Friday, May 31, 2019

WYR: Self-Care

Self-care is a highly individualized subject.  This article explains the what, how, and why of one person's self-care kit, or the things they use to catch their breath when they're suffering from bad spikes of anxiety or just need a break.  The things you might use, or I might use, vary wildly, simply because everyone is different.

The author here talks about how some people just don't seem to know how to take time for themselves, or don't know how.  That is, I would say, accurate for me.  If I had to guess, the ability to know when you need a break, and what things will help, is a form of intelligence, and it's one I'm not great at.  Fortunately, you can improve on anything with practice.

In the last few months, I've gotten lots of practice with it.  Reading this article, though, tells me how far I have yet to go.  I seem to have gotten better at identifying when I need a break, but I don't have much to go in my self-care kit.  At the moment, in fact, I have:

  • Episodes of a D&D story podcast (which will run out sooner or later)
  • A single webcomic (which I'm working my way through, and will also run out sooner or later)
  • Going for a bike ride (weather and sanity permitting, and it's rained a lot this year)
  • A small container of perfume, which helps derail my train of thought for maybe a minute.
  • Music (sometimes)
I'd kind of hoped to find, but haven't yet found, fiddle toys or textures or things like that to add to this list.  Such sensory stimuli are common in the autistic world as comfort items.  A small swatch of a particular fabric, rough or soft or textured in some interesting way, serves some autistic people as a quick and handy help in tough situations.  Weighted blankets, things to chew on, desk toys, squishable animals, whatever it happens to be, there's a lot of options, and I haven't found a single one that helps me (other than the perfume).  

The major difference you'll note between my list and the author's here, is that each and every one of my items is conditional or of limited time use.  I will (probably in the next couple weeks) run out of new episodes of the podcast.  They come out once every two weeks, each about an hour long.  At the moment, my needs for self-care far outstrip that.  This is my third readthrough of the webcomic, which I'm lengthening by also reading the comments from the fans on each page.  I'll still run out of it sooner or later.  

Riding my bike requires I keep the bike tuned, and that the weather co-operate, and also that I think I'll be okay going past whoever else happens to be out on the trail that day.  Sometimes that last bit causes me enough stress that it's almost not worth taking the bike out.  The perfume's effect wears off after a minute or so, which isn't great if the thoughts plaguing me last longer than that.  And my music collection is vast, but finding just the right thing to bring me out of my misery is daunting, and I'm actually not great at figuring out what music would actually help.  

I'm not actually, truly sure if the author here always derives the same comfort each time from each of the things on their list here.  For lack of confirmation, I'd mentally assume not, and emotionally desperately hope so, because maybe then if I find just the right things, I would always have something to retreat to.  

The thing I notice about the list here, is that it's generalized.  They list "Harry Potter fanfiction" not "fanfiction by ____ author."  They list several people as contacts to call, and coloring books in general, rather than a specific brand.  I tend to get interested in very specific things, not broad subjects.  One webcomic at a time.  Or one book series.  One podcast.  That makes it easy to run out of whatever it is, leaving me flailing for the next thing.  

My best guess is that I need to keep looking, but I'm historically pretty awful at recognizing enjoyment when it's dancing naked in front of me.  And very good at keeping on doing things I feel I "should" be doing, even when they really don't make me happy. So it's kind of hard to narrow down stuff based on what I spend time doing.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Legwork and Life, week of 5/29/19

This is Legwork and Life, where I track the legwork and opportunities in my career as an autistic advocate, and also describe parts of my adult autistic life, including my perspectives on everyday problems and situations.

Most of my energy this week was spent on negotiating the chores list with my spouse.  These sorts of things are usually kind of trying, but Chris and I have fundamental disagreements on when one does chores and in what manner.  

The way I grew up and learned these things, chores were something you did on your own time.  They were assigned to you, and you took responsibility for doing them during the week.  At the end of the week, all the chores should be done, and you had done your part to ensure a clean, livable household.

