mellowtigger: (mst3k)
Arrival 2016 movie posterI've mentioned time and again my desire to have a visual language without sequential time. "Arrival" demonstrated this concept beautifully. It's a new favorite movie of mine.

The movie is rated quite well at Rotten Tomatoes (currently at 94%), so hopefully other audiences will appreciate it as much as I did.  And not fall asleep and snore like an old man did in the theater today.

What if learning to communicate with aliens required more than just assembling a new dictionary?  What if it required a whole new way of experiencing yourself?  As I've written in earlier posts, what if some humans don't have a knack for serializing their thoughts, and we've relegated them to the status of mental idiots, but we really need to develop a new form of communication?

This movie briefly offers a glimpse into the possibility that serial-thinking humans could be the underdeveloped minds in galactic society, and aliens would need to offer us metaphorical crutches and remedial lessons in language so we could communicate together efficiently.  When they offer us a "weapon", what are we supposed to think?  Metaphor is a multi-edged wonder.

I like it.  Go see for yourself.
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
Most people know that they get half of their dna from their mother and half from their father. What most people don't know, however, is that they also inherit another kind of dna exclusively from their mother. The mother provides the "egg", and the egg is very special. It includes extra material that every cell needs to survive and replicate. One vital feature inside our cells is the mitochondrion, a small factory that produces the chemical energy that we need to thrive. Mitochondria have their own dna, separate from our regular dna, and we inherit it entirely from the egg.

Without mitochondria, we would slowly die. Our cells individually would simply run out of fuel to function. I kept up with news in the early 1990s about medical trials because I knew college students who participated in this "job" sector as volunteer medical test subjects. I remember that one study was terminated prematurely because its participants died. They discovered that the drug was destroying human mitochondrial dna (although it did not harm dogs in previous tests), so their test volunteers were slowly starving to death, cell by cell, throughout their bodies. The point being that the health of our mitochondria affects our bodies profoundly, so our maternal heritage of mitochondrial dna is an important part of our genetic lineage.

One side-effect of these powerhouses doing their normal function is the production of hydrogen peroxide, H2O2. As any child who's seen hydrogen peroxide bubble on their wounds would know, this chemical is highly reactive. Since mitochondria produce it, our cells need a way to harness the chemical before it reacts with other chemicals in our cells (like our dna) and causes harm. This destructive reaction by oxygen-containing molecules or free radicals is known in a very generic way as "oxidative stress". We need antioxidants to defend against that damage.

Oxidative stress is now linked to a great many disorders, from Parkinson's to Autism and more. Of particular interest to me is the realization that it can trigger mitochondrial dysfunction in some people with autism, separate from the known long-term dysfunction comorbidity. Mitochondrial dysfunction would leave me feeling tired, unfocused, and thoroughly exhausted by physical activity... which matches nicely with my symptoms.  We've ruled out multiple sclerosis to explain my own health problems, so I've separated the symptoms of muscle twitches/cramps (which is responding very positively to a gluten-free diet) from the symptoms of exhaustion, brain fog, and apparent dopamine depletion. I am considering oxidative stress as an explanation for this second set of symptoms which has not responded to Ropinarole.

I've spent a lot of money on medical bills this year. Now that I'm earning a poor person's wages again, I have to get my spending under control. There are expensive tests for objectively measuring mitochondrial dysfunction, but doctor visits will have to wait while I slowly accumulate more discretionary funds. Instead, I'm experimenting more cheaply by taking supplements that affect mitochondrial function and oxidative stress. Most diet supplement pills are known to be ineffective, so I'm trying to stick with ones already proven to have some effect in reputable journals.

I bought some pills containing:
  • glutathione,
  • coenzyme Q-10,
  • vitamin E, and
  • selenium.
I can get more vitamin C and beta-carotene just by eating some carrots. I'll try adding plenty of turmeric spice to my meals too. I hope this combination will improve my energy level, memory/concentration, and dopamine. In theory, it should; but in practice, we'll see.
mellowtigger: (i told you so)
I've been talking for years about the need for a visual language for non-verbal autistics.  I learned today via this 15-minute TED talk that someone recently created one.  It's called FreeSpeech.

I disagree with his opinion early in the presentation that autistics have trouble with language because of its metaphorical content.  That issue can also occur, but I reiterate my claim that language difficulties stem from problems in synchronizing thoughts across the time periods needed to manufacture vocabulary and syntax.  A non-sequential grammar, by my thinking, removes the time constraint thereby allowing greater flexibility in assembling strands of connected ideas in any order convenient to the thinker.  He nearly touches on this idea later in his presentation when he discusses serializing thought into verbal language.

