Category Archives: Statistics

Studying narrative in film and novels through data visualization

I love statistics and numerical analysis, a love that many people do not share — statistics is one of quickest ways to halt a dinner conversation. Statistics is a style of argument that is neither right nor wrong, as useful as any other logical process and has a beauty in summarising or visualizing the subjects under examination in ways that allow two or more things to be compared.

In the case of film, it can be hard to communicate the incredible experience of sitting for an hour or two, absorbed in action, dramatic tension and emotion. Critics reviews and plot summaries (like those on IMDb) are one method of side-by-side comparison, or even more briefly in the star-ratings (e.g. 8.5 out of 10 for “Psycho”). This post describes some numerical and sampling techniques that I use to create single-image summaries of films and books. These images make stunning wall posters and I have had a few printed as big as 30″ by 20″ to display.

Continue reading Studying narrative in film and novels through data visualization

How newspapers write about autism

The word ‘autism’ in context in newspaper articles

I have written before about the major topics that appear in newspaper articles that are “about autism”*, with their bias towards articles that mention boys, children, mothering and negative words. Autism is more often written about as a disorder, of a child, in the context of a parent (usually the mother) and as a sufferer, victim or burden. In this post I am looking at how newspapers write about autism itself, the choice of wording and phrasing that surround the words ‘autism’, ‘autistic’ or ‘Asperger’. Trying to visualise the use of words, in large volumes of text, is a very exciting topic and the results here are well worth studying in detail.

My own position on the use of words is to try to accurately reflect the terms that people choose themselves, or in the sources that I am referencing. The images here are convincing evidence that some word choices have a significant effect on positive reporting. In particular, the (identity-first language) adjective ‘autistic’ favours thoughts about personhood and the (person-first language) noun ‘autism’ is associated with negative, dehumanised phrasing. This is consistent with the findings of the survey “Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community”.

There are some technical notes at the end for anyone interested in the computer methods used to produce the images.

Continue reading How newspapers write about autism

The distribution of autism in England

uk-1-1aThe Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces comprehensive data tables about the UK, including tables of special needs provision in schools across 152 local authorities in England. Special needs are categorised within this data by primary need, including ASD. The overall rate is 1.26% of all state-funded school pupils, ranging from about 0.5% in the local authorities with the lowest rates to about 3.5% in the authorities with the highest rates. This provides a good example of what may possible when the Autism Bill is enacted. Mapping the distribution raises many interesting questions about the reasons for regional variation, changing rates of ASD and whether there is inequality in provision.

Continue reading The distribution of autism in England

The geography of special needs (and autism?) in Ireland

a2-redIf autism was assumed to affect all people at all ages approximately equally, there are somewhere between 15,000 (1 in 300) and 100,000 (1 in 43) autistic people of all ages in the Irish population of 4.6 million. It should be noted that 75% of the Irish population is older than 18 years and most will not have been assessed or diagnosed, so many autistic people are unrecognized. Recognition is widening from “severe autism in childhood” to “mild autism” and to older ages, which is probably the largest factor driving increased autism prevalence. We have also moved from recognizing approximately one autistic pupil per school to recognizing one autistic child per class in the space of ten or fifteen years.

Continue reading The geography of special needs (and autism?) in Ireland

Fitness tracking the quality of my life

Fitness and other tracking systems have the potential to measure some aspects of quality of life and possibly suggest changes that will improve future quality of life. I have worn a simple fitness tracker (a pedometer-style step-counting watch) for almost two years and have now combined the fitness tracker data with other sources – my real-life and online social activity – to look at how quality of life might be assessed.

The fitness tracker tells me my total steps and primitive measures of sleep. The real-life activities are social and work activities from my diary and photographs from my camera (which fill in gaps about where I was). The online activity is taken from the number of email and Twitter messages that I have sent per day. Some of the data is noisy and I have averaged over a week.

The take-home message is that physical activity improves quality of life. Twitter (or at least the way I have been using Twitter) has a negative impact. Doing more to be outside the house, even simply taking my activity to another place, would improve my fitness and happiness.
Continue reading Fitness tracking the quality of my life

Non-fiction on the autism spectrum

ASD-non-fictionThis is a brief post to note a collection of short reviews about non-fiction books about autism, relevant mostly to adolescents or adults who have a diagnosis. They include autobiography from Luke Jackson, Temple Grandin and Liane Holliday Willey; historical work from Uta Frith, Adam Feinstein and Steve Silberman; and practical intervention texts from Tony Attwood, Mohammed Ghaziuddin and Florica Stone.

