Friday, March 8, 2013

The Affluent Autistic -- Why is there a higher incidence of autism among engineers, computer experts and physicians?

A week ago, I was given the opportunity to interview Dr. Cheri Florance, a leading brain scientist trained at the National Institute of Health. Dr. Florance is a sought-after speaker, author and authority on autism. 

"The Maverick Mind, discovered by Dr. Cheri Florance, is a brain that functions at above the 99th percentile in the visual pathway and below the 1st percentile in the verbal pathway. Mavericks have such strong visual thinking that an enemy relationship has formed between picture thinking and words. Often the symptoms of a Maverick are similar to symptoms of Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). When Mavericks are misdiagnosed from a symptom assessment, they can become frustrated and appear unmotivated. Some Mavericks are diagnosed as gifted in certain situations. When Mavericks are correctly identified and begin appropriate training, they often experience success very quickly."

1.                  What are the earliest symptoms of autism?

I work with Visual Mavericks who think rapidly, which may cause them to appear inattentive or impulsive. At the same time, it may take a Maverick longer than most to answer a basic question because of the way they process information, but it appears to us in the verbal world that they lack focus. If they can’t understand verbal reasoning, they may withdraw or become angry.

If you look at the symptoms listed in The Autism Society’s handbook for autism and compare these with the symptoms of language and communication disorders listed in the Ohio Handbook for the Identification, Evaluation, and Placement of Children with Language Problems — well, they are so much alike it’s unbelievable.  For instance the Autism Society lists “insistence on sameness, resistance to change” and the Ohio Handbook describes the same symptom – “can’t alter behavior according to the needs of a situation or setting, perseverates, resistance to change.”  The Autism Society lists as a symptom of autism “Difficulty in mixing with others,” and the Ohio Handbook describes “Relates poorly to peers, reluctant to participate, has few friends.”

What distinguishes a Maverick from other disorders is the highly visual brain and a specific cluster of 50 communication-related symptoms. In addition, the very strong visual brain is always evident in family tree, and usually at least one of the parents works in a very visual occupation, such as engineering or medicine or architecture or art of some kind.

2.                  How do they vary from the symptoms exhibited by children with Maverick Mind?

See above

3.                  How is autism diagnosed?

The symptoms of mental health disorders such as autism are typically determined by subjective analyses of symptoms, teacher or parent checklists, and report of the chief complaint by a highly trained mental health professional such as a psychiatrist.

For a Maverick, I use a 50-symptom analysis. Mavericks always have at least half these symptoms, and most nearly 50.

Mavericks also have at least one parent and others in the family tree that have strong visual brains – they are in occupations such as engineering, medicine, art or architecture, or the type of career that demands a strong visual brain.  Often there are as many as 10-20 visual thinkers in the family tree.

Further we use objective testing to measure attention, memory and processing to compare to the symptoms.

4.                  Are pediatricians generally familiar with Mavericks?

It is recommended at the 4-year-old well-baby visit by The American Academy of Pediatrics that all children have a speech-language and hearing evaluation as part of determining readiness for a good school entry.

For a Maverick, the high visuals can often overshadow the weak auditory on some screening or evaluation protocols and they can either be missed has having a problem because there overall scores look like they are within normal range.  For example, if a child has a 140 IQ in visual thinking and an 80 IQ in verbal thinking that could appear to all be within the normal range. But we are looking at a child presenting with scores as high as the 99th percentile and as low as the 16th percentile.  Further, if a child doesn’t listen well or speak easily, testing can be quite problematic, and what is actually a communication disorder can look like a behavior problem.

Dr. Dennis Cantwell, a world-famous expert psychiatrist on autism and ADD, wrote considerably about the confusion between psychiatric disease and communication disorder in the doctor’s office, at school,  at the speech-language pathologist or psychologist’s office and by parents.

"Children with communication disorders" is not typically a course in medical school.  It depends on the medical school and the community medicine rotations.  I have taught physicians for over 30 years in independent studies, psychiatric hospital rounds, neurological impaired patient rehabilitation meetings and grand rounds. The differential diagnosis of psychiatric disease and communication disorder is complex and that is why Dr. Cantwell, a UCLA psychiatrist, devoted his life to this work.

5.                  What type of specialized care is needed for children on the spectrum?
My goal is to identify those children who have imitation autism, children who present with autistic-like symptoms but who actually have a highly visual brain — one that overwhelms the verbal/auditory brain and causes delays and inconsistent development in verbal attention, memory and processing of language.
In fact, I offer a free initial consultation by phone to anyone who thinks their child might be a Maverick, and not autistic. In that phone call I do an initial screening to find out about the symptoms and concerns, and the family tree. If someone wants to do this, our phone number and email are on the web site (, or they can just fill out a form and someone will contact them to make the appointment.

