Monthly Archives: January 2014

January 30, 2014

A Look Into Autism: Famous People With Autism

Fact: 1 out of every 150 babies are born with autism. A number of them have been some of the smartest people in history. Individuals with autism range from the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Albert Einstein and Vincent Van Gogh.

Watch this beautiful video made by a 16-year-old with autism that may help you understand the intricacies of life with autism


January 26, 2014

Autism, Dating and Socialization


People on the autism spectrum, can be divided into:

Those who date or are otherwise engage in intimate relationships.

  1. Those who don’t…Dating is a threshold issue for Autistics.  The single most significant issue for Autistics is socialization in general and establishing couples relationships in particular.
  2. A Few Definitions…The Autism Spectrum V), HFA (“high functioning autism”, which never had any defined  meaning), PDD, Kanner’s autism (not separately diagnosed) and other autism spectrum conditions. Many people “on the spectrum” are comfortable with the generic reference of “autistic” (or “Autistic”, capitalized to describe the cultural aspects of autism).
  3. “intimate relationships” type relationships.
  4. Dating…The activity of “going on a date” in a traditional sense is no longer a universal form.  The dating ritual (in the sense of “going on a date”) is not the focus of this article.  Similar types of “intimate relationship” socialization are equally valid.

The Issue

Because of difficulties in “reading” body language and cues, people on the Spectrum have a difficult time in negotiating the complex art of social interaction.  This isn’t an impossible thing, and most of us have learned to do this, but we have to learn it.  NTs (NeuroTypical people or non-autistics) have to learn the same things, but the additional difficulties that autistics have make it more difficult for us to “get started”.This is much like driving — once you get a beginning level of skills, you will learn no matter what your native aptitude for driving is.  One difference — in relationships, there is very little public transportation.

(The word, “intimate” has various meanings.  For the purposes of this article, let use the term to describe couples-type relationships, associated with dating and life partnership.  There are of course other meanings to the word “intimate”.  For example, a sincere personal discussion can be considered “intimate”.)

The Prime Directive

Do whatever you can to facilitate getting started in dating or other relationship socialization.  That’s the threshold to cross.Dating or establishing intimate relationships is a threshold issue for us to the extent that we can be divided into two groups — those who date (or are otherwise involved) and those who don’t.  This is stereotypically in the form of “dating” but the actual form of meeting and activity can be varied.

The Prospects

I have seen reports that fewer than 10% of people with Asperger’s syndrome (a former category of autism) are successful in their ability to achieve good relationships.  I don’t believe that is really the case because:

  1. That conclusion was made before autism was commonly diagnosed.  Diagnosis is important to autistics for self-understanding.
  2. There are a significant number of Autistics who have done very well at relationships.
  3. The assessment was probably based on a determination that marriage is the only valid form of a successful relationship.  (This is in addition to a significant number of apparently successful AS marriages.)
  4. There are a large number of anecdotal reports of good relationships involving Autistics.

If you divide Aspies in particular and autistics in general according to whether they have crossed the “dating” threshold, the likelihood of success in relationships increases significantly for those who have started to date (or the equivalent).  Then take into account the effect of diagnosis, which is significant with AS — instead of being “weird” the person understands he/she has AS.  With knowledge of AS comes a much greater tendency to engage people who enjoy the company of someone with AS characteristics.These changes make it easy to approach the NT level of 50% marriage success rate.  If one considers non-marriage relationships, it is likely that Autistics will start to have the same degree of success in life relationships as everybody else. On a more basic level, once an autistic crosses the threshold of dating, he/she will improve their knowledge and ability in handling relationships.  Often they become particularly social.

Educational Television

Kids (and adults) on the autism Spectrum should watch as much “adult theme” television as they can enjoy.  The subtle interactions — more accurately, the depictions of subtle interactions — between the characters are especially important to learn.The flood of “adult theme” television programming that some parents complain about are ideal for kids on the autism spectrum!  There are certainly differences from what’s depicted on TV and real life, but autistics who hadn’t learned that are in serious trouble anyway.

Cinematic depiction of emotions is particularly good as an educational tool.

The fictitious issues in these “adult theme” programs are sometimes based on sensationalism, but for the shows to be successful they must mimic or parody real-life emotions.  In a peculiar twist on reality, the emotions depicted of even the more outrageous characters are often more mainstream than real life!

