Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama (Part 3)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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To discount the obvious physical differences in men and women that prevent women from becoming as effective warriors, Plato insists that the fairer sex should not be at the forefront of battles, but still allowed to participate in war. Through Socrates, Plato also vows that women should participate in athletic events and gymnastic competitions, despite the required nudity, as men will get used to the concept of naked women contestants over time. At the beginning of Book V, Adelmantus points out to Socrates that the wives and children will be held in common by Guardians, effectively saying that women are able to be Guardians just as well as the men. From Plato’s Apology, the statement “…. and I think that they were a dishonor to the state and that any stranger coming in would say then that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the Athenians themselves give honor and command, are no better than women. ”, can provide a double edged sword of meaning, but taken into account his previously declared attitude of women’s equality in power, one must assume that he is not trying to demean women, but instead provide them with honor that is due to all of society, regardless of gender. Plato claims that all members of similar social status, regardless of gender, should be provided with equal standards of living with no private ownership of anything, and also maintains that the ruling class of any given culture should be made up of male and female “true” philosophers from the Gold class. Pizan cites a law professor’s daughter’s innate capacity to comprehend legal topics and lecture to students in her father’s absence as evidence of the true capabilities of women. God endowed women with the gift of speech, and that of weeping and sewing, all of which must be utilized to the best of each woman’s ability. Each philosopher has his or her own ideals of how women should perform in society, regardless of how they feel concerning equality of the sexes.

It is remarkable that arguments were made by ancient philosophers, who were willing to go against common stereotypes of women and seek out a truer knowledge of equality in biological makeup and societal roles. Through the duties of Lysistrata and her followers in the absences of their husbands, women were able to gain more independence and self-sufficiency, which is comparable to the large steps that women made in the workforce and with women’s rights following World War II. With the seeds of equality so firmly planted by Plato, Aristophanes, Bingen, and Pizan, one would assume that advancements in equal right would have been made sooner than the twentieth century; however, most feminist movements and similar undercurrents in literature were squashed during the Middle Ages in Europe. Attitudes similar to those of ancient Greeks are still a reality in the world today in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries where women are oppressed. Despite the strides that such ancient philosophers were able to achieve in their time, even if only through publication, the fact that it took centuries to affect change reveals a fundamental rift in western societies between man and woman that needs not only reason, but also experience to overcome.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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The ladies also produce the an example of female goodness in the acts of Thermutis, daughter of the Pharaoh, who protected and raised Moses as an abandoned infant. Finally, with other evidence provided in the Bible these women present to Pizan a statement including the idea, “There Adam slept, and God formed the body of woman from one of his ribs, signifying that she should stand at his side as a companion and never lie at his feet like a slave, and also that he should love her as his own flesh. ” As Plato, Pizan, Aristophanes, and Bingen struggled to supply confirmation of biological equality in men and women to counteract the previously oppressive beliefs against the female gender, each also felt employed to define the roles of women in society as a whole.

Greek culture dictated a very strict and well-defined role in which women were supposed to conduct themselves to maintain a dignified and acceptable status in their society; however, Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan dispute exactly what this role is to be. Bingen gives much value to the Virgin Mary, deeming her architect of life, “you who built salvation, you who destroyed death,” respecting her on the basis of her position as the mother of Christ and also a virgin, insisting on a very traditional view of women. Although she is quite the oddity in terms of education and published authorship accomplishment, Bingen does not bestow upon women any specific communal role other than housewife and mother, despite the fact that she herself is so much more. Perhaps in an unspoken way, as a mechanism to gain more substantial male approval, Bingen contradicts the customary roles of women, but just in a more elusive way.

The words and actions of Lysistrata also serve as a means of questioning the ancient Greek perceptions of the role of women in their culture; however, subliminally upon careful examination it seems that Aristophanes disagrees with his own character, instead adapting her quests for political rights into comedic relief. Even in the very opening scene, Aristophanes enacts the stereotypical and time-honored characterization of women articulated during this time period and thus through such description, Aristophanes distances his heroine. Becoming enraged that women will not stand up to how they are typically viewed, Lysistrata proclaims, “I’m positively ashamed to be a woman,” although it is through this stereotypical identity that she hopes to manipulate sexually frustrated men into a peace agreement, using their carnal prowess as a mans of gaining a favorable solution. True examples of tension between the sexes can be targeted in our examination of actions by Lysistrata and her followers against the men. Their male counterparts believe that women have no place in war and thus should not concern themselves with such matters. Additionally, the women of Lysistrata’s group seize the Acropolis to prevent the use of money for warfare, informing the Commissioner that women will take care of the city’s money just as they do at home. Aristophanes implies through Lysistrata’s ascertations that women have a greater sense of reason than boundless political men. She insists, “ye women must wive ye warre! ”, in other words, what Athens needs is a woman. Despite the apparent strides made in feminist ideals by Aristophanes, it seems that the author in reality is poking fun at the female attempts of expressed equality. Although women take on genuine power in assuming control of the Acropolis, Aristophanes excludes women from the spoken idealization of Athens as described by Lysistrata. The philosopher insists through this omission that women are not to have actual political rights or a valid voice in society.

Plato and Pizan make more extreme leaps in their publicized philosophies regarding the position of women in society in an attempt to convince their contemporaries of the merits of female public participation. Plato’s The Republic describes a civilization in which children will be raised in common by those of lowering socio-economic standing, thus freeing up individual women from the burden of child rearing and giving each an opportunity to serve the community alongside their male counterparts in the government. Under Plato’s idealized social system, women are allowed and even encouraged in accordance to their true nature, to develop their skills as musicians, doctors, or even warriors.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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In ancient Greek culture, much turmoil existed on the basis of gender rights and personal roles within the society, as examined by Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, each seemingly ahead of his or her time with respect to feministic values. Although some “enlightened” philosophers did not believe that existed any more depth than comedic folly for women in political systems, others like Plato determined that it be essential for women to take part in governmental affairs. Even in today’s world, such conflicts are manifested, particularly in poor countries, without a resolution in such a long and drawn out social dilemma.

