Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading the Research: Late Diagnoses in Autistic Girls

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 addresses why fewer girls get diagnosed with autism than boys, with the currently quoted ratio being about 4 boys with autism to one girl with autism.  The gist of it is that the tests are likely currently geared toward how autism manifests in boys, which leads to not detecting girls at the same age as boys.  Girls are affected differently by autism sometimes, a fact to which I can probably safely attest. 

One of the major differences the article points out is that autistic girls tend to be better at "faking it."  Small talk is not necessarily a problem for us, nor are other brief types of social interactions.  But it can be harder for autistic girls to manage day-to-day life.  So things like getting up, getting dressed, keeping your papers and binders in order, etc, tend to present more of a problem for autistic girls than for boys. 

Speaking as someone raised female, and someone autistic... I can safely say that I did blend fairly well, after awhile.  Enough that I made it most of the way through college before anyone seriously suggested I go get a diagnosis.  I remember having to ask my mom, in middle school, how to make small talk.  But she told me how, though not precisely why, and I learned.  I heard similar stories in Washington DC, earlier this month, from other autistic self-advocates.  Lots of us didn't fit in, and did struggle with handling life and its challenges, but we didn't receive a correct diagnosis, or even any diagnosis at all.

These researchers seem interested in ending this phenomenon of late or nonexistent diagnoses, by studying biological sex differences as well as gender differences.  Right to the point of using the word "cis" in a sentence.  That's so forward-thinking, I just about smiled.  ("Cis" means that your gender identity matches your biological sex.  So if you were born female and identify as female, you're a cis woman or cis female.  We already have words to describe people whose biological sex and gender identity don't match, but not everyone's heard the word for when they do match.) 

Hopefully these folks will continue to publish their works, as it seems like they have a decent grant from the National Institute of Health to study these effects of biological sex and gender.  This is particularly relevant, as it seems from my reading that autistic people tend to be less constricted in our gender identities than neurotypical people.  I, for example, identify as agender (meaning I would like you to take your gender stereotypes and keep them far away from me).  But others I've met identify as both genders, or feel more one way than the other some days, or what have you. 

I mentioned my (lack of) gender identity to the other autistic self-advocates when I was at the conference in DC.  While one of them merely felt overwhelmed by the whole "gender vs biological sex" dimension to life, one of the others commented that she hadn't really thought about it, but since I mentioned it, she also didn't feel particularly feminine or female. 

So this is definitely a group to watch, all things considered.  The group is most interested in improving diagnostic rates, but the resulting research should be interesting from a gender identity perspective as well.  Relatedly, I might start taking notes on which researchers I meet, if I get to meet more, and see if I can track their research.  It'd be interesting to make connections and influence research that way, but I might need spreadsheets to keep track of it all... 

Friday, January 12, 2018

What I Learned from the Autism Research Program

How This Happened, and Getting There

I went to Reston, Virginia, just outside Washington DC recently.  I've covered this in recent entries, but for readability's sake, I'll rehash it.  About a year and a half ago, John Elder Robison, one of the most respected autistic self-advocates in the US, put out a call for autistic people to sign up to be research reviewers for the federal government's research programs.  I looked at the information, said, "Why not?" and sent a message to the contact listed.  You need to be vetted by an organization, which I was, via Autism Support of Kent County.  To my surprise, (and after an interview process) I was invited to participate.  2016 went by, and nothing happened, so I sort of forgot about the matter.

Fast forward to around Thanksgiving 2017 this year, and my phone rang with the opportunity to participate in 2017's Autism Research program.  40 hours of work, reading, researching, and reviewing scientific proposals, right through December.   At the end, a trip to near-DC to do the final reviews.  I winced, admittedly.  My December was already going to be stressful with the holidays.  But it was a hard opportunity to pass up- the chance to advocate not just to parents (though that is definitely important) but to researchers, who rarely leave their labs to begin with.  I couldn't say no.  Unsurprisingly, December was kind of insane.  But I did manage to get all the work done, despite much dilly-dallying, the traveling, and the time demands of the holidays.  The government paid for the airplane tickets (but not the baggage fee, which is reimbursed separately), so off I went. 