Try to find something which has some degree of interest to it.  Some of the HBO shows are particularly good, but any TV show or movie which depicts adult themes and adult emotions is a trivial but real educational experience.  (HBO produces high quality programming for the North American audience, often with sophisticated adult themes.  The availability of similar types of programming varies internationally, but is probably at least available in the movies.)

Autism and ‘Singles’ Dating Sites

In a separate document,singles.html, I detail the use of singles dating websites.  These are best suited for age groups beyond college, but offer an alternative to “face to face” introductions.  These dating sites are ideal for Autistics.Meeting people for relationships is a lot easier with these on-line services.  I think autistics may even have an advantage over NTs in the use of this media!

face doesn’t need to happen until after the introduction.There are other advantages.  Selection criteria is, by the design of these sites, based on information other than directly reading “body language”.  The personal information is necessarily sketchy, but it is that way for everyone.  Everyone gets to read the same kinds of comments from the poster. It’s actually hard to misread “signals” on one of these sites.  Someone listing on a dating site expects to be considered available for dating.  You almost certainly will be rejected but you won’t be criticized for making the approach!

Are You *Anybody’s* Type?

“Physical type” may be shallow but one of the major issues for dating and relationships is physical attractiveness.  If a person is looking for a faithful companion and doesn’t need to be physically attracted to the companion, you’ll find them looking at the local animal shelter to adopt a pet.

Obviously there are ideal physical types, but even there, variation in taste exists.  Fortunately there are no universal ideals!

Even a “sex goddess” is going to evoke a “what do people see in her?” response.  There are people who find just about every “look” in people attractive.  Incidentally, men are often visually attracted to women who are not their type, and will often not be interested in dating women that are most likely to catch their eye on the street. Unfortunately the major exception is weight.  It’s not that there aren’t people who find overweight people attractive; it’s just that there seems to be many more overweight people than people who are interested.  The answer in an ideal world is to do whatever is necessary to bring the weight down.  You will live longer and enjoy life more.Select the criteria which are important to you and work around the criteria which are not.  This is particularly true of on-line dating services, which can be very statistically oriented (an advantage!) If your personal taste has you competing against too many people, see if there is a comfortable way to adjust the criteria.  The idea is to find someone you would like; not someone who you wouldn’t like but have to accept.

Consider your selection criteria.  Most of us have heard people suggest that we be less picky and date people who (fill in the blank).  The problem is we don’t want to date people in that category.  If you wanted to date someone who is (fill in the blank), wouldn’t you have already done so?!!    Let the people giving you the advice tell themselves what their own likes and dislikes should be!

Fortunately there are categories of people who would be very acceptable, if not preferable.  It’s only necessary to determine what they are.  If this is approached carefully, it is possible in most cases to find someone who comes reasonably close to your criteria of an ideal date.

(Incidentally, when I mention “categories”, I mean identified characteristics; not the value or worth of a person.  I believe everyone is worthy.) Its is the quality of the person …


Faux Pas

The following is for people who have trouble with saying “inappropriate” things.  Actually most of us do, but some have been fortunate to have had sufficient training to avoid making too many faux pas.If you are relatively inexperienced, I guess just about everything is a potential faux pas.  That’s why I think it essential to get started.  Like driving a car, you won’t learn how until you start.

In engaging in conversations, it should be easy to separate “sensitive” subjects from casual ones.  You really don’t have to be careful when discussing your likes/dislikes about things like television shows, etc.  Politics is fair game unless you’re in Iran or Syria or something.  Be very careful not to perseverate on a personal opinion, however!  It’s easy for autistics to do that.

The criterium is whether you are lecturing to the person or otherwise boring the cr*p out of the person.  If a conversation tends toward an academic discourse, make sure your audience has more than a passing interest.

Personal subjects of any kind are best avoided, ignored or deferred until you are sure they can be discussed.  If unsure, just say, “I don’t know if it is inappropriate to talk about this in this right now.”

Obvious subjects that take reflection are sex, intimacy, the other person’s appearance (except superficial things like hair colour), and women’s age.  (If women object to age being taboo, then they are welcome to bring it up, but a guy can have his head handed to him if he brings that one up.)