Countless theories of a factual and expressed series of fundamental differences in men and women are adamantly refuted in the works of Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, proving that women are effectively equal to men by either words or example. Although disagreement existed between what roles this equality allows for by these ancient Greek philosophers, each strived to defy the ascertations as described in cultural norms. Aristophanes makes a first attempt in rationalizing this equality as we delve into our studies, revealing in the first scenes that women have a comparable sex drive to men, refuting statements made by Aristotle concerning the supposed sexual passivity of women. In his character Lysistrata, Aristophanes recounts that when calling upon the Spartan and Athenian women to discuss the ongoing war, such women would have been coming forth from their homes with tambourines if a celebration of drunkenness and orgy had been given in the name of Bacchos. Later in the text, Cleonice, Myrrhine, and Lampito, key characters in Lysistrata’s plot and otherwise, very traditional women, inform their organizer that they would be willing to do anything but give up sex for the war effort, even walking through fire, mirroring similar desires of men as described in the final scenes with graphic imagery. This being affirmed, other philosophers examine additional biological similarities which provide further evidence that men and women are essentially the same in abilities and intelligence. In Book V of The Republic, Plato asserts that women have the same parts of the soul and so all the same interests, virtues, and personality types as men. Starkly contrasting with majority of his contemporaries, Plato believes that it is these such similarities of soul and mind that provide reason to require education for girls in the same caliber as that provided to boys, as they hold the potential of future rulers and guardians. Through Socrates, Plato suggests that the distinction between men and women is fundamentally as relevant in intellectual aptitudes as the difference found in the performance of longhaired verses shorthaired individuals, concluding that male and female are by nature the same in obligation of education and employment. In an ironic twist and example of opinions in ancient Greek society, Aristophanes attempts to point out the intellectual boundaries that some women believe they are governed by through Cleonice’s remarks, explaining to Lysistrata that glamour is the only talent women possess and that there is nothing for women to do but sit looking beautiful for her husband. However, without attempting to directly defy typical stereotypes during this period, Bingen contradicts this assumption of inevitable talentlessness among females in her mere publication. During a time when few women could write and most were denied access to a formal education, Bingen was creating inspired works of poetry in an example of female capabilities through action. Pizan in her own internal exploration and encounters with the three women of Lady Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, chose to defy the natural laws as many males spoke of, the idea that women are fundamentally evil and inclined to vice. In such a personal quest, Pizan describes “thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct, since I was born a woman, and similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept…hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscious whether the testimony of so many notable men could be erroneous. ” The three women appear solely to establish the knowledge in our young author that women are of equal value as men, and in contradicting this, call out the shortcomings of Aristotle’s viewpoint as described by Saint Augustine and the Doctors of the Church.

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Battered Woman Syndrome and its Legal Implications (Part 2)

June 22nd, 2010 Comments off


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Bradfield, R. (2002). Understanding the battered woman who kills her violent partner –

the admissibility of expert evidence of domestic violence. Psychiatry, Psychology,

and Law, 9, 177-199.

Ewing, C. (1990). Psychological self-defense: A proposed justification for battered

women who kill. Law and Human Behavior, 14, 579-593.

Follingstand, D. Ponek, D. Hause, E. Deaton, L. Bulger, M. Conway, Z. (1989).

Factors predicting verdicts in cases where battered women kill their husbands.

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Hocking, B. (1999). Limited (and gendered? concessions to human frailty: Frightened

women, angry men and the law of provocation. Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law,

6, 57-66.

Hubble, G. (1999). Self-defense and domestic violence: A reply to Bradfield. Psychiatry,

Psychology, and Law, 6, 51-56.

McMahon, M. (1999). Battered women and bad science: The limited validity and utility

of battered woman syndrome. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 6, 23-49.

Schuller, R. Hastings, P. (1996). Trials of battered women who kill: The impact of

alternative forms of expert evidence. Law and Human Behavior, 20, 167-189.

Schuller, R. McKimmie, B. Janz, T. (2004). The impact of expert testimony in trials of

battered women who kill. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 1, 1-12.

Schuller, R. Rzepa, S. (2002). Expert testimony pertaining to battered woman syndrome:

Its impact on juror’s decisions. Law and Human Behavior, 26, 655-673.

Schuller, R. Vidmar, N. (1992). Battered woman syndrome evidence in the courtroom: A

review of the literature. Law and Human Behavior, 16, 273-295.

Schuller, R. Wells, E. Rzepa, S. Klippenstine, M. (2004). Rethinking battered woman

syndrome evidence: The impact of alternative forms of expert testimony on mock

juror’s decisions. Canadian Journal of  Behavioural Science, 36, 127-136.

Spring, M. Winston, V. (1994). Juror’s decisions in trials of battered women who kill: The

role of prior beliefs and expert testimony. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24,


Terrance, C. Matheson, K. Spanos, N. (2000). Effects of judicial instructions and case

characteristics in a mock trial of battered women who kill. Law and Human

Behavior, 24, 207-229.

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Battered Woman Syndrome and its Legal Implications

June 22nd, 2010 Comments off


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In American and other Western-modeled courtrooms around the world, an increasing insurgence of testimony pertaining to the innocence or guilt of thousands of battered women abused by their intimate partners, who later lashed out and killed their violent spouses, is being examined from a psychological standpoint.   Here, I will examine the positive benefits, negative consequences, and further implications of the use of testimony pertaining to Battered Woman syndrome in today’s judicial system. I also seek to establish a convincing claim that testimony concerning this syndrome should be admissible in all instances.

One million women are sent to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms around the country for treatment every year as a result of physical abuse, making battering by spouse or loved the leading cause of injury in American women (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).   To this end, nearly fifty percent of homeless women and children entering homeless shelters are fleeing from male violence, and nearly one thousand, four hundred women (or six percent of all murder victims) who are killed by abusive partners each year (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).   Similar statistics maintain that spousal violence contributes to one forth of all reported suicide attempts by women in any given year, providing a solid evidence that abusive relations create significant psychological harm.

Lenore Walk first coined the term “Battered Woman syndrome” in the context of a heated court decision in 1979, and continued to develop the term as classified by situational factors alone, insisting that no particular personality traits or factors predispose these women to engage in and maintain violent relationships by strongly rejecting the notion that battered women have masochistic personalities (McMahon, 1999). Although a precise definition of Battered Woman syndrome remains obscure despite growing acknowledgement by the scientific community and endorsement by the American Psychological Association, methodical studies by trained psychologists, many of which we will investigate in detail, have revealed in situations of domestic violence a typical pattern of behavioral functioning for the male batterer and his female victim in addition to typical responses on the part of this same female victim (McMahon, 1999).   By breaking down the two components of this theorized psychological impairment, we first define syndrome as a collection of symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular disease (Hubble, 1999).   Of great scrutiny, however, researchers question the usage of the syndrome classification because this term implies that all symptoms and responses are consistent for every woman in the applicable situation.   The definition of a battered woman as determined by Hocking (1999) applies to a woman who is eighteen years of age or older, and who has been in an intimate relationship with a man who repeatedly subjects (or in the past subjected) her to forceful physical and/or psychological abuse.   Bradfield (2002) suggests that Battered Woman syndrome can be defined as “a distortion of thought and perception, impaired ability to perceive and realistically appraise alternatives and delusions regarding the batterer and relationships,” although considerable debate continues on the breadth and specificity of the psychological impairment.   The duality of the term Battered Woman syndrome describes both the pattern of violence within a relationship, “as well as the psychological and behavioral sequelae for the female victim”, in addition to the behavioral and psychological characteristics of the abusive male and his female victim (Hocking, 1999).   Further described as a general pattern of reaction to physical and psychological abuse inflicted on a woman by her spouse, Hocking (1999) identifies those diagnosed with Battered Woman syndrome to possess a “collection of specific characteristics and effects of abuse that result in a woman’s decreased ability to respond effectively to the violence against her, and a set of particular symptoms, characteristics, and problems experienced by a woman in an ongoing physically abusive relationship with a man” (Hocking, 1999).   These extreme circumstances may produce a continual state of shame, isolation, guilt, depression, passivity, learned helplessness, implications of traditional sex role attitudes, low-self esteem, and dependency, propelling a battered woman to a situation of choosing to kill herself or the batterer or else face being reduced to a psychological state in which sustained physical existence has little or any meaning or value (Ewing, 1990).    Overall, the experience of a battered woman may include a history of fatal threats by her husband, prior life-threatening abusive incidents, and a belief that her husband could eventually kill her due increasing severity and frequency of the abuse, all factors which must be taken into consideration when analyzing the mental state of an individual on trial (Follingstand, Ponek, Hause, Deaton, Bulger, & Conway, 1989).

