel within our own legal system.”

His case was rejected by a district judge, the High Court and then, in July last year, by the House of Lords. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg also refused to intervene.

Yesterday Lord Justice Maurice Kay said it was some four weeks after the law lords’ ruling that Mr McKinnon was first diagnosed as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, appearing for Mr McKinnon, argued that the home secretary had failed to give adequate consideration to expert evidence, including that from Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading expert on Asperger’s syndrome, that extradition, in Mr McKinnon’s case, could endanger his health and lead to suicide.

Hugo Keith, appearing for the home secretary, argued the home secretary had acted within her powers and her reasoning on Article 3 was “unassailable”.

But the judges granted leave for a judicial review hearing.

Mr McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp, said she was “overjoyed” that the British courts “have shown sense and compassion”.

Computer expert Mr McKinnon has signed a statement accepting that his hacking constituted an offence under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990. He insists he was only looking for evidence of UFOs when he hacked into the US military networks in 2001 and 2002.

But the US military alleges that he caused £550,000 ($800,000) of damage and left 300 computers at a US Navy weapons station unusable immediately after the September 11, 2001 atrocities.

Source:   http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1045565?UserKey=

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is supporting McKinnon’s case

Boris Johnson opposes McKinnon extradition

London mayor urges Obama to call off seven-year witch hunt

Written by Phil Muncaster

London mayor Boris Johnson has called on US president Barack Obama to call off his government’s seven-year quest to extradite Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon.

In his column in The Daily Telegraph, Johnson called the move “neocon lunacy”, and said that the 43-year old Londoner who hacked into Pentagon and Nasa systems is no threat to American security.

“The British government is obviously too feeble to help Mr McKinnon and, even though the courts last week granted him another review, it is plain that the matter will simply drag preposterously and expensively on,” wrote Johnson.

“It is time for the commander-in-chief to tell the US military to stop being so utterly wet, dry their eyes, and invest in some passwords that are slightly more difficult to crack.”

Johnson also argued that the “legal nightmare” could continue indefinitely at taxpayers’ expense if Obama does not step in.

McKinnon, who could face 70 years in a maximum security jail if extradited and found guilty, has not denied hacking into the military systems, but has always maintained that he was motivated only by a desire to find evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

The case against him was postponed last week while Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, reviews the case.

McKinnon’s lawyers are hoping that he can be tried under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act, and wants his Asperger’s diagnosis to be taken into consideration.

Source:   http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2235190/mayor-johnson-mckinnon-should

1. peggy hadden left…

Monday, 4 May 2009 6:11 pm

Why is it so difficult to find current information of Gary M.? I heard that all of his appeals were denied and that he was positively being deported to the US. Have never found another word about him. So, is he here? Where? When is his trial? Where? Can Pres O give him a reprieve? Quite a few months ago there was a petition to sign,online, for the US to drop charges and the UK handle this. I tried to sign and got another one of those Systrm Error msgs. He was looking for UFO evidence and was able to hack NASA. You would think they have brains enough to be able to block hackers. Wouldn’t you?

2. Julie left…

Monday, 4 May 2009 7:56 pm

Hi Peggy – Gary is currently awaiting a judicial review of the extradition order by the U.K.’s High Court of Justice. It’s scheduled for June 9-10th in London. Will keep you posted.

Support Blog: http://freegary.org.uk/

First Published Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet (Image: Toby Madden/Eyevine)

07 January 2009 by Celeste Biever

Autistic savant Daniel Tammet shot to fame when he set a European record for the number of digits of pi he recited from memory (22,514). For afters, he learned Icelandic in a week. But unlike many savants, he’s able to tell us how he does it. We could all unleash extraordinary mental abilities by getting inside the savant mind, he tells Celeste Biever

Do you think savants have been misunderstood – and perhaps dehumanised – in the past?

Very often the analogy has been that a savant is like a computer, but what I do is about as far from what a computer does as you can imagine. This distinction hasn’t been made before, because savants haven’t been able to articulate how their minds work. I am lucky that the autism I have is mild, and that I was born into a large family and had to learn social skills, so I am able to speak up.

When did you first realise you had special talents?

At the age of 8 or 9. I was being taught maths at school and realised I could do the sums quickly, intuitively and in my own way – not using the techniques we were taught. I got so far ahead of the other children that I ran out of textbooks. I was aware already that I was different, because of my autism, but at that point I realised that the relationship I had with numbers was different.

To most people, the things you can do with your memory seem like magic. How do you do it?

The response that people often have to what I can do is one of “gee whiz”, but I want to push back against that. One of the purposes of the book I’ve just written, Embracing the Wide Sky, is to demystify this, to show the hidden processes behind my number skills.

I have a relationship with numbers that is similar to the relationship that most people have with language. When people think of words, they don’t think of them as separate items, atomised in their head, they understand them intuitively and subconsciously as belonging to an interconnected web of other words.

Can you give an example?

You wouldn’t use a word like “giraffe” without understanding what the words “neck” or “tall” or “animal” mean. Words only make sense when they are in this web of interconnected meaning and I have the same thing with numbers. Numbers belong to a web. When somebody gives me a number, I immediately visualise it and how it relates to other numbers. I also see the patterns those relationships produce and manipulate them in my head to arrive at a solution, if it’s a sum, or to identify if there is a prime.

But how do you visualise a number? In the same way that I visualise a giraffe?

Every number has a texture. If it is a “lumpy” number, then immediately my mind will relate it to other numbers which are lumpy – the lumpiness will tell me there is a relationship, there is a common divisor, or a pattern between the digits.

Can you give an example of a “lumpy” number?

For me, the ideal lumpy number is 37. It’s like porridge. So 111, a very pretty number, which is 3 times 37, is lumpy but it is also round. It takes on the properties of both 37 and 3, which is round. It’s an intuitive and visual way of doing maths and thinking about numbers.

For me, the ideal lumpy number is 37. It’s like porridge.

Why do you think you treat numbers this way?

When I was growing up, because of my autism, I didn’t make friends. Numbers filled that gap. The numbers came alive. My mind was able to pick out patterns and to make sense of them. It was similar to how a child would acquire his first language.

Do you make mistakes?

Absolutely. All the time, because of my intuitive approach. In the book I give an example of how another autistic savant thought that 10,511 was a prime number. That’s the kind of mistake I could make, because it looks prime. However, it is divisible by 23 and 457. It’s a forgivable error and not a rookie mistake.

What can we learn from the way your mind works?

The differences between savant and non-savant ability have been exaggerated. Savants are not freaks, cut off from the rest of humanity. The thinking of savants is an extreme form of the kind that everyone has. The aim of my book is to show that minds that function differently, such as mine, are not so strange, and that anyone can learn from them. I also hope to clear up some misconceptions about savant abilities and what it means to be intelligent or gifted.

There is immense potential, and instincts for language and numbers, in everyone. We could train these intuitions – especially at an early age, but also at any age – and learn how to break down preconceptions about how numbers should be thought about or how language works. Then, though people might not necessarily be able to do all the things I can do, they will be more comfortable with language and mathematics, and learning and education in general.