There’s a book in the “For Dummies” series titled Dating For Dummies.  I don’t particularly like the For Dummies’ approach to computing but their task-oriented approach is ideal as a good, uh.. HOWTO for dating.  A companion (no pun intended) book is Etiquette For Dummies.  After reading a few selections from these, you can go back to your O’Reilly novel.

In most subcultures, it is almost always a “sin of the system” to ask someone out with a sexual suggestion.

(Temple Grandin classifies rules of society as “courtesy rules,” “illegal but not bad things,” “really bad things,” and “sins of the system”.  Sexual suggestion is probably closer to the category of “really bad things”. Grandin, February 1999; Grandin, Thinking in Pictures.  Sexual suggestion can range from almost de rigueur (expected or required by etiquette) to “a sin of the system”, depending on the circumstances or sub-culture).


Compulsiveness about is probably the biggest “turn-off” when meeting a potential partner.  This particularly affects men on the Spectrum.Most people, and especially autistics, have learned this.  If this is too obvious, please skip to the next section.

Probably, the reason compulsiveness affects autistics is the lack of experience in meeting partners.

Getting to know someone is a casual series of events.  Expressing too much urgency about it could intimidate or dissuade the person you’re trying to meet.  Often the person you are trying to meet is nervous about the new encounter and would be overwhelmed by intense interest. I know I would be…. And am fiercly protective of my world

It is also important to allow the other person to make up his/her mind on their own; otherwise they will either never be interested or quickly lose interest.  This may seem like the NT custom of playing “hard to get”, but being somewhat stand-offish in the beginning of a relationship is often necessary.

Reality Check

Sometimes you don’t need good judgement.  If you’re unsure of something, ask a friend.  (Be sure you can trust him/her!)  As long as the friend is someone who you trust and who has pretty much your values on the subject, the two of you are going to be smarter.But be careful what you tell people.  If a secret can’t be kept by you and you’re the one who needs secrecy, someone else won’t keep it secret either.  A friend you tell a secret to has only a vicarious interest in keeping the secret.  Also remember Monica Lewinsky’s confiding in Linda Tripp about her personal life with President Clinton — not everyone who is friendly is your friend!

Getting Intimate This is another place where it is frequently difficult to avoid committing a faux pas.  How do you know when it is okay to get more amorous or physical? As a very physical person and attached. I am very careful with who gets in to my personal space. I have cues and senses that I go by that gradually indicate opening my world up to allowing someone new into what that  private place looks like.

First, if you don’t know what the other person wants to do sexually, you can’t easily know what’s okay.  Okay, doing nothing is safe, but it would be nice to know when it’s okay to be more physically intimate.

Decisions about sexuality should be according to your own wishes and desires.  Don’t be restrained by others’ value systems.  You should also not be afraid to say “no” if you’re uncomfortable about something, so if you don’t want to get intimate, don’t.

The same “if you don’t want to, don’t” philosophy applies to any part of involvement in a relationship.  Make decisions because you want to. And never oppress yourself…


Romance is Difficult to Define

It is very important to be romantic and creative in a long term intimate sexual relationship.  Each person and each couple is different, but the idea is to keep sex from becoming mechanical or routine.Some ideas:

  • Be creative
  • Consider soft-core or erotic movies or erotic movies written by women.
  • Explore fetish-type fantasies, in a manner acceptable to your mate.  Take an approach of “fun” as opposed to trying to be exotic.
  • Think of romantic activities.
  • Read mainstream magazines which talk about intimate romance; e.g., Cosmopolitan, some men’s magazines.

A different situation is where people meet, start to date and never really “hit it off.”  From a dating standpoint “let’s just be friends” is the last thing you want to hear, but if neither of you see a dating relationship, you may still decide that friendship is a good thing.  (Incidentally, intimacy in a mere friendship is not incompatible, but does introduce a great deal of complexity into the relationship.)

Sex Appeal

There are some people who are seen as more attractive without any obvious physical advantages.  They seem to have picked up something in the “NT communications circle” that lets them know what to do and how.  The answer is that some of this is through word-of-mouth, but a lot of this is in some women’s magazines.  The obvious one is Cosmopolitan Magazine which, like Mad Magazine, seems to recycle its stories on a regular basis.There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent men’s magazine.  Playboy has a few articles on occasion but their emphasis seems to be on the proper way to be a passenger on a private jetliner.