As the result of a perpetual state of fear produced by repeated physical abuse by one’s spouse, mental anguish may affect all aspects of human functioning in battered women, thus causing women in these circumstances to display a variety of characteristics similar to those exhibited by sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.   Hubble (1999) has concluded that individuals assessed as having Battered Woman syndrome experience fear and terror with elevated levels of anger and rage towards their abuser, in addition to impaired functioning including an inability to engage in planful behavior, which can become particularly inhibitory in determining a safe and effective escape from the abuser when conditions are favorable.   This same source also focuses upon a finding that battered women may begin to lose the “assumption of invulnerability and safety that ‘things would turn out’ alright or ‘this won’t happen to me’”, concluding that such beliefs often dissipate in the onslaught of abuse and violence (Hubble, 1999).   Based on this determination, it is fairly easily to understand why women who are battered respond with hypervigilance to cues of danger, noticing subtle aspects of their partner’s behavior which others would deem inconsequential and ignore, and as a result may initiate a preemptive strike to what appears to be unrelated behavior.   Battered women also most often display a high tolerance for cognitive inconsistency, that is, they may express two logically inconsistent ideas but fail to comprehend the discrepancy (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).   Due to this phenomenon, many often do not assess their habitual situation and alternatives for habitation from a coherent standpoint, instead demonstrating in a diminished-responsiveness reaction focusing all energies upon survival within the relationship rather than seeking out other safe options outside of the marriage.   As evidenced when Walker interviewed four hundred battered women in 1993, eighty-five percent felt they could be killed at any point in the future, but failed to dissolve the union for an unspecified reason based on diminished alternatives (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).

A remarkable and often controversial aspect of Battered Woman syndrome which deserves considerable attention is the notion that many women are plagued by self-defeat in a theory of learned helplessness developed by Martin Seligman (1975).   Seligman established in his laboratory experiments with animals that, after being exposed to variable aversive and unavoidable stimuli repeatedly in a randomized fashion, his mammalian subjects subsequently failed to utilize available opportunities to escape from the painful stimuli (McMahon, 1999).   In a similar way, female humans learn that, as abuse by their husbands continue, regardless of any of her attempted actions to halt this violence, she cannot control the battering and hence, assume that she has no control over her own environment (Schuller, Wells, Rzepa, & Klippenstine, 2004).   Women in these instances of psychological paralysis eventually cease to avoid the painful stimuli, believing that nothing can be done to prevent being subjected to the abuse and fail to recognize available alternative avenues for escape (Ewing, 1990).

Despite a presumption that most battered women do in fact live in this perpetual state of fear as an indication of learned helplessness, research has yielded evidence that some victims of domestic violence report a cyclic nature to the abuse, describing lulls in the destructive and painful behavior by their spouse (Schuller & Hastings, 1996).   The three phases of the described cycle begin in an initial tension building stage where the wife will often perceive her husband as becoming exponentially more “edgy and more prone to react negatively to frustrations” (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).   During this phase, as described by Wrightman and Fulero (2005), a woman’s hypervigilant nature may be engaged such that she begins to anticipate her partner’s transitions of moods and his needs in the presence of small episodes of physical and verbal abuse.   As a result of these more trivial abusive instances and a persistent fear of more painful episodes which will inevitably occur in the future, it appears that battered women most often kill their partners during this tension building phase.    Following this apprehensive stage full of anxiety by the wife, an acute battering incident occurs and can last anywhere from two to twenty-four hours.   As Wrightman and Fulero (2005) note, “anticipation of this second stage results in severe psychological stress for the battered woman; she becomes anxious, depressed, and complains of other psycho-physiological symptoms. ”  The final stage which often mitigates flight impulses in a battered woman occurs when the abusive husband admits that his violent reactions are unacceptable and attempts to make amends through apology and promises that he will never behave that way again.   This observation to be more thoroughly addressed is forensically significant in circumstances where a time gap between an abusive threat of death or seriously bodily injury by the husband and the battered woman’s prima facie criminal act (such as killing her abusive partner in his sleep) exists.   In the case of these discrepancies, a symptomatic cycle of violence provides a psychological link in the criminal proceedings for the battered woman between the two temporally distinct occurrences (McMahon, 1999).

As a result of the apparent manipulation of battered women in this incessant cycle of abuse and absolution as identified by those of us on the outside of a particular series of circumstances, the American public have adopted views and often times strong stereotypes against battered women which can hinder a fair unbiased jury composition during trial.   There is a tendency to characterize the violence of the murdered husband as ensuing from difficulties within the marriage rather than resulting entirely from a flaw in the violent partner himself, thus placing a slight yet significant degree of blame upon the battered woman (Bradfield, 2002).   A study conducted by Reddy et al. addresses an underlying belief that the battered woman is somehow responsible for her continued abuse because she places herself repeatedly in a situation where she has prior knowledge that she will continued to be beaten (Bradfield, 2002).   Society’s expectations assume that battered women should and will leave violent relationships prior to the actual murder of a spouse, and when this does not occur, individuals question the motives and rationale of the women in these relationships.   Therefore, although the accused may inform a jury fully of her reasons for remaining with her husband throughout the battering cycles, a common sense understanding by jury members may lead them to question the severity of her abuse claims.   Additionally, according to Bradfield (2002), these perceptions are further “reinforced by the dominant societal and legal conception of domestic violence that focuses on isolated and discrete episodes of violence which facilitates the position that leaving the relationship is the sole appropriate form of self-assertion” (Bradfield, 2002).   Several misconceptions continue to circulate throughout American courtrooms particularly that battered women provoke their abuse, remain in these relationship because they enjoy the physical abuse aspect, or that violence fulfills some dark and deep-seated need within each partner (Spring & Winston, 1994), many of which could bear considerable influence on the decision of a jury during trial.

Although the scientific community acknowledges these assumptions of pleasure derived from physical violence and verbal ridicule as completely inaccurate, one must question what distinguishes a battered woman from other wives who are not physically, emotionally, or psychologically abused, and also the factors which differentiate battered women who kill from those who do not.   Empirical research conducted by Hocking (1999) has revealed discrepancies between battered wives and those engaged in more healthy forms of marriage, stating that battered women are “over-socialized, submissive, dependent, conforming and self-less, cautious, controlling, superstitious, submissive, anxious,” and possess poor coping skills.   Bradfield (2002) further explains that women in violent dyads are more emotionally dependent on their husbands than those in nonviolent dyads, have lower self-image than those in nonviolent unions, and tend to perceive their husbands more positively than women who are in nonviolent marriages (Anson & Sagy, 1995).   On measures of marital and gender social organizational attitudes as assessed by Warren and Lanning (1992), it was determined that women in violent relationships responded significantly differently to four out of twelve statements concerning the division of labor and authority within the family than those in non-violent unions.   According to this study, more women in the violent condition agreed that their husbands had the right to decide about intercourse, when she is able to leave the home for an outing, and that assertive women harm the dynamics of their families (Anson & Sagy, 1995).   In terms of maintaining the relationship, battered women, it seems are more emotionally dependent on their husbands; “when their husbands go out, they feel, as may have been expected, more relieved and relaxed; they also, however, reported more frequent feelings of being angry, sad, and lonely (Anson & Sagy, 1995).   Findings from this research study contradict a proposition that battered women have lowered self-esteem in that, it was verified that the self-image of women in violent marriages were quite similar to those in the non-violent condition, although the battered women were more nervous and less happy compared to their peers as reported by Walker (1984).   Women in violent relationships, moreover, tend to perceive violence as commonplace, justifying their husbands actions with positive emotions, including love, and in many cases, actually believe that they bring their fate upon themselves.   It is still a matter of debate whether these perceptions are a result of early socialization or perhaps are developed as a reaction to the violent martial experience (Anson & Sagy, 1995).