6.      How does that care differ for children with Maverick Mind?
First we stop the antagonism between the two pathways. Next we train the brain’s executive to manage the thinking and communication process. And then we build the input processors of listening and reading and the output processors of speaking and writing.  We follow standards created by the U.S. Office of Education and the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association.

I custom build my programs based on daily progress. I develop a training program for parents and teachers to implement and then measure how much progress is made and the type of change.  By following the child’s mastery of skills, I can build a succession of steps toward the 3 goals we selected at the initial evaluation.

If readers go to my web site,, they can fill out a form to get free materials, including one e-book that describes the five steps of brain engineering. They can also see the five steps explained in a series of videos on the web site.

7.      When my youngest was two, our pediatrician told us (on his way out to see another patient) that our son may have Asperger’s because he was a "late talker." He doesn't have it, but if this happened to us, it can happen to anyone. What resources are available to parents to help educate them when their pediatricians won't?
A parent has to become their child’s advocate – in fact, a large part of the training that I take many parents through has to do with helping them realize their rights within their education systems, and then how to work with their school systems to get the resources they need.
We provide a lot of free e-books and videos daily to parents who come to our website:  We reference best practices globally.

8.                  Is Maverick Mind an official diagnosis? Does insurance cover treatment plans or is there special funding to cover this treatment?
The Maverick Mind is a highly visual thinker with a communication disorder.. My work with Mavericks is educational and not covered by insurance.
However, what I have found over the many years I have been working with this population is that the Mavericksyndrome is found more frequently in affluent, high-achiever families

Why would this syndrome be more prevalent among the affluent, or among high-achievers? Because the visual brain is performing at the 120 IQ or higher – often above the 99th percentile due to family members with the same type of visual genius.
We think of this as “Affluent Autism” which is an imitation autism.  Affluence means  rich,adundant, copious.  We think of the visual brain of these engineers, computer experts and physicians and a visually abundant, affluent brain, full of brain exuberance.  Such great strength in the visual brain power can be measured at the 99thpercentile in children and adult mavericks across the visual pathway. Because the visual brain is so well developed throughout the family tree, a child who shows imitation autism, can have such high, unharnessed visual thinking that a host of autistic behaviors can be present.
By contrast, we don’t see that type of genius family tree typically in developmentally delayed Head Start children, for example. Head Start kids — and I worked with hundreds of them early in my career — have environmental deprivation, lack of health care, poor nutrition, financial stress and perhaps drugs and alcohol in pregnancy.  In that population communication disorders can occur at much as 50 percent in preschool and the impairments tend to be across all modalities.
I work globally and my training is educational.  One of the best practices for a child with a communication disorder is parent training, because communication between people starts in the family.

9.                  Are physicians being trained to distinguish between Autism disorders and children with Maverick Mind? 
"Children with communication disorders" is not typically a course in medical school.  It depends on the medical school and the community medicine rotations.  I have taught physicians for over 30 years in independent studies, psychiatric hospital rounds, neurological impaired patient rehabilitation meetings and grand rounds. The differential diagnosis of psychiatric disease and communication disorder is complex and that is why Dr. Cantwell, a UCLA psychiatrist, devoted his life to this work.

10.              When children are diagnosed with Maverick Mind and they follow a specialized treatment plan, what is the prognosis? Are they completely rehabilitated or do they usually have long term issues and a need for ongoing therapy?

Let me give my son as an example again. As a 2-year-old, he was diagnosed with autism, mental retardation, and deafness. It was the over-working visual brain that caused all these symptoms. It took a long time for me to identify what the problem was, and a long time to gradually develop the types of training that worked. But eventual he was mainstreamed in his school. By high school, he was playing football and participating in school plays. He went on to graduate from college and is now working as a chemical engineer. And he has none of the symptoms that he had as a young child.

His high school principal and I decided not to tell teachers about his history and none of his teachers found him to have academic or social problems during his high school years – in fact he went to high school half day and college half day and then did sports or drama after school.

Dr. Cantwell told me the most important issue in the diagnostic process is to determine the most “trainable skills”.  In communication disorders we look for several criteria to understand prognosis. It is not so much “how mild” is the problem, but rather, what are the indicators of potential change.

Communication disorders can be quite devastating so I don’t think in severe, moderate or mild.  I think in terms of prognosis.

I’d like to refer readers to my web site (, where they can find a variety of case histories in video format. The parents in these videos – and the adults, also, because I work with a lot of adults — will tell you how it was for them before and after.  If I haven’t convinced you and your readers that there is a certain segment — perhaps a very large segment — of the population that is being MIS-diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, ADD, and PDD, then those videos will.

We are happy to send modules of materials and videos for free to all who are interested. These modules include Best Practice Standards in a parent guide for children with language disorders.

I also offer a free consultation by phone to those who wish to learn more.

Please contact Dr. Florance for more information.

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