Articles about interesting research, personal experiences, and societal acceptance of ASD, ADHD, etc.
Knowing Things We Never Learned:
Nearly all of us must struggle diligently to acquire even modest talent in Mathematics, Music, and Art. We encounter genius as rare people who display an amazing gift. Below them are random individuals of great talent and below them, the rest of us in a bell curve spread from mediocre to hopeless. Yet an effortless, genius-level mastery of these areas appears to be latent in our brains. How to back up such a claim? We can learn much about ourselves through the exceptions of pathology and extreme variation. A break in the pattern is what reveals the pattern.
There are three kinds of savants that reveal these “genius modules”. Continue reading
“The Brain tunes itself to criticality, maximizing information processing”
Our brains are clearly amazing at processing the “blooming, buzzing1” world around us. A recent experiment supports the theory that when neurons work together they actively cooperate to achieve their maximum processing capacity. They seek the urgent, intense edge of their ability. Picture them as the human runners in an Amazon “fulfillment center” except happy in their work.
The entire brain appears to seek this set point or default working state at the maximum of its abilities: “Where it is as excitable as it can be, without tipping into disorder, similar to a phase transition.” A phase transition is where matter transitions from one state, liquid, solid, or gaseous, to a different state.
In other words, our brains are balanced about one millimeter from chaos and disorder. That’s all of us, all the time. Returning from sleep or other off duty moments the brain tunes and retunes itself seeking this point.
While the study neither reveals nor claims anything else about our neurology, I think it points a bright red arrow at possible organic causes of ADHD (as well as ASD, schizophrenia, etc). If the default human phenome, the standard, mass-produced person has this edge-of-chaos set-point, then genetic variation (known to be the prime cause of ADHD) could easily generate a different set point. This variation might generate the quirky, out of step processing that makes us so valuable in the modern workforce, wait, strike that…
It also seems logical that anything that alters this point results in behavioral instability.
More and other interesting details in the reports:
1 William James, writing about sensory processing. : “The baby, assailèd by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; “
This artist ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) does the best job I have ever seen of communicating what ADHD really is, and is like. We baffle and disappoint ourselves and the people and structures we need in our lives. Every hour of the day is a neurological roulette wheel. Here’s a link to her site.
I would be grateful to anyone who casually imagines they know what ADHD is like, to read several of these. I would simply like as many people as possible to better understand this disorder. It’s weirder and more limiting than you think.
It’s WAY more than inattention, and let me tell you, it isn’t lack of effort. We are 11% of the population and stories of effective treatment have been greatly exaggerated. The person in these cartoons is ON her meds.
Friends, family, and even total strangers confidently inform us that our problem isn’t real. Everybody thinks they get it, and even professionals in education and mental health often lazily ASSUME they get it with no research since 1993.
It’s like mental multiple sclerosis but we just look like we’re ditzy, and not trying hard enough.
Mean exactly what they sound like: Fear of the new and Love of the new.
They aren’t cute made-up words, they are technical terms from biology. Animal ethologists (they study behavior) coined them because they needed to describe a common trait variation. Within a species, there are individuals who exhibit an openness to novelty. They try different foods, different hunting or mating techniques, for example. This is Neophilia.
The only way we could notice this is against a background of “by the book ” individuals. These are not risk-takers, these are ones who typically define “normal behavior “. Whenever an animal’s general survival strategy and behavior is described, it ‘s the story of the Neophobes. But the deeper story is that Neophiles, while they live risky and often unsuccessful lives as individuals are key to survival and evolution.
In fact, it ‘s likely that that the pattern lived out by the neophobes was initiated by neophiles. First, the neophile may simply hit upon a more successful approach, and thrive. Second, when the species experiences a crisis in food or health or predation, the neophiles are likelier to be “the resistant strain ” that survives. These are the two main reasons for subspecies variations. So if you imagine this heretical thought; that life, rather being the 100% dumb luck festival of the neo-Darwinians, has strategic algorithms for success, then these observations make perfect sense. Where or how these exist and operate is not my problem here. When patterns predictably exist in nature there are underlying causes to be found. If you follow this blog you know that my vaguely mystical point of view is not pointing to a “god did it ” conclusion and is not content with a “mere coincidence ” explanation.1 Continue reading
- He has Parkinson’s
- She has epilepsy
- He’s schizophrenic
- She’s autistic
No, it’s not the setup for this year’s wackiest RomCom.
It seems one might possess Parkinson’s like a teacup chihuahua or a classic mustang whereas autism is who you are. You could make the case that autism or schizophrenia dramatically shape your personality in a way that defines you, while the other two do not…but you’d be wrong. The communities of caregivers surrounding them commonly describe what they know as Parkinsonian and epileptic personalities. What decides this automatic and unnoticed distinction between Being a disorder and Having a disorder?
How can you be a diagnosis? The taxonomies of neurological types used to label people aren’t real things that people can “be”. They are checklists where we matched the diagnostic criteria enough to call the result positive. “Enough” might be 4 out 7 matches, for example. Diagnostic criteria are simply a collection of behaviors and bio-metrics accepted by the medical community. It’s rather like asking hunters (the hunting community?) the 7 most distinct characteristics of deer. That might be kind of fun but the heuristic is: “I know one when I see one”.