You also excel at learning languages. How do you pick them up so quickly?

I have synaesthesia, which helps. When there is an overlap between how I visualise a word and its meaning, that helps me remember it. For example, if a word that means “fire” in a new language happens to appear orange to me, that will help me remember it. But more significant is my memory and ability to spot patterns and find relationships between words. Fundamentally, languages are clusters of meaning – that is what grammar is about. This is also why languages interest me so much. My mind is interested in breaking things down and understanding complex relationships.

You have created your own language. Why?

My language – called Mänti – is about my love of words. If you have that relationship with words, you will always want to express yourself but not be able to find the word in your native language. I speak many languages and I still can’t always find the right sentence in any language. Mänti is about having that freedom to play with language, to see what would happen if I had a word for this or that.

What can you say in Mänti that you can’t say in any other language?

I like the word “kellokult”, which means “clock debt”. It’s a way of emphasising that when you are late for something, it incurs a debt, you owe someone that time. There is also “rupuaigu”, which means “bread time”. It’s a period of time, roughly an hour, that is the time it would take for bread to bake in an oven. What I like is that it is the same for everyone in the world. It’s a more intuitive way of thinking about an hour.

Do you have a bone to pick with the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who wrote about autistic savants?

Oliver Sacks wrote a famous account of autistic savant twins who counted 111 matches in an instant, as they spilled to the floor. Because he is famous, this has gained a lot of traction. People have devised theories to explain how savants might do this. But the likeliest explanation is that savants don’t instantly discern large quantities of objects at all. This ability has never been demonstrated scientifically, nor has it ever been reported in another savant. I think Sacks’s account – which has been so influential – is totally wrong.

Why is it so important to get this right?

The abilities of savants have been pigeon-holed as somehow supernatural, almost inexplicable and certainly not as part of the natural continuum of human talent. This has deformed how the public and, crucially, scientists, view the brain and human potential. It is insulting and potentially dehumanising. The future is an immensely scary place, full of all kinds of challenges. We will need every kind of mind, so why not bring along every kind of intelligence?


Daniel Tammet is 29 and grew up in London as the eldest of nine children. He has Asperger’s syndrome, synaesthesia and had epilepsy as a child. He has taught himself French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Welsh, Estonian, Icelandic and Esperanto. He works as a writer and linguist, and runs online language courses. In 2004 he set a European record for memorising the digits of pi (22,514 digits in 5 hours and 9 minutes). His new book Embracing the Wide Sky: A tour across the horizons of the human mind is out this month by Hodder & Stoughton (UK)/Free Press (US)

Source:   http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126881.800-inside-the-mind-of-an-autistic-savant.html?full=true

First Published Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Little Miss Manners

Making Room for Miss Manners Is a Parenting Basic

Published: January 12, 2009

For years, I took care of a very rude child. When he was 3, I called him rambunctious — and I talked to his mother about “setting limits.” At 4, I called him “demanding.” At 5, he was still screaming at his mother if she didn’t do what he wanted, he still swatted me whenever I tried to examine him, and his mother asked me worriedly if I thought he was ready for kindergarten.

I could go on (he didn’t have an easy time in school), but it would sound like a Victorian tale: The Rude Boy. I never used the word “rude” or even “manners” when I spoke to his mother. I don’t describe my patients as rude or polite in the medical record. But I do pass judgment, and so does every pediatrician I know.

It’s always popular — and easy — to bewail the deterioration of manners; there is an often quoted (and often disputed) story about Socrates’ complaining that the young Athenians have “bad manners, contempt for authority.” Sure, certain social rubrics have broken down or blurred, and sure, electronic communication seems to have given adults as well as children new ways to be rude. But the age-old parental job remains.

And that job is to start with a being who has no thought for the feelings of others, no code of behavior beyond its own needs and comforts — and, guided by love and duty, to do your best to transform that being into what your grandmother (or Socrates) might call a mensch. To use a term that has fallen out of favor, your assignment is to “civilize” the object of your affections.

Book Cover

My favorite child-rearing book is “Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children,” by Judith Martin, who takes the view that manners are at the heart of the whole parental enterprise. I called her to ask why.

“Every infant is born adorable but selfish and the center of the universe,” she replied. It’s a parent’s job to teach that “there are other people, and other people have feelings.”

The conversations that every pediatrician has, over and over, about “limit setting” and “consistently praising good behavior” are conversations about manners. And when you are in the exam room with a child who seems to have none, you begin to wonder what is going on at home and at school, and questions of family dysfunction or neurodevelopmental problems begin to cross your mind.

Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development, told me that a child’s manners were a perfectly appropriate topic to raise at a pediatric visit.

“It has a huge impact on people’s lives — why wouldn’t you bring it up?” she said. “Do they look you in the eye? If you stick your hand out do they shake it? How do they interact with the parents; do they interrupt, do they ask for things, do they open Mommy’s purse and take things out?”

Dr. Howard suggested that the whole “manners” concept might seem a little out of date — until you recast it as “social skills,” a very hot term these days. Social skills are necessary for school success, she pointed out; they affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace.

We also think of social skills as a profound set of challenges that complicate the lives of children — and adults — on what is now called the autism spectrum. Children with autism, whether mild or severe, have great difficulty learning social codes, deciphering subtle body language or tone of voice, and catching on to the rules of the game.

Therapy for these children can include systematic training in social skills, sometimes using scripts for common human interactions. And one lesson, Dr. Howard said, “is that you can teach this stuff, and we maybe aren’t teaching it as well as we should be to children who are developing normally.”

And of course, one of the long-term consequences of being a rude child is being a rude adult — even a rude doctor. There are bullies on the playground and bullies in the workplace; it can be quite disconcerting to encounter a mature adult with 20 or so years of education under his belt who still sees the world only in terms of his own wants, needs and emotions: I want that so give it to me; I am angry so I need to hit; I am wounded so I must howl.

I like Miss Manners’ approach because it lets a parent respect a child’s intellectual and emotional privacy: I’m not telling you to like your teacher; I’m telling you to treat her with courtesy. I’m not telling you that you can’t hate Tommy; I’m telling you that you can’t hit Tommy. Your feelings are your own private business; your behavior is public.

But that first big counterintuitive lesson — that there are other people out there whose feelings must be considered — affects a child’s most basic moral development. For a child, as for an adult, manners represent a strategy for getting along in life, but also a successful intellectual engagement with the business of being human.

I did not enjoy visits with my rude patient. Despite his generally good health and his normal developmental milestones, I couldn’t help feeling that the adult world had failed to guide and protect him. He was loud and demanding and insistent, but one of his basic needs had not been met: no one had taught him manners.

As a pediatrician, I worry about the trajectories of children’s growth and development: measuring a baby’s head size, weighing a toddler, asking about the language skills of a preschooler. Manners are another side of the journey every child makes from helplessness to autonomy. And a child who learns to manage a little courtesy, even under the pressure of a visit to the doctor, is a child who is operating well in the world, a child with a positive prognosis.