Other Stuff

On Being Single

Society gives us the message that being single and dating are transitional stages, and marriage should be the person’s goal.  Face it, not everyone is suited for marriage!  NTs have a 50% divorce rate, and they’re supposed to be the ones who do well with relationships.

  • Marriage does not suit everybody.

Being single can be a good thing.Okay, if you get married or want to get married, fine.  Just do it for the right reasons.  Let the NTs get married because “they’re supposed to” or for the sake of the ceremony.

As to the religious morality of living without marriage, is it right to get married when marriage is not suitable to you?  Marriage is a union (or sacrament or commandment) which is designed around NTs and has evolved in an NT world.  People do not “choose” to be on the Spectrum; it’s the way they are (or the way they’re created).  Under Western dogma, the first command in the bible is, “Be fruitful and multiply”; not “Go get married.”

Living Together One of the major issues with marriage and The Spectrum is that people don’t know what to expect.  Naturally, this occurs with NTs who marry autistics, but it also applies to autistics who marry autistics.  There isn’t enough social history to know what it’s like in a marriage to someone in The Spectrum.


When meeting someone, know that you are meeting a stranger and that you have little knowledge of who they really are.  Presumably the person is a friendly stranger, but a stranger nevertheless.  Make sure that you are comfortable and safe before you take chances with personal safety.Health issues and avoidance of STDs get some attention.  As a practical matter it is possible for you and your partner to get blood tested, or if you feel it necessary take more precautions.  In the meantime, I’ll leave the dire predictions of doom to the media.

Be Careful Out There

Some of this is pretty obvious to some people so, please bear with me.A lot of people get scammed by people in relationships.  Most people out there are not criminal, and the only real problem in most relationships is how they treat you as a person.  There are, however, a few con artists out there.

Some autistics are gullible, but we also have the advantage of being able to look at things logically.  Take advantage of that logical perspective and track patterns of con artists and abusers.  For the most part, once you recognize a potential problem, you can analyze the situation and determine if the problem is real.

In exercising caution, don’t become overtrusting with your finances.  The key is to always have control of this.  If someone you’re with comes in (let’s presume you gave them access) and borrows a kitchen appliance, leaving a note, that’s probably okay.  If you’re being taken advantage of, you’re only out a blender.  On the other hand, if your friend uses your money, unknown to you at the time, to make a purchase, that shows they have no scruples about doing the same again.  There are always exceptions, such as someone electing to buy a few more items at the supermarket when already asked to buy something there.  This is different from randomly deciding to spend someone else’s money without authorisation.

Single? A frequent complaint is of married men holding themselves out as single.  I see this as gender-specific because the women I’ve met have been transparent about their marital status.  Part of this may be in the way men and women “flirt” or become interested in partners.  Regardless of the reason, that’s the way it is.

That one should be easy to figure by using logic.  If someone claims to be single but can’t have you meet at random times near his home, then look into the reason.  If it’s just a messy house, the person will allow you to drop him off and allow you to linger in front.  The hard thing here is to avoid confusing this with someone just wanting to be “private”, and so it is necessary to look at the whole picture.  If someone is hard to reach but you can call him at home, then at least there isn’t likely to be a spouse at home.  Whatever the particulars, work it out to see if it makes sense as far as marital status is concerned.

There are people who have multiple lives.  Fortunately, this is relatively rare, and it’s more likely that the men who misrepresent their marital status are simply looking for a mistress.  At least that’s my guess.

The marital status issue becomes more complicated when the married person claims to be in a bad marriage, but that he’s willing to get divorced.  The “rule of thumb” is that the person’s status will not change.  If he is in a bad marriage (a reasonable presumption if you think about it) he will stay in that bad marriage.  If that were not the case, he’d have moved out, separated, and a divorce would be actively pending.  A pending divorce can proceed to a final decree, but in that case, you will see activity.

There are variations on all of this, but the idea is to apply logic to the situation.

Abusers …There are variations on this, but some people are likely to be abusive to anyone they meet after they’ve gotten to know the person for a while.  As to most instance of abuse, be aware of the issues.  If someone strikes you (in anger), just leave as soon as possible.There are also abusers who stalk people with disabilities.  Fortunately these people are rare.  It is possible to protect oneself from abusers who stalk by being alert for warning signs of these people.  I don’t know what the ratios are, but this sort of abuse can and does come from both genders.

