Monday, August 13, 2018

Reading the Research: Social Rewards

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 posits a reason why autistic people may sometimes be less social overall than neurotypical people.  Humans, as you may be aware, are tribal creatures.  Generally speaking, we're happier with some social interaction in our lives.  That's actually the point of small talk, I theorize: it's not really about the weather (or sports, or whatever), it's about feeling connected to other people. 

Well, so these particular brain scans, done at Stanford, suggest that part of the reason these types of social interaction are rewarding... doesn't apply as much to autistic people.  Inside the brain, there's a particular brain pathway that activates when the person engages in social situations.  This makes the interaction rewarding, even if the specific content of the interaction is neutral. Autistic brains, apparently, don't react the same ways as neurotypical brains... and don't light up as much. 

This suggests the inherent reward for being social is also somewhat muted... which might help explain why autistic people sometimes aren't as social naturally.  If you're a kid, and something isn't fun, you generally don't do it unless forced.  Your mileage may vary, but having met more autistic people as I got older, I've noticed a lot of us aren't really the social butterfly type.  I'd assumed that had more to do with environmental factors... after all, the vast majority of us were bullied, some rather mercilessly.  And it's not like the rest of life is super-easy, either.  Misunderstandings abound, even if you're fully verbal and "look normal." 

But maybe I shouldn't be surprised.  A lot of things in psychology end up being a mix of nature (like genetics) and nurture (like what kind of childhood you had). 

In my specific case, I think it's probably safe to say my brain doesn't reward me as much, if at all, for social interactions.  I often come away from small talk and other minor social interactions agonizing over what I said, and how it might be taken the exact wrong way.  It's a very unfun experience, and so I tend to not engage in small talk unless addressed thusly or unless it seems extremely awkward if I don't.  As a child, I tended to prefer a book to a person.  As an adult, I tend to "suffer through" social interaction rather than "enjoy" it.  It's gotten easier as I aged, probably because I've now had lots of practice.  It's still not what I'd consider a "fun" activity. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Worth Your Read: Challenges and Competence

This is a fine article by itself, but I wanted to directly state an idea referenced here, but not defined outright: presuming competence.

A person may have developmental challenges, such as having limited executive/organizational functions, lacking speech or having very limited speech, or intellectual disability.  Or they may have a chronic illness, or a physical disability.  That does not make them somehow younger than their chronological age.  Even if some parts of their brain are slower to develop, such as emotional control, other parts may be at or exceeding their chronological age.

I'm an obvious example.  Chronologically, I'm going to be 30 this year.  Emotionally, I'm probably still in my early 20s, maybe even very late teens.  I have poorer emotional control, and have a harder time identifying what emotions I'm feeling, and why I'm feeling them.  Mentally, I get along very well with people 10-30 years my senior.  I often have, even when I was much younger than I am now.

Should people treat me like I'm 19 because that's how old I am emotionally?  Absolutely not.  People should treat me like I'm 30, because that's how old I am.  Should consideration and understanding be shown if I don't always act like I'm 30?  Of course.  But people don't get to mentally scale back my age just because a single facet of me does not line up with what's considered "adult."

I'm a really easy example, and because so many of my other facets seem "normal," it's unlikely that someone will speak to me like I'm a baby, or override my decisions due to assuming I'm incapable or unsuited to making them.  But that isn't the case for many autistic people.

Presuming competence is about assuming a person is an adult and can handle a situation unless it's clear they can't.  It's allowing a person to try, and giving support only when needed.  It's taking the person at their word, rather than ignoring them while you insist you know best.  It means allowing your teenagers and young adults to take risks (see: "dignity of risk" as mentioned in the article).  It's about treating a person like a person, rather than a perpetual child.

I hated being a child.  It upset me that, systemically, nobody cared what I thought, or what I wanted.  Even the most well-meaning of adults tuned me out when they didn't like what they heard.  Rarely was my input asked, and even more rarely heeded.  My parents were better about this than most, but I surely cannot say the same for many of my teachers. "Adults know best," was the catchphrase.

It's a remarkably thoughtless sentiment over all, and particularly so when it comes to autism and developmental disorders.  If you don't have a developmental disorder, you really don't know what it's like.  All the books in the world cannot tell you what it's like to have your brain twisted into knots and fed into a meat grinder when the sound of a fork in an industrial blender reaches your ears.  All you get to see me bursting into tears while everyone else simply pulls a face and covers their ears.

You can't convey, in mere text, what it's like to know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are irrevocably different and therefore broken.  That all the messages of "what's good" and "what's normal," will always, always exclude you.  You have to live with that the rest of your waking life.  Even if most of the people around you don't buy into those messages, autistic people can still be very aware of them, even on an unconscious level.

And yet, somehow, adults know best.  Except even when some of us grow up, we never get treated like adults.  Unless, systemically, we presume competence.  Even if a person can't hold a full time job, that doesn't mean they can't hold a part time job, or reliably do volunteer work.  Presume they can.

It was, in large part, because it was assumed that I could... that I did.  I got my driver's license, graduated high school, went to and graduated college, held several "normal" jobs, met and married my spouse, and bought a house and cars together.  My parents put their faith in me that I could do these things, if I wanted to.  Turns out I did... so I did.

Presume competence. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 8/8/18

Do you ever have days where the whole day seems to get eaten up by one problem?  Like, things just keep happening to make that one thing unimaginably more complicated than it should have been, and you end up spending literal hours on it?  Meanwhile, all your regular daily stuff just... doesn't get done?  That was my yesterday.  I had period cramps and illness and a headache that lasted all day to boot, which you can just bet put me in a fine mood. 

In general I kind of feel like yesterday was a waste, but I guess that's not really accurate.  I did deal with the complicated problem, and handled a few smaller regular tasks...  it just kind of feels like because I missed most of yesterday's stuff, I failed at the entire day.  I'm going to objectively say that's neither fair nor reasonable, but it doesn't really change that it's how I feel emotionally.  Meh.  Seems I need more practice in being kind to myself. 

Chris didn't end up winning anything at the company raffle, so I'll have to spend actual money if I want to go kayaking this summer.  I do think it'd be fun, but I had a look on Craigslist and nobody's really giving them away.  You're spending $200 minimum for a kayak, and that's for the shoddiest inflatable ones.  So, I'll have to think on it some more. 

Other exercise-related thing, Pokemon GO is stressing me out.  When I play a game, I don't generally min-max, or try to play in the most excruciatingly efficiently ideal manner, but I do try to at least be somewhat effective about how I play.  My spouse min-maxes and such for fun, so I have his insights to apply to any games we play together.  Unfortunately, for Pokemon GO, min-maxing basically involves driving all over the place, spending hours playing, and juggling a lot of little niggling details.  Also coordinating with tons of people over the Internet.  Given how low energy I've been lately, that's a hard pill to swallow... and trying to do just a bit, rather than all of it or none of it, doesn't seem to be working.  So I don't know what to do. 

It doesn't help that the game itself is still really buggy and likes to crash on me a lot.  If I play more than a few minutes, I'll probably have to restart the app at least once, and that unfortunately involves entering all the login information each time.  And then changing all the settings back to what I want them as, because it forgets them each time as well.  My friend, who's been playing this without a break since it launched, has basically just given up on the game being any good.  Every time it messes up, she just says a variation of, "Well, Niantic (the creator company) is still terrible."  It's kind of a sad state of affairs.  She still plays because she walks for exercise, and so she just gets out the game then and basically doesn't play otherwise. 

I dunno.  I guess, overall, I'm just tired.  Low on energy, and feeling like I just keep getting lower.  Hopefully it's just something some sleep, good food, and some relaxation can fix...

Monday, August 6, 2018

Reading the Research: Lie Detection

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 talks about a rather important skill for everyone, but especially people with disabilities: lie detection.  Some people seem better at this skill than others, sometimes to the point of being uncannily good at it.  But others, autistic people especially, lack this skill altogether as part a broader-spectrum set of social deficits.  This is problematic, because the disabled population is many times more likely to be taken advantage of and abused than anyone else. 

To make matters worse, the "classic tells" of a liar, that is, avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, and overcomplicated stories...  don't apply to more practiced liars.  So the things media trains us to look for can steer us wrong, or even give us false positives.  Adding in visual processing difficulties, like I have, just makes this picture even worse.

Enter VERITAS (Veracity Education and Reactance Instruction through Technology and Applied Skills), a video game designed to teach people how to detect lies.  Developed by Professor Norah Dunbar at UC Santa Barbara, this software has been tested repeatedly on college students and law enforcement officers.  The college students' accuracy at lie detection tends to start at about 56% (so, just slightly better than flipping a coin), but after an hour playing this video game, their accuracy is up to 68%.  That may not seem like a huge amount, but it is statistically significant, and it's possible that with further practice on the game, the number might improve further.  Law enforcement saw similar gains, though their starting accuracy was at 62% and it improved, on average, to 78%.  That's pretty good for a single hour playing a video game. 