Regardless, I am glad to see that my own self-examination yields ideas that find external justification.  I wish I could've helped in creating that project.  I'll settle for pointing to my old posts on the topic.  I'm happy that I was on the right track, and a useful product is now out in the world.
mellowtigger: (dna)
I've heard 3 times over the years from doctors, "I've never seen LDL levels that low!"  Two were at Texas A&M, and one was soon after I left college.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are what's commonly known as "bad" cholesterol because it leads to the accumulation of cholesterol on the walls of your circulatory system. Cholesterol is necessary to your metabolism, but it's the high-density lipoproteins (HDL) that are known as the "good" kind. Whenever I've had my cholesterol tested, they have checked both kinds found in my blood samples. My good cholesterol is always at the low end of the healthy range. My bad cholesterol, however, has barely registered on their tests.

I learned last night during a hangout on Google+ (around the 1:05:00 mark) that one biomarker for autism is "cholesterol disregulation". I asked (at 1:33:00) if this disregulation presented itself as low LDL, and she said that this biomarker did present as low total cholesterol for one subtype of autism. Wow, I never expected that tidbit. I'll definitely look into it. I've always been unsatisfied by autism diagnosis by "interview" (psychological evaluation) rather than objective medical tests.

This researcher's lab needs funding to continue their work on "Protein biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder" (RocketHub). I've donated some money to help them out. I hope some readers can also help them out and pass word along to others so they can meet their funding goal.
mellowtigger: Celebrate Neurodiversity (neurodiversity)
I found very little information useful for explaining why autistics have a difficult time driving in traffic. The absence of information surprises me, since I know so many autistics (of the so-called "high-functioning variety") who do not drive. Instead, they rely on relatives or public transportation for their travel needs. I find plenty of discussions on the issue written by autistics who don't drive, autistics who drive, and advocacy groups. There are even special training programs just to teach driving to autistics. Nobody, though, enumerates the individual stresses of driving.

The best summary I could find was a New York Times health blog that mentioned only 24% of autistic adults were "independent drivers". The key point in that article was a quote by a medical advisor on safety issues for Quebec’s government-run auto insurance and licensing agency. I'll begin my self-examination with that starting point.

"Driving is a social act." - Dr. Jamie Dow

I think the stressors are these:

1) Self-interested driving by others adds to my mental drain.

Learning and following the rules of the road is just a matter of time and practice. Not all drivers, however, follow those rules. It means that I have to "get into other people's heads" to figure out their potential actions in spite of the rules. I try to avoid figuring out other people, so situations that require it simply add to my overall stress. I know that I my stress increases every time I see someone darting to exits at the last possible moment in order to "cut in line" ahead of the long line of people who properly waited their turn in queue. Evidence of self-interest competing with orderly rules will add to my stress.

The worst stress in these situations is seeing two drivers from opposite lanes decide at the same moment to merge into the same middle lane. I see the crossed trajectories, I deduce that they don't see each other, I accept that I can't warn them, so all I can do is hit my breaks to put more distance between me and the impending collision. Each step of that mental process drains energy by demanding immediate attention. I don't want to think about what other drivers (or people in general) are thinking.

2) All non-conformity adds to my mental drain, actually.

Those drivers who treat the commute as a personal challenge add to the computational complexity that I must perform. They drive at different speeds, they dart between lanes, and trying to build my mental map of the "flow" of traffic (even disregarding the drivers' intentions) gets so much more difficult when I have to account for multiple non-conforming vehicles. Their utterly unnecessary driving pattern and my annoyance at it both add to my stress.

3) Multiple simultaneous identification requires energy.

When everyone drives in the same pattern, then it's easy to maintain "the flow" of traffic. I join the metaphorical school of fish rather than remaining one of a multitude of independent fish. With everyone changing speeds and directions, though, I must map each vehicle on the road and maintain its trajectory within my mental environmental map. Mapping requires concentration, and concentration requires energy. I don't know, but can't stress be defined as the undesired use of mental energy?

Seeing all of the trees requires a lot more brain power than simply seeing the forest. Driving, unfortunately, requires seeing each individual vehicle and pedestrian and tracking their changing trajectories. Permutation explosion is never a good thing.  The convoy experience is much less mentally taxing, but city commutes do not happen by convoy unless the congestion is so bad that everyone is barely traveling at all.

4) Social negotiation adds to my stress.

I sometimes find myself wanting to change lanes to deliberately impede the progress of unpredictable drivers, to make the point that if every driver on the road behaved like they did, then the commute for everyone becomes a permutation explosion of unreasonable complexity. I don't pursue it, of course, but the idea of such confrontation adds to my stress.

When a driver is polite and signals with plenty of lead time that they want to enter ahead of me, it still is an unsolicited social negotiation.  Driving requires acceptance of these unexpected social entanglements.  They are brief, yes, but still undesired.  Even when I am the driver needing to change lanes (entirely necessary, not frivolous bypassing of slower vehicles), I notice a slight increase in my stress since I must now socially procure "entry" with a new crowd. It's only a small stress, I agree, but it is non-zero and adds to the cumulative experience.