Source:   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/health/13klas.html?em


First Published Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Bad to be sad?

14 January 2009 by Jessica Marshall

WHY be miserable? OK, so it’s January and you’re feeling fat and broke after the excesses of the holiday season, but there’s really no need. Misery is inconvenient, unpleasant, and in a society where personal happiness is prized above all else, there is little tolerance for wallowing in despair. Especially now we’ve got drugs for it.

Antidepressants can help banish sad feelings – not just the life-sapping black dog of clinical depression, but the rough patches that most people go through sometimes, whether it’s after losing a job, the break-up of a relationship or the death of a loved one. So it’s no surprise that more and more people are taking them (see graph).

But is this really such a good idea? A growing number of cautionary voices from the world of mental health research are saying it isn’t. They fear that the increasing tendency to treat normal sadness as if it were a disease is playing fast and loose with a crucial part of our biology. Sadness, they argue, serves an evolutionary purpose – and if we lose it, we lose out.

“When you find something this deeply in us biologically, you presume that it was selected because it had some advantage, otherwise we wouldn’t have been burdened with it,” says Jerome Wakefield, a clinical social worker at New York University and co-author of The Loss of Sadness: How psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into depressive disorder (with Allan Horwitz, Oxford University Press, 2007). “We’re fooling around with part of our biological make-up.”

Perhaps, then, it is time to embrace our miserable side. Yet many psychiatrists insist not. Sadness has a nasty habit of turning into depression, they warn. Even when people are sad for good reason, they should be allowed to take drugs to make themselves feel better if that’s what they want.

So who is right? Is sadness something we can live without or is it a crucial part of the human condition?

Hard evidence for the importance of sadness in humans is difficult to come by, but there are lots of ideas about why our propensity to feel sad might have evolved. It may be a self-protection strategy, as it seems to be among other primates that show signs of sadness. An ape that doesn’t obviously slink off after it loses status may be seen as continuing to challenge the dominant ape – and that could be fatal.

Wakefield believes that in humans sadness has a further function: it helps us learn from our mistakes. “I think that one of the functions of intense negative emotions is to stop our normal functioning, to make us focus on something else for a while,” he says. It might act as a psychological deterrent to prevent us from making those mistakes in the first place. The risk of sadness may deter us from being too cavalier in relationships or with other things we value, for example.

What’s more, says Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist at Cardiff University in the UK, even full-blown depression may save us from the effects of long-term stress. Without taking time out to reflect, he says, “you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you’re exhausted or dead”. He also thinks that we may have evolved to display sadness as a form of communication. By acting sad, we tell other community members that we need support.

Then there is the notion that creativity is connected to dark moods. There is no shortage of great artists, writers and musicians who have suffered from depression or bipolar disorder. It would be difficult to find enough recognised geniuses to test the idea in a large, controlled study, but more run-of-the-mill creativity does seem to be associated with mood disorders. Modupe Akinola and Wendy Berry Mendes of Harvard University found that people with signs of depression performed better at a creative task, especially after receiving feedback that was designed to reinforce their low mood. The researchers suggest that such negative feedback makes people ruminate on the unhappy experience, which allows subconscious creative processes to come to the fore, or that it pushes depression-prone people to work harder to avoid feeling bad in the future (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol 34, p 1677).

Don’t be happy, worry

There is also evidence that too much happiness can be bad for your career. Ed Diener, a psychologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and his colleagues found that people who scored 8 out of 10 on a happiness scale were more successful in terms of income and education than 9s or 10s – although the 9s and 10s seemed to have more successful close relationships (Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol 2, p 346).

This could simply demonstrate that the happiest people are those who cherish close relationships over power and success, but it could also signal that people who are “too happy” lose their willingness to make changes to their lives that may benefit them. Medicating sadness, Keedwell suggests, could do the same – blunting the consequences of unfortunate situations and removing people’s motivation to improve their lives. Giving antidepressants to people whose real problem is something else – a bad relationship, for instance – may allow the person to continue in an unhealthy situation instead of addressing the underlying problem.

Whether or not a little sadness is useful, everyone agrees that clinical depression is not. Unfortunately it’s not clear exactly where to draw the line between the two (see “Sad or depressed?”). So which is more dangerous: to over-medicate normal sadness, a feeling which may lead us to re-evaluate our lives after the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or under-medicate clinical depression?

Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, Australia, insists that depression is not overdiagnosed but would rather it were than see seriously depressed people left out in the cold. He points out that there is evidence to suggest that the number of suicides has declined as more cases of depression have been diagnosed. It’s important to take borderline diagnoses of depression seriously, he says, because “most of the suicides do not occur in the most severely depressed”.

Wakefield, however is uneasy about prescribing pills where there is no certainty that they are needed. After all, he points out, antidepressants have side effects, some of them serious.

The need for sad

So where does this leave the notion of human sadness? Should we accept that major life events may make us so sad that we are temporarily disabled? Or should we run to the doctor in the hope that pills will speed up our emotional journey back to happiness?

Should we use pills to speed up our emotional journey back to happiness?

Ken Kendler, a psychiatrist at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, points out that for some people, sadness is definitely something they are better off without. He recalls a mother in her late 20s who came to him because she had an inoperable defect in her aorta that would rupture at some undeterminable time in the future, killing her instantly. This knowledge had made her depressed – certainly with reasonable cause – but she did not want to live the rest of her days that way, unable to function for her family.

“That seemed to me to be an irreproachable logic on her part,” Kendler says. “I started her on antidepressants. She came back much brighter. The idea that I was depriving this woman of the proper grieving experience and preventing her from experiencing deeply the meaning of this rang very hollow in this particular case.”

For those of us not faced with such an extreme problem, Terence Ketter, a psychiatrist at Stanford University in California, is more cautious. “The cost of happiness is complacency,” he says. Sadness is still something useful: “Discontent can drive change. Certainly, you don’t want to stifle or blunt emotion – emotion is information.”

Keedwell agrees. “Clearly, if we didn’t feel sad when we were unsuccessful at achieving certain goals, we would not stand back from that goal and introspect and perhaps try to change our strategies,” he says, echoing Wakefield and the Harvard creativity study. “Being enthusiastic and jubilant we would probably go blindly on.”

So is there some middle ground? Both sides agree that there are ways to lift the gloom without pills. “An alternative would be thinking about what is making you unhappy,” says Wakefield. “Another possibility is watchful waiting. A more nuanced view of the situation will help people think about their options better.”

Diener also suggests we stop obsessing about being happy all the time (see “A pill for every ill”). “One of the things we want to do is disabuse people of the notion that they’re not happy enough,” he says. He cites a study that used emotion-recognition software to work out the Mona Lisa’s inner feelings (New Scientist, 17 December 2005, p 25). It concluded that she is 83 per cent happy. The rest is a mix of negative emotions like fear and anger. That, it seems, is just about right.

Read our related editorial

A pill for every ill

When the first antidepressant came to market in the 1950s, the company that marketed it did not think there were enough depressed people for the drugs to make a profit. By 2000, though, antidepressants were a $7 billion business in the US alone. Outpatient treatment for depression increased threefold between 1987 and 1998.

