Letters: Autistic children

Hope for the autistic lies in research, not celebrity endorsements
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The Independent Online

Sir: We, parents of autistic children, wish to repudiate the National Autistic Society and its claim to speak for us and our autistic children. In particular, we demand the withdrawal of the latest leaflet ("Think Differently about Autism") calling for public understanding of autism, complete with a website of supportive celebs.

Hope for people with autism does not lie in celebrity endorsement and a pretence that autism is normal but in the torrent of medical research pouring out of the United States. A model of autism as a genetic predisposition combined with precipitating environmental damages is being developed in the US, with new discoveries almost weekly. These developments offer real hope for those affected by autism.

What is the contribution of the NAS at this exciting time? The only contribution is a leaflet with pictures of people who "choose not to speak" and a plea for public understanding. The public should know that the NAS is riven with feuding between those who believe autism is "normal" and those who believe it is a disability which should be treated.

The NAS has a research arm called Research Autism. It has a website. None of this US research gets a mention. People with autism are sometimes said jokingly to be on another planet. It must be the one where the NAS is a well-informed, authoritative campaigning organisation and a powerful voice for change

Sally Eva; Mandi Rodwell;

Caroline Traa

(director, Treating Autism )And 22 others, London SE15

Too many peopleon a finite planet

Sir: Dominic Lawson is making the only case that we really want to hear about human population in his article "A retort to the population freaks" (6 November): that it's up to us to have as many children as we feel we want. This appeals to our reproductive urges and our innate selfishness, but it's not compatible with the actual state of the world.

People have human rights, and those rights take fresh water, energy and food to satisfy. These are provided by a finite world, and while it's true that human ingenuity can increase Earth's capacity to carry its human cargo for a while, there are limits.

Farming, industry and cities already compete for limited fresh water; food supplies depend on fresh water that's already scarce in many places, and climate change driven by our energy use is spreading deserts.

Our efforts to meet our own needs and wants are displacing a million species a year from this planet, and the ecosystem damage involved is further savaging water, soils, food and climate.

All of this has sprung upon us within half a century, so there's been no time to adapt, to compensate, to invent new ways of living or organising ourselves.

It's irrelevant to have faith that population growth will ebb away as people become richer, since our collective wealth cannot continue to increase without fresh water, good soils and healthy ecosystems. Every new person imposes a lifetime's burden on the whole Earth, and at the margin of sustainability – where we now are – those burdens are eroding everyone's rights.

So, yes, people do have human rights, but they don't include the right to reproductive incontinence.

Julian Caldecott


Sir: Dominic Lawson is happy that the UK population will rise by around one fifth over the next 25 years to 71 million and thinks those who are concerned about continued population growth are freaks.

However, Britain's current share of global resource use is three times its share of the world population. As the third world catches up, we can't all have three times our share.

Lawson is wrong to think that decisions on how many children one has are a private matter that doesn't affect anyone else. We've learned, through CFCs, passive smoking and global warming, that what we do does affect others. This is nowhere more true than on this issue, and parents, more than most, want future generations to live in a world where the quality of life hasn't been degraded by resource depletion through our inaction today.

Simon Ross

London E18

Sir: Dominic Lawson is clearly right. The planet is infinite (that Apollo photo was clearly a freakish conspiracy); there is no connection between total CO2 emissions and the number of CO2 emitters (freakish coincidence); every child born in poor countries was wanted, so any new family planning clinic would stand empty (freakish UNFPA reports that a third of all pregnancies are unwanted notwithstanding); there are fewer poor people today than before the industrial revolution (only UN freaks claim there are now more than 2 billion people on less than £1 per day, and were less than 1 billion in total 200 years ago); non-freaks find it just as easy to feed 10 children as two on £1 per day; and of course all decent people, unlike the anti-humanist freaks, grieve as much for the non-existence of all the children they don't have as for the deaths of those they do.

Thank heavens someone is standing up to the freaks!

Roger Martin

Wells, Somerset

Sir: How gratifying to see Dominic Lawson referring to the fact that only 8 per cent of the land mass of this country is actually classified as built-up area. Anyone who walks for some hours across "the country", as I frequently do, knows perfectly well that, far from being overcrowded, most of it is completely empty (true even in counties like Hampshire in the ever desirable south).

Yet every time anyone proposes using some of this for house-building, the rural preservation groups throw the propaganda machine into top gear and we are all led to tremble in the fear that the countryside will somehow cease to exist, buried under a mass of concrete. It's high time we got over this self-serving baloney.

Ron Sonnet


Coroners in need of urgent reform

Sir: It is nothing short of disgraceful that the Government has been unable to find Parliamentary time in the coming session for a Coroners Bill.

I gave evidence as an expert GP for the prosecution at the trial of H F Shipman and I subsequently attended many of the Shipman Inquiry seminars on behalf of the British Medical Association (BMA), including those on death certification and the coronership. The inquiry report described the coronial system as hopelessly outdated, under-resourced and failing to meet the needs of bereaved people. These views were echoed in the report by Tom Luce for the Home Office. The BMA has been pressing for reform for almost 50 years.

The Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice between them issued five consultation papers during the summer on reform of death certification, cremation and the coronership. Some of the much-needed proposed reforms may be able to go ahead without primary legislation, but the reform of the coronership would have underpinned the rest. It seems that the Government's attitude is "What's another year's delay after all these decades of inaction?" This is hardly an indication of dynamic government.