There were two different groups for this year's grants: theoretical research, and clinical trials.  The theoretical research was unfortunately the much larger category, and also the one I was assigned to.  This was rather disappointing, because part of what I'd wanted to do in DC was explain to these scientists how incredibly important immediate results were.  I wanted to tell them that time was up on researching "mechanisms" and genes, and specific processes that might increase autism rates, because we need help now, and we're not getting it.  I somehow managed to do all my preliminary reviews and get to DC without realizing that I'd been specifically assigned to the "theoretical and new ideas" section of the grants.  This was unfortunate, because I had some variation of, "this isn't helpful immediately, maybe consider that we need help now?" in 7 of my 10 reviews.  Slightly embarrassing, suffice it to say.  I had to do a lot of rewriting my reviews at the end of the trip...

The specific aim of that group wasn't the only problem I had.  At least a third of the research proposals I reviewed involved experiments on mice.  These are called "mouse models," and they're a staple in a lot of autism research.  Instead of experimenting on autistic people (which is hard to get past an ethics board), you experiment on mutant "autistic" mice.  I found this both annoying and utterly perplexing.  How do you make a mouse autistic?  Is that even possible?  How is that even a reasonable thing to do?  So at the end of the first day (which was more meet-and-greet than it was reviewing research), I asked the room of other reviewers if someone would please explain mouse models to me.

Mice Are Not Autistic

I got one taker to explain mouse models, an older man, who roped a friend of his into helping to educate me.  I later pestered a third scientist for a different perspective and better understanding of the subject.  First: the mice are not autistic.  You literally cannot make an autistic mouse right now, and you may never be able to.  Because we don't know what causes autism, only dozens-to-hundreds of factors that can play into the question, you can't make an exact representation of autism in a mouse.  Some of those factors are genes, too, and mice have different DNA than us.  Some mutations that seem to play into autism are lethal if applied to mice.  Especially if you try to do more than one.

So mouse models are relatively simple mutated mice.  Only a few different genetic modifications.  Too much more than that, and the mice stop breeding, or don't produce offspring even if they do breed, or just outright die.  So it's a tricky balancing act, because you need the modifications to make the mice have autistic-like traits.

There are whole jobs revolving around simply creating mutant mice for studies like this.  It's a hard job, too, because you have to adhere to three kinds of ideal standards:
  1. Face Validity- the mouse behaviors need to look like the autistic behaviors.  So, one example is a particular mutant mouse strain is prone to jumping, repeatedly, for long periods of time.  This roughly corresponds to stimming, and so they do experiments on those mice to test things that might affect stimming.  Needless to say, mouse models tend to handle this type of validity fairly well. 
  2. Construct Validity- this one is a bit harder.  Now our mice can't just seem to be stimming, they need to have genetic abnormalities or specific environmental condition triggers like actual autistic people.  Some of these genetic abnormalities are outright fatal or otherwise unusable in mice.  So you can see this starts to get complicated.  
  3. Predictive Validity- the mice have to respond to treatments, like medicine, in the same way an actual autistic person would.  Otherwise the mice are of minimal use for the experiments, because this is the whole point.  If something works for a mouse, you want there to be a pretty good chance it'll work for a human the same way, too.  
Lining these three types of validity up perfectly in a mouse model of autism is not feasible at present, because again, we don't know what causes autism.  Trying to model it perfectly is just not possible.  So instead these mouse models tend to focus on specific identifiable features or side-traits of autism.  Usually at least two.  Stimming, or sensory sensitivities, or social interactions, or specific genetic quirks.