The way Chris learned these things, chores were something you did with your family.  Nobody really liked doing chores, but they were necessary.  So at some point, the family would get together and do all the things necessary to keep the house in good shape.  It wasn't fun, but everyone suffered together, so that made it less unpleasant.  

I have a marked preference for my family's version of chores, because everyone knows what they're responsible for and does it without there needing to be oversight or advanced multi-person planning.  It teaches self-reliance and personal responsibility.  Chris prefers his family's version, which emphasizes togetherness.  The end result, when we first started splitting chores, was that I did all my chores on my own time, and he didn't do his, waiting 'til the non-existent together-chores time happened.  

Needless to say, chores have been a point of conflict in our relationship.  There were complicating factors, like the fact that historically, the women have been shoehorned into being the home-managers and doing most, if not all of the chores, even if they were better suited to other jobs.  I deeply resent that inequality, and refuse to conform to it.  The fact that I was born with female parts shouldn't dictate my life's path.  

There was also the differences in availability.  While he works from an office building, I work (mostly) at home and thus have more flexible hours.  It also means that work effectively follows me everywhere, which can be draining.  But I can negotiate my relaxation time, work time, and chores time with greater freedom than he can.  

It took several iterations, but we did manage to cobble together a (very detailed) system that should work for us, and that we can both look at and say "yes, this is fair."  It makes neither of us, y'know, happy.  But that's a mark of a good compromise, or so I hear.  

Monday, May 27, 2019

Reading the Research: Splitting the Spectrum

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 step forward in describing what exactly autism is... and possibly a step back in terms of autism advocacy.  

This study, and others, aim to identify subgroups in the autism spectrum.  I've complained in the past about how diagnostically useless the word autism is.  The same word encompasses me, a highly verbal and seemingly normal-presenting biologically female adult, as well as an entirely nonspeaking six year old boy.

This is kind of a stupid state of affairs.  Saying "I'm autistic" or "my kid is autistic" conveys almost no immediately usable information if the listener knows the vastness of the spectrum.  Having subgroups would help give the listener a better sense for what that means.  It could also mean more targeted therapies.  

So, for example, pretend type C autism was the type that denotes nonspeaking autistics that show strong signs of having the ability to learn to communicate via voice.  You would try to get speech therapy for people in this subgroup, in hopes of nurturing their ability to communicate that way.  Whereas that would be a waste with someone like me, because other than slurring my words and not enunciating as much as I should, I don't really have verbal communication problems.  It would also likely be a waste with people that don't show signs of trying towards vocal communication, because the effort would better be spent teaching sign language, communication via keyboard or text-to-speech, or a pictoral communication system.

So, theoretically, having subtypes of autism would be great, right?  Well... given the current state of the autism community, it also worries me.  There's basically an ongoing argument between some autistic self-advocates and some parents.  The self-advocates say, "Hey, I have similar experiences to your kid, you should listen to me so we can make the world better for all of us."  And the parents say, "You don't speak for my kid, only I can do that and as their parent I know how best to advocate for my kid."  

Basically, those parents proceed to ignore pretty much everything self-advocates have to say.  I'm not going to claim that any given self-advocate has all the answers for any given parent, but I do think it's really dumb to ignore first-person sources on a subject when they're right in front of you.  But that's exactly what happens, and as a result, autistic voices are silenced.  

Splitting the autism spectrum into subtypes is likely to fuel that kind of rejection and silencing.  To get a sense of why I'm sure this will happen, here's a rainbow.

rainbow emoticon, displaying each color in order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple
Autism is a called a spectrum.  That word is also used to refer to light.  The rainbow is a spectrum, showing all the colors our eyes can process.  When we talk about color, we have distinct words for each hue in the rainbow.  No one confuses orange with blue (unless color-blindness can do that), because they're so obviously different colors.  We don't consider them similar colors.  There are no blue carrots, and the sky is not orange unless the sun is rising or going down. 

