Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Review: The Best Kind of Different

The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome, by Shonda Schilling (with an introduction written by Curt Schilling).

As the title says, this is a "my family and autism" story.  What the title doesn't clue you into is that this is a "sports star dad" story, similar to Not My Boy!  I'm never quite sure, reading these kinds of books, whether to envy or pity the autistic child in question.  Because yes, the child never needs to worry about food or shelter or schooling or medical treatment being unavailable.  But the thing about professional sports is that they basically eat your life for months out of the year.  This book, written by the wife of the sports star (Curt Shilling, for anyone not familiar, pitched for the Boston Red Sox), gives a better picture of exactly how out-of-the-picture the dad can be. 

It's honestly to the point where the home in question is all but a one-parent home for most of the year.  That's brutal for the remaining parent, and also bad for the kids.  On top of that, though, professional sports players tend to move around a lot.  I don't think I've detailed exactly how detrimental it was to my social life and connections when my parents moved.  And naturally, given how the business world was, we moved three times during my childhood.  I didn't quite count up how many times this family moved, but even once destroys your social connections and automatically relegates you to "permanent outsider" in the school pecking order.  I made that work for me when I could, and suffered it when I couldn't.  I suffered far more than I benefited.

Perhaps a somewhat mitigating factor for this autistic kid was that he had siblings relatively close in age range.  He may not have been able to take his friends with him to his new schools, but at least he kept his siblings.  Siblings can support each other sometimes, since they go through the same things.  I lacked that when I was growing up, unfortunately.  It's not that my brother didn't care; he absolutely did.  It's that he was nearly six years older than me.  We had few common interests and even less shared perspective.  He could conceive of the future while I was still figuring out how to conceive of the past.  Also, he likes tactical games, and I have no patience or focus for those. 

At least my personal history and worst childhood moments aren't recorded in a book for thousands of strangers to read...  I recognize that the younger generations are more accustomed to having no privacy, their every moment documented with photos, blog posts, and tweets, and all of it traceable back years and years on the Internet... but I shudder to imagine that being the case for me.  Bad enough I had to live all those moments and remember some of them, far worse to have all of them on record so people can know all the trying and difficult things I've done in my life. 

My last thought on this book is that the narrative stops before the autistic kid hits his teenage years, on a happy-ish note.  Which is just adorable to me because that is naturally when things tend to go horribly trying again for a half decade or so.  It makes it a very incomplete story to me, and not at all the end of a "family journey" as the title puts it.  The only complete bit about it to me is that the dad finally retires from baseball and comes home to help with the kids, so the family is then complete. 

Just in time, as far as my experience tells me.  This book was published in 2010, so here's hoping the author and her spouse braved the trials of having four teenagers (one of which is autistic) with grace and patience.  I wasn't able to locate any further books regarding the family's status, beyond a brief article about one of the older brothers. 

Read This Book If

You'd like to read about how a household like this one (sports star dad, mom, four kids) can work out, or you're interested in this mother's particular mentality on the experience.  I personally think the narrative is weighted much more towards explaining the trials and hardships of the life than celebrating the positives espoused later in the book.  If you're a Schilling fan, this book may be for you, though. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Reading the Research: Consistency in Autistic Adults

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.

Today's article notes and replicates a trend in autistic adults regarding decision-making: Adults with autism make more consistent choices

The article describes how autistic people tend to be more detail-oriented, less context-sensitive, and also tend to be less influenceable when given psychologically "leading" multiple choices.  The specific methodology is described, but essentially, you can present a series of three products, and depending on their placement and details, influence people to choose one over the other.  

The authors suggest their results may indicate a certain tone-deafness (my words) to marketing gimmicks and tricks.  Speaking from personal experience, I tend to notice and resent those marketing tricks and gimmicks, but I always assumed that was my degree in psychology, rather than any particular effect of my autism.

I do think I tend to be more consistent in my choices than many people, but that's often presented as a bad thing, not a good one.  It can indicate a certain inflexibility of thinking, and while I'm prone to that, I do try to mitigate it.  I try new foods.  I eat foods I know I hate when visiting other people for politeness' sake.  I make efforts to interact neurotypically with neurotypical people.

The last thing about this article I wanted to note was the apparent re-branding of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) into ASC (Autism Spectrum Conditions).  This is... interesting to me, and most likely driven by the neurodiversity movement and increased communication between researchers and proponents of that movement.  I wouldn't expect a re-printing of the DSM (psychology's manual of diagnoses) anytime soon, but it's promising to see things like this slip into research.  Hopefully, it's a sign of progress, and viewing autistic people as more than simply a diagnosis. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 7/25/17

Woo, I survived!  And without going to jail for strangling anyone.  Truly, a red-letter day.  Maybe even a red-letter week?  We'll see how the rest of it goes. 