And the big question I had to ask: why mice?  Why not monkeys?  Why not something larger and more close to actual humanity?  The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, money.  Mice are very inexpensive.  Techniques for meddling with their genetic codes are well researched and relatively simple.  Also, they have quick life cycles, which lets you test a lot of generations in short order.  If you used monkeys, or dogs, or even chimpanzees, you'd also risk a lot more outcry from animal activists.

The Reviewers Themselves

So it's pretty much mice.  And some rats.  But almost nothing else.  Micemicemicemicemice.  Listening to the researchers talk about their subjects, I kind of wonder if they aren't more familiar with, and more fond of, their rodent subjects than they are the autistic population they're trying to help. (This isn't to say that these researchers weren't willing to learn from me, or were bad people or something.  All of the people I met on this trip were pretty much lovely, and my comments and observations were verbally appreciated by more than a few people.)

Speaking of the researchers, it didn't occur to me at the time, but in retrospect I should have probably guessed: researchers are almost invariably huge nerds.  This was very comforting to me.  Nerds are easy to talk to.  You just ask them what they do, or what they care about, and sit back and listen while they spout whole paragraphs and pages about it.

I did kind of regret not asking more of the researchers about what got them into studying autism.  There were all sorts of people there, with a dozen accents from all over the world, it would probably have been a lot of interesting stories.  At least half the scientist reviewers were women, which I found unusual given the statistics for STEM careers.

Quite a bit of chatting and socialization ensued, even outside of the reviewing hours.  I tried to make it to most of the formal and informal events, but didn't entirely succeed, given how tired I tended to get by the end of the night. 

Every consumer reviewer was biologically female, also.  That was a little strange, considering the ratio of male to female autistics is 4 to 1.  (I say biologically female, because I'm agender and when I talked about it with the other reviewers, at least one of them commented that she didn't feel particularly female either, now that she thought about it.)  At least two of the other autistic reviewers are in the category that I tend to call "The Lost Generation," except they themselves weren't actually lost.  They got their diagnoses late in life, and didn't get shunted into mental institutions and prisons (these two things are sometimes the same).  A lot of their generation weren't so fortunate, particularly the more heavily affected ones.

In addition to the other autistics, there were also a couple mothers of autistic children serving as consumer reviewers.  The one that served as my mentor was retired military, and has a more heavily affected son in his 20s.  She was quieter than the others, but had lots of good things to say when she did speak up.

On the Whole...

This was a pretty good experience.  I learned a lot of useful things, met a lot of interesting people, and I'll be getting paid for it.  I would definitely do it again, particularly if the bulk of the reviewing didn't have to happen around Christmas.  It was still doable, obviously, since I did it, but if I had to do it again, I'd definitely just do it all before leaving for the holidays, and not have to care about it later.  

The reviewing rooms were set up relatively comfortably, with a special laptop for each reviewer and a microphone between every two reviewers.  The chairs were arranged in a very straight U shape, with the moderators at the bottom of the U and the reviewers in two lines facing each other.  This allowed for some ability to see who was talking, and for everyone to see the screen at the far side of the U.  There were also support personnel off to one side, but they kept quiet unless called upon.  They were there to take notes, provide tech support, keep track of time, etc.  

I can't (ever, for some reason) talk about the research I reviewed specifically, though I will say there is definitely one researcher out there that needs to be smacked upside the head repeatedly with an ethics book.  I pointedly didn't memorize the institution and head researcher attached to that study, so I couldn't be tempted to yell at him later.  

As a side note, this program through the US government is the only grant program in the nation (for all conditions, not just autism) that includes consumers in its reviewer ranks.  It's common enough to have scientists look over the other scientists' work, but asking the opinions of people whose lives are directly affected by your research is apparently a very new thing.  This knowledge was rather dispiriting to me, but it probably means I'm never going to be out of a job as a self-advocate...  It does strike me as kind of hilarious that the government is at the forefront of progress in this area.  Y'know, the same government that trundles slowly, ponderously forward in pretty much every other case.  