Different neurologies are utterly real but named neurological types are descriptions, the names for vertices and ranges of behavioral parabolas distinct enough to contrast clearly against normal.
Normal is the smooth melted butter river of behaviors we mostly can’t even notice because of how overwhelmingly common they are. Normal isn’t a thing either, it is a thing that’s going on. Normal is a strange state, only seen clearly when it is held next to things that are not… a bit like a black light held over a motel bed. Normal isn’t a cool matter-of-fact background to things. Normal is the thing we fear when we make a terrible impression. Normal is the cop we all feel oddly guilty in front of. Normal is being welcomed home or cast out in exile. In meat-and-potatoes reality, there is no break from normality that calls for a celebration.
Throughout human history, Normal functioned as an immorality finder. Where immorality was uncovered, normal was declared missing…even for commonplace behaviors that simply got on the wrong side of something socially cherished. The other side of Normal’s coin is perversion of course. So Normal is tainted and muddled by being a measuring device cum moral cudgel. If you trace it back far enough you’ll find Normal describing primate pro-social behaviors that maximize pregnancies and group survival.
There is a rather famous story about moths that you might well have encountered as a student. The class would have been discussing evolutionary theory.
The common form of peppered moth had a pale coloration suited to hiding on the bark of light-colored tree trunks. This camouflage apparently enabled it to avoid being eaten by birds. Then, in 1848 a specimen with black wings turned up, in the industrial city of Manchester, England. By the end of the 19th century, the dark peppered moth was everywhere, and the paler, mottled version had vanished, becoming virtually extinct.
This was perhaps the first clear instance of human behavior increasing environmental pressure on local species and observers noting and following it. The industrial revolution roared up to speed and the universal use of coal for heating and industrial production had blackened skies and forests. An editorial in an issue of Nature quotes an 1851 railroad guide to the English industrial midlands: “The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome…the few trees are stunted and blasted.” Continue reading
All neurodiversity issues are a moving target, we all need to keep updating our ideas of the reality niches we humans occupy.
In a few other articles I’ve made the point that random millions of people having babies with other random millions of people give birth to consistent percentages of neurological and psychological types relative to the population at large, generation after generation. Some of these groups are defined as disabilities or pathologies. Example groups ADHD, and ASD are disabilities, sociopaths are seen as pathologies…it’s the second part of the name! They are generally thought to be caused by failures of infant development to complete normally and a pretty strong genetic connection. ASD is the obvious example of a spectrum disorder. Predictable numbers of ASD people are born year after year.
Clinically ASD includes a short list of recognized levels of the disability which exist along a continuum of severity. There’s a break here between the small range of what’s accepted as proven medical science to be autism and the much broader range of people who are legitimately diagnosed as autistic even though they are much higher functioning than the accepted range. It’s tacitly understood by therapists, teachers, parents, etc to be a section of spectrum that could be positioned at the end of the current spectrum and just pick up where it leaves off and run all the way out to those who have a few touches of these traits but are otherwise completely normal. That makes sense as the autism spectrum. I’m grandfathering ADHD in on this spectrum because 80% of high functioning autistics also have ADHD. Continue reading
- Hi, first of all, I’m incredibly sorry, I knew I had to leave by 2 pm to get here but my sandwich burned and I didn’t notice until the apartment was full of smoke. I couldn’t leave it for my roommates like that so I had to open all the windows and flap a beach towel everywhere to make it a little better. Anyway, thank you for understanding.
- As a program note, I did see that this was to be a talk with a slide presentation but somehow I missed the thing about being in PowerPoint so a slight format change will require me to hook up my slide projector. It should only take a couple of minutes and maybe one or two of you could help me move the computer cart to a safe place and find like a table or desk that’s the right height for my projector?
- I’m sure you can relate, I mean I’m only human but last week, which I admit would have been the ideal time to be working on this, it was like every time I sat down to get started I’d get just crazy sleepy, like can’t keep my head upright, sleepy. It was insane, then as it got closer to this week I found myself kind of having trouble thinking about it and every time I’d try I’d get this sort of anxiety stomach ache. I did manage to get some stuff done though like pick up my bedroom and throw away the old stuff in the fridge. It’s kind of a good feeling. Then night before last my friend had this thing he wanted me to go to so that only left me last night to pull this together.
- In that light, I think it holds up pretty well. Although full disclosure, I thought the book we had to talk about was kind of up to us so I picked “Cujo”, by the writer Steven King because I read it last Summer. I’m sorry I didn’t do “Of Mice and Men” but at least this is an animal and people story too.
- If I may just say so, turning web pictures into projector slides is just insanely expensive, especially a rush job. Like you would not believe how much these cost my friend. So my first slide is these awesome St. Bernard puppies. Can you even believe how cute they are? And look how big the mom is in comparison! Actually these were the ones that showed up first in image search and there were a ton of this same bunch of puppies doing different stuff although it’s not super obvious that it’s real different, because the background doesn’t change.
- So I think the book Cujo by the writer Steven King is really good and exciting. Question 1 says to talk about the conflict at the heart of the story so I guess the conflict is between this huge killer dog and the people.
- Question 2 asks me to describe underlying issues that shape the story and I guess that would be like rabies, because everything would have been OK without the rabies.