The thing I'm celebrating is surviving the latest Self Advocates of Michigan board meeting.  While many of the board meetings are virtual, and only a couple hours long, the in-person meetings, like this one, tend towards full days.  This particular meeting opted to be a day and a half, meaning I had to drive down to Lansing in the evening, sit through 4-5 hours of meeting, sleep restlessly in a hotel room, and then get up bright and early for another 8+ hours of meeting.  In addition to all that, I was starting to get sick. 

That evening actually started the meeting out very poorly, as I was in a bad mood going in, and was then required to sit still while needing to be positive, awake, and intelligible.  In terms of Spoon Theory, I was borrowing spoons from the ether, pretty much from the start.  After the actual meeting concluded, people naturally (unnaturally to me, I just wanted to crawl into bed) opted to be social.  So I spent a small amount of time doing that, but I also needed to help the support staff register the domains for the website.  After doing that, I'd promised someone to help them with their email, which they said was buggy or something.  And it was one of our new board members, who I wanted to make feel welcome and included, and specifically, it was the board member I'd opted to mentor.  So, much as I really wanted to just curl up in bed, I went and helped them sort out the email thing. 

Only after all that was done was I able to go to my hotel room, close the curtains, and try to wind down for the night.  As is my tendency when I dread the next morning, I stayed up about 45 minutes longer than I should've. 

Fortunately, the next morning wasn't nearly as bad as the evening before.  I didn't wake happy or anything trite like that, I woke up neutral, tending towards grumpy, and with the knowledge that I had a lot to do to be ready for the meeting.  So I packed up, moved things out to the car, ate breakfast, and got settled before the meeting actually re-began.  Taking care of myself helped, possibly, and I'd been pretty religious about taking the elderberry/zinc immune system boosters my doctor had recommended.  It's kind of interesting, actually.  You're supposed to take them every three hours, so I kept track of the time, but I was able to tell about when I needed to take the next one regardless.  My nose and throat would start to feel icky.

Beyond taking care of myself and the zinc boosters, I suspect it also helped that the meeting almost proceeded on schedule.  In past times, the agenda items would be handled all out of order, and people wouldn't stop talking, and everyone got off on tangents, until I basically wanted to start throttling people.  There was still some tangents and people-that-won't-shut-up, but in the end, the meeting only ran over a bit, as opposed to hours.  So I guess this won't be the month that the word "meeting" starts me foaming at the mouth.  Always next month, I guess.

Hair Improvements

In other news, I got my hair re-cut, or whatever the correct word for that is.  It was supposed to be just maintenance, since short hair gets shaggy and grows quickly.  But on closer inspection, Aynsley opted to change the style into something even easier to maintain.  I now barely need to touch a comb to my scalp in the morning, which is completely amazing.  It is very short now, and can be styled in about four basic ways.  My head seems to prefer one in particular, so I've been letting it do that.  I think it looks decent.  People more fashion-savvy than me think it looks good.  It's less work than either of the two previous hairstyles.  I'm going to say that my stylist-person is awesome, and everyone is winning here. 

Another cool thing that happened during that appointment was a free scalp treatment for my dusty head.  I get these haircuts and such done at a school for beauty, so the students invariably end up throwing in free "etc." into your haircut for practice.  For instance, I've gotten a hand massage all three times I've been there, and a scalp massage nearly as often.  This visit, I asked after something I'd heard mentioned in conjunction with my hair-dust problem, and they opted to try it on me.  It's... basically a specialized scalp massage, using a special brush, and then a special shampoo and a scalp treatment afterwards. 

It's not that I have dandruff, precisely, since there aren't giant skin flakes, I don't ever have "snow-capped shoulders," and I haven't needed a special shampoo.  My head just seems to produce a lot of tiny dust motes and lint, which then sit in my hair and get into my combs and brushes.  It's been an irritant to me for years.  I can definitely say their treatment has helped, at least temporarily.  I bought and took home one of the special brushes.  Instead of bristles for straightening your hair, it has loops so the hair isn't really involved and you can just focus on the scalp itself.  I've been using it every time my scalp itches, and in the shower to help with the scrubbing.  I'm hoping that with regular use, I can say goodbye to the problem entirely. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: The Prodigy's Cousin

The Prodigy's Cousin: The Family Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Talent, by Joanne Ruthsatz and Kimberly Stephens.

Somewhat of a departure from my usual fare, but definitely an interesting read, this book explores the idea that child prodigies and autism are linked, and perhaps even two facets of the same phenomenon.  The focus of the book is very much on the child prodigies, rather than also interviewing autistic individuals with special interests (or "enthusiasms" if you prefer).  But that's the initial bridge between autism and prodigies: the single-minded focus on a subject that allows them to excel.  In autism, that's specifically called a special interest, and I hear parents consider it as much a hindrance as they do a help.  In prodigies, that's their gift, and it's viewed much more positively.