Many people blame the pharmaceutical industry for huge increases in the number of depression diagnoses, especially in countries like the US where drug companies can advertise their products directly to consumers on television, radio and in magazines. One recent study by Richard Kravitz at the University of California, Davis, aimed to test this idea.

Kravitz sent actors into doctors’ offices. Half presented symptoms of depression, half did not. Each actor either asked for the antidepressant Paxil specifically, asked for help from a drug without specifying which one they wanted, or made no request. Those who asked for a drug were more likely to get one than those who did not request medication, whether or not they had symptoms of depression (The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 293, p 1995).

Gordon Parker of the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia, also points out that the drug industry has benefited from the somewhat broad definition of depression. “Having a lack of precision has made it absolutely appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry to say, ‘We’re just treating this broad, generic condition,'” he says.

Others are not so convinced that patients are being led towards a decision. “One view is that this is being marketed by the doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. I think that misses the argument that people themselves are much more interested in having a better life,” says Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney. “People are always looking to enhance themselves. I don’t think clinical depression is a lifestyle issue. It’s just like surgery being a serious thing, but that doesn’t stop the cosmetic surgery industry.”

Sad or depressed?

If you have experienced five of the symptoms below for two weeks or more, including at least one of the first two, you meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.

  • *Depressed mood

  • *Reduced interest or enjoyment in normal activities

  • *Loss or gain of weight or appetite

  • *Insomnia or excessive sleep

  • *Fatigue or loss of energy

  • *Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt Indecisiveness or reduced ability to concentrate

  • *Agitated motion like pacing or hand-wringing, or physical slowing down

  • *Thoughts of death or suicide

  • This definition, introduced in the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980, changed the definition of depression from something that depended on the context of an individual’s life circumstances to a more objective list of symptoms.

    There is one notable caveat. According to the DSM criteria, if you have these symptoms after the death of a loved one you are not considered to be depressed, but suffering a normal reaction to bereavement.

    Some, however, say that bereavement isn’t the only type of grief that should be left out of a diagnosis of depression. Jerome Wakefield of New York University is one of them. He says that other losses, like divorce, illness or loss of a job, should also exempt people from a diagnosis of depression because these unhappy but commonplace events can trigger similar symptoms. “It does make one worry that any negative emotion [except the grief of bereavement] that disrupts your ability to function in a happy manner could be classified as a disorder,” he says.

    In a study published in 2007, Wakefield’s team reported on more than a thousand people who met the criteria for major depressive disorder, some of whose episodes were triggered by “standard” bereavement and others whose depression was triggered by another loss. They found that the depression they suffered was very similar. “That suggested that about 25 per cent of people who would be diagnosed in the community as being depressed are probably actually suffering from normal reactions,” Wakefield says. Moreover, the symptoms of those who were grieving for reasons other than bereavement were indistinguishable from those of the bereaved (Archives of General Psychiatry, vol 64, p 433).

    Wakefield says this means that other forms of normal sadness should be exempted from the DSM criteria. Other researchers, though, feel the opposite is true: that far from being excluded, anything that creates depressive symptoms – grief included – should be diagnosed as clinical depression and treated accordingly.

    Ken Kendler at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, for example, carried out a similar study to Wakefield’s but drew the opposite conclusion. He compared individuals with bereavement-related depression with those depressed because of other stressful events. He found that there were few differences in symptoms between the groups. “Bereavement-related depression often is recurrent, genetically influenced, impairing, and treatment-responsive,” he writes – not just something that everyone goes through (The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol 165, p 1449).

    With the next edition of DSM due in 2012, the debate is likely to hot up over the next couple of years. For some, however, the problem isn’t just about exemptions, it is also about setting the bar too low. For Gordon Parker, a psychiatrist and executive director of the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia, making a diagnosis of depression easier to reach isn’t helpful.

    “[It] has taken psychiatry into the dark ages,” he says. In his view, there’s no use in having a definition of depression that is broad and devoid of context. “Say you go along to your general practitioner and he says, ‘I know what you’ve got. You’ve got major breathlessness.’ You’re not going to be very impressed. You want to know whether you’ve got pneumonia or asthma, or a pulmonary embolus, because you then know that the treatment will be rational. If you go with a generic diagnosis, how can you possibly work out what is the key, underlying pathology?”

    Jessica Marshall is a freelance science writer based in St Paul, Minnesota

    Source:   http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126911.600-is-it-really-bad-to-be-sad.html?full=true

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    Gary McKinnon Updates”:


    UK “Hotline for help with winter fuel bills”:


    Volunteers needed to help out at new club for AS youngsters”:


    Deaf woman, 90, runs after robber”:


    Wheelchair woman denied bus entry”:


    Google works on android for the blind”:


    Stevie Wonder in touchscreen plea”:


    In praise of … braille”:


    Appeal to preserve Braille press”:


    Why Braille is brilliant”:



    Autism screening test on unborn babies raises fears of rise in abortions”:


    Key developmental mechanisms of the amygdala revealed by Children’s National Scientists”:


    Missing slice of DNA is epilepsy riskfactor”:


    University leads self-harm study”:


    Animated series helped autistic children recognize emotions: study”:


    LEGO helps social development of autistic children”:


    Visual Impairment & Autism Project”:


    PTSD “Tetris helps to reduce trauma”:


    Behaviour link to lifelong health”:


    Visions link to coffee intake”:


    Standardized test battery to aid those with Down Syndrome”:


    More babies with Down’s syndrome born as attitudes change”:


    Longer fingers point to bigger profits”:




    Schools fail special needs rule”:


    Creaking special needs system faces overhaul”:


    MP brands dyslexia a fiction”:


    School transforms life of self-harming autistic girl April”:


    Teachers for autism students need in WV”:


    Facilitating reading for additional support needs”:



    AUSTRALIAAlpha Employment”

    AUSTRALIA “JobAccess – help and workplace solutions for the employment of people with disability”

    WESTERN AUSTRALIA “AIM Employment Services”:

    NEW ZEALAND “Equal Employment Opportunities Trust”:

    Position Available – Birmingham, UK “Curriculum Area Manager”:


    Individuality, Diversity, Equality, Achievement

    Auties..org is an Aspie & Autie friendly site for all people on the Autistic Spectrum who are ready to dare reach out to occupation and employment, open the doors to the community and market their abilities directly to the public and for those interested in supporting these pioneers.