Ewing (1990) suggests that battered women who eventually commit murder may be subjected to more severe abuse, more frequent abuse, threatened with weapons, subjected to threats of death, especially threats of retaliation for leaving, are somewhat older and less educated, thus left with fewer options for economic support in the absence of an abusive partner, and have fewer resources for coping than do battered women in general.   Additionally, women diagnosed as having Battered Woman syndrome are characterized with lower sociocultural and socioeconomic levels, more frequent use of alcohol and other drugs, greater anxiety and depression, more likely to still be habituating with an abusive partner at the time of the criminal offense, and exhibit significantly more deficits in cognitive functioning and disturbance in mental state on psychological tests than those who do not kill their spouses (McMahon, 1999).   This same source determined that those with Battered Woman syndrome also demonstrated an increased risk for obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosexual dysfunction and post traumatic stress disorder as consistent with Walker’s description of Battered Woman syndrome (McMahon, 1999).   But the true question at hand is whether situational factors, such as the husband’s repeated assaults, and the emotional state of his female victims, including feelings of helplessness and guilt, contribute to the manifestations of this syndrome rather than more enduring traits of the woman (Walus-Wigle & Reidmeloy, 1988).   One could suggest that possibly certain disorders for example, borderline, self-defeating, or dependent personality disorders predispose an abused wife to the clinical development of Battered Woman syndrome.   Walker cites research conducted by Rosewater (1985) assessing abused women using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, to examine the possibility of such a claim, suggesting that Battered Woman syndrome is identifiable by high scores on the MMPI scales measuring depression, anger, suspiciousness, and confusion and that low ego strength was typically found as well in repeatedly battered women (McMahon, 1999).   As a result of this and previously discussed studies, it becomes apparent that battered women who kill do possess a particular pathology different from those who avoid this homicidal act, although it is not quite understood yet as to whether these psychological abnormalities result from the cycle of violence or by internal factors of the woman herself, the resulting syndrome represents a rationale for homicide in the courtroom.

In addition to a thorough psychological evaluation conducted by the defense counsel to assess a woman’s particular adherence to Battered Woman syndrome criteria, an examination of the previous history of abuse, attempts to leave the relationship, and a woman’s particular feelings concerning the deceased are taken into account when an abused woman who kills her husband is taken to trial.   Although attaining the status of a battered woman does not in itself justify a homicidal act against one’s husband, testimony pertaining to this syndrome is important for arguing the self-defense claim.   In many criminal proceedings, an expert witness is introduced to testify about the nature of the physical violence and psychological abuse the accused killer was being subjected to, offering, as Wrightman and Fulero (2005) suggest, “explanations for puzzling behavior by the [abuse] victim. ”  Such Battered Woman syndrome testimony is elucidated to the court in an attempt to mitigate or absolve the abused wife from her legal responsibility for the act of killing; however, evidence of this syndrome is not a defense to a criminal charge in itself and must be used in conjunction within the existing framework of self-defense (3).   Nevertheless, as McMahon (1999) also demonstrates, in some cases, American courts may rule that Battered Woman syndrome does not constitute a “scientific field of expertise”, and thus exclude expert testimony pertaining to this issue (3 year).   Finally, in evaluating the necessity of Battered Woman syndrome expert testimony in any given court trial, one must take into account the existence of community myths and stereotypes where jurors and spectators fail to understand the dynamics of the domestic violence incurred as well as the patterns of response for the abused spouses, ultimately impacting the decision-making process for guilt or innocence (Bradfield, 2002).   In such instances, a juror’s pre-existing beliefs about spousal abuse, belief in a just world, and his or her gender may influence the impact of expert testimony upon the outcome of the trial (Spring & Winston, 1994).

Expert testimony regarding Battered Woman syndrome has been met with mixed reactions and varied resulting verdicts in courtrooms around the world including those of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain since it was first deemed admissible in the 1979 trial of Ibn-Tamas versus the United States.   Expert testimony is most often presented in trials of battered women who kill to provide the first steps for understanding the syndrome in the ordinary person who approaches jury duty without knowledge of the woman’s heightened perception of danger, the impact of this extreme fear on her thinking, and her rationale for being unable to escape the relationship (Schuller, McKimmie, & Janz, 2004), often factors that even the woman herself cannot understand or explain.  Expert evidence of the pathology of Battered Woman syndrome may answer relevant questions pertaining to the individual case and the plight of the woman’s mental capacity such as “(1) why a person subjected to prolonged and repeated abuse would remain in such a relationship, (2) the nature and extent to the violence that may exist in such a relationship producing a response, (3) the accused’s ability in such a relationship to perceive danger from the abuser, and (4) whether the particular accused believed on reasonable grounds that there was no other way to preserve herself from death or grievous bodily harm than by resorting to the conduct giving rise to the charge” (Terrance & Matheson, 2003).

Despite the overwhelming landmark victory in the introduction of expert evidence for battered women who do kill their spouses, as Schuller and Rzepa (2002) indicate, “indeed the impetus it provided for the court’s eventual acknowledgement of the obstacles confronting a battered woman’s claim of self-defense, represents an important and significant legal achievement”, this form of testimony was met with opposition by legal and feminist scholars.   This same source notes that in a jury simulation study, the beneficial impact of Battered Woman syndrome testimony solely depends on the defendant’s degree of fit within the passive characterization of the battered woman as described within the context of the trial (Schuller & Rzepa, 2003). In the description of events leading up to the murder such as aggressive or self-defensive acts including physical harm, verbal insults, or other variations of striking out against the abuser, Schuller and Hastings have determined that expert evidence is not as effective in rendering a not guilty verdict (Schuller et al. 2004).   Schuller and Vidmar (1992) state that the presence of expert testimony, overall however, actually increases an individual juror’s tendency to give more credence to the woman’s claim of fear and danger, and when compared to a non-expert control condition, participants rated the likelihood of success with an insanity plea to be greater when taking into account the woman’s psychological situation as described in expert testimony.   Finally, a moderate shift towards the ruling of manslaughter and a verdict of diminished capacity were evident when jurors were provided with background evidence pertaining the woman’s situation and typical responses of other women in similar abused lifestyles in the form of expert testimony (Schuller & Hastings, 1996).

Despite the increased usage of expert testimony and improved public awareness of any psychological implications stemming from domestic violence, this knowledge, as Bradfield (2002) describes, fails to be translated into an unwavering acceptance of self-defense as the appropriate defense for women who indeed kill their abusive husbands.   Based on a principle which vows that those who are being unlawfully attacked by another human have the legal right to take reasonable and necessary steps in defending herself, the doctrine of self-defense is designed to apply equally to all persons, but meeting these criteria has proven a complex and controversial challenge for those plighted with Battered Woman syndrome when brought to trial (Terrance & Matheson, 2003).   When a battered woman murders her abuser and then pleads not guilty by reason of self-defense, she encounters many obstacles in conveying this claim to a jury of her peers, who often times have presumed beliefs concerning the consequences and effects of violent behavior by men against women in intimate relationships (Schuller & Vidmar, 1992).