The book's focus makes their group of study very, very small.  There aren't that many known child prodigies.  In fact, this book follows only 11.  I say "only," because while that's a lot of people for a single book, it's a pitifully small sample size for any kind of scientific experiment or study.  The authors don't deny this, pointing it out themselves several times.

They systematically investigate their claim, using the information they have at hand.  This includes facing down the notion that autistic people are devoid of empathy.  Gentle reader, I hope you're rolling your eyes with me about this theory.  But if you're not, and my blog hasn't made it abundantly clear...  I have empathy.  I have a lot of it.  I have theory of mind, and it annoys the tar out of me when people look at me like I'm a broken and potentially dangerous subhuman creature.  Sometimes, it really begs the question of who should be investigated for lack of empathy...

My kvetching aside, these authors push the Intense World theory, or the theory that autistic people do not lack empathy, but instead have too much of it, and other senses.  The world is too loud, too bright, too fast, and overwhelmingly emotional, hence "Intense World."  Some of this can be blamed on sensory processing disorders... but I also read somewhere that outcasts and people who don't fit in very well tend to have more empathy than people that do fit in.  And that can make other peoples' emotions overwhelming.  You'd want to hide in your room all day too, if you had to suffer your emotions on 100x magnification and others' emotions too.

The Intense World theory, then, hypothesizes that autistic people are overwhelmed by all the light and sound and emotional fury, and to stay sane and regulated, we withdraw from life and shut down.  I find this highly accurate.  While I'm partly shielded by my incredible lack of visual processing efficiency, I find others' emotions very trying and difficult, never mind my own.

An example would be a funeral I went to relatively recently.  It was for Chris' grandmother, a lady I'd met perhaps five times in the entirety of my life.  She was very gracious to me and gave me a very nice pair of slipper-socks, and she liked tea.  And that sentence describes pretty much everything I knew about her going into that funeral.  So not exactly a strong emotional connection.  I went to the funeral to support Chris, and especially his mother and the family.  It was a nice service, which I spent sitting quietly and listening to the proceedings... until the Family Remembrances section came up.  Most of her surviving children had a turn at the microphone, and while only one of them was having to talk through tears the entire time, I basically just sat there and sprouted tears and boogers because of all the pain I was hearing.  I literally cried my way through all but maybe 5 minutes of the family remembrances section.

I was, suffice it to say, mortified.  Other than the people speaking at the microphone and the daughter closest to the deceased grandmother, no one near me was crying very hard.  Except me.  I commented later, sheepishly, that sometimes having autism is like having no skin.  I have no real ability to shut out or filter other peoples' pain in situations like that, so I just suffer and feel awkward and bad while I do it.  But sure, people, you go ahead and believe I don't have empathy.

Speaking of me being crabbity, this book also kind of grumped me out.  I've not seen the statistics, but a percentage of people on the autism spectrum do not have a special interest or drive to master a particular subject.  I am one of those people.  I have skills and talents, yes, but nothing singular that I truly excel at.  In this age of uncertainty, where people can and do search for years for a job they can enjoy and make living with... it's envy-inducing to know that people like me discover a true and abiding calling in their lives.  At least at the time, they seem to have few doubts about the trueness of that calling, and if they're young enough, the unusualness of it is enough to bring the money and publicity out of the woodwork.  And in all prodigy stories listed here, that was very much the case.

The rest of us, myself included, have no such luck and have to find what things we like and can tolerate slowly, painfully, and sometimes even unsuccessfully.  The idea that I might've been a few genes off from early artistic greatness, or scientific excellence, or something similar, and not have had to spend a decade or more trying to figure out what I'm good at and like doing... is really frustrating.

My last side comment on this book is in reference to another oddity of prodigy children, and a supposed difference between them and autistic people.  The book terms it "the mystery of prodigy benevolence," referring to the tendency of child prodigies to work on the behalf of others, even non-family, using their talents and networking capabilities.

I don't find this phenomenon particularly mysterious.  Child prodigies are children.  They've found something they truly love doing, which is then, in these stories, supported and praised by their families and those they love.  When money and praise starts rolling in, they're still kids.  They haven't necessarily been introduced to the fear-frenzied demon called greed, and their own needs are satisfied.  So why not help others?  It seems simple enough to me.

Someone once said: the grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.  They have something to do (their fields of study), something to love (their families, friends, their work), and something to hope for (advancement in their field of study, the ability to meet more people, growing up, etc).  Is it really so surprising to people that these children display such benevolence?