    Linking job seekers with vacancies in work related to autism, Aspergers and ASDs

    Current job vacancies within the NAS”:

    For further employment information, please view”:


    Family Travel “Can we take our disabled son to Florida?”:


    The chance of a better future still depends on time or money – or both”:


    Daniel Tammet “Inside the mind of an autistic savant”:


    Social Skills “Making Room for Miss Manners …”:


    An obsessive condition that fits in well with computing”:


    Recollections for New Year”:


    Monitoring mental health by text”:


    A child’s best friend is his dog”:


    Joel’s gift from kind stranger”:


    Famous people with autistic traits”:




    Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia”:


    Parliament House, Canberra, ACT

    Latest A4 Update


    Comprehensive List of Links:http://www.autismsupport.org.au/links.html


    ASAN in Australia”:


    The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road

    Tony Attwood “Minds and Hearts”:


    Surfers Paradise, Qld

    Autism Queensland”:


    Sulpher-Crested Cockatoo

    Autism Asperger ACT”:


    Ferris Wheel, Melbourne

    Autism Victoria”:



    Autism South Australia”:



    Autism Tasmania”:


    Saltwater Croc, Kakadu, NT

    Autism Northern Territory”:


    Perth, Western Australia

    Disability Services in Perth & Western Australia”:





    A Dreamy Scape

    Australia – Facts, Travel Videos, Flags Etc”:


    Byron Bay Lighthouse

    Australia and Oceania”:


    Prawns on the Barbie

    Australian Cuisine & Recipes”:



    New Website “Adhd & Add Infocentre: your free information directory about ADHD”:


    Curtin University misled about ADHD drug”


    What if a parent is told the child has ADD or ADHD?”:


    Are Doctors doing what’s best for ADHD kids?”:


    Study suggests meditation may ease ADHD – Researchers call technique effective”:


    Alternative and controversial treatments for ADHD”:


    Can a pill make you brainier? … Modafinil – better known as Provigil – is the pill the academics have been taking. Officially, it’s used to treat conditions that cause daytime sleepiness, such as narcolepsy. But off-prescription, it’s being used, not only by academics and students, but reportedly by the U.S. and UK military, to improve mental energy.”:


    Disorder-specific dissociation of orbitofrontal dysfunction in boys with pure conduct disorder during reward and ventrolateral prefontal dysfunction in boys with pure ADHD during sustained attention – Rubia et al”:


    ADRES “Adverse Drug Reaction Electronic System(Adverse Drug Reactions Website)”- This website provides patients, doctors, and other medical professionals with a comprehensive examination of adverse drug reactions (ADRs), side effects, and other safety information for both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Our goal is to allow users of our website make informed decisions when taking (patients) or prescribing (doctors) drugs. We are providing unmatched information and analysis tools.


    Our objective is to promote awareness to AD/HD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and to provide information and as much free practical help as we can to those affected by the condition, both adults and children, their families in the UK and around the World via this website.


    ADDISS” The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service…




    hi2u ADHD Pages”:





    Sherwoods joins children with special needs for sports day celebrations”:


    Mum’s challenge for eight year old son”:


    Trek the Inca Trail –  22-31 May, 2010”:


    Trek Ben Nevis – 19-21 June, 2009”:


    Flora London Marathon 2009”:


    It’s back! The London to Paris Bike Ride 2009 – 15-18 May”:


    5-8th June, 2009 “Five Countries Bike Ride – England, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany”:


    Trek Jordan 2009 – 10th-14th September”:


    “Sky Diving”:



    Donna Williams “Donna and the Aspinauts”:


    Stars Shine for Autism 2009 – 12th March, 2009

    Featuring Alfie Boe and the London Chamber Orchestra:


    The AutisMusic Project”:



    Jessi Upton “Soul Art by Jess”:


    Soul of Fire”:


    Artist Kim Miller: The Girl Who Spoke With Pictures”:


    VIDEO “Painting Autism with world-renowned artist, Romero Britto”:


    Art Auction – 26 February 2009”:


    Enter the Hoffman Foundation’s prize for drawing and painting”:


    ARTROOM ……..where under 17s can make and display art online”:



    Adam Elliot’s Mary & Max Earns Prestigious Opening Spot At Sundance Film Festival”

    Mary and Max – A claymation film about a pen-pal relationship between a lonely 8 year-old girl in Australia and a 44 year-old Jewish man in New York who has Asperger Syndrome. Voice Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Eric Bana. Narrated by Barry Humphries.


    Mary & Max Official Site”:



    Exclusive screening of “The Black Balloon”:


    DVD “Her Name Is Sabine”:


    Peeping ahead into 2009 … My Name is Khan: Karan Johar / Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol — The film is shot in USA with the 9/11 theme and an ‘autistic’ Khan. And Kajol too plays a Muslim in a story culled from real life.”:


    Shining a light: Autism documentary includes story of Cape native Taylor Crowe”:


    Twilight “Vampire romance is feisty stuff”:



    Paul Dirac(Britain’s Einstein) – New biography set for release as Baron-Cohen calls for public debate of Autism Test”:


    The Forever Story”:


    George and Sam “Autism: A mother’s story”:


    Book is rallying resistance to the antivaccine crusade”:


    So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in Pride and Prejudice”

    Author: Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer

    Forewords by Eileen Sutherland and Tony Attwood


    Children with Seizures”

    Author: Martin L. Kutscher MD

    Foreword by Gregory L. Holmes MD


    New “Challenges to the Human Rights of People with Intellectual Disabilities”

    Edited by Frances Owen and Dorothy Griffiths

    Foreword by Orville Endicott


    New “A Creative Guide to Exploring Your Life: Self-Reflection Using Photography, Art, and Writing”

    Authors: Graham Gordon Ramsay and Holly Barlow Sweet


    Coming Soon “Making the Move: A Guide for Schools and Parents on the Transfer of Pupils with ASD from Primary to Secondary School”

    Authors: K.I. Al-Ghani and Lynda Kenward

    Illustrated by Haitham Al-Ghani



    Bedtime Stories

    Bedtime Stories (PG)

    Adventure comedy starring Adam Sandler as Skeeter Bronson, a hotel handyman whose life is changed forever when the bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew start to mysteriously come true. Also starring Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce and Courtney Cox.

    Official Website



    Mr Bean's Wacky World of Wii

    Mr Bean’s Wacky World of Wii

    (Release Date Feb 6th, 2009)


    Natural-born scientist


    Why Kids Are Natural-Born Scientists




    I’m proud to announce the brand new LEGO Club Charity Challenge 2009! The LEGO Club is still helping the National Autistic Society to raise money for a new playground at one of their fantastic schools and we want to go bigger and better in 2009!



    A year’s supply of LEGO toys!

    200 runner up prizes of LEGOLAND tickets!

    A LEGO Frog and a LEGO Brick keyring with your name engraved on it for all members who raise £10 or more!


    From 15th January 2009 to 31st December 2009


    Raise money to help build a playground at a NAS school!

    Do sponsored activities such as walks with your family or a LEGO speed building contest!


    -Phone 01753 495 180 or email clubchallenge@LEGO.com and ask for a sponsorship pack including:

    LEGO Club Charity card and lanyard

    A sticker for your t-shirt

    Building steps for a LEGO brick money box

    Sponsorship forms, hints & tips and terms and conditions

    Over the next two years LEGO UK and their staff will be aiming to raise £80,000 to build a fantastic new playground at the NAS Radlett Lodge School in Hertfordshire.

    To enjoy the Official LEGO website:

    Or to visit Legoland:

    Take Care,


    Desert meets the sea

    First Published Friday, 16 January 2009

    Published: December 15, 2008

    People who are depressed are literally sick at heart: they have a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and no one knows exactly why. Now three new studies have tried to explain this, and they arrive at subtly different conclusions.