My amusement aside, the staff of the program were pretty much unfailingly polite and willing to listen.  The scientific reviewers were a bunch of good natured nerds, for the most part.  The consumer reviewers were all interesting, pleasant people.  It was definitely an interesting experience, and one that gave me a lot to think about.  If nothing else, I should also be better able to read research articles for my Reading the Research posts. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 1/10/18

So Long, Renting!

So first things first, house hunting.

The night before I left on my business trip to Washington DC for the government work, my spouse and I went to see one more property for sale.  A condominium this time.  It was priced relatively low, and had fewer bedrooms than we'd been looking for, but it was cozy and spacious at the same time (somehow.  I really don't know how that works).  We liked the place a lot, and decided to put an offer on it.  Our realtor kindly handled most of the gross paperwork.  Did you know you can draft and sign house buying and selling paperwork online now?  I just found that out.  It was very handy, because I went off to DC the very next day, and wasn't around to sign anything in person.

We offered pretty near the asking price, as it was well within our budget and we really liked the place, with an escalation clause.  That basically meant we were willing to automatically offer a bit more than an offer higher than our starting offer, up to a stated amount.  But it turns out we didn't need to: our original offer was accepted.  We still have to get the place inspected and make sure there's nothing horrifically wrong with the place, but I'm optimistic at this point.

Reviewing Autism Potential Research

In other news, I went to Washington DC this week.  Or I guess more correctly, I went to Reston, Virginia.  I think if I actually got too near the capitol proper, I might go hunting politicians in order to verbally lambast them for the events of the last year or so, and that would end poorly for everyone involved.  This trip, anyway, was unrelated to national politics.  Over a year and a half ago, my spouse sent me some information that showed up on John Elder Robison's Facebook page.  Information about how to apply to be a consumer reviewer for autism research.

I firmly believe in the self-advocacy mantra: Nothing About Us Without Us, so I set about volunteering myself to do this work.  To my somewhat surprise, I was given an interview, and then offered the opportunity to join the government's pool of consumer reviewers (that is, people directly affected by the subject under study).  I accepted, and heard nothing for over a year.

This year, the program apparently changed hands, and I was called on to serve.  This involved a lot of prep work, the trip to DC, and roughly two and a quarter work days worth of intensive discussion of each proposed research study.  For the prep work, I was assigned ten research proposals to directly review beforehand, and had to write a critique on how I thought each one would affect the autism community.  Three scientific reviewers were also assigned to each proposal.  There were at least 30 other proposals that the other consumer reviewers dealt with.

When the time came to actually discuss the proposals in person, the program paid for my airplane tickets there and back, which left me paying for a baggage fee (which will be reimbursed later).  Naturally, the shuttle that was supposed to take me to the hotel broke before it could pick me up, so I ended up standing out in the cold (17F) and wind (26mph) for about 50 minutes waiting for the next one.  I was, suffice it to say, quite miserable by the time I made it to the hotel.  Fortunately, they'd flown me in a day early, so I was able to just crank my hotel room's heat up to 85 and roast myself back to a normal body temperature.

The next day, and each day after that, everyone was put in the same room, roughly 20 of us in total, and each proposal was discussed, one at a time.  There were microphones and special computers for doing the final review and critique process.  Everyone was remarkably polite.  What startled me most about the whole thing, I suppose, was how incredibly diverse everyone talked.  Everyone was fluent in English, of course, but there were German accents, a French accent, a really really British accent, a mild Brazilian accent, one or more Asian accents (I can't differentiate between Chinese accents and Korean ones).  From the US proper, there was at least one Texan accent, a very strong New Yorker accent, a Californian accent, and some subtler ones I couldn't identify because they didn't stick out as much to me.

Somewhat bewildered, I asked the organizer whether this was normal, and she told me it pretty much was.  So apparently Academia is just chocked full of diversity.  Or at least this sample of Academia was.  I wasn't expecting to have to sort out so many different ways of speaking!  It was a bit of a struggle.  Which isn't to say that any of these people were terrible or something.  I just normally have difficulties with conversations, and having to sort out accents in addition was an unexpected challenge.