The thing is... the rainbow is part of a much, much broader spectrum: the electromagnetic spectrum. 
A rectangular graph displaying the electromagnetic spectrum.  The human-visible rainbow of colors is a a mere nub near the middle, crowded amongst x-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, radio waves, microwaves, and others.
Look very carefully here.  See where the rainbow, the entire of the human ability to see, fits into the broader picture?  It's a really small nubbin of a region in the overall picture.  And this graph is actually erring on the side of being readable, because those exponents (10^6) mean the difference between them is huge.  
graph showing linear growth, which is a diagonal line at about 15 degrees, and exponential growth, which quickly outpaces linear growth.
A graph: linear vs exponential

The difference between 10^2 (100) and 10^3 (1000) is 900.  The difference between 10^2 and 10^8 is 99,999,900.  See how ridiculous this quickly gets?  The rainbow of colors that we interpret our world through is a minuscule fraction of the visible spectrum.  All the poetry humanity has written about color and light can be summarized into a barely relevant splinter on the spectrum of light.  

The color blue, then, has far more in common with the color orange than it has with any radio waves and xrays.  But because we see them as so distinct from each other, and can't see the riot of other light beyond the visible spectrum, we treat them as very different colors.  

I'm worried, honestly, that if we divide the autism spectrum into these colors, that people will immediately fixate on those seemingly obvious differences, and ignore the vast and sweeping similarities that bind the autism spectrum together.  And in doing so, they will silence self-advocates more than we are already, insisting in an ever-louder voice that we have nothing to offer the other subtypes of autistic people.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

WYR:The Puzzle Piece

The author has a lot of good things to say here, which is of course why I'm recommending you read it.  I have a few more things to add. 

I actually like puzzles, although not enough to buy the card table and sufficient numbers of puzzles that would be required to make it a regular part of my life.  The thing I've noticed with most puzzles, though, is that the pieces tend to look fairly similar. 
four puzzle pieces, three of which are identical

You can kind of see here there's only two types of pieces in this logo.  Three of them are exactly the same, and there's one edge piece.   Those three, they're what most people think of when told to imagine a puzzle piece. 

There are actually a lot more kinds than that, but once again, look carefully at these.  They're all based on a square or a rectangle, with ovals cut into them or sticking out from them.  Very predictable.  Very basic.  In fact, many of these are simply rotated versions of previous pieces.  

Does that sound like autistic people to you?  

It really doesn't to me.  We are much too different, much too unusual, to be summarized in so few variations.  

If autism really had to be portrayed via puzzle piece, it would be more appropriate to use something like these:

But in all honesty, I think the author is right, that puzzle pieces give negative connotations and reinforce the disease model of autism.  That if you just find the right therapy, your kid will be normal again and fit into the rest of the world.  That's a message desperate parents desperately want to hear, and it's an easy one to sell bleach enemas (or other bullshit "treatments") to.  

Humans love the ideal of a silver bullet.  We hunt religiously for a singular, magical cure for all kinds of things.  Search "weight loss" to get an idea of how absurdly far people will go for a single solution to this relatively common-in-the-US problem.  There are, off a quick search: pills, special diets, support groups, apps, slimming drinks, patches, injections, and powders.  More than half of what I've just listed is a form of metaphorical snake oil, and as likely to wreck your health as help you.  

Funnily enough, the same is true of most advertised autism treatments.  

There isn't, in my opinion, an obvious stand-in for the puzzle piece.  Replacements have been tried, and various organizations have their own logos, of course.  There's some interesting suggestions in this article, also. I kind of like ASAN's logo, for being pretty and relatively simple while still being inclusive.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Legwork and Life, week of 5/22/19

This is Legwork and Life, where I track the legwork and opportunities in my career as an autistic advocate, and also describe parts of my adult autistic life, including my perspectives on everyday problems and situations.

I managed to sleep in a whole one day or so without my spouse around, and after that I started suffering lower back pain.  It woke me up progressively earlier and earlier until I racked up a sleep deficit... which is about where I was when he got home.  I've been tired ever since.  