Anyway, in the end, the book doesn't make a definitive link between autism and child prodigies.  It does paint a compelling picture, though, and if the 42 page long list of references is anything to go by, a reasonably well-cited one.  If nothing else, it's an interesting take on autism and its potential benefits.

Read This Book If

You have an interest in child prodigies, or want to read an interesting theory regarding them.  This book is well written and engaging, but is definitely not a self-help book or a cookbook for making your child a prodigy.  Rather, it's a set of slice-of-life stories woven together with scientific research and theory regarding the subject. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reading the Research: Translating Sarcasm

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations. 

Today's article details an achievement in translating social language, specifically sarcasm, into "plainspeak" as I'd call it.  System detects, translates sarcasm on social media

This is notable, according to the article, in the main because it's the first system to directly translate, rather than simply mark or note when a sentence is sarcastic.  So it would translate something being "the best" sarcastically into "the worst" unsarcastically, leaving the rest of the sentence untouched.  This is promising, but also somewhat worrisome to me. 

It's promising, because it's a possible starting point for autistic people to learn sarcasm.  Getting a start on flipping that mental switch from one extreme to the other can be difficult for people who automatically take things literally.  But it's worrisome, because it does not, in fact, allow for any learning possibilities. 

I do not recall precisely how my first real friend, a British citizen, tutored me in sarcasm.  I suspect it was probably more via excessive amounts of examples than actual direct teaching, but whatever the method, I am now quite fluent in speaking and translating it (unless I don't know the speaker at all). 

If I had been equipped with this translation technology, it would merely have translated every sarcastic sentence he typed, leaving me entirely unaware that he was being sarcastic at all.  At which point, I would never have learned this particular style of communication and would been poorly equipped to handle the real world, where sarcasm is readily and often used in verbal communication. 

I recognize that not everyone can simply pick up sarcasm via repeated exposure, but it worries me that there isn't even the possibility of learning with this technology.  I would favor an increasing difficulty model, starting with a direct translation like this provides.  After that, you could move to marking the sarcastic sentence, perhaps side-by-side with the original sentence, and then simply marking the sarcasm and letting the autistic person do their own "inversion of meaning" and try to understand it without help.  Eventually, you could leave off the sarcastic markers and hopefully people like me could simply get along by ourselves. 

Unrelatedly, the article calls the translated sarcastic sentences "honest" sentences.  I hope that's a translation eccentricity, because I rather resent the implication that I'm being dishonest by being sarcastic.  When I say things sarcastically, I do not intend to mislead people, but instead express my sentiments in a humorous, boomerang-like fashion.  So I hope the translation for the non-sarcastic sentences could also be "direct." 

It occurred to me, as I was reading the article, that this technology is still very much a proof-of-concept.  Their system would not, for instance, pick up my sarcastic use of the word "charming" to describe behaviors in people that are distinctively anything but charming.  For instance, any rendition of archaic viewpoints on women, including the irksome "make me a sandwich" or any reference to women being confined to the kitchen or being silent, tends to elicit that particular comment.  Particularly if I don't feel comfortable calling the person on their offensively repressive crap.  This translation system would miss that, as it seems to focus on superlatives like "best" "worst" "awesome" "awful" etc. 

Lastly, the article comments that this translation technology could be useful for communicating with computers.  I find this quite appropriate, since computers presently lack a sense of humor and the ability to take things figuratively.  That may change in the future, but for the time being it seems wise to research such applications for tech. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 7/18/17

Well.  I feel like shredded lettuce.  I think I've been overextending my multitasking abilities too much... 

This week I'm cat-sitting for some friends of mine, again.  They call on me sometimes and since I have no pets of my own, it's always nice to visit, even if one of the cats almost invariably hides in the basement when anyone comes, goes, or moves more than 10 feet.  The other is more aloof and less terrified, but yesterday she spent an hour or so flopped on my stomach while I tried to read a book.  She doesn't generally purr when she's petted, but she'd leave if she was annoyed, and she was warm, so I let her flop. 

In other news, I was supposed to have a dentist appointment, but apparently my health insurance changed dental providers, and so I can no longer even attempt to use Medicaid at my dentist's office.  So I guess it's probably time to finalize getting myself kicked off Medicaid and get onto my spouse's insurance from work.  I hate paperwork and insurance and fiddly bits like the plague, which is part of why this has taken so long.  But ugh.  I strongly believe in preventative care, and unfortunately this counts. 

In happier news, I get to see Aynsley, the student who cut and dyed my hair, again later today.  Apparently the haircut I have requires maintenance every 4 weeks or so, so it's now time to get it trimmed so it's not shaggy.  At this point the color has faded somewhat, and I can see bits of my regular hair color at the roots of the hair, but I'm actually not due to re-dye my hair for another 4 weeks or so. 