I was pleased to see the professor mention that there is no single thing that will tell you if the person's lying, and that it varies on the person.  A lot of people put great stock into eye contact, but if an autistic person can't or won't look at you, that doesn't mean they're lying to you or ignoring you.  So this stereotype often makes lots of trouble for autistic people.

The article itself has some behaviors to look for, if you want to sharpen your own lie-detection skills.  Personally, I'd just like a copy of this video game. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Worth Your Read: "Challenging Behavior"

This post on aggression and self-injury is written by a medical doctor, not a person on the spectrum, but she is remarkably savvy on the subject.  Seriously, I'm impressed to bits with this article. 

Of particular note is the section on meltdowns versus tantrums.  These are two very different things, but I feel like they're the same thing to most parents, and most people observing those parents.  Briefly: tantrums are goal-oriented, meltdowns are not.  You can get results by ignoring a tantrum, but you can't with a meltdown.  The writer explains it much better in the article proper.

Another thing I wanted to highlight about this is that it rightly points out the absolutely dizzying number of reasons someone might have "challenging behavior."   A harried caregiver with a person that tends to have these behaviors can cease to look for reasons the person is acting out, and instead simply want the person to stop, in whatever way makes that possible.  Moving them to an institution, medicating them into submission, or trying to "train" them into not doing the behavior, is a very common, still accepted set of options.

Basically, as soon as the person doesn't verbalize their problems clearly and normally, we start edging toward treating them like they're subhuman.  But just because we consider speech hugely important, doesn't mean that people without it aren't sentient or can't express themselves in other ways. It just takes some detective work and patience.  And seriously, always assume the person is competent and can be communicated with. 

Please, give this article the careful read it deserves. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 8/1/18

The extra family has left for home, and I'm about in the middle of recovering my energy, I think.  I'm trying to work ahead on the blog again, but it's slow progress thus far.

I had a chat with my doctor regarding the intermittent fasting diet, and she doesn't seem to think it's working for me, at least not in the way she was hoping.  So I'm thinking on whether I want to continue it.  I kind of do, because I think it really limits how much snacking I do, but on the other hand, it's kind of unpleasant in the morning when I'm lined up to exercise but don't have even a jogger's breakfast to draw on.

I'm also mulling over finding a place to jog.  I mentioned last week how very poorly I did when I jogged, and how it unnerved me, but the fact remains that it is definitely better exercise than biking.  Your heartrate actually stays elevated for a lot longer after you jog than after you bike or row or some other form of exercise.  This translates to more calorie-burning potential.  In addition, I think in general jogging uses more muscles than biking.  And I do kind of really want to play Pokemon GO while I exercise.  So, I don't know.  I probably won't do it, because I'm not sure how many revolutions I could run around the park near my house before I get seriously anxious about weirding out other people at the park, or thinking about what they must be thinking.  I'd run in completely abandoned places, but that's also a great way to never be heard from again, so... bleh.

On a happier note, I got to go kayaking last weekend!  A friend got a bunch of people together and secured permission to borrow his family's lake house, so we all visited on Sunday.  It was a nice place, big tall trees with a soft grass and mossy carpet near the house, a nice view of the ocean, and the house itself had running water and electricity and such.  There wasn't actually a whole lot of beach, because grasses like to grow in the sand dunes, and the grasses serve a purpose by keeping the sand from eroding away.  And there was a huge set of stairs going down from the house to the beach (but hey, that means the beach house won't get swept away anytime soon!).  We hung out at the beach area, ate watermelon and pizza, and chatted a bit. 

But yeah, they had a kayak, which I promptly took out on the lake.  This is one of the Great Lakes, not a little tiny thing you can see both shores of, so I didn't have much frame of reference for how far out I went.  But I made very sure to take note of where I'd come from, and conveniently, there were 2 white outdoor chairs on one side of the staircase, and 1 lavender one on the other side.  So that made it pretty easy to keep near the right piece of shore.  I had a pretty good time, too, because it's relatively quiet on the lake once you're far enough out.  And the paddling is good exercise.

I hadn't done that sort of thing for years, so I got tired fast, naturally.  But since nobody was yelling at me to keep rowing (like say, on a rowing team), I was easily able to take breaks.  It's somewhat similar to riding a bike in that way.  That kind of makes me want to get a kayak and go out to a smaller, nearer lake around here.  It'd be a bit of an endeavor to do that, so I'd probably only do that once a week.  Or maybe on Saturdays, as exercise day #6?  I dunno.  There's a very slim chance that Chris will win a kayak from his workplace's raffle, so if that happens, I guess I'll consider it more seriously.  If it doesn't happen, I guess I can think about putting one on my wish list.  My van will hold a kayak or two, probably.  It fit an 8 foot conference table, so it's probably safe enough.

My only concern will be my hands... I had to turn the kayak back earlier than I would have liked, because I developed a blister.  I recognized it pretty quickly, which I'm pleased about.  The first time I went out in a kayak, I managed to get like 5 blisters and tear a few open before I got tired, and those hurt a bunch for a good while.  So this time I was smarter, and I'm happy to say the silly thing is entirely healed up now.  I did also manage to bruise both thumbs, but the solution to both bruises and blisters is very simple: gloves.  I have nice fingerless gloves somewhere, which I used to use in my rowing team days.  They'd work just as well for this.

The last bonus for doing kayaking regularly is the muscle groups it exercises.  Most of my exercise focuses on my leg muscles, and pretty much just those.  Kayaking is mostly arms, shoulders, and some back muscles.  I have a pretty strong back, but historically I've been rather poor about exercising my shoulders and arms.  So this would be a good development, if it works out. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reading the Research: Friendships and Globalism

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 doubles as a fyi for my generation and younger, and a comfort to the older generations.  It's a discussion of friendship and how distance affects it, specifically that it's still hugely important.  The article is the result of a 16 month study based on over 1.7 million Twitter users.  It seems that even with large and varied social networks, stretching beyond their home areas, these people are still interacting mostly with people near home.

The fyi I think is here for my generation and younger is: just because you have a widespread, varied social media presence doesn't mean you have a solid set of friends/acquaintances.  If you don't have friends you see on a regular basis, then maybe you should think about whether you're getting the social support most humans need for optimal functioning.  While I think most people know this, I feel like it might bear saying to younger people, and those who aren't all that great at measuring how they're feeling. 

The comfort for the older generations is this: clearly, the rise of social media hasn't destroyed local communities and in-person social interaction.  If it had, people would likely not be bothering to spend time with nearby people, when there are so many interesting other people further away.  People are becoming more globally minded, but they're not eschewing opportunities to interact in real life with people because of it.

I do think globalization, as they call it, is a good thing overall.  In generations past, it was all too easy to be entirely unaware of world events, or even regional events in a region that wasn't yours.  But if you look at the maps in the article, people from the four cities kept tabs on regions of the country well beyond their own.  And while this study limited itself to US borders, I have friends who casually talk about their acquaintances in Southeast Asia, and a friend who married a guy from Thailand.  On a personal note, my first friend (who actually merited the word) is from England.  And on my text-based computer game, I sometimes play with a girl from the Pacific Islands.  Her English was sufficiently good that I figured she was just a kid... and she is... but she's also something like 16 hours different than my local time.

This is, honestly, really cool to me.  We all share this world, and the more acquainted with each other we are, the more we consider each other human and "like me."  The less "other"ing that occurs, the better, in my opinion.  The more differences we accept as normal, the easier it is for autistic people and others with disabilities to be considered "human like me."  Also, ideally, the fewer wars we all get into, the less racism, class-ism, even age-ism, maybe. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Worth Your Read: The Meaning of Neurodiversity

I, like the author of this post, have come across this tendency to misinterpret what exactly neurodiversity is.

In brief: Neurodiverse people (people whose brains developed differently) are still people.  People, all people, deserve their rights, the presumption of competence, and the tools to make their lives the best they can be.  If that requires accommodations, those should be made available.  Neurodiverse lives may not look like neurotypical lives, and may involve disabilities that must be managed, but these lives are just as valid and matter just as much as neurotypical lives.

There is this tendency to assume a person is only a success if their life looks like a "normal" neurotypical life.  Which is to say, "graduate high school, go to college, get a good job, date, marry, get a house, have kids, grow old, and finally die."  Funnily enough, this proscribed path of life doesn't even fit neurotypical people, often.  So why shoehorn people so markedly different from the norm into that path?  If they want to pursue all that, let them.  If not, maybe try to figure out what their personal ideal life would be like, taking into account their needs.