Despite the prevalence of the self-defense plea, most battered women who kill are convinced because as Wrightman and Fulero (2005) describe, the “requirements of the current self-esteem law equate self with only the physical aspects of personhood”, thus eliminating those instances where women kill sometime following beatings or threats from falling within this category.   As a result, some battered women may plead not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing that they were unable to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the incident due to mental incompetence from sustained head injuries or by mental anguish from an abusive husband’s behavior, and therefore, should be exempt from culpability (Terrance, Matheson & Spanos, 2000).   However, as experts contend, this defense can be construed as demeaning to the woman as she is merely acting to save her own life (Wrightman & Fulero, 2005).   Based on 1987 statistics, Browner concluded that fifty-six percent of battered women who murdered their spouses pled not guilty by reason of self-defense, thirty-three percent pled not guilty to lesser charges in return for leniency, and only eight percent of all battered women brought to trial pled not guilty by reason of insanity (Follingstand et al. 1989).

To understand the failure of self-defense pleas, one must extract all applicable meaning as defined by American laws to address how each aspect could be argued to imply innocence for the defendant on trial.   The principle of self-defense is governed under the standard of reasonable necessity, however, when the homicide is committed outside of an actual instance of battering, the jury may have a hard time deciphering an adequate legal ruling on this issue. As Bradfield (2002) finds, “absent [of the] raise[d] knife-pointed gun scenario – the immediate confrontation – where the threat conforms to the paradigm case of self-defense and the seriousness of the threat is obvious, battered women need to be able to convey to the jury the necessity of the resort to fatal force in their circumstances,” thus proving a woman’s fate to be largely dependent on have convincing her argument is constructed.   To assess the legitimacy of a woman’s claim for self-defense, domestic violence must be understood in the realm of an overall pattern of power and control within the violence, not just as a series of isolated events.   Attorneys highlight the culminating incidents of battery to provide a backing for the reasonableness of the woman’s actions so that, as the law has traditionally required, it seems logical that an “ordinary man” would attempt these same deadly actions in a similar situation (Schuller & Rzepa, 2002).   This definition and understanding of reasonableness of deadly force varies by jurisdiction in the United States, so that in some courtrooms a subjective standard is utilized such that reasonableness is based on the cognition of the defendant rather than that of an ordinary person (Schuller et al. 2004).

The laws of self-defense equate self in terms of corporeal aspects of human existence, including those processes required for sustaining life, but fail to encompass aspects of psychological functioning and dimensions of the battering experience, which can prove problematic for an abused woman who kills her husband (Schuller et al. 2004).   A doctrine of psychological self-defense has been proposed to fill this gap in self protection in order that an individual who kills to preserve the normalcy of her psychological state to safeguard the meaning and value of her physical existence be justified in this killing (Ewing, 1990).   If laws were amended to reflect this understanding, jurors would be provided with an expanded understanding of the defendant’s circumstances, and as a result, I believe that those assessed as having Battered Woman syndrome would be permitted a more realistic and fair trial.

An important component in the homicidal situation to be considered both as consequence to mental health criteria and in the courtroom is the imminence of threat the victim was in at the time of her decision.   As mentioned previously, self-defense criteria demands that the defendant must prove to a jury of her peers that her actions were reasonable when taking into account the degree of danger she was under.   In these laws of self-defense, a precise and narrow legal focus is placed on discrete incidents of violence, the most recent deemed most significant without regard to the evidence of the history of the relationship, determining these facts merely contextualize the abusive incident (Schuller, Wells, Rzepa, & Klippenstine, 2004).   As a consequence Schuller et al. (2004) insist, “there is a failure to elicit at trial the experiences and effects of living a life of being abused. ”  This distortion is further reinforced in the very design of how the evidence is presented in the question and answer format of the examination-in-chief and cross-examination.   When unable to understand the abuse as a continuous cycle rather than purely in isolation, the imminence of danger to the defendant may not be obvious to the court or jury despite the appropriateness of the self-defensive action (Follingstand et al. 1989).   Additionally, when taking into account that nearly twenty percent of these murders were committed outside of direct confrontation (Schuller et al. 2004), during a period of relative calm such as when the husband is sleeping, rulings of not guilty by reason of self-defense dropped from seventy-six percent in attack conditions to forty-four percent when no immediate threat was apparent (Terrance, 2000).   Due to the delay between the batterer’s last violent act and the woman’s deadly response, not surprisingly, (Schuller et al. 2004) also found that these factors exerted a large degree of influence on the jury’s perception of the act as defensive, rendering more guilty verdicts in this condition.   In conclusion, however, one must keep in mind that like a modified definition of self-defense, the threat of imminence can be construed in favor of the battered woman.   In these instances, jury members may understand the context of imminence in terms of the perpetual state of fear model, such that the threat exists based on the very nature of the violent partner and his presence within the home which could instigate further abusive encounters (Schuller & Hastings, 1996).

In addition to the influence of understanding and instructions for the applicability of self-defense provided by the court to jurors during deliberation, the personality and previously held convictions of jury members as relevant to Battered Woman syndrome play a primary role in determining whether the defendant will be charged with murder or released from custody.   A statistical analysis of verdicts prior to 1980 concluded that twenty-seven percent of all adults attributed equal or predominant blame to the wife in the instance of abuse, and based on this determination, one can conclude that during this time period, at least one fourth of jurors also possessed this inherent bias towards a woman’s liability (Follingstand et al. 1989).   Such assumptions may be a result of a strong subscription to the belief in a just world, such that, individuals feel that those who violate ethical and moral boundaries deserve and will receive proper punishment by external forces around them.   An empirical study by Rubin and Peplau established that individuals who strongly accept this belief in a just world tend to devalue victims and actually merit abusive occurrences because, as proposed, they are unable to identify with being in the same position of the victim (1989).   However, a follow-up study conducted by Follingstad et al. revealed that only eight percent of the total variance in jury verdicts was due to the participants’ belief in feminism theories and in a belief in a just world combined (Terrance et al. 2000).   In general, Spring and Winston (1994) support this finding in explaining that those who express a weak belief in a just world are often more lenient in their not guilty verdicts, also concluding that expert testimony more strictly applies to the defendant in the described individual case than for those who were strong believers of a just world.   Gender also had a strong influence in verdict leniency in that women, compared to men, are more likely to deem the defendant’s claim for self-defense more credible (Schuller et al. 2004). Specifically, Schuller et al. (2004) explains, “in comparison to male participants, women were more likely to find the defendant’s claim of fear more plausible and to believe that she was trapped within the relationship,” but noted no gender differences in terms of perception of other available options to the defendant instead of murder.   In conclusion, it becomes clear that individual personality traits, attitudinal beliefs, and predetermined factors such as gender moderate the influence of expert testimony and self-defense pleas in trials of battered women who kill abusive spouses.