I did manage to fix the lower back issues a day or two after Chris got home.  Turns out my bed was set too firmly, so my back wasn't getting enough support.  I'm not really sure why that was an issue in the first place, but it was.  My back seems to go through periods where it prefers a firmer mattress, and then periods where it doesn't.  I have an adjustable bed, so this isn't the end of the world, but it is pretty annoying.  

I spent a lot of time while he was gone just cleaning the place up.  I have a better eye for detail than my spouse, as well as a higher need for cleanliness, so it can be bothersome to him when it comes to cleaning up the whole house.  Moving things like computer chairs around for a whole day isn't really an option when the person is going to want to sit in them in a few hours.  So I moved a lot of things and cleaned up various surfaces that don't normally get attention.  The end result, I hope, was a better environment for me and a relatively welcoming return home for him.  

This week seems to be devoted to breaking my addiction to sugar and building a buffer.  I'm not actually sure it's wise to be trying for both of those at the same time, but it seems to be the direction I'm heading so I'm leaning into it.  I've been running kind of ragged all week, but I'm really, really tired of seeing my weight keep rising.  And I do have a week's worth of buffer, which I'll try to expand on as the week progresses.  

Last week I got my hair redone.  It's a lot darker than I'd've liked, because my friend tried something new and got new results.  The result is more "dark and stormy night" than "royal blue," unfortunately.  I'm sure it looks fine, it's just not what I was going for.  I'll live with it, though, and next time around she won't be quite as experimental.  In the meantime, I'll be seeing her this week for a biking excursion.  

It'll be good to see her, and also good to tie one of my exercise days to someone else, because I just haven't managed to work up the enthusiasm for biking this year.  Maybe it's too many rainy days?  I just haven't been able to get into a rhythm the way I did last year.  Anyway, it should be a good experience.  She likes seeing the flowers and greenery, and there's lots on my preferred biking trails.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reading the Research: AI Therapists

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 suggests an interesting direction for home therapy: artificial intelligence.  There's a great need for accessible care for mental illness, but, at least in the US, the supply of good therapists is minimal and extremely expensive.  Some estimates say 4 in 5 people in the US have some kind of mental health issue.  But of course, US healthcare means most of those people can't afford one, even with an expensive healthcare plan.  Or the number of allowed visits is set so you barely see the therapist.  

The result of all this has been attempts to go outside the established (failing) system.  Thousands of self-help books and meditation apps exist, and dozens of online guides and apps for personal improvement.  Heck, I even spent a week trying out an AI therapist.  I wasn't blown away, but it wasn't terrible either.  Just not super helpful to me personally.  

The article is right in that there aren't really set rules for AI therapy.  Like many developing technologies, the rules are pretty much what you make of them.  Woebot, Wysa, and others are developed by people with backgrounds in both coding and therapy, so they adhere to those ideas and frameworks fairly well.  But there's nothing set in stone, and so people will continue to be alarmed by the possibilities.  

I do have to personally laugh at the very last sentence.  Yes, it's a possibility that an autistic person might take to interacting with a robot more easily than with people.  We've certainly taken to communicating better electronically than we often do in person.  That does not magically pull the autistic person out of living in a whole world full of people.  It might lead to interesting possibilities in terms of bridging the technological gap, which... come to think of it, is the subject of a science fiction book series I read growing up...  (I emailed the author once. She told me the relevant characters weren't meant to read as autistic, but they do anyway.)

I do think technologies like Woebot and Wysa have a ways to go yet before they could serve a larger population base, but it's a lot more feasible now than it was when I was growing up.  I don't think you can ever entirely replace a good human therapist, but for serving basic mental health needs and getting a good knowledge base and a place to start, we could do a lot worse than AIs.  Especially AIs with mandatory ethics.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, May 17, 2019

WYR: Automated Phone Prompts

I'm going to go on the record and say I really, really prefer to have the option to press buttons when navigating an automated phone line.  I have no documented verbal tics, stuttering, or any other form of diagnosed speaking difficulty.  I do kind of slur my words together, which I'm sure doesn't help people or machines understand me, but it has absolutely nothing on actual speech impediments.