In general, it is possible to really avoid this sort of thing by following the cliché, “Trust, but verify.”  Look out for classic abuse characteristics, such as attempts to isolate you, oppressive behaviour in the name of love, excuses, etc.  Don’t be taken in by the other person talking about abuse or making accusations.  If they have a history of abuse, they know how to disguise it and deflect attention.

The ability to “target” people with disabilities and conditions is not necessarily a bad thing.  The entire point of this article is that it is possible to focus a search.  It is also entirely reasonable that some NTs enjoy the companionship of autistics.  The only thing is to be aware of abusers.

Oxidative Stress and Autism’s Journey

What is oxidative stress?  Oxidative stress occurs when the level of oxidants in the body exceeds the level of antioxidants.  Basically there are not enough good guys to battle the bad guys.  There is good data available to suggest that this is often the case in Autistic children, and antioxidant nutrients have been shown to improve autistic behavior.   I would like to bring forth more about oxidative stress and how it pertains to Autism. I will reference a few things that I do for myself to keep my immune system strong and how pigments of color found in food are antioxidants  important to strengthening the body.

oxidant enzymes:  glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase.

Double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have shown a reduction of autistic behaviors after treatment with high-dose vitamin C or carnosine.  Other studies demonstrated improvement in autistic behaviors with high-dose vitamin B6 in combination with magnesium.  There are also many parental reports of the benefits from glutathione,( a therapy of mine) a classical antioxidant, as well as carnitine, a mitochondrial booster. We must understand that when we speak of chemical oxidation, it means a loss of electrons.  In this process at a rapid rate, it may result in flames, as seen in burning wood.  When oxidation occurs more slowly, it can be seen in food rotting or iron rusting.  Compounds that cause oxidation are called oxidants.  Some oxidants occur naturally as a part of cellular metabolism.  However, pollutants, toxic metals, chemicals, and pesticides can also act as oxidants.  The body has a natural defense system to help quench oxidants called antioxidants (now you see why these are so hyped up by health gurus).  Some common antioxidants are vitamins C, E, and A.  Other nutrients that act as antioxidants include B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, carnosine and carnitine.  The body also manufactures special molecules to help battle oxidants.  These include glutathione (GSH), metallothionein (MT), melatonin, estrogen, ceruloplasmin, transferrin, and important anti-oxidant enzymes:  glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx),  superoxide dismutase (SOD),  and catalase.Oxidative stress may well be documented one day as one of the primary factors in Autism, but much more research must be conducted before then.  Meanwhile, many parents opt to go ahead with nutritional supplementation now because it is a fairly safe and easy intervention. Also, addressing lower nutrient levels may improve the child’s general health.  After all, excess oxidative stress is a general health risk, not something that is exclusive to Autism.  Some common compounds found in foods also shouldn’t be ingested by children with Autism. Excitotoxin flavor enhancers and sweeteners (MSG, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and aspartame) should be absolutely avoided in any population with increased oxidative stress, and these are ingredients in many fast-foods.

January 18, 2014

Language’s Influence on Perception…”compartmentalized perception” isn’t as much a function of changing “connections” but rather of continuing influences of social cueing?

We, as humans, have long been enamored of our perceptive abilities, particularly our spectacular color vision. Heavily worn adages such as “I’ll know it when I see it,” and “Seeing is believing,” allude to our trust that our perception to delivers something of a reliable truth about the world around us; the idea being that something which is “out-there” bounces light into our eyes, which in turn “see” that external thing in an objective manner and that “seeing” can be validated by appealing to another set of eyes, confirming our own perception verbally. Unfortunately, perception is not so linear and the “reality” within which we operate on a daily basis may in fact not only be more subjective than previously assumed but also subject to influence from those in whom we seek confirmation. To investigate this idea further we will investigate a once forgotten but now very popular “disorder” of perception, synesthesia, and examine its neurophysiological substrates. We will then turn our attention to the influence of language on perception and how what we are told and what concepts are available to us can actually drive perception.