Despite the many controversial issues surrounding the assessment and usage of Battered Woman syndrome testimony in court, one must understand that the inquiry as to whether an accused woman did indeed kill her husband due to a mental disorder diagnosis and thus should be pardoned from conviction is solely at the discretion of the legal system.   Psychological findings and evidence of pathology are only as effective as they are conveyed to jury members and judges through expert testimony, and therefore, steps must be taken to refine and increase the saliency of all presented information for the defense.   It is important to note, however, that by introducing this terminology into today’s courtrooms, attorneys and psychologists alike are perpetrating negative connotations of battered women.   When emphasis is placed on the personal inadequacies described under the realm of learned helplessness to explain a battered woman’s failure to flee from her abuser, the legal shift away from the objective rationality of her actions to preserve her own life paints a picture of a dysfunctional and incapable human being.   This is not to say that the theory of learned helplessness should not be applied to women in similar circumstances, but instead, I deem it important to fully educate the general public against stereotypes disseminated and supported through misinterpretation of this evidence.   In a comparable light, Schuller et al. (2004) found that the presence of expert evidence providing a diagnosis of Battered Woman syndrome without adequate explanation led mock jurors to perceive the defendant as more distorted in her thinking and less capable of making responsible choices, factors which could be of great consequence in later child custody hearings.   Taking all of these findings into consideration, I must agree with the use of Battered Woman syndrome testimony when applied properly with full explanation, but also concur with Hubble’s (1999) recommendation that the court should examine the defendant’s financial situation, access to affordable childcare, and the likely effectiveness of legal protection that could have been provided prior to murder as well.   Finally, as is now evident, Battered Woman syndrome is a plight endured by many thousands of Americans and must be sufficiently examined by legal and psychological scholars alike to provide a proper setting for expert testimony and an adaptive role for the psychological self-defense plea in the courtroom.


Anson, O. Sagy, S. (1995). Marital violence: Comparing women in violent and

nonviolent unions. Human Relations, 48, 285-305.

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Transparent Ceramics: Magnesium Alumnate

June 16th, 2010 No comments

[Engineering thesis posted with the permission of the author, Varun Dev V. In his words, he wanted to “pass the idea to the rest of the world.”]



18 Th AUGUST 2008


VARUN DEV V (05402053)








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Early Detection of Autism in Infants and Toddlers (Part 5)

June 15th, 2010 Comments off


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2002). According to Moore and Goodson, as a result of eligibility for participation in early intervention programs being limited to those with a formal documented diagnosis, early identification and accurate assessment have become increasing important (2003). Research suggests that intervention provided before the age of three and a half has a greater impact than does after the age of five. Therefore, if we could screen all children at birth for autism, clinicians and educational specialists could perhaps retrain the brain and consequentially avoid the development of afore mentioned social impairments that develop in subsequent months (Wetherby, Woods, Allen, Cleary, Dickinson, & Lord, 2004). In the past two months, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a $2. 5 million autism-awareness campaign known as “Learn the Signs. Act Early”, with an ambitious goal to educate all health-care providers and parents about the warning signs in this disorder so that early intervention can be implemented as soon as possible “to give kids with autism a shot at productive, satisfying, and emotionally connected lives,” (Kalb, 2005). With the identification of discrete and precise symptoms in very young infants within the scope of neurological abnormalities, atypical head growth fluctuations, communication delays, joint attention difficulties, and inabilities to attend to imitation and engage in pretend play, I believe that early intervention would become a possibility and thus make a significant impact for all children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.


Baird, G. Charman, T. Baron-Cohen, S. Cox, A. Swettenham, J. Wheelwright, S. ,

Drew, A. (2000). A screening instrument for autism at 18 months of age: A 6-year

follow-up study. Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry,

39, 694-702.

Baranek, G. (1999). Autism during infancy: A retrospective video analysis of sensory-

motor and social behaviors at 9-12 months of age. Journal of Autism and

Developmental Disorders, 29, 213-224.

Charman, T. Baron-Cohen, S. Swettenham, J. Cox, A. Baird, G. Drew, A. (1997).

Infants with autism: An investigation of empathy, pretend play, joint attention,

and imitation. Developmental Psychology, 33, 781-789.

Charman, T. Swettenham, J. Baron-Cohen, S. Cox, A. Baird, G. Drew, A. (1998). An

experimental investigation of social-cognitive abilities in infants with autism:

Clinical implications. Infant Mental Health Journal, 19, 260-275.

Charwarska, K. Klin, A. Volkmar, F. (2003). Automatic attention cueing through eye

movement in 2-year-old children with autism. Child Development, 74, 1108-112.

Courchesne, E. Carper, R. & Akshoomoff, N. (2003). Evidence of brain overgrowth in

the first year of life in autism. Journal of American Medical Association, 290,


Cox, A. Charman, T. Baron-Cohen, S. Drew, A. Klein, K. Baird, G. Swettenham, J. ,

Wheelwright, S. (1999). Autism spectrum disorders at 20 and 42 months of age:

Stability of clinical and ADI-R diagnosis. Journal of Child Psychology and

Psychiatry, 40, 719-732.

Dawson, G. Meltzoff, A. Osterling, J. Rinaldi, J. (1998). Neuropsychological correlates

of early symptoms of autism. Child Development, 69, 1276-1285.

Dawson, G. Osterling, J. Meltzoff, A. Kuhl, P. (2000). Case study of the development

of an infant with autism from birth to two years of age. Journal of Applied

Developmental Psychology, 21, 299-313.

Dawson, G. Webb, S. Carver, L. Panagitotides, H. McPartland, J. (2004). Young

children with autism show atypical brain responses to fearful versus neutral facial

expressions of emotion. Developmental Science, 7, 340-359.

Eaves, L. Ho, H. (2004). The very early identification of autism: outcome to age 4 ½-5.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 367-378.

Goin, R. Myers, B. (2004). Characteristics of infantile autism: Moving towards earlier

detection. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19, 5-12.

Kalb, C. (2005). Where does autism start? Newsweek, 28 Feb, 45-55.

Moore, V. Goodson, S. (2003). How well early diagnosis of autism stand the test of

time? Follow-up study of children assessed for autism at age 2 and development

of an early diagnostic service. Autism, 7, 47-63.

Klin, A. Charwarska, K. Paul, R. Rubin, E. Morgan, T. Wiesner, L. Volkmar, F.

(2004). Autism in a 15-month-old child. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 1981-1988.

Lainhart, J. (2003). Increased rate of head growth during infancy in autism. Journal of

the American Medical Association, 290, 393-394.

Osterling, J. Dawson, G. (1994). Early recognition of children with autism: A study of

first birthday home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 247-257.

Osterling, J. Dawson, G. Munson, J. (2002). Early recognition of 1-year-old infants with

autism spectrum disorder versus mental retardation. Development and

Psychopathology, 14, 239-251.

Sheinkopf, S. Mundy, P. Oller, D. & Steffens, M. (2000). Vocal atypicalities of

preverbal autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 345-353.

Torrey, E. Dhavale, D. Lawlor, J. & Yolken, R. (2004). Autism and head circumference

in the first year of life. Journal of Biopsychiatry, 56, 892-894.

Trevarthen, C. Aitken, K. (2001). Infant intersubjectivity: Research, theory, and clinical

applications. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 42, 3-48.

Volkmar, F. Chawarska, K. Klin, A. (2005). Autism in infancy and early childhood.

Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 315-36.

Werner, E. Dawson, G. Osterling, J. Dinno, N. (2000). Brief report: Recognition of

autism spectrum disorder before one year of age: A retrospective study based on

home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 157-162.