5) Consequences are worrisome.

It also adds a non-zero amount of stress to my mind simply knowing that the consequences of any failure are potentially severe. I mean primarily medical consequences, but to a lesser extent there are also the legal consequences (ticket fines, license revocation, etc.). The "impending doom" increases the focus necessary to concentrate on safe navigation.

6) Good viewing is mandatory.

Good lighting is necessary to make this tracking process easier.  Any environmental condition that reduces visual clarity will add to stress by reducing the amount of time available to see objects and computer their characteristics.  These negative conditions include rain, snow, fog, darkness, glare from sunlight or approaching headlights, and probably lots of other factors.

Conclusion) Driving is both complicated and social.

Not only does driving require tracking "objects" on different and changing trajectories, but it also requires "people" skills by intuiting others' intentions and negotiating entry with different groups.  It's a wonder, actually, that autistics succeed at this process at all. Normally, a simple and short commute does not bother me in any noticeable way, so I guess I should consider myself talented in this regard. I suspect now, though, that commute stress might be the primary reason that I very rarely travel for personal vacations. This deep self-inquiry, even done in the safety of my desk chair and comfort of my bath robe, leaves my stress at noticeable levels.  Time to take a break for a drink of water and some mindless television as a distraction.

edit 2013.10.28:
P.S. I realized during the commute today that there's another issue that I missed completely.  The individual stresses while driving will repeat continuously.  With little time to de-stress and return to "resting state", the bloodstream instead has to cope with additional stress chemicals being released with each new detail demanding immediate attention.  It builds upon itself, making the whole experience an ordeal worse than its individual parts.

one month

Oct. 19th, 2013 09:05 am
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I finished my 4th week at my new job.  It's a mixed bag for me, with both prominent highs and lows.

The High:
There are actual jobs that pay actual money for permutation exploration?!  I was built for that stuff!  How did I miss discovering this career path after all those years I spent programming?  When I left programming a decade ago, I could have been doing this kind of work instead of tech support.  I guess I never thought of it because I never programmed at any place large enough to have a separate test group.  Instead, programmers did all of their own testing.  Yes, absolutely, I can go exploring every possible use of a program just to see if it works as intended.  That's not a job, that's an adventure.  :)

The Low:
Unfortunately, self-directed testing is what the job requires only between the episodes of intense regression testing.  The regression testing uses predefined "scripts" (as in food recipes, not computer programs) that define explicit scenarios that must work properly.  You'd think that these scripts would make testing easier, but I'm finding the opposite.  Each script requires a new "setup" to create an environment of hardware and software versions that a customer might find themselves using.  But no script exists to explain the setup, and I'm finding that I have vast fields of ignorance over most of these very important details.  I can't test if I can't set up. It becomes permutation explosion where I can't even understand a specific trail that I'm following.  I'm easily flustered when confronting my own ignorance under important deadlines.  Nearly everybody is, I would guess, but unfortunately that's what regression testing is all about.  As I was leaving work on Friday afternoon, I got a long list of assignments that will help me simulate the experience before my first real regression test.  I asked for more concrete examples, so I'm getting exactly what I needed and wanted.   I may, though, end up running away in terror... and that's bad.  I'm not convinced that I can do this particular job.  I think maybe I should have "cut my teeth" on this new career path (which is great!) with a much less complex product.  :(  Stay tuned.

The Other Low:
I'm surprised at how little information I can find on research into what exactly trips the stress sensors in autistics who drive vehicles. I'm not holding up well on my commute.  I've spent about 1/3 of my morning commutes feeling nausea.  It fades away almost immediately after I finally sit down in my chair at work, but it's a very bad start to the work day.  While the evening commute holds much more traffic and my stress level is high then too, it never leads to nausea.  I don't know if it's because of the sunlight (which makes it easier to see everything) or the slower speeds of travel (which makes it easier to scan for traffic).  It's almost 22 miles from home to work, and I can't remember ever driving so far in metro traffic for any job.  If I focus now (sitting silently in my bedroom during the weekend) on the nausea, I sense memories of my time in Houston in 1987 when I worked at IBM.  Maybe I experienced similar problems there, but it certainly was not as strong as now.  I'll write a new post about "autistics and driving" after I've pondered the topic some more.

Alternatives Exist:
I've noticed in recent weeks that some tech companies focus only on hiring adults with autism diagnoses to do quality assurance testing of software products.  Two mentioned in this article specifically offer long formal training (which addresses my Low #1) and working only by telecommute (which addresses my Low #2).  I've already fired off an email to ask about these opportunities, but I haven't heard anything back at all.  I'm disappointed by the silence.  Obviously this career path is a good fit for a mind like mine, since entire companies are springing up to develop this mutual benefit.  My current employment, though, may not be ideal for me in other ways.  It's a good thing that my boss was on vacation last week, because I was prepared to leave before any important deadlines loomed.  I've already given him contact information for the person they should hire to replace me, if it comes to that.  This other guy has spent years using this product, so he already knows the many things that I still need to learn.  I can also be stubborn, though, and I think simple curiosity (the motivation to explore many new tech details) can help me through my current flight instinct.