    The first, led by Dr. Mary A. Whooley of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, studied 1,017 patients with coronary artery disease for an average of more than four years. Although the study found an association of depression with heart disease, when researchers statistically corrected for other medical conditions, disease severity and physical inactivity, the association disappeared.

    They concluded with a relatively straightforward explanation: depression leads to physical inactivity, and lack of exercise increases the risk for heart disease. The study appears in the Nov. 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

    A second study, published Tuesday in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, provides a different perspective. It included more than 6,500 healthy men and women with an average age of 51. Researchers tested them for depressive symptoms and followed them for an average of more than seven years.

    This study, too, found that behavioral issues like smoking and inactivity were the strongest factors in the increased risk for heart disease among people who are depressed or anxious, accounting for 65 percent of the difference in risk. But they also found that depressed people had higher rates of hypertension and higher levels of C-reactive protein, and that these two physiological factors together accounted for about 19 percent of the increased risk. Mark Hamer, a senior researcher at University College London, was the lead author.

    While these two studies suggest that the mechanism by which depression exerts its effect is mostly or entirely through poor health behaviors, a third study, in the December issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry, found that something else might be even more important.

    This paper, whose senior author was Dr. Brenda Penninx, a professor of psychiatry at VU University in Amsterdam, studied 2,088 well-functioning adults ages 70 to 79. It found no difference in physical activity between those who were depressed and those who were not.

    But it did find that depressive symptoms were associated with an increase in visceral fat accumulation — the pot belly that is a known risk factor for cardiovascular illness. This suggests that there is a biological mechanism that links depression with physiological changes independent of how much a person exercises.

    To further complicate matters, Dr. Penninx suggested that her physically healthy subjects might have a different kind of depression. “There is now quite a lot of evidence that among heart attack patients, the physical symptoms of depression are more prevalent,” she said, “which suggests that their depression is different from that seen in an otherwise healthy sample.”

    For now, Dr. Hamer, of London, offered what might be the last word on the complicated relationship between depression and heart disease.

    “It’s really quite difficult to understand,” he said.

    Source:   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/health/research/16depr.html?ref=research

    Dial for suspected stroke

    Hypertension and Stroke Health Alert

    Call 911 — Not a Healthline — for Suspected Stroke

    Much more publicity is given to the symptoms of a heart attack than a stroke. Yet like a heart attack, a stroke is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. It’s essential to get to the hospital as soon as symptoms start, since drug therapy is most likely to be effective within the first three hours of stroke onset.

    People who call a hospital’s medical-advice healthline instead of 911 for a suspected stroke can lose critical time due to delays or misinformation, according to a study published in the journal Stroke (Volume 38, page 2376) .

    The researchers called 46 U.S. hospital healthlines and presented operators with a typical scenario of stroke symptoms. The operators were then asked which of four responses they would give: wait and see if symptoms subside; call your primary care doctor; drive to your local urgent-care center; or call 911 for an ambulance. While 78% of the healthline operators gave the correct response — call 911 — 22% recommended that the caller contact his or her primary care doctor, including 32% of the operators who worked for healthlines at certified stroke centers. Moreover, 39% of the healthline calls were transferred at least once (usually to the emergency department), and one quarter of the operators couldn’t identify even one sign or symptom of a stroke.

    A stroke is a medical emergency and time is of the essence, so if you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, immediately call 911, not a medical-advice healthline. Emergency-room doctors are the ones who should make the decision whether symptoms are of a stroke or not.

    Listed below are the symptoms of a stroke, as well as what to do in the event of a stroke.

    Symptoms of Stroke:

    • *Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
    • *Sudden loss, blurring, or dimness of vision.
    • *Mental confusion, loss of memory, or sudden loss of consciousness.
    • *Slurred speech, loss of speech, or problems understanding others.
    • *Sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause.
    • *Unexplained dizziness, drowsiness, loss of coordination, or falls.
    • *Nausea and vomiting, especially when accompanied by any of the above symptoms.

    Actions To Take in the Event of a Stroke:

    • *Stay calm. Ignore any tendency to downplay a stroke symptom; it’s common for people to deny the possibility of something as serious as a stroke. Don’t hesitate to take prompt action.
    • *Call or have someone call an ambulance. (Dial 911 in most parts of the United States.) Be sure to give your name, telephone number, and exact whereabouts.
    • *While waiting for the ambulance, the person suffering the stroke should be made as comfortable as possible and should not eat or drink anything other than water.
    • *If an ambulance cannot arrive for an extended period of time, a family member or neighbor should drive the stroke patient to the hospital. Under no circumstances should the person experiencing the stroke symptoms attempt to drive.
    • *Notify the stroke patient’s doctor. He or she can provide the hospital with the patient’s medical history, which may be important for determining the best type of treatment for the stroke.

    First Published Friday, 16 January 2009

    Obama & Team


    Disability Groups Send Recommendations to Obama

    Dear President-elect Obama,

    Congratulations on capturing the hearts, minds, and hopes of our nation! As
    grassroots, community-based, consumer-controlled disability organizations,
    which collectively represent over 50 million Americans with the full
    spectrum of disabilities, we look forward to working with you and your
    administration to make cost-effective policy changes to enhance the lives of
    and restore the civil liberties Americans with disabilities.

    Attached you will find nine summaries of the top policy issues facing
    Americans with disabilities. Taking action on your commitment and these
    policy measures will not only benefit citizens with disabilities, our
    nation’s wounded warriors, and the ever-growing aging population, it will
    benefit all Americans and save our government millions of dollars as
    individuals with disabilities become full participants in society.

    They include:

    · * **Employment<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-education- policy-recommend ations.html>
    :* Reversing the persistently high percentages of people with disabilities
    who are not working but are ready, willing and able to work;

    <http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-education- policy-recommend ations.html>
    *Education:<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-education- policy-recommend ations-1. html>
    *Increasing access and opportunities for physical activity, and improving

    · *Health
    Care<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-healthcare- policy-recommend ations.html>
    :* Improving access and decreasing disparities and inequities;

    · * **Home and Community-based Services
    (HCBS):<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-hcbs- policy-recommend ations.html>
    *Promoting effective community-based services as alternatives to costly
    nursing homes and other institutions and increase the FMAP to states;

    · *Disability
    Research<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-disability- research- policy-recommend ations.html>
    : *Promoting a quality of life and participation- based research agenda;

    · *Civil
    Rights<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-civil- rights-recommend ations.html>
    *: Reinvigorating civil rights enforcement, extending access requirements to
    new technologies, and continuing to restore protections stripped away by
    hostile courts;

    · *Human
    Rights<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-human- rights-recommend ations.html>
    :* Protecting human rights of individuals with disabilities at home and

    · *Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery
    Needs:<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-emergency- preparedness- recommendations. html>
    *Planning, coordinating, and providing resources to support people with
    disabilities before, during, and after a crisis; and**

    · *Genetic Science and
    Technology:<http://jfactivist. typepad.com/ jfactivist/ 2009/01/disabili ty-groups- send-transition- team-genetic- science-and- technology- policy-recommend ations.html>
    *Promoting ethical use of new technologies.