Am I more of a valid person because I graduated college, married a good man, and bought a house together?  Am I less of a valid person because I probably won't ever have kids, suffer from depression and anxiety, and quite possibly will never hold another 40 hour a week job? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 7/25/18

This week, my brother, sister-in-law, and both their kids are in town visiting.  My schedule has thus been a little topsy-turvy.  I still really have no idea what I'm supposed to do with the kids.  This is one of those hidden curriculum things I just... never learned.  I think most people get to draw on their knowledge of how they played as a kid, but I really didn't get along with my peers when I was little, and tended to read books more than anything else.  Other than answering questions that are asked of me, and trying to smile properly at both children, I've mostly been an uncomfortable near-non-entity when it comes to my niece and nephew.

The perils of being on the Wrong Planet, I guess.  Hopefully they won't hold it against me, any of them.  I'm not really sure how much my brother and sister-in-law have taught their children about neurodiversity.  I can't imagine it's a huge priority, with all the things going on in their lives.  Regardless, it's nice to see them, and thoughtful of them to make this trip up, because we won't see them for Christmas or Thanksgiving this year.  Traveling is really difficult with small children. 

On the exercise front, I don't feel quite so tired and low-energy in the mornings any more.  This is good, because biking takes energy.  I'd been kind of skimping on the distance for Tuesday mornings, because after getting up the final hill and coming face to face with the busy street, I mostly just don't feel like contending with the traffic to go further.  I think I might alter my Tuesday route to take myself through the park rather than go up the hill immediately.  That route would let me avoid basically all of the traffic, while still letting me play Pokemon GO a little  and get to enjoy the downhill on the way home.

There's precious little I enjoy about exercise.  But hitting a good downhill with a lot of speed, with the sun shining and blue in the sky, is actually something I do enjoy.  Also enjoyable, biking tends to keep you going fast enough that the mosquitoes don't get you.  I still have bites on my legs and arms, but I'm pretty sure that's because bitey things got into the house, not because things are still managing to get me at 10+ mph.  The final thing I enjoy about biking is that I am, so far, the fastest thing on the trail I frequent.  I feel slightly bad about liking that, but honestly, it means I only have seconds in which I might have to interact with people or exchange awkward glances.  After that I'm past them.  I take extra care to make sure I don't scare people as I pass them, and stay well to whichever side I'm on so as not to crowd the other people. 

My physiology, I personally think, makes me unsuited for pretty much every type of exercise except biking.  My great strength is in my legs, which are beefy due to genetics and the fact that they have to carry me around.  So one would think that jogging would be a good plan.  But I gave jogging a really good go in college, and failed to get any better at it.  And it's really, really disheartening to be the slowest person of all, even slower than the other slowest person in the class.  And while they improved, I didn't.  I also feel somewhat vulnerable to both human predators and biting insects while walking or running, so that's really not ideal.

It would be nice if those things weren't the case, though, because you really can't play Pokemon GO while you bike.  You need your hands to steer the bike and help you balance, and you can't be using one or both of them to play the game while you do that.  So when I bring that game along, I have to stop and get off my bike every time I want to play.  If I was jogging, I could literally just jog in place while I did the little tasks the game wants you to do, and then continue on, no problem.

On the food front, I've thrown together something easy to break my fasting with: trail mix, comprised only of golden raisins and tree nuts.  I've been reading a lot of things about how tree nuts are great for brain health, so I tried snacking on them months ago.  It went okay, but I got tired of them.  About a week ago, I bought a bag of trail mix last week to stand in for dinner.  Liked it a lot, but it was mostly peanuts and knockoff M&Ms.  I figured I could do better.  So now, in theory, I have. 

On a very much healthier note, I think my craving for sugary foods and high GI foods is decreasing.   This is excellent, because they're probably the reason why I'm not losing weight.  The three components for someone like me to lose weight are: eating plenty of vegetables and some fruit, getting movement and exercise, and managing sugar intake.  I have the first two going reasonably well, but the lattermost is... challenging.  Almost everything that tastes delicious and is quick to eat is high GI or flatly full of sugar. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reading the Research: Virtual Reality

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 talks about an early example of what I, quite frankly, suspect will be the future of therapy, job training, and schooling: virtual environments.  The program is called Charisma, which is a rebranding of the more clinical previous name (Virtual Reality Social Cognition Training).  If you watch the introductory video on Youtube, you'll see it's rather basic as far as virtual reality graphics go.  Compare what you see in the movie to this screenshot from a recent video game, and you'll see what I mean. 

That simplicity is actually a good thing.  One of the major pitfalls of learning how to interact with people is having to process their expressions and body language in real time, while you're handling the verbal component.  It's a lot of information to take in, and since we don't necessarily know which bits to prune out, it all comes through.  Every bit of hair, every wrinkle in the face, every glance the speaker makes (most glances are irrelevant to a conversation, but some aren't!), it all comes to us in a rush.  Some of us handle it better than others, but at worst?  Every single movement comes through with a giant question mark (what does this mean?) and the expectation that we'll already know what it means.

This more simplistic virtual reality pares down the detail a person can focus on, while leaving, as far as I can tell, the most important parts: eye movements, body language, and facial expressions.  With less detail to process, the autistic person can then focus on both tasks at once: reading the body language and processing the actual verbal conversation.

If you're familiar with the higher rate of anime-lovers in the autistic community, this is off a similar principle.  Japanese animation (anime) is not like classical American cartoons.  Rather than confine itself to comedy and slapstick humor, anime stretches to all genres.  Mystery to science fiction to classical literature to period pieces, it's all there.  There's stuff for kids, but there're also things that handle very serious, adult subjects, and everything in between.  It's a really robust art form, and I'm kind of sorry I've stopped watching it.

But the main of it is that while the subjects can cater to a mature audience, it's still animated.  The faces are simpler.  There are visual shorthands to help you understand what the characters are feeling.  It's everything TV is, but easier to understand.

So, with that simpler style, autistic people can practice their social skills, and learn work skills, inside this virtual environment, without as much potential handicapping from the complications of the real world.  As a population, we tend to be more comfortable on the Internet, and in video games, than in the real world anyway, because it's harder to automatically judge someone on their social skills when all you have to work with is lines of text, or the actions of an avatar.  That means our thoughts are more likely to be listened to, rather than dismissed out of hand.

So, creating a video game environment that teaches interactions?  One that teaches job skills?  I can almost guarantee such a thing would benefit more than simply autistic people.  If, as I suspect, virtual reality takes off in the next decade or two, things like this will likely become commonplace.  Sick as a dog, but don't want to miss your lecture or get everyone else sick?  Stay at home and attend class virtually.

There's a lot to be said for building confidence in autistic people, as well.  After a certain point, it starts to become clear to many of us that we simply aren't like others, and others avoid us or treat us poorly because of that.  It starts to seem like we can't succeed at anything.  Having a place, even a virtual world, that can serve as a starting point, and a place to start to succeed?  That's huge.  If the skills taught there are more broadly applicable than just "inside this video game" like most entertainment games, all the better. 

On a sidenote, this article wording is just adorable.  On the subject of adult autistics having to jump through hoops to be accepted in the wider world, this sentence: "A world that would sometimes rather ignore them."  Sometimes?  Really?  Hi, my name is Sarah, the whole world pretended I didn't exist unless I was directly in its face, and then it spent more time stomping me down than anything else.  I guess maybe I shouldn't be too rude to the article's excessively polite and idealistic phrasing.  But honestly, I think the more realistic wording is "almost always" not "sometimes."

Regardless, I hope programs like this become more common and accessible.  These could be the key to helping all autistic people live better lives, especially autistics that don't blend into society very well. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Sensory Processing Difficulties: Taste and Smell (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a series on Sensory Processing Difficulties.  Part 1 was on the sense of touch, part 2 covered the lesser known senses (proprioception and vestibular senses), and part 3 was about sight.

I put these two senses together for a reason when I planned out these blog posts.  A lot (though not all) of what we think of as taste is actually smell.  Some sources contend that you can actually only taste the most basic flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.  Everything else, they say, is smell.  From personal experience with having very stuffed up noses (thus, presumably, eliminating my sense of smell), I'm not sure I buy that entirely.  But it's definitely true that having a very stuffed nose mutes my sense of taste. 

I went over this a bit in the very first post (which was about touch) but parts of eating belong to that sense instead of to taste.  Temperature, for example, is in the realm of touch, and texture is as well. Those two things are generally considered a major part of the eating experience, but have to be excluded here for scientific accuracy.