In the meantime, I was promised some kind of complimentary experimental scalp treatment, which might help with the fact that apparently my scalp produces dust at an alarming rate.  I do not have dandruff in the classical sense, but the sheer amount of skin bits, fuzzes, and oil that seems to build up strikes me as unusual.  It's to the point where, when I comb my hair after a shower, I get skin and oil combined on the comb even though I've carefully washed my hair.  I've noticed this tendency of my hair and scalp to produce dust, but it wasn't really obviously terrible until I chopped off most of my hair.  There's less scalp-fuzz to hide the evidence now. 

They'll probably try to sell me a bottle of shampoo at the salon, which I'm not thrilled about but might have to take them up on, in the interests of preserving the hair color and combating whatever's going on with my scalp.  But I'll run the problem by Aynsley first.  She's lovely, thoughtful, and doesn't immediately ram product sales down my throat when I explain my problems and limitations. 

Last but definitely not least, the clock is ticking on my membership with the Self Advocates of Michigan board.  I have not, thus far, seen anything but words on the issue of the website and people being responsible about solving those problems.  The in-person meeting is this weekend, and while I am not even slightly looking forward to it, it's probably where stuff will either get solved or shoved under the rug indefinitely.  If it's the latter, I'm fixing up their website as best I can, then handing the reins over to someone with more patience.  While I strongly believe I have a lot of skills to offer an organization like that, I will not do so forever if no one will work with me to solve problems.  I have my own life to manage, and I'll do so in a more limited range if that's what it takes to keep my sanity. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Article: Inside a Depressed Person's Head

Depression is a rather poorly understood phenomenon, even sometimes by those who suffer it regularly.  Most people's experience with depression is at the loss of a loved one.  That's a normal thing to be depressed about, but unlike major depression, it goes away simply with time.  Major depression is not so polite. 

I have, to my knowledge, suffered dysthymia for the majority of my life.  Which is also not major depression, it's a minor, long-lasting, greyness to the world.  It's why I get grumpy quickly.  It's why I'm often negative rather than positive.  It's something I'm trying to fight. 

However, I have also had an episode of major depression.  At least one, but only one I can easily see in retrospect was definitely major depression.  I was in college, and it was finals time in sophomore year.  The stress of so many projects (all of which seemed above and beyond me) combined with poor eating, combined with the uncertainty of the future and a sense of crushing loneliness (I'd recently broken up with my second boyfriend, who had then gotten together with his future wife).  All of this came together into a cognitive tempest of emotional pain.  Inside of it, everything was my fault, nothing was ever going to improve, and life was literally pain. 

Please understand that I was firmly convinced of those facts: everything was pain, and it was my fault.  Unlike many sufferers of depression, I had very little support.  But also unlike many sufferers of depression, I had also spent most of my memorable childhood either miserable, angry, sad, or highly focused.  So when my life became pain, it was simply a ramping up of what had already been. 

The golden sun shone warmly down upon the college campus, bringing out the deep emeralds of the carefully tended plants and brilliant shades of sapphire sky, and none of it touched me.  I like colors, but within the grey haze that my life had become, everything was merely theatrical scenery, flat, transitory, irrelevant.  I didn't notice that change, either.  I've never claimed to be particularly observant, but intense pain tends to make anyone's observational skills worse.

So I didn't recognize it at the time. despite literally studying it that very semester, and only long afterwards did I go, "oh, wait... everything isn't my fault, why did I think it was?  Was... was that major depression?"  Instead, I did what I've always done when my life is hard and miserable.  I put my head down and kept plugging along, one step at a time.  As far as I understood, I had no other alternatives. (Suicide didn't really occur to me, I guess.)

Like all finals seasons, it eventually ended.  I can't honestly remember if I kept that fact in mind, that the finals would end, and it helped, or if I lost track of it entirely in the slew of due dates and projects...  but it did end.  I shipped myself and my stuff back home, and with the main source of the stress and pain over, recovered over the course of a couple weeks. 

Besides the points this article makes, I'd like to point out that depression is quite literally emotional and cognitive pain.  The brain handles pain differently than the rest of the body does, but it is still pain and cannot be fixed by simply "looking on the bright side" of things.  If this idea is new to you, please read the "Support for People with Depression" and "What Loved Ones Can Do" sections of this article very carefully, and commit it to memory. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reading the Research: Targeting the Gut to Treat Autism

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations. 

Today's research is less focused on the brain side of things, and more on the intestines: Treating Autism by Targeting the Gut

Why?  Well, as it turns out, the various organisms that live in your gut have a major impact on your mind, mood, and metabolism.  If you have a good balance of many kinds of bacteria, you'll feel good and function well.  If not, you'll function much more poorly.  This is particularly obvious in people on the autism spectrum, since we tend to be very sensitive to changes in diet and environment.  (Some people call autistic people "the canary in the coal mine" for this reason.)  However, the diversity of the gut bacteria in the whole US population has been declining since fast food and sugar became major parts of our diet. 

