Wednesday, December 23, 2009

10 things I think I think

I borrowed this format from Professor Bainbridge, who I think got it from a Sports Illustrated columnist. Anyhow, I like the format.

10 things I think I think

1. Many children on the fringes of autism are orchid children, as described by the Drs. Eide and this article. I.e., they have a unique sensitivity to their environment, but will thrive if they have a "supermom," as the article explains.

2. I suspect the increase in autism rates may be related to an increase in "discords" in our society -- features of our culture that are poor fits for our biology. As Professor Grinde explains, increasingly, more of us are like zoo animals kept in a habitat not well suited to our species.

3. I suspect that sensory processing disorder can lead to autism, because our minds are nothing BUT sensory perceptions and memories of sensory perceptions. If you have never had any sensory perceptions, upon what would you build a consciousness?

4. I don't think it's a coincidence that high numbers of deaf and blind children have autism. I realize it is probably not exactly a causal relationship there, but still.

5. I think that there are ways in which it is almost as if my son is partially deaf and blind, even if his organs are functioning. (And of course deficient in other sensory perceptions as well.)

6. I suspect that the multitude of autism interventions all have a few core things in common that explain their success, and that a critical piece of it is that they all do something to address issues with selective attention.

7. I suspect that to "learn something" -- i.e., to make a memory -- you have to have 2 things linked to together, but they have to be coincident in time somehow. Coincident in time as YOU experience it. It's like there is a "console," and the 2 things must manage to show up on that console together, at the same time, so they can be stored as a chunk. If you're pavlov's dog, it's a bell and ... I dunno, the smell of food? The tate of food? satiation? But if they don't make it into the console at the same time, there's no link, no memory, no "learning."

8. I think/suspect/wonder/plan to investigate: if your gamma waves are off, then signals from different neurons are no longer coordinated properly in TIME, so that things don't show up in the console together. And some of them never show up in the console, because they get lost in that moment when we fall out of consciousness (which for a typical person is supposedly a half a second; for an autistic person, query how long that is?). I.e., Pavlov's dog never heard the bell, or maybe he heard it 30 minutes before he ate.

9. I suspect there is not so great a difference, if indeed there is any, between the most simple conditioning (i.e., pavlov's dog) and what ultimately becomes our most complex thoughts. I think we start with simple associations, and they grow and grow and grow. exponentially.

10. I think meditation enhances gamma waves because it improves selective attention, and autistic people have weak gamma waves and poor selective attention because ... well, which came first? the chicken or the egg ...

OK, I guess I can't stop at just 10 ....

11. I think the gamma-wave issue means that autistic individuals are LITERALLY out of synch, as in their neurons are not being coordinated in the rhythical, timed manner that enables the accurate perception of the universe.

12. You have to have an accurate (more or less) perception of the universe to build abstract representations of it and upon it.

13. This gamma wave business has something to do with inhibitory neurons, and I think they may influence not only the ability to filter out background "noise" in sensory perceptions (i.e., enable selective attention) but also impulse control.

14. I believe, because I have to, that the Drs. Eide are right that impulse control can be taught, learned, practiced, and that inhibitory neurons can be exercised and strengthened. I think that's what meditators are doing.

15. I think that it could be extremely important to know how this mechanism got off in the first place, because there is obviously a physical component going on here, and it it could be any one of hundreds of things. Chemical things. As in ...

16. I think it's time to see a neurologist. And a DAN! doctor.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just a Dream

Last night I dreamed that T--- was playing with my printer. "Push the buttons! push the buttons!" he giggled. I told him to stop but as usual he ignored me. I ran. Too late.

He pushed on the printer and it plummeted off the edge of the dock. It plunged down into the lake. I lunged for T--- and grazed his arm but down he went right behind the printer. I dove in and managed to grab T--- by the arm.

I frantically swam for the surface of the water. But he was so heavy. I would surge upward a couple of inches and then sink back down. I could feel the milliseconds ticking by. He was so heavy, and I was so tired. I started to panic, and it seemed that maybe I wouldn't make it in time. That maybe I wouldn't make it at all.

That's when I woke up. Now what do you suppose THAT was about?