Limited Diets, Nails on a Chalkboard, and Cilantro

A common tendency in autistic children is food pickiness.  This is often based in texture, but also in taste and in smell.  The texture (which is touch) can be bothersome because some people hate or love crunching sounds, or mushy feelings on their tongue, or breading on food.  When I say "hate" by the way, I mean that in a much more literal sense than it's commonly used.  Think hearing "nails on a chalkboard" every time you crunched fresh green beans, or dry cereal, or popcorn.   You'd probably avoid crunchy foods after a while, too, and be upset if you were forced to eat them.

It's worth noting here, as I have in past posts about sensory processing, that all of these reactions are involuntary.  You can't make yourself suddenly like hearing someone drag their nails down a chalkboard.  You can learn to tolerate it, but it's going to be an unpleasant sound basically forever.  If the whole world sounds like nails on a chalkboard, though, you're mostly just going to want to avoid everything as much as possible.

Maybe another comparison that might make it more understandable is cilantro.  So, most people taste cilantro as a fresh, tangy, herb-thing.  And like it in food.  However, some people, as apparently determined by genetics, taste it like it's soap.  Very strong soap, directly to the mouth.  Needless to say, most of the people like that tend to avoid eating cilantro.  Why ruin your food with soap seasoning, right?

Oddly enough, I kind of taste cilantro both ways.  It does kind of taste like soap, a bit, but not enough to ruin the rest of the flavor for me.  I have a friend, though, that can't stand cilantro in things, which I can entirely respect.  

A really common thing I tend to read about in "my family's experience with an autistic child" accounts and medical recommendation books is the "all white foods" diet.   So things like white pasta, milk, bread, white rice, and potatoes.  The child will prefer these foods, even to the point of outright not eating anything that's not on that list.  Growing up, my dad called me "the bread girl" due to my tendency to enjoy and eat large quantities of bread.  I was never to the point of refusing to eat anything but the bread, but my mother can probably recount her frustration with trying to feed me a varied, healthy diet.

In fact, it was such a problem that the list below was a thing.  I think I recall having to have dozens of huge arguments with my mother before this list came into existence.  This is actually probably one of the later lists, and sadly one of the better examples of my handwriting in existence.  Good thing keyboards and computers became the main mode of communication! (cough) 

As you can see by the specificity of both fish and peppers, I was a pedantic child.  Fortunately for my mother, I didn't know that I could have said "variants of the wild mustard plant" and gotten cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli all in one item.
Actually, having moved back into town and having had more meals with adult me, my parents seem pleasantly surprised at how wide and varied my diet is now.  Like, to the point where my dad actually couldn't believe I eat fish now.  Which...  I guess is fair, since parents tend to remember their kids as... kids.  But my diet has expanded as I grew up, particularly after I was on my own for a while.  In my junior year at college, I pretty much ate only macaroni and cheese for dinner each night.  I did take my vitamin pills, at least.  (Also, my lunch was much more balanced, which I'm sure helped.)

Through the Nose to Punch the Brain

Smell, on the other hand, can be a really unfortunate minefield.  Perfume, cologne, and scented products are widespread, and it's all too easy to get overwhelmed with the reek of these "beauty products."  People can even get migraines, or sick to their stomachs.  I know someone who actually gets a brutal headache if she smells things that are floral scented.  She isn't autistic, but she definitely counts as sensitive to smells!

Beauty products aren't the only pitfall.  In an untidy kitchen, the smell of rotting food from the sink, refrigerator, or the garbage can be overwhelmingly revolting.  I have, in the past, had to stay very far away from a kitchen sink because something had been left to "soak," and turned rancid.  People with less overzealous senses of smell simply don't understand, and may insist you're being excessive about your concern or reaction, which is about the last thing you want to hear when you're trying not to vomit. 

Another culprit is cleaning products.  Bleach has a very strong smell, as do some other chemical cleaners.  A freshly cleaned bathroom, like a dirty one, can also be a minefield for people with scent sensitivity.  I once cleaned my bathtub with bleach, and not only did I have to run the bathroom fan, I also had to open two windows for a cross breeze, and vacate the premises until the stench died down some.  I was literally getting dizzy, nearly to the point of passing out, from the smell.

My nose is kind of odd in general.  It seems sensitive, but it's either very selective, or I'm rather bad at identifying what it's telling me.  In the last house my parents owned, at dinner time, the food that was cooking would smell like one thing from my room on the second floor.  As I'd walk down the stairs, the food would smell like a different dish.  And when I finally got to the kitchen, I would find out that it was in fact a third, different food.

I also have a useless superpower for detecting spoiled cow's milk.  I can taste and smell when it starts to turn, but is still safe to drink, and the smell/taste gets progressively worse until I find it intolerable and the milk is definitely not safe to drink.  This would be less useless if I wasn't only drinking almond milk these days...  But I guess it's better to have it than to not have it.

Perfume is thankfully mostly out of fashion where I live, but every once in a while, there's that one person who just slathers it on and doesn't seem to realize that they reek.  I run into those at church sometimes, but they mostly, thankfully, don't sit at the back of the church.  There was this once that someone did, and they sat right by the sound booth, too.  So while I was trying to run the sound board, I kept getting nosefuls of this cloying, revolting fragrance at about 10x stronger than it had any right to be.  This resulted in my choking and coughing fairly often, which I had to try to do quietly, because it was still a church service and nobody except my spouse knew that I couldn't breathe.

I'm not really sure if this counts as smell, but my mother and I are both very sensitive to mold.   Within the last year or so, I went to a memorial service in a stone chapel.  The service was probably very nice, but I spent pretty much the entire time feeling dizzy and foggy and confused.  My mother said afterwards that the place must've had a mold problem, because she reacts to it.  She shook off the effects within 5 minutes, but it took me more like 20 minutes or so, outside, to feel less awful.  I've had similar effects when food molds in the fridge or the cupboards.  Those tend to last longer, because the mold spores get into everything, which then has to be washed.  Bedding, clothes, towels, all of it.

Next Week: Sound

So, this week I've described oddities and sensitivities of taste and smell, including how they manifest in my particular case, as well as more general cases.   Next time I'll finish this series with sound, which is the sense that makes me suffer the most on any given day.  That also makes it the sense I have to compensate most for, and I'll discuss my methods for that as well. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 7/18/18

My back problems seem to have cleared up, thanks to two rounds at the chiropractor, lots of rest, and some stretching.  It took over two weeks, though, which is not terribly heartening for my future problems.  But at least it seems to be over, and I can move my neck without fearing I'll break something. 

This is a really good thing, because I went to get my hair re-dyed on Monday.  To get my hair its sapphire shade, I actually have to have my head in the wash bowl three separate times.  And unfortunately the place I have this done, does not have very comfortable wash bowls.  Like, "can-cause-neck-injuries-by-themselves" uncomfortable.  I am not a fan.  But, my hair is blue and short again AND I don't seem to have re-injured my neck.  Very happy about this. 

Even though I'm disheartened about the whole fasting and exercise routine, I'm still keeping it up pretty religiously.  I've felt kind of foggy and tired over the last week or so, which makes me wonder if the two are related.  But I do actually see at least one apparent effect from the intermittent fasting thing.  My stomach size seems to be shrinking.

I've always had kind of a large stomach, and it's very flexible to boot.  I can generally just keep putting food in it, and it'll stretch to accommodate whatever.  Recently?  That's less the case.  I think the stomach is still stretchy, but I feel full faster and don't seem to feel the need to eat as much.   I'm still waiting to see if this is going to end up in weight loss, or just a reduction in how much I eat.  Also waiting to see if my body's going to get angry at me for not getting enough nutrition.  I'm taking my supplements, which include a lot of vitamins and minerals, but that's really not a replacement for eating proper food.  I'm not going to magically be healthy if I eat snack food but make sure to take my supplements. 

So yeah, I don't know.  Something is happening.  Remains to be seen what exactly, still. 

Exercise-related, I've been playing more Pokemon GO recently.  Chris and I are getting back into it a bit since they finally added a friends option and trading (two fundamental parts of a Pokemon game).  This is helped along by the fact that there's literally a park within a mile of my house, and I can bike there in less than five minutes.  So while I've kept with my 5 day a week exercise, I've also occasionally just been snagging my bike and going down to the park for a few minutes.  It's not, like... really hard exercise or anything, but it's still extra exercise.  Also extra vitamin D from all that sunshine I've been accidentally absorbing. 