Wetherby, A. Woods, J. Allen, L. Cleary, J. Dickinson, H. Lord, C. (2004). Early

indicators of autism spectrum disorders in the second year of life. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 473-493.

Wimpory, D. Hobson, P. Williams, M. Nash, S. (2000). Are infants with autism

socially engaged? A study of recent retrospective parental reports. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 525-536.

Young, R. Brewer, N. Pattison, C. (2003). Parental identification of early behavioral

abnormalities in children with autistic disorder. Autism, 7, 125-143.

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Early Detection of Autism in Infants and Toddlers (Part 4)

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The process of learning to orient to one’s own name involves aspects of both social and communication domains as well as attention (Werner et al. 2000), and therefore, difficulties in responding to this specific vocalization indicates a broad range of dysfunction. Potentially a powerful estimate of impairment on the autism disorder spectrum, typically developing infants orient to their name being called approximately seventy-five percent of the time, whereas only thirty-seven percent of autistic infants oriented to their names between the ages of eight and ten months using retrospective home video footage in a study by Werner et al. (2000). Fewer differences were noted in terms of social response to name calling than in the Osterling and Dawson study (1994) of infants at one year of age, perhaps due to the fact that between nine and twelve months of age, many new behaviors are just beginning to develop. Although many complex social, emotional, and communicative behaviors emerge during the eight to nine months of life, skills within these categories do not begin to solidify until after the age of one.

Joint Attention as a Predictor for Social Impairment

The previous example of response to name calling in very young children also draws upon the difficulties that most autistic infants experience in their development of joint attention skills. During the first year of life, children with autism spectrum disorders may fail to follow a point and in many instances, will not gaze switch between interesting objects and an adult’s face or coordinate responses to emotional displays by an adult (Charman, Baron-Cohen, Swettenham, Cox, Baird, & Drew, 1997). Moreover, gaze monitoring in joint attention, which provides relevant information concerning interests and dangers in the environment, is essential for the active participation of social learning opportunities for all infants (Charwarska, Klin, & Volkmar, 2003). As such, deficits in spontaneous gaze monitoring are widely recognized at this point in current research as early signs of autism, although we are unaware of the neurological mechanisms to produce these problems. Kalb has determined through eye-tracking technology that when affected toddlers view the videos of their caregivers or other babies within the same nursery of which they are familiar, they tend to focus more on the individual’s mouth or an object located directly behind the individual than his or her eyes (2005). This finding was confirmed when Charwarska et al. demonstrated in 2003 that although face recognition improves with age in those with autism, older individuals employ feature-based rather than holistic strategies in face processing, and therefore, “recruit different neural substrates in face processing than their typical controls,” (1985).

In terms of pointing behavior, typically developing children will follow a pointed index finger when they have achieved a developmental level of twelve months old, but children with autism from the time they are born are significantly less likely, according to Young et al. to switch their gaze as a means of following a point by another individual (2003). Despite these findings, many infants with autism at two years of age show intact performance relative to typically developing controls in the area of nonsocial use of gaze to obtain information about objects and the environment surrounding them. Charman et al. suggest that these abilities remain intact in those with autism although social gaze is not initiated because they are not a feature of the central social communicative deficit in autism (1997). This discovery asserts that there may indeed be a key difference between the growth of social and nonsocial use of gaze in broad development of all infants.

Imitation and Pretend Play

Significant delays in the production of imitation in very young infants as well as pretend play schemes in their slightly older counterparts are important warning signs to monitor in developing criterion for early assessment strategies. Imitation by typically developing and developmentally delayed infants is not merely a superficial repetition of movements made by another person but is instead a complex tool for developing interpersonal relationships with parents (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). Trevarthen and Aitken continue in this explanation in stating, “[imitation] is, even for newborns, an emotionally charged mutual influence of motive states in which certain salient expressive actions of the other are identified and repeated to further an ongoing communication,” (2001). A study by Charman et al. produced confirming results in suggesting that although basic level of imitation is apparent in school-age children with autism, those under the age of twenty months show considerable difficulty and unresponsiveness in this area (1997). After the mastery of a significant degree of gross and fine motor skills has been obtain through imitation, most children will begin to establish play activities progressing from simple object exploration to functional object use and finally pretend play. Between the ages of nine and twelve months, however, distinguishable abnormalities become evident and progressively more deviant in those with autism spectrum disorder in comparison to typically developing peers (Volkmar et al. 2005). In this same study, it was determined that by the second birthday of many children with autism, differences in functional play abilities and routines are striking, particularly in terms of purposefulness, symbolism, and complexity (Volkmar et al. 2005). As functional play ability continues to be impeded throughout the early years of life, pretend play is further hindered, and thus, many children with autism do not begin to develop a concept of such imaginative behavior until they have been taught specific strategies and skills within an early intervention setting (Charman, Swettenham, Baron-Cohen, Cox, Baird, & Drew, 1998).

Implications of Early Diagnosis

Early detection and diagnosis of autism in young infants may be crucial to the future outcome of these individuals because early behavioral intervention has been shown to provide a substantial impact on the long-term prognosis (Osterling et al.

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Early Detection of Autism in Infants and Toddlers (Part 3)

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These animal subjects subsequently displayed the persistent and severe cognitive and social impairments as well as stereotyped and self-stimulatory behaviors that are defining features of autism (Dawson et al. 1998). However, this discovery does contrast a recent case study evaluation of a young autistic girl by Dawson, Osterling, Meltzoff, and Kuhl which determined that in this specific child at one year of age, impairments did not exist in the domains of immediate memory of actions, working memory, and response inhibition linked to frontal lobe functioning as core features of autism (2000).

Head Circumference Growth as a Predictor of Autism

A recent discovery in human physiology and brain development research has led to the involvement of the Baby Sibs consortium in an effort to determine the earliest physical markers of autism, particularly abnormal head circumference growth (Kalb, 2005). It is presumed that if a significant increase in head growth during infancy is a risk factor for autism, the mechanism that triggers this onset of growth would actually precede any manifestation of the disorder. Post-mortem brain studies described by Lainhart suggest that brain abnormalities begin before birth in at least a percentage of cases of autism, and therefore, provide further evidence to this claim (2003). According to this same author, between birth and six to fourteen months of age, head circumference has been shown to increase at a significantly greater rate in children with autism than in an control or reference sample (Lainhart, 2003); fifty-nine percent of children with autism and only six percent of typically developing children show an increase of two or more standard deviations in head circumference during this developmental time. In another study of this same type with consistently similar results, it was determined that approximately ninety percent of two and three year old children had brain volumes larger than the healthy average in addition to abnormally large head circumferences (Courchesne, Carper, & Akshoomoff, 2003). In comparison to growth charts produced by the Center for Disease Control, average head size in recruited participants increased from the twenty-fifth percentile at birth to the eighty-four percentile in six to fourteen month old babies with autism spectrum disorders (Courchesne, et al. 2003), well before the typical onset of clinically significant behavioral symptoms. By late childhood, however, a follow-up study of participants between the ages of eight and forty-six yielded MRI results demonstrating that this extreme brain overgrowth is time limited and that eventually brain size between control and autistic individuals becomes approximately equal (Courchesne, et al. 2003). An additional study by Torrey, Dhavale, Lawlor, and Yolken discovered a pattern of significantly larger body weight and length in four month old infants later diagnosed with autism in comparison to control subjects, inferring that an abnormality in metabolism, growth factors, and hormone levels may indeed be the culprit (2004). Accelerated rate in head circumference growth is associated during infancy with overall increased brain volume and gray matter, as well as increased cerebral gray matter. Scientists have not come to a conclusive decision as to what exactly accounts for this increase, but theory suggests that the sudden growth could result from an over abundance of neuronal connections, which pruning fails to eliminate (Kalb, 2005).