This study was apparently done in China, which makes me wonder what the researchers in the US are doing instead... but from my personal experience, the link is sound.  Eat better food, take good quality probiotics, and my gut will be healthy and my mind less stressed, anxious, and depressed.  At this very moment, I have two kinds of probiotics in my refrigerator, which I'm using to rehabilitate my gut.  Once I've managed that, I'll go back into more of a holding pattern, with one of each per week. 

While the article here suggests a direct link between changing the gut bacteria and sociability/social behavior in autism, I think that's a mite simplistic.  Most likely, restoring the gut bacteria to healthy levels and balances increases that person's energy and reduces the anxiety and depression, which then allows them to devote more energy to social pastimes and behaviors they wouldn't otherwise be able to manage.  While this can be reduced to "good gut bacteria = more sociability" I think it's important to know why that occurs, so if it doesn't, you know what things to try next.  Like, say, social skills training, or increasing personal agency and locus of control. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 7/11/17

I'm alone this week.  Or most of this week.  Chris generally comes home promptly after work, but this week he's on the other side of the state, attending a conference for work.  Like many conferences, this one goes for three days, during which all the attendees will be kept busy.  My work day isn't going to change much, but I do kind of wonder how well I'm going to manage the evenings.

I've got meetings with friends planned, and of course plenty of work and virtual "company."  Ever heard of people that like to have the TV on for the background noise?  It's kind of like that, apparently, for some of my friends and podcasts.  I personally don't think it's really the same, but there is a certain comfort in hearing other people talking.  Particularly if the subject they're talking about is pleasant, or at least funny.

I've been monitoring my behavior since Chris left, and I'm not overly pleased with the results thus far.  My diet has deteriorated, my productivity is down, I'm disregulated, and I'm spending lots of time doing "comfort" things rather than doing useful or important things.  I even managed to entirely forget an appointment yesterday, and now I'll have to call today to apologize and reschedule.  I'm setting a special alarm tomorrow to make darned sure I don't forget tomorrow's meetup with friends, and I shouldn't have to do that. 

Also, my metaphorical skin feels very thin at present.  Some of that is Chris not being here, but I suspect some of it is also due to the sheer amount of shredded sanity I'm experiencing, courtesy of my thoughtless neighbors.  I talked a bit last week about how I like fireworks, as a whole, and why.  I have since found out that I only like fireworks when I have voluntarily chosen to be near them.  In the weeks prior to the 4th, and even up to today, I've been subject to the sporadic, spontaneous whims of my neighbors and their extremely large supply of explosives and fireworks.

I tolerated it, somewhat, around the actual 4th, because fireworks and the 4th go together.  But each explosion made my heart stop, then restart with a huge jolt of adrenaline and the occasional comic flailing of limbs and distressed "meep" sound.  I've resisted the increasingly strong urge to call the police, as apparently my city has a noise ordinance that begins at 10pm... but only for fear of police brutality.  My neighbors are overwhelmingly non-white, and sometimes don't speak English that well.

Much as I absolutely despise any human being that thinks it's acceptable to throw explosives around at 1am when people work the next day, I didn't want the possibility of dead neighbors on my conscience.  Though admittedly, I keep telling myself that if they do it one more time, I will call the cops and be it on their own thoughtless heads whatever results.  Every firework and explosive they throw is an assault to my sanity and willpower.

At least the number of explosives seems to have tapered off lately...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Autism at Jury Duty

It's been more than a decade since I registered to vote, and only just recently has the country finally managed to call me to jury duty.  While my experience was a very short one, and I did not end up on a jury, I did manage to make some observations which I hope will be useful.

First, the experience was very disruptive to my schedule.  I was required to present myself before 7:45am, downtown at the courthouse.  This essentially required me to get up at 6am to beat the rush hour traffic.  This is much earlier than I am used to, and very unpleasant to boot.  I tried to mitigate the annoyance by laying out almost everything I needed beforehand: messenger bag, filled with snacks, books, water bottle with hydration aid, supplements, blanket, noise-canceling headphones, etc.  I stocked my tablet with episodes of the funny podcast I've been listening to, and made sure I had several time-waster phone games installed.  I then drove downtown, where the process of getting there was made smoother by their accommodations for all jurors, which included free parking and a free bus ride to near the courthouse.  Unfortunately, I hate city driving and I was completely unfamiliar with the bus line.

With the help of another potential juror I met near the parking lot, I was able to get to the courthouse, where they promptly started me through security.  I had to leave part of my keychain with security, unfortunately, as it had a multitool with an inch-long blade on it.  I... honestly think I'd have a lot of trouble hurting anyone with that, but I guess rules are rules.  I had to pick it up on the way out, and the fuss kind of upset me.  But I tried not the show it, because this day was going to be long enough without me crying at the door...