I don't have a really awesome tan or anything, but I basically just don't use sunscreen when I go out.  No burns yet, so I think I'm probably okay.  One of the major problems with my blood tests last year was low vitamin D.  With luck, this year I'll have higher results.  I'm going to guess they still won't be high enough to be healthy, but surely with all that sunlight and my regular supplements, they've got to be higher, right? 

Lastly, I ran across a new webcomic a couple days ago, which has proceeded to hijack much of my focus.  It's called Wilde Life, and is something like a cross between fantasy, slice of life, and horror.  I like fantasy type things, and the characters in the comic are very realistically made and intriguing.  I'm still trying to quantify exactly why the comic is so fascinating to me, but regardless, I've read it twice already and am working on a third read with the reader comments. 

I read a lot of webcomics, though I pruned down my reading list from over 100 of them to something more like 30 a few years ago.  So this one will definitely get added to the reading list, and I'll hopefully enjoy it for years to come. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reading the Research: Heading Off Depression at the Pass

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 covers a really basic quality of life upgrade for future autistic people.  This is one of those, "I guess we have to shout this from the rooftops to make it obvious to everyone" type studies.  Bullying tends to have a lasting effect on people.  Especially autistic people.

So you have an autistic kid. Statistically speaking, they will struggle a bit more with school, and also have a sensory sensitivity.  Perhaps they can't stand being touched, which makes casual body contact with their peers at recess nightmarish.  Perhaps the fluorescent lights flicker to their eyes, distracting them from the teacher's lesson.  Or perhaps little sounds from other classrooms or even their peers inside the classroom are loud and un-ignoreable, detracting from their focus on anything at all.  Dietary complications or gastro-intestinal problems are also common, so our hypothetical child may have to stick to a dairy-free diet, or have painful bowel movements regularly.

All of this makes our hypothetical kid struggle a bit more with life.  And all of it is innate to them and probably not shared with anyone else, meaning they can't get away from it and people won't intuitively understand.  Following so far?

Now we add in the rest.  Having such different experiences from one's peers tends to have an isolating effect.  We don't act quite normal, and do see, hear, or feel things others don't.  Our reactions don't make sense to an average person.  In additional, we may lag behind our peers in development of some aspects, like emotional control or organization.  This further isolates us.  That in itself is damaging, but... 

The isolation leads to bullying.  Every child gets picked on at least once in their lives, but those without a support network, those who are isolated, tend to become the favored targets.  If nobody will stick up for you, you're an easy target, and bullies like easy targets.  They come back for them regularly.  And this can start very young.  I was bullied in elementary school, starting either in Kindergarten or in 1st grade, I can't remember precisely.

The end result is, effectively, kicking someone while they're down.  The person's struggle becomes exponentially more difficult as they have to juggle more and more factors.  The social component of living is extra difficult for us, but those of us with more awareness will try to work extra hard in hopes of becoming "good enough" to be socially accepted.  Which I hope I don't have to point out, just makes our lives harder (and doesn't usually solve the problem, either). 

Personally?  I'm pretty sure I helped myself develop an anxiety disorder by learning to take in too much social and sensory input at one time.  It's overwhelming to look someone in the eye, but it's required for correct social performance.  So I do, and it's like being hit in the head with a baseball bat.  I kind of stop doing it if I'm sufficiently upset, or upset with someone in particular.  Not really on purpose, but why suffer further if you're already past a certain point?

The fix is theoretically simple: educate the children and the adults.  Make "unusual" into "normal."  Promote understanding of neurodevelopmental differences.  You don't have to be autistic to have sensory difficulties.  I've run into a few people at my church that also have them even though they aren't autistic.  And they usually had no idea that sensory sensitivities are a thing, until they were told.

I'm well aware it's easier said than done to change how schools work, but I believe it's doable.  And should be done, lest the depression comorbidity rate and suicide rate for autistic people continue to rise.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Worth Your Read: Autism Parenting Cynicism

This is a good description of a pattern from a parent that seems to be outside the feedback loop they describe.  It's a pattern I well believe exists, and contributes to the very disturbing numbers of parent-murdered autistic children.  Somewhere in the massive stress of caring for an autistic person, the parents begin to ignore the child's humanity, focusing on them only as a "burden."  It then somehow becomes okay to abuse the child, and even kill them.  And instead of being reviled, such behavior is deemed "understandable."

In my work in the community, I mainly work with Autism Support of Kent County, but I've also reached out to other groups and attended events from those groups.  One group, which I won't name in hopes of being respectful, seems mainly comprised of older, battle-hardened parents with what they call "adult children."  Basically, autistic and other special-needs people over the age of 18.  The group is most characterized by their cynicism.  They are old, tired, and angry at the systems that won't support them or their children without a fight.  This is all entirely understandable, it's a hard world to have special needs in, and it was harder still years ago.  However, even as things improve, they continue with this cynicism and cutting sarcasm, aimed at whoever happens to be nearby.

I wasn't personally told to go away when I mentioned that I wasn't a parent, but was in fact autistic... but in general the people there wanted very little to do with me.  I wasn't sufficiently like their kids to matter to them, and I wasn't a parent, so I didn't understand.  I was, simply, an outsider.  Almost a non-entity.  A tourist.  Despite that I literally live in a very similar world to the ones their kids live in. 

Such an attitude is infectious, I think.  These particular parents in the group may be too old to hop into the digital exhibitionism that the author describes here, but any newer parents that join the group to learn their tricks for handling the system... aren't.  So it really worries me to read about things like this, with parents putting the worst sides of their children on display for the whole world.

If my parents had done that, there would be videos of me in tears everywhere.  Videos of mild self-harm.  Screaming.  Vicious sarcastic remarks that I didn't mean and shouldn't be remembered.  And do you know what having all those videos and pictures would have done to my trust and my life?

It's very simple: it would literally destroy my ability to stand on my own two feet and try to take on the world.  I wouldn't trust my parents, the very people who raised me, because they'd have put my worst moments out in the world for any person in the world to see.  Those moments would forever haunt me, because I'd never know who'd seen them and who hadn't.  And I would know exactly who did it.

Job interviews, college applications, volunteer jobs, anyone could search my name and find those videos.  Forget getting a job.  Forget getting into a good school.  Forget being able to earn anyone's respect.  Those videos would define me as a person to thousands of people I'd never met.  Never mind who I turned out to be.  Never mind who I might still become.

The only thing that would matter to most people, would be those videos.

I was born about 5 years before the Internet really caught on.  And about 5 years before Asperger's Syndrome started to be recognized in the US.  Had I gotten my diagnosis younger, and had I been born later, this absolutely would be a problem I would be facing.  I think my parents probably wouldn't have opted to make ultra-public their struggles in raising me, even for the sake of feeling better about themselves.  But they might have posted a few pictures, or a video here and there.

I consider myself fortunate to have been born when I was... because I don't know if I could handle that additional stress.  It's already hard enough to be what I am, without having crystal clear recollections of my worst moments available to anyone online.

I would say I can't imagine how parents could be so cruel, but unfortunately, the last few years have been an education in how, and how often, people dehumanize each other.  Black people, women, gay people, immigrants, and special-needs people, it's all there in our history.  And history does love to repeat itself. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 7/11/18

Hooray, the 4th is over, and the amount of fireworks going off at night is going down!  It's the point where I can almost count them on two hands each night instead of simply waiting in pained, expectant silence for the next one.  I wasn't able to see the closest fireworks show from the house, but some of our neighbors opted to let off relatively big fireworks of their own, so I didn't entirely miss out on seeing the fireworks this year.

It sounds like next year, my spouse and I could probably just go visit my parents.  Seems they had a pretty good view of the nearest fireworks show, and from the comfort of their apartment, too.  I could also see about simply biking over to the town hall area, which is less than a mile away, and just being right there at the show, I guess.  I think I might need to get better ear protection if I do that.

This week, my biking routine added injury to insult.  (I used that backwards on purpose, yes.)  I'm still not losing weight, but exactly a week ago, I somehow managed to pull a neck muscle while doing my head-checks to make sure I wasn't running over any pedestrians or cutting in front of them too closely.  It was the 4th last week, and there was a parade and such on the day.  Parade-goers walk on bike paths, but unlike normal pedestrians on bike paths, they don't understand that if someone says "on your left!" it means, "I'm approaching to pass you on your left side, please move to the right and don't startle when I zoom by you."

So I ended up doing a lot of twisting my neck to one side or the other, and without so much as a warning, the next day, my neck hurt like heck.  I left it alone for a few days, figuring that I'm still fairly young and it'd probably heal itself.  That was a mistake, apparently...  it only proceeded to get worse.  On Sunday night, I had trouble getting to sleep due to it hurting so much, so I went to the chiropractor first thing on Monday and got my neck readjusted.  The theory is that it helped, but I woke up yesterday just as stiff and sore...  It is, needless to say, frustrating.  I have an appointment again today, where they will hopefully shove the dratted thing back into place again and it'll keep this time.