    Like you, we stand and sit on the shoulders of so many who have come before
    us. As our nation approaches the 20th anniversary of the Americans with
    Disabilities Act in 2010, we embrace the disability rights principle,
    “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” For too long others claimed the need to
    speak for us, but no other group – professionals or relatives – speak for *

    Additionally, we urge you to embrace the fundamental principles for
    sustainable change, which are essential elements to building healthy,
    resilient, empowered communities. As you move forward with deliberate speed
    and consideration, we urge your administration to:

    · Provide oversight of federal agency public policy, regulatory, and
    enforcement actions, and collaborate with consumer and community-based
    disability organizations as partners to better serve the ever-expanding
    population of more than 50 million Americans with disabilities;

    · Hire qualified professionals with disabilities, who have expertise
    in policy areas, throughout the administration, including a Special
    Assistant to the President on Disability Policy;

    · Include individuals with disabilities in policy formation in all
    areas addressed by the administration, and integrate representatives of our
    community on all advisory boards of all major agencies;

    · Provide services that serve people with disabilities across the
    life span, from cradle to grave, and all those with increased needs for
    health care, health promotion, and long-term services and community-based

    · Incorporate consumer-directed services and include consumers in
    policy development;

    · Embrace the disability experience as part of culturally competent
    policy and diversity at all levels of planning, policy formulation,
    implementation, and evaluation; and

    · Focus on “universal design” as a cost-effective innovative way to
    enhance the quality of life and level of participation of all Americans in
    community life and incorporate it into infrastructure changes in the
    economic stimulus package so we upgrade the infrastructure for all to use;

    Thank you for your support of the need for the federal government to be
    “diligent about making sure the states enforce the rights affirmed by the
    Olmstead decision.” Enabling people with disabilities to live independently
    in their own homes and communities, rather than being forced into costly
    Medicaid-funded nursing homes and other institutions will ensure civil
    liberties, enhance the quality of life and full participation of all
    Americans by creating stronger, sustainable communities of inclusion and
    acceptance to honor the 10th Anniversary of the Olmstead decision.

    As a community of individuals with disabilities, we ask for nothing more
    than what other Americans expect and already have. We seek inclusion. We
    seek a voice for the disability rights message in the change you create. As
    you create more jobs for Americans, include jobs for Americans with
    disabilities. As you improve education for America’s students, include
    students with disabilities. As you improve the healthcare system, include
    the healthcare needs of individuals with disabilities. As you restore civil
    rights to Americans, include the civil rights of individuals with
    disabilities. To paraphrase your now immortal words, – We are not a nation
    of disabled and non-disabled Americans. We are the United States of America.

    We stand ready to work with you and look forward to an opportunity to
    discuss our priorities with you personally in the coming months.


    American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

    Access Living

    American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT)

    Autistic Self Advocacy Network

    Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL)

    California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC)

    Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)

    Generations Ahead

    Little People of America

    Metro-West Center for Independent Living (MWCIL)

    National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

    National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR)

    National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Survivor Organizations

    National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)

    National Empowerment Center* *

    *National Federation of the Blind (NFB)*

    Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE)

    Special Olympics

    Texas State Independent Living Council (TX SILC)

    World Institute on Disability (WID)

    For Policy Recommendations on each policy issue click links above

    Ari Ne’eman
    The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
    1660 L Street, NW, Suite 700
    Washington, DC 20036
    http://www.autistic advocacy. org

    First Published Tuesday, 20 January 2009


    Harvard Women’s Health Watch

    Understanding and treating anxiety can often improve the outcome of chronic disease.

    With headlines warning us of international terrorism, global warming, and economic slowdown, we’re all likely to be a little more anxious these days. As an everyday emotion, anxiety — the “fight or flight” response — can be a good thing, prompting us to take extra precautions. But when anxiety persists in the absence of a need to fight or flee, it can not only interfere with our daily lives but also undermine our physical health. Evidence suggests that people with anxiety disorders are at greater risk for developing a number of chronic medical conditions. They may also have more severe symptoms and a greater risk of death when they become ill.

    The anatomy of anxiety

    Anxiety is a reaction to stress that has both psychological and physical features. The feeling is thought to arise in the amygdala, a brain region that governs many intense emotional responses. As neurotransmitters carry the impulse to the sympathetic nervous system, heart and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal organs to the brain. In the short term, anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert. But its physical effects can be counterproductive, causing light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, and frequent urination. And when it persists, anxiety can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

    Anxiety as illness

    Research on the physiology of anxiety-related illness is still young, but there’s growing evidence of mutual influence between emotions and physical functioning. Yet anxiety often goes unidentified as a source of other disorders, such as substance abuse or physical addiction, that can result from attempts to quell feelings of anxiety. And it’s often overlooked in the myriad symptoms of chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or migraine headache.

    Nearly two-thirds of the estimated 57 million adults with anxiety disorders are women. What people with these disorders have in common is unwarranted fear or distress that interferes with daily life (see chart). Anxiety also plays a role in somatoform disorders, which are characterized by physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, weakness, or dizziness that have no apparent physical cause. Somatoform disorders include hypochondriasis, body dysmorphic disorder, pain disorder, and conversion disorder.

    Anxiety has now been implicated in several chronic physical illnesses, including heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. When people with these disorders have untreated anxiety, the disease itself is more difficult to treat, their physical symptoms often become worse, and in some cases they die sooner.

    Anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders

    About 10 percent to 20 percent of Americans suffer from the two most common functional digestive disorders — IBS and functional dyspepsia (upset stomach). In these disorders, the nerves regulating digestion appear to be hypersensitive to stimulation. Because these conditions don’t produce lesions like ulcers or tumors, they aren’t considered life-threatening. But their symptoms — abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation in IBS; and pain, nausea, and vomiting in functional dyspepsia — can be chronic and difficult to tolerate.

    There are no firm data on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in people with functional digestive disorders, but a 2007 New Zealand study of subjects with gastroenteritis (inflammation of the digestive tract) found an association between high anxiety levels and the development of IBS following a bowel infection.

    Chronic respiratory disorders

    In asthma, inflamed airways constrict spasmodically, reducing the flow of air through the lungs. In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), inflammation of the airways is exacerbated by a loss of elasticity in the lungs: not only is it more difficult for air to reach the lungs, but the lungs neither fill nor expel air completely.

    Although results vary, most studies have found a high rate of anxiety symptoms and panic attacks in patients who have chronic respiratory disease, with women at greater risk than men. In several studies involving COPD patients, anxiety has been associated with more frequent hospitalization and with more severe distress at every level of lung function. So even if anxiety doesn’t affect the progress of the disease, it takes a substantial toll on quality of life.