NoLAR 2013

Sep. 22nd, 2013 09:33 pm
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
It's been 5 years since the last Northern Lights Autism Retreat. The 3rd event was held Friday through Sunday (today). I'm back home from attending this year's retreat at Koinonia (the same location as the 2nd retreat).

It's definitely easier to enjoy the conference when I'm not responsible for any part of it. I was held back by still being out of energy, though. I need to figure out what's causing that problem. It didn't help that my dorm room partner was a loud snorer. I didn't sleep well at night. Even so, I was just too tired, and I declined most of the adventures that people went on. I let other people enjoy roaming the wilderness trails, walking the labyrinth, or riding the boat on the lake. My left leg also is still a hindrance, and the hilly landscape did not help. Being the wild man that I am, I stayed in our main meeting room and did a lot of reading. Once I got home, I went to bed and slept for about 4 hours straight. I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

I got to see some people that I had not seen in a long while. I also met new faces. I'm sure the staff must talk amongst themselves about this nonconformist group of people at their facility. I was especially amused to see the old man in dangly earrings and high heel shoes roaming around quickly on his Segway. I also chatted a while with the lesbian who will be marrying on next weekend her partner of 6 years. It's the first time since legalization of marriage in my home state that I actually met a person who was finally receiving the legal rights that others enjoy. It's strange to meet such a person at an autism conference though...

I still see the clear divisions between those autistics who are "talkative" versus those who are "quiet". I might have to amend this division to include those who are able to maintain intimate relationships versus those who are not. Or maybe not. It seems to be the more talkative crowd that pursues relationships with other people. I guess it's just not really a necessity for us quiet types. I gave up on the idea of a relationship some 16 years ago, and my autism diagnosis happened only a decade ago. I suppose that I maintain an uneasy truce between the effort to remain open to possibilities and the effort to structure my life for self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, the years pass... 16 of them so far.

I was pleased to see the less-capable among us compose pleas for help, and the more-capable among us offer what assistance they can. Yes, I still saw personal insecurities lead to discord, but I think it was all minor stuff.  I didn't see anything that would hinder future opportunities.  It's what I hoped to see develop from NoLAR: new perspectives and new growth. So chalk up another success for a conference implemented for and by autistics. Go, us.
mellowtigger: Celebrate Neurodiversity (neurodiversity)
I'm so happy to tell you that the Northern Lights Autism Retreat has returned!

I've been away from the Autism Society Of Minnesota for a long time.  I've been too tired to take on extra projects lately, and unfortunately that's meant that this event didn't receive any attention from me to help it along.  Finally, though, an autistic person somewhere has collected the determination to convene this 3rd meeting of "like minds".

At work today, I secured that Friday off from work so I can attend the retreat over the 3-day weekend.  Yay!

mellowtigger: (brain)
I already knew that there was a loose connection between autism and multiple sclerosis.  I gave up investigating that connection a year ago when I thought my health problems were related only to B12 absorption, cured by ridding my body of an unhelpful gut infection. My recent muscle injury while walking (a common multiple sclerosis complaint) has changed my mind. I am revisiting the issue... and it's fascinating.

Nerve cells require myelin insulation for them to propagate a signal correctly. This insulation is NOT built by the nerve cell itself as I once assumed, but is instead built externally by glial cells (helper brain cells) called oligodendrocytes. There is some evidence of glial abnormalities among autistics, but the main link with multiple sclerosis may involve myelin antibodies.

Normally, a body shouldn't reject myelin as foreign material, but there is ample evidence that some autistics develop antibodies to myelin anyway. I repeatedly find recent studies (such as these from 2010 and 2011) that note prominent differences in these antibody levels between autistics and neurotypicals. Researchers are investigating possible factors such as serotonin and vitamin D, which also lead me back to ideas about membrane permeability in the brain and gut.

I'm rethinking multiple sclerosis as a self diagnosis. I'm rethinking Primal Diet as a helpful change for myself.

I may drop by the office of the local Autism Society of Minnesota to ask if they know any neurologists who are familiar with autism. I think I might like to pursue my health issues with doctors again, but only if I can avoid the ones I've dealt with previously. Of course, I'll have to sign up for taxpayer-subsidized Minnesota Care again, since I have no money of my own to spend on this stuff, even though an actual solution would help keep me employed for many years to come.