Continue reading Non-fiction on the autism spectrum

The value of labelling autism – Critical Perspectives 2014

Presentation at the 6th Annual Critical Perspectives Conference, 12 & 13th November 2014, University College Cork. The conference considers and explores:

  • the value and relevance of psychiatric diagnoses in understanding and responding to a wide range of human experiences of emotional distress
  • Critical perspectives on and creative responses beyond psychiatric diagnoses

Audio of the presentation (35 minutes, 11 MB):

PDF handout (6 slides per sheet, 3 sheets in total, 1.8 MB):
Stuart Neilson – The value of labelling (handout)

Online video: http://ucc.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=b41c413a-d375-4a81-b80c-fbc473b846fd

Briefing note: Episodes of inpatient activity attributable to autism spectrum disorder in Irish acute hospitals

Stuart Neilson, June 2013

Summary

An autism spectrum disorder was recorded in 711 acute hospital inpatient episodes per year over the 5-year period 2007-2011, with a gender ratio of 3:1 male:female. The trend was from 429 episodes in 2007 to 1,087 in 2011, a growth rate of 26% per year.

Childhood autism (72.3%) and Asperger syndrome (17.2%) were the most frequent autism spectrum disorders recorded. Autism spectrum disorder was the primary diagnosis in only 3.6% of episodes. The average length of stay was 23.5 days for people with Asperger syndrome and 8.9 days overall – it is probable that the longer stays for people with Asperger syndrome are associated with psychiatric in-patient care.

The direct cost of admissions due to autism as a primary diagnosis was €205,000 per year, with an indirect cost (including secondary diagnoses) of €5.6 million per year. These cost estimates are also rising at 26% per annum with increasing recognition of autism as a diagnosis. Economic cost estimates can not be causatively linked with autism, but may form a context in which to evaluate interventions that reduce hospital admission rates or increase quality of life for people with autism.

Continue reading Briefing note: Episodes of inpatient activity attributable to autism spectrum disorder in Irish acute hospitals

Autism spectrum variants

Autism spectrum disorder includes autism (autistic disorder), pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett syndrome.

In the United States, PDD-NOS is currently the most frequent diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (1). PDD-NOS will no longer be listed separately from autism spectrum disorder in DSM-5, bringing all diognoses within ASD.

The latest CDC prevalence report lists the following diagnostic breakdown (in Table 3):

Autistic – 1,158 (44%)
PDD-NOS – 1,230 (47%)
Asperger – 239 (9%)
TOTAL – 2,627

(1) Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008 Surveillance Summaries. March 30, 2012 / 61(SS03);1-19.

The prevalence of autism in Ireland

In a report from the National Council for Special Education (1), there are approximately 6,026 people aged 0-18 years with an autism spectrum disorder. This is based on a prevalence of 0.2% for autistic disorder and a prevalence of 0.36% for Asperger syndrome – a combined prevalence of 0.56% (or 1 in 178 children). This estimate would further imply a total of 26,000 people at all ages (0.56% of the population of 4.6 million in Ireland).

A recent estimate from the Centers for Disease Control (2) in the US gave a prevalence of 1.13% (or 1 in 88 children) who were professionally evaluated as having an autism spectrum disorder. This would equate to 52,000 people at all ages in the Irish population.

The most recent report from the CDC (3) gives a parent-reported prevalence of 2% (or 1 in 50), which would translate to 92,000 people in Ireland if the same prevalence applied at all ages within the Irish population.

The true prevalence in Ireland is unknown, but it seems reasonable to assume that the number of people with autism lies somewhere between 26,000 and 92,000 people, and probably around the middle estimate of around 52,000 people at all ages in Ireland. Of these, the number of children would be between 6,700 and 24,000, with a mid-point estimate of 13,600. (There were 4.6 million people in Ireland in 2012 (4), 1.2 million under 18 and 3.4 million over 18).

1. NCSE International Review of the Literature of Evidence of Best Practice Provision in the Education of Persons with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Autism Centre for Education and Research, University of Birmingham. Principal Investigators, Dr. Sarah Parsons and Dr. Karen Guldberg.

2. CDC Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008 by Jon Baio.

3. CDC Changes in Prevalence of Parent-reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-aged U.S. Children: 2007 to 2011–2012 by Stephen J. Blumberg, Matthew D. Bramlett, Michael D. Kogan, Laura A. Schieve, Jessica R. Jones, and Michael C. Lu.

4. CSO Population and Migration Estimates April 2012 (with revisions from April 2007 to April 2011)