Something cool, as an aside.  There were only 7 consumer reviewers for this year's iteration of research proposals, and one of them was Liane Holliday-Willey, the author of a book I reviewed  about a year ago.  Turns out she lives within an hour of where I live.  In retrospect, my reaction to recognizing her name was comical, inside my head.  I kept looking at her name badge in disbelief, thinking something like, "Wait, she's a live person?  And right here in front of me?  Really?"  Turns out she's pretty cool, and has a lot of good things to say in person as well as in her writing.  She was assigned to the other research panel, so I didn't get to chat with her a whole lot, but the conversations with her and the other consumer reviewers were rather enlightening.

Anyway, I have the contact information for her, a couple of the other consumer reviewers, and a few of the scientist reviewers also.  It's certainly not social-butterfly level networking, but considering my limitations and the relative shortness of the meeting, I think I did a pretty good job.  I am, however, going to have to make a lot of reminders to myself to follow up with all those people, because that is something I am demonstratively bad at.

This entry is backdated, because at the time of posting, I will be somewhere between South Carolina and Michigan on a hopefully not minuscule airplane.  (The plane that went between my home airport and DC's airport had 12 rows of miserably tiny seats.  If I can avoid that on the way out, that would be awesome.)  Either way, I'm getting up at 4:30 am to make it to the airport on time, so wish me luck.   

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reading the Research: The Role of Body Image in Health

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.

In honor of the new year, and my personal distaste for new year's resolutions, today's article deals with an oft-ignored strategy for being happier and healthier.  Rather than chasing after an ideal body type, work with the one you have.

Quoted from the article, which is quoted from the professor who headed this study: "Consider what is really going to make you happier and healthier in 2018: losing 10 pounds or losing harmful attitudes about your body?"

She is not wrong.  Consider the image below.  On the left, the actual picture as originally taken.  On the right, the photoshopped version that was later published.

I chose this particular image because the person here clearly has my body type: the pear.  She is large in the thighs, and probably has pretty strong legs.  The photoshopped version strips her of this, narrowing her hips, shoulders, legs, and middle.  In pursuit of what, I'm not really sure.  Supposedly, beauty. There's a lot more out there where this came from.  Also, depressingly, this is not just a female body beauty problem. 

I used to have some really negative opinions about my body, and still somewhat do.  While I spent most of my childhood relatively oblivious to the beauty industry, the thousands of photoshopped pictures, anorexic models on TV, and perfectly fit movie stars have taken their toll.  My gut reaction, in regards to my body, is to despair, because I will never look like that.

It's not just that I'm having trouble losing weight (I am, and it sucks).  It's that even at my very thinnest, I literally do not have the correct body type.  Like the model here, I am pear shaped.  I have wider shoulders, wider hips, and heavily muscled thighs.  There is no surgery, diet, or exercise that can change the basic facts of my bone structure.  If my goal was to look like the photoshopped picture on the right, I would be forever trying to something I can never be.  

So this article preaches combating that mentality in variety of ways, but all aimed at the same thing: body acceptance.

Oddly enough, for me, body acceptance came in a different way.  A (much thinner) friend of mine commented that if you look at the kind of women found in erotic films and advertisements for men, they are not the idealized, anorexic thin models.  They're like the natural one on the left, much more often.

There's also this musical...thing... which is... certainly a part of pop culture.  A not polite part of pop culture.  Consider this your NSFW warning, I guess. 

Anyway, the opinion espoused in that song has been echoed, much more politely, by an acquaintance of mine over the course of a dozen years.  And perhaps that, more than anything else, has helped me come to terms with the fact that I'll never look like the magazine covers.