While it is commonly accepted that there are many ways for one to “see” things, this acceptance is usually limited to an acknowledgment of different viewpoints rather than wholly other ways of seeing. Most of us are comfortable with the fact that what I see has a different vantage point from what you see, but we seem to assume that this process is similar to aiming multiple cameras at one object and comparing the outcomes of identical processes. Synesthesia, a form of perception characterized by additional sensations loaded onto an independent sensory modality, gives serious reason to reevaluate this “camera” view of vision and seeing. While presumably any combination of sensory modalities is feasible, the most commonly reported (or at least the most frequently investigated) is color-grapheme synesthesia: letters and words are reliably associated with colors (1). Color-grapheme synesthetes view the same letters most humans do and can discuss the “true” color of those figures, but they see more, indicating camera-like homogeneous perception within the species is not to be taken for granted. Richard Cytowic, a neurologist who reintroduced synesthesia to inquiry after a hundred year dormancy, argues that although adult prevalence is low synesthesia is the mammalian state of perception and that adult synesthetes experience the world in a vestigial manner (2). Research specifically into the perceptual nature of other mammals remains lacking, though developmental studies in humans seem to indicate that neonates are in some manner synesthetic. Babies will attend to objects they’d explored orally more, even when they had never seen them before. Temporal lobe activity generalizes to the occipital cortex when babies hear speech, and neuroanatomical investigations in other neonate mammals has shown temporary connections between sensory cortices (3).  Neonatal brains express a greater number of neurons, which are pruned around the third or fourth month in human babies (2). If these connections were left as they were, conceivably the neonatal synesthesia would progress on into adulthood, and fairly recent techniques allowing researchers to investigate the hitherto indiscernible white matter confirms that synesthetes show a higher degree of cortical interconnectivity. In particular color-grapheme synesthetes showed greater connectivity between regions of the brain responsible for the perception and categorization of graphemes and color perception (1). Furthermore, there appears to be a great deal of variety within synesthetes about how and what they perceive; projectors actually see their synesthetic colors projected out in front of them, whereas associators just “know” or see the color in their mind’s eye (4). The same study which found greater connectivity in synesthetes also found that the degree of connectivity had some correlation to the synesthetic experience, with higher connectivity resulting in color perception more analogous to that of ‘real’ perception (1). Synesthesia is a form of perception which results from an anomalous architecture within the brain, indicating that our experience of reality is mediated by, if not dependent upon, how the brain is constructed. The idea that what we all see is the same consequently must be rejected, as two individuals could draw very different conclusions about the “objective reality” which they are observing based on their own internal experience.

Differential neural architecture is not the only confound placing the experience of an objective reality in question; social influences can have profound effects on how and what we see, and arguably the most powerful of these is language. True, other animals and even mammals communicate in highly specific and interesting ways (indeed their vocalizations provide the much needed foundation from which language could evolve), they for the most part do not do so in a linguistic manner. The human brain has dedicated regions to the acquisition and production of language not found in other creatures, such as Wernicke’s and Broca’s area, and damage to these regions impair specific aspects of language, comprehension and production respectively. Meylination, a process whereby neuronal communication is facilitated, begins in the motor cortices, progresses to the limbic system and ends in the association cortices, predicts the slow progression of language acquisition with basic comprehension preceding production (5). Thus, any effects language might have on perception will be specific to human perception. Language itself is a complex and loaded concept, and sadly brevity precludes a full exploration of the individual aspects of language, from phoneme structure to syntactical organization, and their influences on perception. Instead, “language” in this discussion will serve as an umbrella term for the vocal, social communication humans engage in.