Once through security, I was directed toward the juror waiting room, which was an off-white, somewhat dilapidated affair with hundreds of chairs, a few side tables, a projector screen, and dozens of humming fluorescent lights.  (Exactly the kind of light that drives some autistic people to distraction and causes migraines, oh joy...)  Other than the side tables, the room could have passed for a lecture hall in school.  Prior to walking in, I was directed to check in and compete a survey by a polite but warm staffer.  She would turn out to be our general guide and information source.

I committed some civil disobedience with the survey.  It asked for my zip code and my gender.  I was fine giving them my zip code, but they only had two boxes for my gender, and I identify as neither, thanks.  More importantly than my personal preferences, though, this was an opportunity to stand up for a minority group.  So I wrote my own box on the survey, checked it, and identified it as "Third Gender."  It would perhaps have been most correct to write "Neither" or "Other" in my case, but as there are so many gender identities, I opted for the most easily understandable objection.

(For any confused parties, there is a huge difference between sex (one's physical parts) and gender (one's identity).  While my sex is female, as I have breasts and other female organs, my gender is "agender."  Effectively, I would like you to take all your stereotypes about male and female and keep them far away from me, thanks.  I am myself, the concepts and stereotypes of "female" and "male" shouldn't enter into it.  Generally I just handwave this fact and concept, but in such a staple part of our country's judicial system, I felt it best to stand up for other trans and third-gender people.  What's the government going to do anyway, waggle a disapproving finger at me?  Insist I take it again?)

After turning in the survey, I snagged one of the side-table seats near an electrical outlet, figuring I'd be happiest if I could make disgusted expressions and smiles at the wall, and not annoy or confuse any other jurors.  I could also thusly limit my visual input, which would help increase how long I could stand being in a room with hundreds of other people.  Unfortunately, this seat was also near a wall, so I got to experience how poor the soundproofing of the room was.  I kept hearing thuds, bangs, and possibly someone hammering in a nail somewhere.  Out came the noise-canceling headphones, which helped somewhat.  They helped even more as people filtered in and the noise level increased.

This was alongside much more patriotic things, like an explanation of the great seal, and a story about a Supreme Court justice going to jury duty. 

The room, as I mentioned, contained a projector screen.  Onto this was projected a looping slideshow, which contained a number of useful pieces of information, most notably the bathroom locations, the options at the kitchenette, the location of a snack shop, and the wifi password.  I snagged pictures of the wifi password, because this was a very slow slideshow.  At least 15 seconds passed in between slide transitions, maybe as much as half a minute.  And there were many, many slides.

Starting with this one. 

While some of the potential jurors (probably the more awake ones, thinking about it), clustered together to chat with all these strangers, many others, perhaps excessively tired, simply spaced themselves slightly apart and got out their phones and books and such.  I was somewhat surprised by how uncommunicative many of them were, but I guess being woken up early for a job you don't want to do might have something to do with that.

The official court business referred to people by their numbers, not their names.  At number 117, I'd assumed I'd be one of the last people called for attendance, but I was very wrong.  All told, the numbers went up to 450, each person raising their hand and saying "Here" loudly when called.  In some cases there were discrepancies, with multiple people having the same number due to scheduling conflicts.  And in quite a few cases, people simply missed their number called, and responded promptly when their name was called.

After attendance finished, there was a video for jury orientation.  It started off very well, by threatening the choir instead of preaching to them.  Apparently you can be jailed or fined for not showing up to jury duty.  The rest of the video was basically a crash course in the judicial system.  The video guide person was of African American heritage, which I appreciated.  I was also amused to note that apparently some courtrooms use TV screens to help the jurors see evidence, and the deliberation room may include a microwave for convenience.  Also, "enpaneled" is a word, apparently.

After the movie, I started getting really cold.  It's July, it's hot outside, but this room started to resemble a refrigerator after a couple hours.  I got out the blanket I'd brought and wrapped it around my legs, and that helped some.  Our guide told us that there were two judges in attendance, each with a relatively short load of cases.  Most cases are settled outside of court, so jurors aren't always (usually not) needed.  After an hour or so, the guide-staffer informed us that one of the judges had gotten through his queue without needing a jury, and she would keep us posted on the other.

Less than 15 minutes later, she returned to tell us that the other judge had also cleared his queue without the need for a jury, so we were clear to leave for the day, and did not need to report back tomorrow or any other time in the week.  So basically, I got very lucky.  I was able to go home within 5 hours and get started on my routine for the day. 