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I've wondered a lot lately about imagination. What is it, and why do so many people seem to think autistic people are all deficient in it? T-- seems just fine in this department. After dumping water on the floor, he pointed at the spill and said: "It's the sun!" then after we threw a towel over it, he promptly sat on it and said: "T---'s having a picnic on the grass!" I think imagination is just scrambled up memories. I think the Eides said that all of our thoughts are just memories. I think they're right.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A tale of two autisms (and some software)

This morning I read a short piece from Mothering about 2 friends with very different autistic children. The author's friend's son: low functioning and nonverbal, yet when the mother yells "No!" he is shocked and hurt. (It was NOT getting this look that told me something was wrong with my son, before he was even a year old.)

But the author's own son, she says, knows what makes her yell but sees little reason to please her:

"Unable to read our facial expressions or tones of voice, he feels neither the heat of our anger nor the warmth of our praise. We are, first and foremost, complex pop-up toys whose responses are most delightfully predictable whenever he breaks the rules. Turn the volume way up, and we spring up to turn it down. Run into the street, and we come charging after him. Poke our eyeballs while we hold him, and we promptly release our grasp.

"If only he understood more, we could explain what's right and wrong, and why. But for all his mechanical acumen, Jason struggles with the simplest of sentences ...."

I experience such a strange mixture of feelings when a stranger describes my son so perfectly. It is so GRATIFYING that someone else KNOWS. And yet, my denial, which will never completely go away, does not like to be crushed. It hurts.

OK, enough of the emotional stuff. At the end of the article this author mentions that she has written software that has helped her son grasp the complexities of language. I have heretofore almost completely shunned all tv and computers, as you know some advise (e.g., Dr. Greenspan). But is that a mistake?

On the hand, it makes sense to me that I need to be fostering personal interactions, so he can build up those social experiences and get those networks growing. And yet ... the Drs. Eide also mention that computers can be a helpful tool for autistic individuals, for a variety of reasons.

I think I need to save computers for later. But ... where is my roadmap?! Where, where??

(and ps -- are those 2 children really suffering from the SAME disorder? Really? Maybe so, but it is so easy to understand reading a story like this one why the Professor Sowell adherents reject the autism diagnosis for individuals who are not "low functioning." It really is.)

(pps -- but ... it's not true that my son doesn't feel the warmth of our praise. It's true that I have to REALLY LAY IT ON THICK. But he eats it up. I just can't be subtle about it. I hate to say this, but does this suggest that he would probably react to negative feedback if it were more easily apprehended? I am not interested in going down that road, but I think I may now see how the older generation ABA golks wound up down that road.)

(my very last postscript, I promise: there was one very important thing I carried away with me from Prof. Sowell's book, and that was his account of how a colleague told him the most important thing was to make sure that his son KNEW that he was the most wonderful person in the world (or something like that). You know what? I have worked to make that true, and it's not always easy, because my kid just doesn't always pay attention. But it WORKS.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Meditation and Gamma Waves

I've been thinking a lot about gamma waves lately. According to this article (and many others), something is off about the gamma waves of autistic individuals: Another study found a correlation between gamma waves and developmental issues in toddlers and preschoolers:

So I find it very interesting that it just so happens that mindfulness meditation increases gamma waves, according to this study by Dr. Davidson at Wisconsin (which I actually first heard about on NPR): Now, I've never done mindfulness meditation, but from what I can tell, it seems to involve ignoring intrusive thoughts and thinking about one thing only.

Now get this. The process has been described by one expert as: sit down, shut up, and pay attention! Hmmm.

At any rate ... it seems to me that maybe meditation is a method for practicing impulse control. Is that the same thing as working an inhibitory interneuron? I tried to read the following article that talks about inhibitory interneurons, but it was too much for me, and I'll have to come back to it later:

Apparently, blue lasers can also increase gamma waves, but I'm not sure how that fits in:

And what about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is that stimulating gamma waves too? John Robison gives a first person account here:

If I can throw in one other question, how exactly is this gamma-wave business related to slow pupil response to light? which in case you missed it is apparently the newly discovered biomarker for autism, with something like a 92% accuracy rating. (see this article here:

One last thought: Ironically, mindfulness meditation seems aimed at learning how to live in the moment. Lisa Jo Rudy has pointed out that many autistic individuals seem to have achieved mindfulness naturally: Hmmm.

[ps -- I don't know why I didn't search the Eide site sooner! They even have a picture of the brains of Buddhist monks activating their gamma waves! Check it out here:]