All that said, I definitely do need to lose weight before it destroys my knees, and it'd be better for my health overall if I could ditch some of the fat around my waist.  But valid health concerns aren't really what this article is aimed at.  It's aimed at destroying the cruel impossibility of attractiveness that the beauty industry has wrought.  Something for all of us, autistic or no, to keep in mind this year, because, as the article points out, people who feel better about themselves take better care of themselves, automatically.  

Friday, January 5, 2018

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Last year around this time, I wrote a Legwork and Life outlining my goals for the year.  I pretty much agree with most of the sentiments I put in last year regarding New Year's resolutions.  Resolutions, as a concept, have been so overmarketed and superficial, that the concept of making them strikes me as running from door to door, shouting from rooftops, "I'M GONNA BE AWESOME THIS YEAR!  LOOK AT ME BEING AWESOME!"  And then resolutions and the culture being what they are, when you mess up those resolutions, you just... sort of quietly stop trying and hope no one notices you're not being awesome any more.

Of course not everyone does New Year's resolutions that way, but overall the situation has given me a poor view of resolutions.  So, like last year, I'm simply going to list some goals that I would like to accomplish this year, and not call them resolutions, and not give up on them if I seem to be failing.

First, I'll review last year's goals and see how I did, though.

Looking Back at 2017's Goals...

1. (2017)  Rebuild and keep a buffer for this blog.  

Well, I did actually manage this for most of the year.  It got wrecked around October and I didn't manage to rebuild it since.  I think my general anxiety level has gone down, or that fact would have really driven me into a tizzy.  I added the Reading the Research section this year, too, which gave me an additional post per week to juggle.  While I don't regret adding the section, since the information there is important, it definitely made my job here harder.  Oops.  

Overall, I think I did okay on this goal.  I still need to figure out how to pace myself and manage a buffer, while being sensitive to current events and sudden interests on my part.  That's the downside of buffers.  You have lots of saved content, and it's generally good at any time, but sometimes simply adhering to the order you set things is detrimental overall.  It's easier to just let things post in the order you set them weeks ago, but.  Meh.  It's tricky, and it's a balancing act I need to work on.

2.  (2017) Exercise 3x/week.

Yeah, uh...  Oops.  Turns out it's really blasted hard to make yourself exercise 3 days a week when you don't love exercise.  The exercise programs get old, it gets cold and gross outside, the shopping mall gets too loud to walk in comfortably...    I did not do a good job on this goal.  After my parents moved here, I've been decent enough about 2 days a week exercise, sometimes 3 days a week if you count walking with my friend.  But yeah, I think it's probably fair to say this didn't happen.  It needs to, still.

There's a possible solution, though.  Chris and I have been looking into getting an exercise bike, specifically a recumbent one.  When I was in college, I would literally sit on one of those things and exercise at a low intensity for an hour or two while I did my homework.  I could probably pull off the same thing, only with a book, or my tablet, or a TV show, or something.

3.  (2017) Make some progress (any progress, really) on launching a career as an autism expert/speaker/writer.

This front has been pretty quiet, annoyingly, at least 'til the end of the year when the DOD's autism research program was like, "Hey, want to spend your December flailing and reviewing autism research?  We'll pay you!"  That is really not ideal, but I guess it is technically "any progress."  

One of the most major falling down points with careers like these is that you have to network.  It's a dumb thing, because I'm bad at networking (lacking social intuition will do that), and that means it's a lot harder for me to get the right connections to become well-known enough to make it big, or at least become known and respected.

Going as written, I guess I succeeded at this goal, but I'd like to do better.  I can get started by trying to make personal connections with the scientific reviewers I'll be meeting this weekend... 

4. (2017) Start the arduous and exhausting job of house-hunting. 
Well, pretty much nothing happened on this until, I don't know, December?  And the housing market here is still completely insane.  One of my friends informs me that she read that this is the toughest housing market for buyers in the US.  I guess this city really is growing pretty fast, if that's the case.  Anyway, we saw a few houses before we left for Christmas things, and we saw one this week, and I'm sure there will be more to come.