Edit (2013.04.08):  Well, I had a muscle cramp tonight around 10pm, breaking my year-long streak without them.  At least it was in my right foot and not my left (where it might have aggravated my injured leg muscles).

and now B9

Feb. 13th, 2013 09:58 am
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I heard part of the NPR story about folic acid cutting autism risk by 40%.  I searched online and found a lot of associations between folate and issues that I blog about regularly such as epigenetics, demyelination, effects on brain areas specifically associated with autism, and most importantly... low energy levels.

For now, I'll just say that I will finish my bottle of vitamin D supplements next week, and I will replace it with vitamin B9 instead.  There are upper limits on safety of folic acid (the common artificial form of folate), so I won't go with mega-doses of it.  B9 needs to be kept in near proportion to the other B-complex vitamins to be useful, so I'll continue with my multivitamin too.  My regimen now includes multivitamin, B12, and B9.

I'm amused that my body may have already known about a B9 problem.  I prepare few recipes regularly, but one of them is my homemade spinach dip.  Spinach apparently is exceeded in folate density only by beef liver.  I can't afford premade spinach dips or those expensive packets of flavor powders, so I experimented to make my own.  Here's the recipe that I have used for years.

Spinach Dip
1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted but still chilled (squeeze out all of the extra water)
1 package 16 ounce sour cream (low-fat version will work but tastes slightly less flavorful)
1 package water chestnuts (diced to small cubes)
1 T garlic powder (or more, depending on your taste)
1 T onion salt (or more, if you can safely have that much salt)

Mix the sour cream and spices, then the water chestnuts, then the spinach. Make sure all of the spinach is coated with sour cream.  Chill again when you're done.  I usually pack the mixture back into the sour cream container (as much as will fit) to store in the refridgerator, then pig out immediately with corn chips on what's left over in the bowl.  Yummy, cheap, and easy!
mellowtigger: (twitch)
I messed up twice today.  It's been happening too often in recent weeks.  The trend is an inability to interrupt intended routines.  It's like a minor part of my old behavior (the auto-pilot) from pre-diagnosis days is reappearing, and I am not thrilled.

I drove this morning to my precinct and voted.  I voted for Obama.  I didn't mean to, and I'm unhappy about it.  I wanted to vote for Jill Stein.  I did not bring a complete cheat sheet with me this time as I had in previous years.  I think that difference led to the mistake.  I noticed the error before I turned in my ballot.  I considered asking for a new one, but the "momentum" of the expected ritual procedure kept me locked in to continue my voting process.  Obama was a choice I could live with, so I didn't pierce through the familiar voting protocol to forge a new experience.  Instead, I drove away annoyed with myself.  I couldn't remember afterwards how I voted on the marriage amendment.  Hopefully I made the intended choice there.

I drove this evening to the Heights theater to watch a movie instead of election results.  I paid my entrance fee (which was significantly higher than usual) and got my popcorn before realizing that they were showing a ballet instead of a movie.  I didn't want to watch a ballet, and I was unhappy about another personal mistake.  They were doing one of those simulcast presentations of a Royal Opera House production of Swan Lake.  There were about 20 people there.  I'm convinced that I was the only customer under the age of 65.

Ballet makes about as much sense to me as American football.  I can see that both efforts require lots of stamina and strength and skill.  But what's the point of watching it?  I'm sure there must be a story in the ballet somewhere.  All of those synchronized, mute, epileptic pantomimes are going on about something, but I can't detect the signal amidst the noise.  All that's missing is an inflated pig bladder, then my befuddlement would be complete.

What the difference between a ballerina and a running back?  I can't tell.  They both run around in tights.  Is that man having sex with that swan?  He was aiming his crossbow at her a minute ago, and now he's dancing close with her.  What's going on?  Shouldn't somebody be chasing a leather ball for no conceivable reason?  I'm sure ballet and football are rewarding challenges to actually DO them well, but I don't understand the point of WATCHING them being done by others.

That was my day.  I hope yours was better.  I keep taking my B12 (and I've added vitamin D too) and hoping for more improvements.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I went to Pride last year, but I think I'll be avoiding it this weekend. Last night's dream suggests that I should be avoiding stressful situations for a while.  Apparently this year will be fertile for subconscious farming.  I just experienced my 3rd dream of 2012, and it's only June.

It was the zombie apocalypse. They were slow zombies, so they were easy enough to outrun. Strangely, people were still able to speak during the first stage of reanimation, so it was difficult to tell who was affected until they started aiming their teeth at your flesh. One of the recently-turned kept asking me to take my bat and hit him in the back on his spine. Apparently it itched madly, and he thought crushing it would help.

I was accompanied by a man and a woman. They might have been a couple; I'm not sure. I didn't recognize them from the waking world. We were making our way across a metropolitan landscape to some sort of city council meeting where people would decide how to respond in this disaster.