In the meantime, I continue to find myself holding my head at an awkward angle: slightly sideways toward my right shoulder, and twisted left so I'm still kind of facing front.  I suspect this is the position that jars my neck least when walking and such, but it's somewhat befuddling that I keep returning to it without even noticing.  I'll try to straighten out my neck and face forward, and sometimes literally seconds later, I'll find myself at the twisted angle again.  It's awkward.  It probably looks really weird, too, so it kind of surprises me that my spouse hasn't said anything.

The other major "bleh" issue is that I seem to be slightly allergic to the algae that's growing in the pond out back.  Maybe I should say "infesting" rather than growing.  The pond is now more algae than it isn't, and the stuff is the color of dirty sea foam.  I'm hoping the homeowner's association will be paying to clean it out a bit, soon.  But it's odd to me, because the neighboring pond at the park has no algae at all.  Really makes me wonder why, and whether there's some critter I could import from there to here.  Going to bet it's a lot more complicated than that, though, ecosystems being what they are. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Reading the Research: Autism Screening via App

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 is a clear showcase of the dual nature of advancing technology.  A mobile app has been developed to help screen (test) children for autism.  On one hand, if this type of screening turns out to be scientifically valid, this is a good start for families.  Rather than wait, potentially for months, for their turn to pay hundreds of dollars at the specialist's office, they can get a quick answer here, and approach the specialist for confirmation and the "now what?" aspect of things.

The flip side, of course, is privacy.  Data from this app is not likely to be handled like regular medical data, which is to say, it's probably not covered by HIPAA.  As such, it does not have to be stored as securely, transmitted as securely, or kept on record for thus and such many years.  It is much more vulnerable to being hacked, and unless the Information Age ends very swiftly indeed, those records will be available potentially to anyone for the rest of these children's lives.  I understand the younger generation has fewer privacy concerns than mine does, but I still don't think it wise to simply leave information (including video recordings of people as children) lying around like that.

On a personal note, I wonder whether I would have reacted sufficiently differently that the app would have called me out as autistic.  If it had, would that have been sufficient motivation for my parents, or even for the social worker that recognized me as similar to her son, to push for a closer inspection?  The social worker was on somewhat unsteady ground.  Equating one child to another is always a bit of a stretch.  Perhaps, with the agreement of an app like this, it might have been sufficient to elbow them into paying more attention, and perhaps going to a specialist in hopes of being told "nope, that's not it."  Or perhaps it wouldn't have mattered in my particular case.  Regardless, I bet it will for others.  I just hope one of the major effects won't be children being turned down from schools, or having records like these used to bully them.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Autism- and Sensory-Friendly events

I've been seeing more and more of these recently: mainstream events designed around, or directly for, people with special needs.  In my particular community, there is no nationally-branded amusement park, but both major theater groups (AMC and Celebration) offer sensory-friendly showings of various movies.  I've been to one on accident: it was more or less the same as a regular showing, except the lights were on in the theater, there was a kid running up and down the stairs a lot, and it was a bit more socially acceptable to have a quiet conversation with the person next to you.

What made this particular event at Six Flags interesting to me is that they effectively closed their doors to most of the population of the US, in the name of being autism-friendly.  The amusement park did, of course, offer accommodations in various places for overstimulated children.  Most places do that.  Most places, however, don't bar the general public from the event.  On this one day, Six Flags did exactly that, allowing only autistic children, their families, and specially trained teachers into the park.

The article's author notes that the reasoning is quite valid: even one intolerant person is enough to make a whole family feel unwelcome.  Making the park only have people that have experience dealing with autism and the difficulties and differences that come with it means there's far less of a chance of some judgemental loudmouth asking the parents "why they can't control their child," or some similarly thoughtless, useless remark or question.

As a non-parent, I am admittedly not an expert in this area... but it occurs to me that children are literally small humans, and it's not exactly possible make any human be a perfect little puppet.  Especially if they've got difficulties and differences like mine.  Even if they're little.

Regardless, such remarks or other hurtful words and actions can really alienate autistic people and their families, so this step, while rather bold, is perhaps not unwarranted.  It's a single day in their year, as well, so it's probable the amusement park's profits weren't too severely dented.  I would be kind of curious to see a count of the attendance that day, though.  Amusement park admission isn't cheap, and a lot of families with autistic members don't have a lot by way of disposable income. From the fliers, it looks like there were sponsored admissions through at least one organization, though.

I'm not sure what to think of these exclusive events.  While I recognize the legitimacy of keeping the general public out so that we can enjoy ourselves without worrying, I'd hate to see it become a trend.  Exclusion negates the possibility of inclusion.  We can't teach neurotypical people to include us and see us as people if we exclude them from our events.

I doubt it'll become that widespread of a trend, though, so I'm glad these events exist.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 7/4/18

Happy 4th of July.  This post will be going up at the usual time, but I will likely still be fast asleep because we had late night movie night with friends, and it went until early o'clock.  I wouldn't have slept well last night anyway, due to all the noise.

Because it's around the 4th of July, and I live in the US, I currently live in a place where fireworks will go off at any given moment, especially if it's night time.  Autistic sound sensitivity, meet "nobody cares, enjoy your frazzled nerves and general ill-will."  Yyyyep, that's right.  Just because it's a national holiday does not make all those explosions somehow friendly or easier to tolerate.

This is my first 4th of July in this house, and I was kind of hoping it'd be a bit quieter than it is.  Which isn't to say it's not quieter than my old apartment was, mind.  People there thought it was acceptable to light fireworks off at, say, 3am, regardless of whether it was 2 weeks after the 4th, or before it.  Even knowing many of my neighbors were immigrants and thus at a lot higher of risk if the cops were involved, I almost called law enforcement several times.  I never quite got to that point, but I was mad enough to scream out the window several times.

You are now perhaps wondering how I manage July 4th at all, and whether I attend fireworks shows or do events at all, considering what I've described.  The answer to the first is "poorly."  When explosions can happen at any time, with no warning, I find myself a lot more rattled, anxious, and distractable.  I mostly survive this time of year.  The answer to the second is "yes, with proper motivation."  Fireworks shows aren't just about the fireworks, they're also about spending time with people.  I do find fireworks pretty, and I approve of their use of gunpowder over the more standard ammunition and guns.  I can prepare myself somewhat to be bombarded with the sounds, bring ear plugs, and clamp my hands over the earplug-wearing ears to further dampen the sound.

This year my friends are busy, so I'll miss the fireworks show downtown.  I'm not sure whether I'm sad or relieved.  It would be fun to spend that time with them, but my nerves are already pretty frayed.  It's been a pretty crummy last few days for me.  In addition to the fireplace gunk I mentioned last week, I think something molded in the house and my throat's been sore and scratchy for weeks.   I've been unable to help my grandmother get her stereo system (multi-CD player) working properly, despite putting literal hours into it at this point.  I ran out of some of my supplements, had major gastointestinal issues, and the house appears to have developed an infestation of tiny bugs.  They seem to be attracted to the tub, kitchen counters, and bathroom counters, whereupon they die, en masse.  All neatly and evenly spaced.  It's both bizarre and disgusting.

The last thing to mention is that I'm getting a bit disheartened with my 5 day/week exercise routine and fasting diet.  The latter makes the 3 days of biking kind of unpleasant, because I don't eat until noon, but with it being hot out, I need to bike before noon.  This would be fine, but I'm also still not losing weight, and I have a limited amount of patience for things that degrade my enjoyment of life with no positive effects to show.  I'll perhaps talk to my doctor about upping my "eating time" to 10 hours instead of 8, and starting to eat at 10am instead of noon.  I might be able to have breakfast 2 biking days out of 3, if that happened.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading the Research: Out of Sync

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 a tendency I figured was just off about me, but is actually widespread in the population.  Apparently sight and sound are not processed instantaneously by most people, even neurotypical ones.  And it's not even a predictable delay in processing, either, it literally varies by the person.  I'd always kind of assumed that neurotypical people saw the world like they see movies: sight and sound processed together, in perfect sync.  The fact that I didn't have that perfect comprehension was just one more thing wrong with me.

But apparently not.  Apparently, I'm in good company with... approximately everybody.  Though some people do manage to overcome this complicating factor and learn to lip read anyway.  I've never managed that particular skill, perhaps due to my particular version of poor visual processing.  I would guess I probably have a much longer delay than most, or I wouldn't have scored in the lowest 5% of people tested in visual processing...