This goal gets checked as a success, as written.  An exhausting, bash-my-face-into-my-desk success.  Hooray...

Moving Forward in 2018...

So this year, I would like to:

1.  Create and keep a buffer for at least 10 months of the year.  Preferably the entire year after I rebuild the buffer.

Last year was a learning experience, as was the year before it.  Maybe third time's a charm, and I can keep a buffer going the whole year?  I'd like that, but if nothing else, 10 months out of the year is a reasonable, somewhat challenging goal.  This will entail me working very hard ASAP to rebuild said buffer, as I've got nothing right now.  But the buffer has been a good thing for my sanity, and allows me to worry less about deadlines and more about making quality content and information available.

2.  Finish the arduous and exhausting job of house-hunting, get moved into a house or condo, and stop having to give a crap about the whole thing.

This is hopefully manageable.  I'm not under the impression that I'll be able to find a perfect house in a market like this, but it'd be nice to get into one that both Chris and myself don't hate.  I think I've already complained a great deal in this blog about why I'm done with the apartment complex we live in right now, but in brief: roaches, nonexistent snow removal services, increasing rent, and loud neighbors.

3.  Become better at managing a social network, and network with several autism researchers in pursuit of increasing my chances at a career in autism, and if nothing else, helping nudge research away from "what causes autism" toward "what helps autistic people?"

This is basically my "make some progress on career" goal from last year, but more specific.  I already have a contact that I could be chatting with some here and there, but I sort've fell out of contact with her over the Thanksgiving rush, and it feels awkward to email her.  So maybe I should also take out a book on "how to network" while I'm at the library next...

I do have a head start on January 2017 Me, and that is that I'm taking the NAC, which improves my mood markedly.  So this should be doable.  I hope.

4.  Keep steady on the 2 days a week exercise with my parents, and find, buy, and use a recumbent exercise bike this year for the 3rd day per week.

Keeping with the trend of "better goals" this year, this is a fleshed out and more specific version of my exercise goal.  I should also add "Eat better" to this list of goals, but I don't want to overwhelm myself.  I think the exercise bike is likely to be a major factor in better health and fitness.  My parents' exercise room area is excellent, and has a near-full spectrum of basic exercise machines, but I'm always limited in the time I spend there.  So it'd be good to have a day where I just burn calories for a long time, or perhaps a few days where I just spend a half hour or something on there.

Anyway, wish me luck!  Hope your year goes well. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Legwork and Life, week of 1/3/18

Happy New Year.  With luck, maybe this year won't be as soul-draining as last year, politically speaking... I've pretty much gone from "I don't watch the news, it's depressing" to "please don't talk to me about the news, I'm prone to fits of fury and weeping when politics are mentioned." 

Playing catchup from last Legwork and Life...

Christmas part 3 did occur, and while it was a lengthy affair, at least it was in the company of people that were all reasonably friendly and good natured.  The Star Wars movie left me feeling mildly bummed, for reasons I won't discuss due to spoilers.   But it was cool to see it, at least, among friendly people.  Overall it was a good trip.

Monday heralded the annoyingly long drive home, which ended up being about 14 hours even.  Normally it'd be a bit longer, as we like to stop, walk around a bit, stretch the legs, etc.  Unfortunately, it was bitingly cold and windy, and also I strained my upper back early in the car trip, which meant that moving around was anywhere from painful to agonizing.  That same scale works well for bumps on the road, acceleration and deceleration of the car, and any purposeful neck-turning that needed to ensue.  Y'know, like the head-checks that you need to do when changing lanes, to make sure you're not merging into another car in your blind spot. 

Needless to say, the drive was horrid.  I'm now desperately trying to decompress before I fly out again, on Saturday.  This has not been made easy, as house-hunting is still a thing.  I haven't slept well, due to not wanting to suffer the pain of rolling over and/or waking up when I do. 