In a crowd somewhere, I explained to my duo that I finally recognized that my body was shrinking. That's why my "perspective" had been so skewed lately. I needed to find the cause so I could stop the process and maybe reverse it. I suddenly found our trio located in a massive lobby to a bank. The guy recognized one of the paintings (of a red-headed man) in the lobby as someone who had faked his own death so he could safely abandon his banking empire. He wanted to use his ill-gotten gains to earn personal redemption through bioengineering. He worked in secrecy to avoid "contaminating influence" from his former life. How did the guy in our group know all this detail? I don't know. We decided to visit him. It required going downstairs through some strange mini-elevators in the bank that could only fit one person at a time.

Like an Alice In Wonderland dream, my shrunken body seemed barely to fit into one of the two elevators. My perspective was wildly out of control. I warned the woman in the elevator next to me (the guy was waiting upstairs until one of the two elevators returned) that I was getting claustrophobic from being so cramped in the tiny elevator... even though my body was shrinking ever faster.

The young cat walked across me and interrupted my slumber, so the continuation of the dream at this point included "disjointed" time as I slowly woke.

Apparently my brain was failing to function properly during the massive shrink, so I lost consciousness. The other two got me to the scientist (former banker), and he cured my problem. My body had already grown back to normal size. This time, though, my brain had grown back into its "natural" form. This Remaking was happening much too quickly, and I couldn't direct it properly. I was restored to my adult form, but I was mute. Time was too out-of-synch, so I was having trouble making sense of the world. I couldn't properly understand what people were saying to me, and I couldn't formulate any words for response.

By now, I'm fully awake, and the dream ends.

My sociability has been "all over the map" during the past two weeks: ranging from wanting a boyfriend to wanting escape from civilization. I've explained before the danger in my thinking too hard about complex social realities. I think it would be safest if I avoided crowds of people for a while. I already skipped Bear Coffee last week. I think I'll skip it again this week and also the local Pride festival this weekend.  I had already scheduled time off from work for a camping event next weekend, but I think I'll cancel it too.

It would be wise to avoid the festive crowds until my thoughts are back under familiar control.  Meltdown is subjectively unpleasant.
mellowtigger: (brain)
I've been talking for nearly a decade about how some autistics live with an older form of emotional brain that has been awakened from slumber for another "test drive" of suitability in this test lab that is our global industrial civilization.

I count some emotions as just another kind of sensory experience. Sensations require an effort to establish a link between the perception and the actual cause in the external world. It's not easy to establish these links. Cringing is useful because the action takes you away from the source of harm without any need to understand the source. Anger and fear, however, require understanding the source, otherwise actions are taken "wildly" that often fling harm in all directions equally. Connecting internal sensation with the external world is very important.

Today is the first day I've seen some rather specific evidence in favor of this subjective experience as a complicated process. Scientific American published "Decoding the Body Watcher", an article that explains a few key points that echo my own assertions:
  • "While the prefrontal cortex may indeed be specialized for attending to external information, older and more buried parts of the brain including the “insula” and “posterior cingulate cortex” appear to be specialized in observing our internal landscape."
  • "Contrary to the conventional assumption that all attention relies upon the frontal lobe of the brain, the researchers found that this was true of only exteroceptive attention; interoceptive attention used evolutionarily older parts of the brain more associated with sensation and integration of physical experience."
  • "By recruiting “limbic-bridge” areas like the insula and posterior cingulate, a person using interoceptive attention may bypass the pre-frontal neocortex, directly tapping into bodily awareness that is free from social judgment or conceptual self-evaluation."
So when autistics like me self-report that some physical (and some emotional) sensations overwhelm our sense of self with their intensity, now there may be a good and objective reason to accept our account.  There are a host of articles that link these same two brain regions with autistic minds.
mellowtigger: (brain)
I learned today that humans (perhaps all vertebrates) have a second brain in their body. It's diffuse, primitive, and limited to concerns of the gut, but it's definitely there. It's called the "enteric nervous system". It forms from the same early cells as the brain, it has more neurons than the spinal cord, and it can work independently.

"This is indeed the picture seen by developmental biologists. A clump of tissue called the neural crest forms early in embryogenesis, Dr. Gershon said. One section turns into the central nervous system. Another piece migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Only later are the two nervous systems connected via a cable called the vagus nerve."

So it is literally a fragment of brain material that matures into a separate integration center, where it receiving incoming signals and reacts by directing appropriate responses. It's the area responsible for "stomach butterflies" during emotional stress. It is associated through neurotransmitters to our emotional state, and it may play a large part in emotional responses.

"The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels. Because antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, it's little wonder that meds meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome—which afflicts more than two million Americans—also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entrails, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain."

I've been talking for years about emotion as a primary sensory issue for autistics (overwhelmed by bloodstream "emotional chemicals").