Speech and language issues are common in autistic people, and that's even before you mix in things like cerebral palsy and Tourette syndrome.  It's patently obvious why multiple input options are necessary, given this slice of life article and those facts.  You shouldn't have to struggle to articulate the word "haircut" when it's simple to provide the additional option to press 1.  Ideally, both verbal and button-pushing options would be available in an automated phone line like this.  It's worth noting that you can sometimes go directly to a live person by pressing 0, but that doesn't always work. 

Honestly, a lot of these kinds of accommodations are good for everyone.  I find speaking to a phone tree mentally exhausting, and much prefer to press buttons.  It gets orders of magnitude more exhausting when you have to fight to be understood at each step of the process.  Which is why I'm glad there are websites like this one, which try to present workarounds and assistive technologies.  It's not the same as making a world built for everyone, but it's a start. 

I've actually used text-to-speech apps in the past, so I could converse with dental assistants.  They have this tendency to try to hold a conversation while shoving fingers in my mouth.  That makes it kind of hard to keep up my end of it, but with my tablet in hand, I merely need to turn up the volume and hold it so I can see what I'm typing.  Problem solved, don't need my lips or tongue to communicate any more.  They never sound quite right (though that's changing!), but it's far better to have that method of communication than to be barred from it. 

Mostly, in linking you to this article, I want you to really think about what it'd be like to live Rachel Dancy's life.  I feel that, after maybe a dozen interactions with some people with cerebral palsy, I'm maybe starting to understand little bit.  The two women I spent time with needed plastic straws to drink safely.  Because of their muscular issues, holding a glass, tipping it just the right amount, and swallowing at the right time is nearly impossible.

Both women had slightly different "accents" due to their cerebral palsy, and required a certain amount of concentration and time to understand and communicate with.  Every thought they chose to express took at least twice as long for them to verbalize than it would for someone else.  In this fast-paced world, it must be very common for people to become impatient and snippy with you, even though you're trying your best.  You can see this impatience in the salon person's response to Rachel's stuttering, and in Rachel's decision to tell the phone system "manicure" instead of continuing the struggle with saying the word "haircut." 

Kind of sobering for someone like me, who takes their speech capabilities for granted most of the time.  But a very real situation for many people.  These fellow humans deserve as much attention as I do, if not more.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Legwork and Life, week of 5/15/19

This is Legwork and Life, where I track the legwork and opportunities in my career as an autistic advocate, and also describe parts of my adult autistic life, including my perspectives on everyday problems and situations.

I don't think the crow garlic experiment is going to work out.  I've moved the pots around a bunch, and have kept both of them watered, but they just don't seem happy.  I don't really like being the source of any living creature's suffering, so I'll probably harvest what I can from them and then not replace them.  As far as I know, plants don't suffer pain in a way we recognize, but that's no reason to prolong the experience.  

There are probably a number of reasons this experiment didn't work, from not having the right pot, to soil type, to how I transported them, to the spot I tried to grow them.  I really don't have a green thumb, and so much of this was done with my best guesses.  And they really were guesses, because I have basically no intuition for this sort of thing.  People, yes.  Plants, no.  

That is, I suppose, one of the nice things about being an adult.  I can, if I wish to devote the effort, go to the local library and find reading materials on how to develop a green thumb.  There are even classes and programs I might sign up to attend, for small fees.  At my current age, I'm likely to live at least another couple decades.  If I spent roughly 20 years developing my intuition regarding people and human-built systems, I could probably spend another 20 developing intuition around the natural world and plants.  

I don't know if I want to devote myself quite that much to a skill set I'm not fascinated in.  But it's definitely a subject upon which much has been written.  For the time being, I'll simply have to make regular trips out to the trail for my crow garlic butter biscuits.  

My spouse is away for few days, and all the extra "me time" has gotten me interested in seeing how I handle all that extra time.  So far I've been able to sleep in as long as I wanted, spent extra time doing frivolous things, listened to a metric ton of podcasts, flatly failed to cook proper meals for myself, and cleaned up various places so they annoy me less.  Kind of a mixed bag, I guess.  