Yesterday, I'd hoped that I might get the chiropractor to help fix my neck and upper back, in case there was something shoving my spine around could do.  I found out I was more or less grasping at straws.  The chiropractor basically okayed my regimen of ibuprofen, back massager-thing, and heating pad, and suggested cold packs as well.  That... is pretty much all he could suggest.  I was kind of hoping he could just shove my spine around and make the angry muscle quit whinging.  No such luck. 

The stiffness and soreness is wearing off, slowly, but not fast enough for me.  I am going to complain about it and whine about not being 30 yet until it's entirely gone.  I presume when I turn 30 this year, I'll have to complain about not being 40 yet.  I don't know, I haven't made up my mind yet.  I still have ten more months to decide, anyway. 

Oh!  Something I've been neglecting mentioning, I think.  Before I left, I finished all but three of the critiques for the government consulting job.  That was accidentally really good planning on my part, because the deadline for it was yesterday night, and I spent all of yesterday morning bashing my head on the remaining three.  I may have spent a good portion of the time complaining to a friend about the contents of those three, too.  Most of the content of those complaints can be found in last Friday's blog post...  But I got it all done! Roughly 12 hours before I needed to!  It's almost like I'm back in college.  I used to complete big assignments and end of the year projects in a similar fashion. 

I think the issue is probably that I focus better on something when it's done all at once, or at least in large chunks, day after day.  People talk about how it's good to do 15 minutes per day on a project, or half an hour, or something, and I just... I can't get into the mindset of a project in that short of a time, or if I manage it, I'm then out of time to work on it.  So I end up doing it all at once, and more often than not, a bit nearer to the deadline than it really should be. 

Anyway, wish me luck with the trip to (near) DC.  I'm going to have to try really hard to keep my temper when people talk about "curing autism" and how great it would be to do prenatal tests for it, and how the primary goal of autism research is to discover what causes autism.  The responses from the scientific reviewers strongly suggest to me that I'll be hearing a lot of that, if the glowing reviews of the studies I marked as "ewww..." are anything to judge by. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reading the Research: Dismantling the Medication Merry-Go-Round

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 far, theoretical hope for streamlining medical prescriptions for depression.  I've commented about my horror of prescription drugs for depression, I think, though I don't recall any particular post to link you to.  In brief summary: we don't really know why these medications work or don't, finding the right one is a matter of luck and perseverance, the side effects of some of them are truly terrible, and there are other, less risky therapies available. 

There isn't all that much to be done for the side effects thing... nor, right now, the lack of knowledge as to why specifically these medications work.  And at present, the US medical industry is very stuck on pushing pills for everything.  So alternative therapies, like LENS (neurofeedback) and dietary/gastrointestinal changes, will continue to fall by the wayside in the mainstream. 

However, apparently scientists are busily trying to find a way to make the medication merry-go-round be less of a luck-based thing, and more of a science.  You see, there are dozens of prescription drugs that can treat depression.  Finding one that works for you is the hard part. 

The study uses mouse "models" of depression, or specially bred lab mice with specific traits desirable to research... in this case, the tendency to be depressed.  I'm not overfond of these model studies, as I tend to think the results are dubiously translatable to people... but in this case, the researchers did actually try to make comparisons between their test subjects (mice) and actual live depressed people in their care. 

So basically, they think they've discovered specific reactions to each antidepressant, which indicate whether that antidepressant will be effective or not.  If they're right, they could simply match a patient to a set of specially bred mice, and test a dozen antidepressants at once on the mice.  If any drugs are particularly effective, the patient would try that first.  Essentially, if this idea proves effective, getting on the right antidepressant could stop being a merry-go-round. 

Given how many autistic individuals suffer from depression, whether that's from repeated peer rejection, the knowledge that we'll never be normal, messed up gut bacteria, or some other biological cause, having the ability to simply prescribe the right antidepressant the first time would be invaluable to a large percentage of us, and other people, who suffer depression.