    Anxiety and heart disease

    Anxiety disorders have also been linked to the development of heart disease and to coronary events in people who already have heart disease. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women with the highest levels of phobic anxiety were 59 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and 31 percent more likely to die from one, than women with the lowest anxiety levels. Data from 3,300 postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative showed that a history of full-blown panic attacks tripled the risk of a coronary event or stroke.

    Two studies — one involving Harvard Medical School and the Lown Cardiovascular Research Institute; the other, several Canadian medical colleges — concluded that among both men and women with established heart disease, those suffering from an anxiety disorder were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those with no history of anxiety disorders.

    Physical benefits of treating anxiety

    Therapies that have been successful in treating anxiety disorders are now being used to ease the symptoms of chronic gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. These therapies may have an important role in preventing and treating heart disease. These are the best-studied approaches:

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy. The cognitive component helps people identify and avoid thoughts that generate anxiety, and the behavioral part helps them learn how to react differently to anxiety-provoking situations. The specifics of the treatment depend on the type of anxiety. For example, patients with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder may be asked to examine their lives for habits and patterns that foster a sense of dread. They may also be taught relaxation techniques to diminish anxiety. Patients with OCD characterized by excessive washing may be asked to dirty their hands and wait with a therapist for increasingly longer intervals before cleaning up.

    Psychodynamic psychotherapy. Anxiety is often triggered by a deep-seated emotional conflict or a traumatic experience that can sometimes be explored and resolved through psychotherapy. In the first randomized controlled clinical trial comparing relaxation therapy to psychodynamic psychotherapy (focused talk therapy), clinician-researchers at Columbia University in New York found that panic-disorder patients treated with psychodynamic therapy had significantly fewer symptoms and functioned better socially than those who underwent relaxation therapy (American Journal of Psychiatry, February 2007). Nearly three-quarters of the psychotherapy group responded to treatment compared with only 39 percent of the relaxation-therapy group.

    Drug therapy

    Medications alone are less effective than psychotherapy over the long term; they may also have unpleasant side effects and interact with other medications. Still, they can be helpful when used in combination with psychotherapy. The most commonly used types of drugs include these:

    Anti-anxiety drugs. Benzodiazepines — clonazepam(Klonopin) and alprazolam(Xanax) — were developed to relieve anxiety. They act rapidly and have few side effects except occasional drowsiness. But they’re not recommended for long-term use, because patients develop tolerance and require increasing doses. A newer drug, buspirone (BuSpar), needs two weeks to take effect but can be taken for longer periods than benzodiazepines.

    Antidepressants. Antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline (Zoloft), have been replacing benzodiazepines in the long-term treatment of panic disorder and generalized anxiety. Antidepressants have the advantage of relieving depression as well as anxiety, and they are believed to create less risk of dependence and abuse. However, patients sometimes prefer benzodiazepines to antidepressants because they act more quickly (antidepressants take two weeks to work) and don’t cause weight gain or sexual problems.

    Beta Blockers. These drugs can relieve acute anxiety by slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure; they are often used, for example, to treat stage fright.

    Seeking help

    About 30 percent of people with anxiety disorders go through life untreated. If you think you might fall into this category — or if you have IBS, asthma, COPD, or heart disease and haven’t been evaluated for anxiety — you may want to consult your primary care clinician. You may also want to talk to your clinician if you have pain, dizziness, insomnia, or other symptoms that persist after physical causes have been ruled out. Keep in mind that all symptoms are real — and treatable — whether they originate in the body or the brain. If you’re just feeling a little more anxious than you once did, you might want to consider trying some relaxation techniques (for some examples, visit www.health.harvard.edu/womenextra)



    GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER: Exaggerated worry about health, safety, money, and other aspects of daily life that lasts six months or more. Often accompanied by muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, nausea, breathlessness, and insomnia.

    PHOBIAS: Irrational fear of specific things or situations, such as spiders (arachnophobia), being in crowds (agoraphobia), or being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).

    SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER: Overwhelming self-consciousness in ordinary social encounters, heightened by a sense of being watched and judged by others and a fear of embarrassment.

    POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD): Reliving an intense physical or emotional threat or injury (for example, childhood abuse, combat, or an earthquake) in vivid dreams, flashbacks, or tormented memories. Other symptoms include difficulty sleeping or concentrating, angry outbursts, emotional withdrawal, and a heightened startle response.

    OBSESSIVE/COMPULSIVE DISORDER: Obsessive thoughts, such as an irrational fear of contamination, accompanied by compulsive acts, such as repetitive hand washing, that are undertaken to alleviate the anxiety generated by the thoughts.

    PANIC DISORDER: Recurrent episodes of unprovoked feelings of terror or impending doom, accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, or weakness.


    ANXIETY AND PHYSICAL ILLNESS article by Harvard Women’s Health Watch

    First Published Tuesday, 20 January 2009

    Professor Simon Baron-Cohen

    We merely aimed to understand what causes differences in autistic traits

    Your front-page article on 12 January was given the headline “New research brings autism screening closer to reality” and the strapline “Call for ethics debate as tests in the womb could allow termination of pregnancies”. It showed a photo of a foetus, which was given the caption, “The discovery of a high level of testosterone in prenatal tests is an indicator of autism.” And inside the paper a double-page spread was devoted to the details of the study, and given the headline “Disorder linked to high levels of testosterone in the womb”.

    All four of these statements are inaccurate. The new research was not about autism screening; the new research has not discovered that a high level of testosterone in prenatal tests is an indicator of autism; autism spectrum disorder has not been linked to high levels of testosterone in the womb; and tests (of autism) in the womb do not allow termination of pregnancies.

    To be fair to the reporter, Sarah Boseley, the content of her articles was mostly correct. But the headlines and photo captions have led to emails from hundreds of worried parents of children with autism erroneously believing that our research is being conducted with a view to wanting to terminate children with autism in the womb – a nasty and sinister example of eugenics that my co-authors and I oppose.

    The Guardian was reporting on our new study in the British Journal of Psychology that found a correlation between levels of foetal testosterone (FT) and the number of autistic traits a child shows at the age of eight. The study was not about prenatal screening for autism, and indeed did not even test children with autism.

    What it did was to test 235 typically developing children, measuring their FT (we all have some) and later measuring their autistic traits. Autistic traits are also normal – it is just a matter of how many of these you have. Children with autism have a high number of autistic traits, but our 235 children were all typically developing children. The aim of the study was simply to understand the basic mechanisms causing individual differences in autistic traits in an otherwise typical sample.

    Your article covered two very different issues: our new research, which aims to study the causes of individual differences in children; and prenatal screening for autism. The two should have been kept distinct. Indeed, a prenatal screening study of autism would have needed an entirely different design.

    Such a study would have had to look at autism, which ours did not; and it would have had to look at issues to do with how sensitive the test was to detect autism, which kind of autism, how specific it was, or whether it also picked up other outcomes.

    For the record, on prenatal screening, I believe that if there was a test for autism (and there is none yet), while some parents may exercise their legal right to opt for a termination, I am not in favour of discriminating against a foetus purely because it might develop the condition.

    • Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is director of the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University sb205@cam.ac.uk

    Source:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/20/research-autism-health-response-comment