I don't expect to end up playing video games all day and subsisting on only junk food, to be honest, but it remains to be seen, I suppose.  Well, except for the part where I did write this blog post on time.  

Monday, May 13, 2019

Reading the Research: Simulation Neurons

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 new type of neuron found in the human brain.  The researchers termed these "simulation neurons."  The idea being that a person uses them to create a mental model of another person's thoughts and feelings, in order to predict what decisions they might make.  The researchers suggest that if these neurons were inhibited (or missing), the person might not be able to do as well in social situations, and might not learn social information as easily.  

So, on surface inspection, this article kind of looks like another "autistic people don't have empathy" assertion.  Particularly with the "autistic people might be missing these neurons!" thing they kind of throw in.  I'm always a little touchy about suggestions like that, because to me they suggest autistic people are sub-human.  Autistic people sometimes show reduced recognizeable empathy, which may be explained by lacking these neurons, and because empathy is an important human trait, we're therefore less than human.  

Given my particular therapeutic history (several years of neurofeedback, which improved my social cognition and ability to express myself socially), I'm more inclined to say the neurons are all there, but are having difficulty doing their jobs.  Brains have a hard time functioning when they're overwhelmed with stress, poor nutrition, sensory overload, and unreasonable expectations.  With all those demands, it can be really hard for an autistic person to properly recognize a situation meriting empathy.  And that's assuming we'd have the same emotional response most people would in that situation... which is not always the case.  

(I trust I don't need to remind you that yes, autistic people do have empathy.  I personally have empathy, to the point that it's rather painful.)

On a more personal note regarding these specific neurons... I get the feeling that if you put a brain scanner on me as I talked with people or went through my errands, you'd see these neurons go nuts.  I spend a lot of time putting together mental models of people and systems so that I can work with them without unduly upsetting them.  That's actually how I can seem so "normal" when having a conversation with people.  I try to quickly construct a sense of the person, what they want, and how I can best deal with them in a mutually satisfactory way.  

It's kind of exhausting, honestly, because I do a good amount of it consciously.  I suspect, given the descriptions here, that most people do this mostly automatically.  Still, it's a useful skill/ability, and I'm not going to complain about having it.  I'm not sure it's as simple as "I have this skill, which I use a lot, therefore social anxiety" the way the article suggests is 100% accurate, but it might reduce down to that.  Maybe.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Podcast Review: The Problem With the Solution

I've been listening to non-comedy podcasts for a few months, but this is the first one that's been relevant to this blog.  So, exciting!  I'm hopeful that as I find more disability-relevant podcasts, this will happen more often.

This podcast, Invisibilia, is about the invisible forces that shape culture: ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and emotions.  I studied psychology in college, so no surprise I was interested in this particular podcast.  The show tends to try to humanize its subject, showing different ways to look at a subject through the lens of true stories.

This particular episode is on mental illness, which you'll note tends to occur alongside autism due to the stresses of an unaccepting society, as well as biological and neural weirdnesses.  There are a lot of causes of mental illness, and none are the person's own fault.

The going philosophy on mental illness is that it needs to be "fixed."  This is because in many cases, the symptoms of mental illness are harmful or extremely unusual.  And the show starts out by noting, in a humorous fashion, that it's the US mentality to find solutions to things.

As the episode goes on, though, it suggests a different idea for how to think about mental illness.  It's the kind of philosophy that can be taken too far, but aligns very impressively with the general autistic self-advocacy opinion that people should accept, not shun, differences.

I don't want to spoil the episode too much, so give it a listen while you're doing chores or driving somewhere!  I really enjoyed it, even getting teary-eyed near the end.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Legwork and Life, week of 5/8/19

This is Legwork and Life, where I track the legwork and opportunities in my career as an autistic advocate, and also describe parts of my adult autistic life, including my perspectives on everyday problems and situations.