The article talks about improvements to hearing aids and cochlear implants, or computer media players.  Setting an individual delay could improve a person's experience with watching a movie, for example.  Personally, I think I see why I like having subtitles so much, regardless of whether I'm watching a foreign movie or a domestic one.  Because I read very swiftly, having the subtitles allows me to double-check what my ears hear, sometimes even repeatedly.  They also allow me to catch little side-conversations that aren't otherwise even audible to me, which means catching extra jokes and additional information I might not otherwise have.

I know subtitles aren't ideal for everyone, but I kind of want them to be included in every movie from now on, now that I know other people also suffer from a lesser version of what I do.  And can you imagine?  The deaf/Deaf community would get to enjoy so many more movies that way.  I regularly pick up a subtitles display machine when I see movies, even though I am not deaf in any way.  There's always like 12 of those machines, but I'm the only one using them with any regularity.  To be fair, they're not the most reliable pieces of machinery I've ever seen.  It'd be so great if the experience was mainstreamed.  More people would get the little easter eggs slipped into the side conversations, and the movie experience would be more inclusive overall.

It'd be better for many autistic people, too.  Apparently some autistic people gravitate towards Japanese cartoons (anime) for various reasons.  Such cartoons often come to us in Japanese with English subtitles, which well-accustoms a person to using such subtitles even if they do speak Japanese or understand it at the fluency level.  Having that extra information enhances my experience, even if it no longer teaches me what triumphant music sounds like, or what someone thinks an embarrassed laugh sounds like and what context it's done in.

All in all, this is a cool little study that has interesting implications for the future of both subtitles and hearing aids. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Worth Your Read: Burnout

This is subject that naturally strikes a bit close to home for me.  I am not doing as badly as the author of this article, but I am far from my best right now, and I'm still not managing my life the way I was a month ago.  I hope to start doing better soon, but until then, here's an account of what this person terms "autistic burnout," which is separate from standard burnout, or even social burnout. 

By the way, if you don't already follow the website Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, I strongly suggest you do.  I don't agree with everything they post there, but the articles are good, thought-provoking material.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 6/27/18

"Tired" about summarizes this last week.  It's more the new meal planning than the week's events, but it all adds up. 

The trip out with my dad for Father's Day went well.  I didn't mention it precisely last week, because he sometimes reads this blog, but we took him mini-golfing at a local off-the-wall place called Glow Golf.  It involved neon lights, black lights, and hunting and fishing themed decor.  It was, suffice it to say, interesting.  We also did dinner, of course, and the cheese shop.  I'd mainly settled on the mini-golfing because one of my strongest memories of "dad time" was of us doing that together at a fancy-ish indoor mini-golf course at a big mall.  The memories are pretty fuzzy, since that was over 20 years ago, but it was still kind of fun to try this particular course.  I'm not sure I'd go back, but it was at least challenging.  And he seemed to have fun, so that's really all that matters.

That wasn't the only social event this week, either.  My grandmother came over to the house.  She helped us buy the place, and it's nice to have family over anyway, so we broke out some beef stew and Chris made his rosemary bread.  She didn't stay for a super long time, but she saw the house, ate lunch, and had a bit of tea afterwards. 

The new meal planning I mentioned is the result of my throwing up my hands, after weeks of faithful exercise, and deciding my body is just not interested in losing weight.  I'm now adhering to a fasting diet, which has me restricting my eating to between noon and 8pm.  This basically means I skip breakfast.  It's not necessarily ideal, but I'm hoping that between the benefits of fasting and the lack of snacking in the evening/morning will mean that I actually start losing weight. 

So far it's only made me properly miserable once, when my first meal was really low in sugar/substances convertible into sugar.  I got very dizzy after that until I ate something else.  Haven't made that mistake again, and I seem to be doing okay now.  I'm not performing as well on my morning exercise, but without a ready supply of energy, who can blame my muscles for not doing as good a job? 

I may or may not get an earful about the situation from the doctor I'm going to today.  I've been wanting to know if anything unusual is up with my joints, so I scheduled an appointment about a month ago with a kinesthesiologist.  Basically, a chiropractor, but for the whole body.  So we'll see what he says, but the intake paperwork was much more interested in my diet than in my joints.  And the intake paperwork was long, bleh. 

The last interesting thing of note this week came about because a wasp (or maybe several) got into the gas fireplace in my home.  It's an open question as to why they'd do that, and why, after doing that, they'd shun the perfectly good top exit to buzz around the fireplace area, get into the house, and then proceed to smash themselves against the sliding door... but after two repetitions of letting them back out, we decided this had gone on long enough, and lit the fireplace.  We let it run for several hours, which should be quite long enough to convince the little buggers to go somewhere else. 

The end result, however, seems to be that the air is full of something that's choking and unpleasant to me.  This is a gas fireplace, so it's not like there's really... ash.  Unless it burnt a wasp nest, I guess.  All the same, something in the air is making me miserable.  I'm hoping it'll go away soon, as I keep the fan on regularly so the air circulates through the house. 

Hopefully this won't be a regular occurrence, because I kind of like using the fireplace.  It makes the house extra cozy. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reading the Research: An Alternate Form of Relaxation

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 talks about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR.  When I was looking into various ways to relax and calm down, I ran across this brain-oddity.  While it's not specifically an autistic feature, it definitely falls under the neurodiversity heading.  ASMR is the name given to the physical relaxation response to specific things, like whispering, slow hand movements, slowly moving lights, tapping, the crackling of eggshells, or even the sounds of chewing.  People with ASMR experience pleasant "brain tingles" which can spread down their body, when exposed to a trigger.  It's an involuntary reaction, but a good one.  (Also, it is not a sexual reaction, I should point out.)

You can listen to a sampler of ASMR triggers here.  This type of video is fairly common, as are single trigger-focused videos.  If you know anything about microphones, you can tell this particular performer (ASMRtist) has a good bit of money, likely from her work making videos of ASMR triggers.  They are very popular, as you can tell by the 20 million views on the video I linked. As I did my research, I found that I do not seem to experience ASMR (or at least, not with any of the triggers I've tried so far), but it wouldn't really surprise me if a number of autistic people do.  Overall, my research into the subject made it sound an awful lot like a form of passive stimming. 

The effects seem to match those of stimming, too.  Stimming in autistic people is done to calm the person, and watching ASMR videos does that for people who experience it.  Watching those videos slowed the heartrates of the viewers who experienced ASMR, as well as increasing positive emotions and feelings of social connection.  It had no effect on non-ASMR viewers, though, so don't expect to find videos of crinkling paper or tapping making their way into your next company team-building meeting.   I guess it wouldn't exactly hurt anyone it wasn't helping, since the triggers tend to be quiet sounds that aren't sharp or painful.  But we don't have a good idea of the incidence rate of ASMR, simply that it exists and there is a measurable presence of it on YouTube (over 13 million videos uploaded, in fact). 

As for me, I'll just have to keep looking.  There are probably more ways to relax and fight anxiety out there, and even if this one doesn't work for me, that doesn't mean there aren't any out there for me to find. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Worth Your Read: Parallels

I'm still recovering, it seems, so here's another article I'd hoped to make into a decent discussion at some point.  It's by an autistic trans man, noting parallels in his life between being autistic and being transgender.  Some of his observations strike me as excellent ones, especially the thoughts regarding female socialization. 

He also talks about trying to bridge his "two ways of being: The way I present myselt to the world, and the way that I perceive who I am."  This is a struggle that many autistic people, myself included, experience.  We're expected to act, look, and sound certain ways, and those ways are not necessarily our own ways.  At this moment, I don't truly know where I end and my neurotypical act begins... I simply juggle them and try to favor the former over the latter when feasible. 

If you have time, do take a look at the numbers about transgendered people and autism.  They're remarkably common conditions to have together.  This is one of the reasons I post about LGBTQIA+ issues as well as autism/disability issues- in some ways, they are one and the same.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 6/20/18

I feel a little better this week, compared to last week, but I'll probably still take it easy this Friday and give you someone else's thing to read, rather than generating content myself.  I may end up taking a few more Fridays off and building a buffer that way, and then just running with that.  We'll see. 

I had an strange encounter with the Internet on Monday morning.  I checked my emails, as I tend to, and found an email from an online vendor that I've never used, stating that I'd changed my shipping address on the website.  This was extremely worrisome to me, because that particular email has been hacked before, and if that online vendor had my email, what else did they have?  Had someone stolen my personal information and ordered a bunch of things on this online store?  Was my address compromised?  My credit card? 

So I investigated... I went to the website, changed the password on the account, logged in, and looked around.  To my befuddlement, everything on the account, right down to a credit card and address, was someone elses'.  It was just my email on the account, for some reason.  But that left me in a weird situation, a stranger having someone's credit card and address on an online vendor.  This was uncomfortable for me, so my next step was to fix that. 