The discovery that an overgrowth of head circumference occurs frequently during the early months of life for those later diagnosed with autism holds a very promising clinical role in the detection of this disorder. An inexpensive and noninvasive assessment technique, the tracking of brain size development may be a key to early diagnosis and consequently, even earlier intervention practices. If these results are further confirmed by subsequent studies, physicians and psychologists in the future may be able to quickly assess the risk for developing autism based on physical examination alone.

Communication Abnormalities: Nonverbal Gestures and Speech

Parents frequently express initial concern over their child’s speech and communication development, and thus this often becomes the first complaint of autism-related behavior that sends parents to seek out an evaluation. Although typically developing newborn infants possess immature brains, limited cognition, and weak bodies, it has been established that most are very motivated beyond an instinctual drive to attract parental care for immediate biological needs, and thus “to communicate intricately with the expressive forms and rhythms of interest and feeling displayed by other humans,” (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). This drive does not seem to be as strong in young children with autism as in most instances they communicate less frequently than matched developmentally delayed children. These children are also less likely to use contact and conventional gestures in requesting an object, but are, in fact, more likely to use unconventional gestures to make up for this deficit in such ways as manipulating the hand of the individual with whom they are interacting to the desired object (Volkmar et al. 2005). In an article by Werner et al. it was demonstrated that at two months of age, infants start to implement their vocalizations in a semi-social manner, and this distinction further aids in subsequent speech and language development (2000). From these results, one can determine that perhaps differences in these areas of vocalization between typically developing and impaired infants become evident by the age of twelve months. Also between the ages of six months to one year, meaningful differences become more pronounced in the communicative criteria, especially noted when these children develop a general lack of orientation toward verbalization and their own names. These differences, however, are often not utilized in evaluation of development and assessment for autism in individual children because most parents fail to recognize these communication difficulties until spoken language is more apparently delayed.

Within this same realm of communicative impairment, very young children with autism have also be distinguished in various studies from typically developing controls on the basis of response to name calling.

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Early Detection of Autism in Infants and Toddlers (Part 2)

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Problems Associated with the Reliability of Parental Report of Early Symptoms

Due to the fact that parents spend the most time with their young children, both mother and father are considered to be in the best position logically to provide historical background information pertaining to developmental delays, skill regression, patterns of behavior, and behavioral difficulties shown by their children with suspected autism. Despite this remark, Goin & Myers determined that parent and family caregivers, as the most intimate observers of their own children, can deviate from objectivity in their recall of behaviors (2004). Moreover, due to the fact that twenty to forty percent of parents report a normal developmental course for their child up until an observed regression point, the examination of extremely early symptoms of infants later diagnosed with autism becomes limited to a smaller percent who have experienced consistently slow developmental milestones (Volkmar et al. 2005). Less frequently, evidence of autistic symptoms may be apparent in children under the age of three, and thus, compiled in data to determine the earliest diagnostic criteria, but these behaviors may become less obvious as the child matures. Finally, due to the fact that seventy-five percent of children with autism are mentally retarded, it is possible that the symptoms parents report in infants with autism are more so related to mental retardation and not at all autism specifically (Osterling et al. 2002). These weaknesses in terms of the reliability of parental report necessitate further investigation before an exact definition of autism can be developed in very early infants.

Overview of Early Symptomology as Assessed by Experienced Clinicians

Parents are often asked to participate in the systematic study of their children’s autistic behaviors by experienced researchers, even when direct observational reports are not requested in the form of parental interview as were described previously. With the technological revolution in the past decades in the United States, video cameras have become increasing accessible to families across the nation, and therefore, many parents inadvertently provide detailed documentation of their child’s development which can be utilized in research. According to Baranek in 1999, “retrospective video analysis has shown success as an ecologically valid methodological tool for earlier identification of children with various psychopathologies,” (220), and consequently can provide significant reliability and validity to parental report of behaviors.

Such is the case in an experiment conducted by Volkmar et al. (2005) where age-matched infants with autism were compared to typically developing infants, and differences in visual attention to social stimuli, smile frequency, vocalization, and object exploration engagement were examined. At twenty months of age, behaviors in facial expression, use of conventional gesture, and pointing to indicate interest were distinguishing criteria. In a follow-up retrospective video analysis between twelve and fifteen months later, groups were identified by social activities such as seeking shared enjoyment, social reciprocity, use of another person as a tool, interest in other children, and in communicative tasks, (e. g. attending to voice, pointing, using and understanding gesture). A similar study determined that by the age of three, finger mannerisms, attention to voice, pointing, and the use of other person’s body were able to correctly classify all subjects recruited in the experiment as either autistic or typically developing by examining videotaped interactions of young infants (Cox, Charman, Baron-Cohen, Drew, Klein, Baird, Swettenham, & Wheelwright, 1999). When first birthday party video tapes were viewed by Osterling & Dawson, a significant main effect of the diagnostic group was found for the category of social behavior, including looking at the face of another, seeking contact, imitating, and for the category of joint attention behaviors, pointing vague pointing, showing, as well, but not for the category of communicative behaviors of following directions and babbling (1994). In these videos, it was determined that the autistic subjects showed significantly more abnormal systems such as ear covering and self-stimulation, and as a result, ninety-one percent of all cases were correctly identified, providing solid evidence that professionals should thoroughly evaluate infantile use of eye contact, joint attention behaviors, and orientating to speech when determining appropriate diagnostic measures. Baranek found similar results when comparing infants with mentally retarded participants, in that those with autism exhibited poor visual attention, required more prompts to respond to their name, excessively mouthed objects, and more frequently showed aversion to social touch (1999). Furthermore, in a study aimed to characterize infants with autism spectrum disorders under the age of one, five behavior abnormalities were documented through retrospective video analysis which included poor social attention, lack of social smiling and appropriate facial expressions, hypotonia, and unstable attention (Werner, Dawson, Osterling, & Dinno, (2000).

Neurological Abnormalities as Diagnostic Criteria

To evaluate the significance of the previously reported behavioral characteristics found in various research studies, one must examine the neurological abnormalities occurring in the brains of those with autism. In determining the rationale for each observed behavior, it is important to establish that many core deficit behaviors can be linked to underlying neurological problems, whereas “secondary manifestations may be a product of an individual’s approach to coping with the disorder or other disorders that may coexist,” (Young et al. 2003), such as an intellectual disability. The cerebellum, medial temporal structures, and prefrontal cortex have been recognized as possible core regions of abnormality in autism spectrum disorders (Dawson, Meltzoff, Osterling, & Rinaldi, 1998), and perhaps the imaging process of an fMRI, MRI, or CT scan of the brain during infancy could diagnose children very early before symptoms appear, as brain differences would most likely precede observed behaviors. Further evidence supporting the notion that the medial temporal lobe of an individual’s brain is a primary player in the manifestation of autistic symptoms is found when lesions are made in the hippocampus and amygdala early in the development of monkeys.

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