The transplanted field garlic is still alive!  Though it's not entirely happy.  I have two pots, and have moved one to an even shadier location on the offchance that makes it happier.  It's been trying to perk up a little during the rainier weather, but yesterday it got sad again when there was more sunshine.  So I'm not really sure what the deal is, but neither pot is dead yet.  So the experiment continues, and I have yet to harvest from either pot so they have the best chance of survival.  

I kind of wish I had a third test pot to try growing indoors, which... I guess nothing but the trip out to where they grow is stopping me. I technically already have a pot, it's just small.  So I'd need to find a smaller clump of field garlic.  And then make sure I remember to water it.  ...If I'm being honest with myself, this third pot would probably die the fastest unless I make reminders for myself.  

It's funny because there aren't really guides to this sort of thing.  Allium vineale (field garlic, or crow garlic) is very definitely an invasive weed.  It's edible, like many invasive species (that's why it was brought here).  But people haven't tried to cultivate them for quite a while, so the Internet doesn't seem to have anything on the subject.  I'm just trying to replicate the conditions I found them in, sans the competition with other plants for the soil. 

Related to foraging and wild plants, my friend has lent me her favorite foraging book!  So I'm going to read that and try to get better at spotting other plants besides crow garlic, dandelions, and cattails.  Speaking of cattails, they've just started to sprout, so we went to a local area and harvested a couple for practice.  The area is a drainage ditch, and cattails soak up heavy metals like nobody's business, so we won't be eating the sprouts.  Still, it was a cool experience. 

Going a bit further back in the week, it was my spouse's birthday.  My parents took us both out for dinner on the day of, and then on Saturday I'd planned a day-on-the-town kind of excursion.  We played arcade games at Dave and Busters, ate lunch at a restaurant, saw a movie, went for ice cream (sorbet for him) afterwards, and then had dinner.  All this meant the vast majority of the day was spent celebrating him, which he seemed to enjoy. 

It was a fun for me too, but I stressed pretty hard coming up with the stops on the excursion, and made it extra difficult on myself by having everything be a surprise for him.  We share calendars, so I couldn't just plan the events in a nice, neat, easily-referenceable order.  Next year, I'll look into whether I can set events to private or hidden or something. 

Either way, it's been a good week, I guess. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Reading the Research: Second Brain

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 little gross to think about, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a normal treatment in the future.  There's been increasing amounts of research into the effect of the intestinal tract on the brain.  Including, in fact, the discovery that there are neurons in there.  A whole lot of neurons.  Enough neurons to allow for an enthusiastic person to insist that the gut includes a second brain.  

I've harped on this sort of thing before, though not in those exact words.  Regular readers may remember I take probiotics in addition to various nutritional supplements.  They do help my mood, and when I've abused my gut by feeding it too much sugar, I can tell it's affecting me.  I have a really hard time eating a low sugar diet, though.  

So like many studies I've posted, this one has a definition problem.  What one team of researchers accepts as "autism" might to others simply be social disability due to stressors on the body and brain.  If your gut isn't properly digesting your food, you may not receive proper nutrition even if you're eating very well.  As a result, your brain won't function at its highest capacity, and things like noise, touch, and social expectations will exhaust you more quickly.  

Looking at their choice of research participants, I'm really not surprised they achieved such high results.  Each chosen participant had gut issues from infancy.  Doing a fecal transplant from a healthy human's gut bacteria would re-establish a healthy gut in the participant, which would allow them to receive proper nutrition and filter out toxins better.  With those important things handled, the brain would of course be free to handle the demands of life better, which leads, in this context, to being called "less severely autistic."  I imagine the results wouldn't be quite so impressive if they were merely done on a cross-section of autistic people.  Still, it's a promising lead for at least one group of autistic people.  

(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)

Friday, May 3, 2019

WYR: Running Away for a Reason

I'm going to be interested to see comments on this post.  This touches on a part of life I was never involved in.  I was never a wandering child.  My parents were spared the anxiety-inducing searches for me, because my comfort was indoors.  Away from the crawling bugs, biting mosquitoes, and the cold, clutching a favorite book in my own room, I was content.  Outside was not my friend. 