After making very sure my information was safe and not on the account, I changed the password to something simple.  I then texted the phone number attached to the account, explaining the situation, and giving the person the new password.  They responded within 10 minutes, thanking me and saying that they'd just closed a case with the vendor, having had their account stolen and a bunch of things bought and shipped elsewhere.  They asked for a picture of the email I'd received, which I gave them.  And that's all I've heard from them. 

It's really odd.  The contact information was for someone in New York, so I have no idea how my email address came to live on their account information.  It has to have been done deliberately- the email address is 16 characters long, and distinctive (it includes the word "digimodify" which is... not exactly a common dictionary word).  But I have no idea why that would be a good idea in some identity-jacker's book. 

Anyway, I stepped up the security on that email account, so if this happens again, it's not going to be because some hacker has access to my email. 

Beyond that strange incident, there hasn't been a lot exciting to talk about.  I saw a couple friends, spent a lot of time at home trying to recuperate, and kept up my exercise routine.  Tomorrow I'll be taking my dad to a specialty cheese shop in the area, as well as to an additional place, for a little Father's Day present.  We didn't really celebrate on the day of, between it being a Sunday, the cheese shop being closed, and my being absent-minded overall.  But he's a good sport and doesn't seem to mind the celebration being a bit later. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reading the Research: Growing Up Fast

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 answers as least one question I had when I was growing up, and highlights two different trends regarding stress while growing up.  The question that this article answered was: "Why did I seem so much more mature in a lot of regards, compared to my peers?  Was it just the autism?"  Apparently, it was not.

These scientists did a longitudinal study, which is one of the very best kinds of studies for understanding people and getting good data.  It also takes a lot of time and money, because the scientists literally check in with their research participants once in a few years.  Sometimes they even repeat the entire set of tests from the very first part of the study each time they see the participants.  This particular test studied 129 one-year-olds, paying attention to life events and how much stress each child went through, at what times in their lives.

It seems that children who went through negative life events (major illness, parents getting divorced) tended to mature faster when it came to key portions of the brain: the prefrontal cortex (which is linked to our personalities), the amygdala (which helps regulate emotions), and the hippocampus (which is involved in memory-forming).  Interestingly, if the stress held off until the teenage years, the opposite was true: the brain tended to develop more slowly when that was the case.

Personally?  I remember being told, often, that I was a very mature child.  I found it easier to speak to adults than I did other children.  I remember being annoyed by the antics of my classmates.  And strongly, I remember being dubbed "the cool freshman" in my first year of high school.  Where most high school freshmen were hyper, I was calm.  Most said exactly what they were thinking without a care for context or others, I kept quiet, listened, and spoke rarely.  This was noticed, and approved of by, the small group of high school seniors that I hung out with.  When I was a high school senior, I dubbed a similarly chill freshman with the same title.

I always kind of assumed I simply had a different mindset than my peers, because I was always kind of odd.  Based on this study, it's quite possibly safe to assume my brain was simply further along on its developmental path than the brains of my peers.  I do wonder how this research plays with the research that says that autistic people's brains don't develop as quickly, or do neural pruning as much. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Worth Your Read: To Neurotypicals on my 36th Birthday

I'm still suffering from burnout, and just trying to take care of myself while I figure out how to make it better.  But I didn't want to leave you all with nothing.  So here's an article I'd be hoping to turn into a Friday post at some point.  It speaks pretty well for itself, though, and as I'm turning 30 this year, it's more and more relevant...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 6/13/18

I seem to be juggling burnout along with my responsibilities this week.  It's very distressing, because I can't seem to focus on work and can't seem to get anything done even if I do.   I talked about having vacation days a few weeks back, and I think maybe I'm going to have to do that... or to be more precise, my brain is making me do that.  I still have the rest of the week to work on things, but I feel (and am) very behind. 

I may end up needing to take a vacation day or two.  That's not the worst possible thing, but it upsets me to miss a day (or several) after having an unbroken streak of updates for years.  I guess what's most disheartening to me is that I can't seem to duck my head and suffer through it the way I have other challenges.  Part of it is probably because the only deadlines for this blog are mine, and those feel less final than someone else's imposed deadlines.  Still, I'd like to do better... but my brain simply isn't letting me.  At some point, you have to respect that a brick wall is a brick wall and won't give, rather than continuing to try to headbutt it down. 

So that said, if I miss this week's Friday entry, I'm very sorry, and I hope to get back on track soon. 

I've spent most of the last few days reading familiar books, old webcomics, and other comforting things in hopes of soothing myself and getting refocused so I can get back to work.  I may just need a whole week of that, or something.  The fact that the fabric for the blackout curtains is finally going to come in soon is probably going to help, too.  When that happens, I can finally get blackout curtains made and put up, and hopefully sleep better as a result.  It's been months, and the lack of sound sleep in the morning is probably wearing on me. 

In happier news, I'll get to celebrate another monthaversary (like anniversary, but for each month) with my spouse today.  We do a little miniature togetherness celebration each month on the 13th (the day of the month we were married, and also started dating).  We give each other small presents, or go out to eat, and just generally spend time together.  It's kind of like having a date night, but once a month.  This month we both got each other Dungeons and Dragons-themed Tshirts, but the shirts are late, so we'll go out to eat together and Chris won't have to cook today, which is kind of a double treat for him. 

Other happy news: the trip to the chiropractor was a success.  I no longer feel like my legs are on the verge of falling asleep.  I wasn't sure if the adjustment had fixed the problem at first, and was hyperfocusing on my legs, which also made it hard to tell what was going on.  But after I forgot a bit about the problem, it seemed to clear up.  I now seem to have my regular leg problems, rather than disturbing new ones. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reading the Research: Memory Transfer

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 is in the far end of theoretical, but had such interesting ramifications for autism and PTSD that I couldn't leave it alone.  Today's article suggests the possibility of transferring memories from one organism to another.

The experiment was done on marine snails, so you can pretty much guarantee this won't be available for humans anytime soon, but basically, the researchers found it was possible to use nervous system RNA to "transfer" a reaction to having their shells tapped on.  The researchers gathered four groups of snails.  The first two were the preliminary group.  One set in the preliminary group was left alone, the other was exposed to mild electrical shocks delivered to their tails.  RNA was then gathered from the nervous system of both preliminary groups. 

The remaining two groups, the experimental group, received the RNA.  All four groups of snails then had their shells lightly tapped on.  The normal reaction to this stimulus is to contract into their shells, but only for a second or so.  The experimental snails, though, which had been given the RNA from the group that had received electrical shocks?  Their defensive reaction nearly matched their donors' reactions (40 seconds, average, versus 50 seconds for the snails that had been shocked). 

It might be a bit of a stretch, at this point, to call that "transferring a memory," but at the very least, it did seem to transfer a basic reaction.  The senior researcher thinks this suggests an alternate theory for where memories are stored.  It's currently assumed that memories are kept in the brain's synapses, the connection points between neurons.  This researcher thinks, instead, that memories are stored in the nucleus of those neurons.  The experiment backs this idea up, since the RNA was taken in such a way that the synapses weren't involved. 

If it becomes possible to transfer reactions, and even whole memories, from one person to another, this could be an enormously useful teaching tool for autistic people, and a possible therapy for PTSD and Alzheimer's.  The latter two conditions could be treated by damping down the power of memories (for PTSD) and reminding or re-introducing memories (for Alzheimer's). 

Using this for autism would be a more complicated story.  Might one be able to teach a person, by another person's memory, how to tell whether someone is lying?  Perhaps some memories of the appropriate level of eye contact would be a good reference to have in one's brain.  Or a "standard playbook" of things to say in specific social situations, as shown in a set of memories, might smooth our way to handling those situations in our own lives.  (Things like "I'm sorry for your loss" when told someone's family member has died, for example, or small talk about the weather). 

Heck, I've often envied my doctor's ability to take in the details of a person from head to toe, recognizing signs of inflammation, depression, anxiety, and other conditions.  Might that, with sufficient numbers of memories to compare by, also be transferable?  We don't, as of yet, have any idea what the human brain's maximum capacity is.  Things that are forgotten are never truly gone, they're simply misplaced and the brain can't find them any more. 

It'll be interesting to see if this research can be replicated, and if it'll take off and become something remarkably useful to humans.  Even with the advancing rate of technology, I'll still probably be 50 before that happens, but if Alzheimer's is still around then, I'd love to not worry about losing my most important memories should I develop it.  And future autistic people might not have to struggle so hard with social situations.