Dr John Grenville

GP and Secretary of Derbyshire Local Medical Committee, Derby

English control over Scottish spending

Sir: The complaint that a Scottish MP can influence policy on such matters as university fees or prescription charges in the English constituencies, whereas English MPs have no such say over similar matters north of the border, is based only on a half-truth. English MPs do have an overall control on Scottish spending by way of the Westminster parliament's need to approve the annual block grant to Scotland.

If Scottish members at Westminster were denied the right to vote on "English only" issues, as Mr Rifkind demands, then logically one would need to withdraw the English MPs' rights to vote on that aspect of the Budget which concerns the Scottish block grant. Would the Conservatives therefore accept, as a corollary to the Rifkind proposals, an arrangement whereby the Scottish grant be approved by a "Scots Grand Committee" at Westminster composed only of MPs representing Scottish constituencies?

Chris Sexton

Crowthorne, Berkshire

How forests store greenhouse gas

Sir: Steve Connor's article "Forests losing the ability to absorb man-made carbon" (1 November) illustrates one of the most common misconceptions surrounding absorption of atmospheric carbon by trees: the misapprehension that forests are net absorbers of CO2.

A mature forest is incredibly useful to us as a store of carbon since any carbon that is fixed within the mass of a living tree is carbon that is not contributing to global warming. However, an existing forest can never help us in our plight unless it is spreading to cover more land. A mature forest (like a mature individual tree) is essentially "carbon neutral": it is absorbing only as much as it is releasing.

Unfortunately, there is not one significant area of mature forest on our planet that is increasing in size. We only get a net benefit when we plant new trees and thereby create new forest. We are in desperate need of more trees and the really sad thing is that this article will lead to fewer new trees being planted.

Ru Hartwell

Director, Treeflights.com, Tregaron, Ceredigion

Lawyers unite for our rights

Sir: The pictures of dark-suited, balding and rotund lawyers taking to the streets and being arrested in Islamabad and Lahore in order to defend their constitution and democracy were as surprising as they were inspiring.

In his article "Endless new criminal laws that lead to Injustice" (31 October), Robert Verkaik highlighted that in the last 10 years Labour has created more than 3,000 new criminal offences and has introduced more than 50 Bills, including 24 criminal justice measures. The law is now so complex that in the case reported three Appeal Court Judges could not untangle the law to work out whether or not the defendant was guilty.

If this is happening in the Court of Appeal, how many more injustices are occurring in the lower courts? We wait to see if the corporate and commercial lawyers in the City will follow their Pakistani colleagues and take to the streets to defend the fundamental freedoms and human rights of their fellow citizens.

Alison Harvey

London W13

Fine on the police punishes taxpayers

Sir: The posturing of both Labour and Conservative politicians over whether Sir Ian Blair should resign or not are providing a smoke screen for a more important issue.

The Metropolitan Police has been found guilty of breaching health and safety rules and has been fined. The police force countrywide is funded by council tax, which means that the court costs and the fine will be paid out of the police allocation from council tax. So who is paying for the police mistakes? Residents of London.

I suggest that Sir Ian Blair, instead of resigning, finds out which officers were most to blame and ensures that they contribute on a monthly basis to paying off the fine and court costs. Starting with himself.

Gail Coleshill

Radstock, Somerset

Sanity returning to property market

Sir: In a recent issue of the local property newspaper signs of some sanity and stability returning to the property market were highlighted. First, the prices of several properties are described as "new price", that is a reduction in the former asking price. Second, some properties have "or near offer" instead of "offers based upon" besides the asking price.

I remember the time when one rarely paid the asking price for a house or flat, but made a lower offer. This was sometimes accepted, or else one struck an agreement somewhere in the middle. Let us hope that gazumping will now disappear, as well as paying an exaggerated price.

J Michael Walpole



Pertinent clues

Sir: In your edition of 5 November (bonfire night), the theme of the cryptic crossword was fireworks. In your edition of 6 November (the Queen's Speech announces the intentions of the government over the next Parliament), the theme of the cryptic crossword was lies. Comment or coincidence?

Richard MacAndrew

Reading, Berkshire

'Spoilsport' hits back

Sir: Perhaps Deborah Orr ("Don't let these grumpy spoilsports ruin our ancient rituals of Halloween", 3 November), would have cared to visit my house the day after Halloween. I'm sure she would have been delighted to clean up the mess left by a couple of little darlings who decided to use my windows as a target for practising their egg-hurling skills. Not one of the individuals who banged on my door (and there were several) could be remotely described as being "lavishly costumed and made up" and still less accompanied by a doting Mummy or Daddy.

Frances Hall

Macclesfield, Cheshire

Trust our vote

Sir: The main argument against having a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty is that it is too complicated for voters to understand. The issue is in fact a very simple one. The choice is between having a national government or having a federal EU government. If the government believes that this choice is too complicated for voters then we are heading down a very dangerous road. If Harold Wilson's Labour government could trust the voters during the 1975 referendum, then surely Gordon Brown should be able to trust the voters with a referendum now.

Steve Halden

Swindon, Wiltshire

Crescendo explained

Sir: Having long resigned myself to the knowledge that I would never write a great novel, compose a symphony or fly to the moon, I have one small, pathetic, pedantic ambition left: to educate the world to the understanding that "crescendo" means a gradual increase. Not as in the headline, "Operatic feud over Wagner's rightful heir reaches crescendo after 10 years" (7 November). It should have read, "There has been a 10 year crescendo that has now reached a climax".

Richard Charnley

LEAMINGTON SPA, Warwickshire

Old school motto

Sir: Gordon Brown might like the motto of my old school (Cheltenham) – "Labor Omnia Vincit".

Jon Hawgood