If it had been, though... if I was less sensitive to the brush of greenery, the chill of outdoor air, and the crawling of insects?  Perhaps I might have been a child that ran away. 

I'm curious to see what comments show up on this post, because it's such a common behavior.  I want to know if "escape and control of environment" is always the reason for wandering, or if there are complicating factors.  It's a people-related issue, so I'd guess there are complicating factors.  Still, if this is a major reason for wandering... that would make it a lot easier to improve everyone's lives.  Find what's distressing the autistic person, and change it.  Immediate effect: less distress and thus less wandering.  Surely everyone could agree that would be excellent.

As I was reading this article, I was reminded of a web game I played and reviewed years ago.  I no longer doubt that the ability to jump the playground fence and leave the area was put into the game on accident.  Rather, I'm surprised it wasn't more clearly marked.  Reading this post reminded me strongly of that experience.  That was what they were going for, no doubt... I simply didn't understand fully at the time.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Legwork and Life, week of 5/1/19

This is Legwork and Life, where I track the legwork and opportunities in my career as an autistic advocate, and also describe parts of my adult autistic life, including my perspectives on everyday problems and situations.

At any age, life is a learning experience.  You can never get too old to learn, because the world keeps changing.  Sometimes, however, it kind of feels like life slaps you across the face for not knowing something you should have known.  

I suffered bouts of dizziness last week, starting around Tuesday until Friday, when we figured out the problem.  This was related to how badly I was feeling over last summer.  It was a weird kind of dizziness, which tended to get worse when I lay down.  

So, much is said about indoor air quality, and my doctor kind of figured that might be the issue.  She suggested various possible coping mechanisms, including upgrading the home furnace to use a HEPA filter.  She warned that would be expensive, but it's technically doable... it just requires a much stronger fan than any other type.

After trying the other things (allergen-resistant pillow-holder, washing the bedding with hot water, taking an extra NAC to boost my detoxification), my spouse decided to look into the furnace things.  While doing so, he happened to notice the furnace filter... which hadn't been changed since November 2017.  They're rated for 3 months, and we'd been using the same basic model for 17 months.

Unsurprisingly, the filter was a gross mess.  So we trucked off (actually, he trucked while I staggered) to a home improvement store and bought the top of the line non-HEPA filter, figuring anything would be better than the old one.  Lo and behold, less than an hour later, I stopped being dizzy.  As of this writing, I haven't had a single bout of dizziness.

I'm really, really hopeful this will affect the amount of dizziness I suffer in the summer months when the algae has grown thick and foul.  I still won't be able to open the windows, obviously, but last summer, I'd still get dizzy and foggy-headed with the house shut tight.  With a properly functioning furnace filter, maybe that won't be the case.

In happier news, adventures in field garlic continues!

winter-deadened vines and grasses, with spots of green field garlic and yellow flowers

a cleaned bunch of field garlic on a baking sheet over a sink

a purple flowered plate with three biscuits.  One is split in half to reveal it's been spread with chopped field garlic and butter.

I seriously love the taste of field garlic, so I'm going to be sorry when it dies back a bit in summer.  As such, I uprooted a couple nice bunches and brought them home with me.  They're now in pots.  They're not exactly happy campers yet, still all flopped over rather than supporting their own weight.  But I'm hoping at least a few of them will perk up.  I can then simply chop the garlicky tops when I'd like some for my butter.

I have a very bad track record with keeping plants alive, so the ones I took home might well just die.  If so, they're an invasive species and shouldn't be here anyway.  So it's not the end of the world.  I'm hoping they'll live, though.  I've potted them with their home soil and placed them in a spot that kind of emulates being on the edge of the treeline, where they naturally grow.  They'll get sun, but not abundantly.

We'll see, I guess.  It's been a few days since I snagged them and they're still green.  Maybe that's a promising sign?