"I have argued previously that I think some emotions are actually sensations. I suspect that there are cells in the brain that "sense" chemicals in the blood and produce a perception of emotion the same way that we have cells that "sense" chemicals in the air we breathe and then produce a perception of odor."
- Terry Walker, 2005 February 06, ANI-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU, Autism Network International Listserv

This new information fits very well with my personal observations. It might eventually lead to hard evidence explaining why so many autistics use diet as a means of symptom and behavior control.

i'm a dork

Sep. 27th, 2011 09:24 pm
mellowtigger: (dumb)
<yoda voice>Scatterbrained, I am. Yeessss.</yoda voice>

I just realized that I missed the Jane Goodall event that I wanted to see. It started 2.5 hours ago. I prepaid my ticket too.

It never turns out well when I try to follow too many ideas in too short a time. Life is much too complicated.

*disappointed sigh*
mellowtigger: (brain)
In 2004, I solicited help in exploring visual, non-sequential language for communication. I don't mean a gestured language like sign language, because it is also sequential. I mean a purely visual language such as the communication provided by the imagery within a painting. I even emailed a few language centers at different universities but without any success. I finally resorted to just leaving my thoughts on a webpage where it has sat unused for half of a decade already.

"Based on my experience at just being me, I have a suspicion that some autistics would benefit from a non-sequential language. I have to wonder if parsing thoughts into sequential meaning is just too difficult for some people, and perhaps that's why they remain mute. I have no objective evidence whatsoever for my theory, it is purely a personal musing."

Today I finally stumbled across some news that might support my idea.

"Their studies had shown that even during sleep, the brain does not actually switch off. Rather, the electrical activity of the brain cells switches over to spontaneous fluctuation. These fluctuations are coordinated across the two hemispheres of the brain such that each point on the left is synchronized with its corresponding point in the right hemisphere. In sleeping autistic toddlers, the fMRI scans showed lowered levels of synchronization between the left and right brain areas known to be involved in language and communication. This pattern was not seen either in children with normal development or in those with delayed language development who were not autistic. In fact, the researchers found that this synchronization was strongly tied to the autistic child's ability to communicate: The weaker the synchronization, the more severe were the symptoms of autism."

With failed synchronization, I would expect temporal relationships to be even harder to establish. I still insist that a non-sequential language could assist some autistics with communication. It would allow them to both receive and to generate information in any order or timescale. Typical grammar requires significant use of temporal planning to organize phrases and subject-verb relationships while waiting on the slow generation of mouth-sounds or hand-signs. Visual grammar would not require such cohesive planning. Instead, structure could slowly accumulate without any required sequence.

Without synchronization, there is only what I call "the long moment". Consciousness becomes the average of all the previous memories combined. Conversely, the present moment stretches to include great lengths of objective time. If you happen to be stuck in a happy moment, then life is bliss.  Background (trends of history and future) and foreground (present moment) offer little distinction. Single events blur in their specifics until they occur with enough regularity to establish their own kind of momentum. Only with regularity do thoughts acquire the mental weight to afford easy concentration. Irregularity (unpredictability) is a burst of unpleasant cacophony. Emotional understanding can't be achieved until fleeting emotions have been reviewed (relived) for long periods of time. Trees and sky are permanent features in such a world, but people are not. Viewed in the wrong time frame, human activity is terribly inconsistent.  Lived in the wrong time frame, a sort of consciousness is maintained only by deliberately ignoring the distracting mayflies (humans).

That's why I think a visual language is important. Someone could stare at a painting for days if necessary, absorbing the various pieces of communication continuously until enough signal has accumulated for understanding to finally occur.

I still want to create a visual language and try it out with a non-communicative autistic. I'm disappointed that I couldn't convince anyone at those language centers of the potential usefulness.
mellowtigger: (crazy)
Antihistamines make me loopy. I know it, but sometimes they're still a necessary evil. I've been doping up on antihistamines over the last few days to help rid myself of a sinus infection. When my sinuses dry out, the infection airs out and goes away. It worked. The infection is gone, but the underlying allergies remain. It's been a few years, I think, since I relied on this many antihistamines. They're having their usual bad effect. Besides not thinking straight, my emotions are messed up. At least I've successfully caught up on missed sleep.

A brain thinking certain thoughts does a good job of finding a chemical emotional state to associate with it and store them together in memory. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Give the brain a chemically induced emotional state, and it finds associated thoughts to match.

I've grown unaccustomed to the feeling of lonesome. I learned in childhood to define lonesome as loneliness that only gets worse if I try to be around people. I find that I live better the less I'm reminded of other people in the world. My monkeysphere is very small. Recently, I find that my 2-person sphere is missing 1 person. Usually, I inhabit the sphere just fine with me and my 2 cats.

I know that this current state will pass. I wish I knew what was triggering my allergies, though. It's unusual for me to experience allergies in Minnesota at this time of year. I want to drop the antihistamines soon.
mellowtigger: (sleepy)
It turns out that dream recall can be predicted, and it appears that autism does affect it.