While I do not particularly look forward to this happening again, I also wasn't overly worried I would be drafted for an actual jury, either then or in the future.  The reason for this is my bachelor's degree in psychology. Apparently the general trend is to choose jurors with less education, and especially ones without any background in law and psychology.  "The better to influence you with, my dear," I guess.  My father has told me this, but so did the section on the court system in my classes.  I think that knowledge helped me be less stressed about the experience as a whole.  That, and if the poor suckers did choose me for a jury, I have the knowledge to avoid falling for some of their tricks, and the fluency to explain those tricks to my fellow jurors.  I wouldn't mind being on a jury so much, but it was a fairly stressful experience overall, and one I'm not eager to repeat.

My general takeaways from the experience:
  • Definitely prepare ahead of time like this time, and pack a second blanket in my bag.
  • 10+ 45 minute podcasts to listen to is not enough if jury duty is going to involve actual juries, bring more next time.
  • The court system is surprisingly civil to people that aren't accused of crimes.
  • Leave the multitool at home next time.
  • Jury duty is super boring when it's not being super stressful, and not autistic-friendly in the slightest.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Reading the Research: Predicting Treatment Effectiveness in Autistic Adults

Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations. 

Predicting treatment effectiveness for adults with autism

Seems a lot of studies involving autistic adults use the MRI machine these days...  Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the cost of using such a machine, this study had only 17 participants.  That's a pitifully small number for research, but perhaps if this line of research is promising, a larger study can be funded.  I don't know the exact process of getting your research funded, but I do know it's annoying and full of red tape and rejection letters.

This study is notable because it may well be the beginning of the future of choosing therapy and treatments for autism.  The researchers noted specific differences in the brain that predicted how well they'd learn a particular social training program.  Effectively, the more brain activation in language processing and non-verbal social cues, the better they were able to learn emotional recognition, theory of mind, and other social skills.  My guess is that this parses out to: the more you recognize social behavior for what it is, the better you can learn social skills.

I should note here that a lot of what science ends up researching can and will trigger a "well duuuuhhh" response from autistics and parents in the know.  While science does sometimes discover things that people do not know, more often it establishes a scientific basis for facts at least a few people take for granted.  We need that basis, unfortunately, to build up to more directly useful research.  That's how science works.  It's sometimes very slow and frustrating, but it's how we advance and improve.

In regards to my personal experience... I suspect, had I been chucked in one of those brain scanners, that my particular brain would have been in the middle of the pack.  I suspect this in retrospect, since... I basically spent my childhood doing an extended (and very much slower) version of social skills training, but I had to force myself to learn all of it and it didn't come naturally to me.  I think if you'd asked me in middle school (and I somehow didn't angrily snap at you), I would have likely said that whatever it was people were busily doing, it was none of my concern.  The fact that I'm biologically female may have given me an edge, but the fact that my visual detail processing is in the lowest 5% of the population nixed that edge, and possibly stunted my efforts for a while.  You can't pay attention to a visual behavior you don't see, after all...

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Legwork and Life, week of 7/4/17

Happy Independence Day, USA.  (Happy perfectly normal Tuesday, rest of the world.)  I went to see fireworks downtown with some friends and couple days ago,  which was fun. For once, I even got to play taxi with my minivan, shipping all six of us downtown with one car.  We got a very close parking space, which unfortunately meant deadlocked traffic afterwards, but the view from the park was pretty good.

I like fireworks, perhaps surprisingly given their loudness and brightness.  I wore earplugs to the event, which I'm sure helped, and of course the colors are pretty. But also, philosophically, fireworks are basically the best possible use of gunpowder, in my opinion. Still dangerous, as any explosive must be, but the purpose of fireworks is to be pretty. Not deadly, not destructive, not intimidating. Pretty. I approve of that. Taking something lethal and making it beautiful (and relatively safe) is something wonderful, in my opinion.

I have mixed feelings about the 4th as a holiday right now, probably due to extreme disillusionment with our national  government...  at least Chris has the day off.  And me too, they can't call me back to serve for jury duty on a national holiday. Because yeah, it finally happened. They finally drew my name for jury duty.  It only took over a decade.

I documented my experience serving, which you can read about later this week.  It'll even come with pictures!

I continue to fiddle with dosages of the medical hydration stuff.  According to my doctor, it's healthy to need to pee 6 times a day or so, which is annoying to me because I'm used to only going 1-2 times a day. Apparently I've been being mean to my kidneys.  Oops.  No matter how much I dilute the hydration aid, I seem to be thirsty after drinking it. That's uncomfortable and not ideal, so I may go back to drinking it alongside a huge glass of water. 

Beyond that, I guess it's been a pretty quiet week.  Which is nice, because quiet is pleasant and enjoyable.  I can't remember the last time I complained about being bored when I had access to the Internet/books/work to do.