A recent study found two different predictors of dream recall, depending on which stage of sleep you last experienced.

"In particular, after morning awakening from REM sleep, a higher frontal 5–7 Hz (theta) activity was associated with successful dream recall. ... a different predictive relationship was found after awakening from stage 2 NREM sleep. Specifically, a lower 8–12 Hz (alpha) oscillatory activity of the right temporal area was associated with a successful dream recall."

There are boatloads of articles about how autistics vary in the arrangement of their frontal and temporal lobes. During the last year, several papers have been written about how to use these variations that show up in brain scans as a way of objectively diagnosing autism even in very young children, down to 1 year of age.

I found only a single reference to dream analysis comparisons for autistic versus neurotypical subjects.

"Questionnaires revealed that participants with ASD, compared to controls, had fewer recollections of dreaming, fewer bad dreams and fewer emotions. In the sleep laboratory, dream content narratives following REM sleep awakenings were shorter in ASD participants than in controls. ASD participants also reported fewer settings, objects, characters, social interactions, activities, and emotions. It is concluded that these characteristics of dreaming in ASD may reflect neurocognitive dimensions specific to this condition."

Ha! So I'm "typical" in this regard, at least when you compare me to the right group of people. :)
mellowtigger: (sleepy)
I have mentioned before that I have an "off switch". I first encountered it by accident in 10th grade geometry class. Luckily, it's something quite easy to avoid. My last boyfriend (some 14 years ago?) also found it once, although I never explained to him what he triggered.

Recent news about autism genetics and neuron function had me searching tonight for mention of any link between autism and neuron degeneration similar to multiple sclerosis.  There seem to be plenty of anecdotal accounts about autism and MS, so I kept searching.  To my surprise, I found the trifecta: "Possible Connection between Autism, Narcolepsy and Multiple Sclerosis" at

I can't tell, though, if the findings were ever duplicated in other studies.

( Hint for the title: )
mellowtigger: (brain)
I've gone back to unscreen all comments from yesterday's post. I thank everyone for their replies. I think that your answers offer more insight into today's post.

I wrote that poll after a news article caught my attention. The title was badly worded and amounted to something like: "Newsflash! Scientists discover that autistics are autistic!" When I read deeper into the article, though, I discovered that I was jumping to the same (wrong?) conclusion as the researchers' autistic subjects. That surprise made the article worth some more consideration. I think I found a problem with their interpretation.

"Neuroscientists find evidence that autistic patients have trouble understanding others' intentions"
"In this scenario, the researchers found that people with autism are more likely than non-autistic people to blame Janet for her friend's death, even though she believed the jellyfish were harmless. Young notes that such scenarios tend to elicit a broad range of responses even among non-autistic people. "There's no normative truth as to whether accidents should be forgiven. The pattern with autistic patients is that they are at one end of the spectrum," she says."

I think maybe their investigation ignored a more significant issue for autistic children and adults than the usual mind reading tricks. I think they ignored the prominent requirement for understanding situations: truth/accuracy. That quality is a far more urgent consideration amongst many autistics than mere intention.

I wish I could play back the mental video for you of the many scenes I've witnessed in which autistic adults relate unpleasant situations while exclaiming, "They lie!", in reference to neurotypicals.  Sometimes they even say that phrase while using the sound of horrified revulsion that some might reserve for exclaiming, "They eat babies!" I find that autistics (at least the quiet ones, with whom I more closely relate) are more likely than other people to admit their mistakes precisely because it's a necessary step to restore accuracy of world-perception.

I can nearly guarantee, however, that you will find the admission itself couched in very specific limitations that "help" clearly define the nature of the wrong statement and the cause of it.  It sounds entirely non-apologetic to neurotypical ears, I know, but really the autistic person who follows this behavior is trying to make the world "right" again using what seems the most effective means: the establishment of a correct exposition of events. The blunt but traditional "I was wrong" statement without further explanation is extremely difficult to utter because it's equivalent to an admission of extreme wrongdoing under autistic standards. (In cultural translation: eating babies.) Instead, you're likely to hear, "I succumbed to the wrong idea because..." The explanation has the side effect of deflecting guilt/responsibility, but primarily it's used to provide accurate detail to a corrective effort.

Jane is wrong but not because I've misconstrued her intentions. Jane is terribly wrong because she offered as truth something that was clearly (after the death) not truth. There's no difference between the effects of deliberate-deception and wrongness-of-exposition where the autistic mind is concerned. Or so I propose. Jane's intentions become irrelevant when compared with the incorrectness of her speech. The jellyfish were deadly, but Jane indicated they were not; therefore, Jane deserves blame for her friend's death.

I think these researchers identified an interesting difference, but they attributed it to the wrong cause. Autistics are able to determine intention, but maybe they just value it less than world-predictability which is influenced by reliability-of-exposition.


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