In one of the first ever documented etiologies of synesthetic colors associations, it was shown that synesthete AED’s letter-color associations were largely determined by a colored alphabet refrigerator magnets. This is not to say that the colorful magnets caused her synesthesia, but rather that her special form of perception was sensitive to the implied linguistic demand present by the colored letters. Other synesthetes have reported semantic influence on their perceptive experiences, such as tasting cake when hearing words with a similar hard “k” sound (6).  Descriptions of synesthetic experiences have alternately been proposed as the basis of metaphorical construction and as subject to the same “ semantic processes and fashioned by time and cultural elements, much like other metaphors” (7). So it would seem that synesthetic perception is in some way beholden to language, but does this effect generalize to the “normal” population? Debate about the influence of language on perception has been waged for centuries, beginning with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the sociohistorical hypothesis, which asserts that language determines how we perceive our world, rather than language describing hard and fast external realities (8). Research into group influences, by way of the social nature of language, supports a weaker form of this hypothesis, which recognizes a profound but perhaps not ultimate effect of language on perception. Muzafer Sherif showed in 1936 that individual observations of an “auto-kinetic” event, a dot of light being perceived as darting about a dark room, would conform to a group average and maintain over time (9). Further research has shown that if a minority is consistent in their asserted perception of blue as green, test subjects will at the very least conform their report of the color they see (10). It could, however, be argued that these participants were merely changing their answer in order to avoid appearing incorrect; indeed synesthetes often do not advertise their altered perception for fear of or having been labeled “crazy” (1).  A recent study, however, has shown that not only can people learn new color categories, but that training can effectively wipe out old color distinctions, contradicting the assumption that color categories reflect some absolute, quantifiable distinction between color (11). It has also been shown that color perception, particularly in ambiguous cases (when differences not well articulated by an individual’s socioculural history), activates brain regions responsible for language processes such as word search (12). In her account of autistic consciousness, Temple Grandin explained that individuals with autism do not think in terms of language, but rather in a serious of mental images. What makes this argument particularly interesting is another characteristic of autism referred to as sensory overload.
People with very severe sensory processing problems loose their body boundary when they become  overloaded with too much sensory stimulation…. They cannot attend to, or integrate both auditory  stimulus and visual stimulus at the same time. It appears that the brain processes information in a       compartmentalized manner. Seeing words, hearing words, thinking about a word and speaking a word  activate different brain regions….[and a person with autism] looses some of the ability to extract meaning from sensory input. (Grandin, 1998)
It would seem, then, that without the ability to break up reality along socially circumscribed lines, people with autism experience something akin to unmitigated synesthesia; Grandin further relates an anecdote from a friend who could not differentiate between herself and a cat on her lap, with the black color invading every aspect of her conscious experience. True, Grandin and her friend both have access to language, but they do not think in terms of language (13). Social demand and language are not as critical to autistic individuals as they are to the rest of the population, so while sensory overload does not illuminate the specifics of how language can shape experience, it does seem to imply that without it something akin to synesthetic perception would occur. The close temporal proximity of the advent of language acquisition in babies (four to six months, 5) and the cellular apoptosis which presumably precludes synesthetic perception (three to four months, 1) would also seem to indicate some sort of relationship between language and perception, with language somehow breaking up perception into separate sensory events. It has been suggested during the 2008 Spring Semester meeting of Neurobiology and Behavior at Bryn Mawr College that the I-function, a story-telling box within the nervous responsible for conscious experience, cannot handle the volume of perceptual information processed by the nervous system (14). Perhaps language is one method of parsing out “reality” as perceived by the nervous system, allowing the story-teller to construct on account in terms in has either dictated or can understand. Clearly, further investigation, such as observing neuronal activity in language regions of the brain in synesthetes and individuals with autism during perceptive tasks, would go a long way to clarifying this conjecture.

What we perceive when we look out onto our world does not reflect some inherent truth about said world; it reflects the combined effects of our brains and our culture. Language in particular has been shown to mediate the perception of color, both in the normal population and in synesthetes whereas sensory overload in autistic people may stem from their lack of reliance upon linguistic thought. This is not to say that the faith with which we invest our vision is misplaced, indeed compartmentalized perception would not have evolved were there not some adaptive benefit to experiencing the world in specific sensory modalities (3). Instead it bespeaks the need for caution when we assert truth based solely on what our eyes tell us. In some instances, even if seeing is believing, it isn’t true.


Works Cited
1.Rouw & Scholte. (2007). Increased structural connectivity in grapheme-color synesthesia, Nature Neuroscience, 10(16), 792-797.
2. Cytowic. (2004). Synesthesia Encyclopedia,
Baron-Cohen (1996). Is There a Normal Phase of Synaesthesia in Development?,
4. Hubbard & Ramachandran. (2005). Neurocognitive mechanisms of synesthesia, Neuron, 48, 509-520.
5. Konner, (2002) The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit Second Edition, Henry Holt, New York
6. Witthoft & Winawer. (2006). Synesthetic colors determined by having colored refrigerator magnets in childhood, Cortex, 42, 175-183.
Baron-Cohen. (1996). Synesthesia & Synesthetic Metaphor,
8. Ratner. (1989). A Sociohistorical Critique of Naturalistic Theories of Color Perception, Journal of Mind and Behavior, 10, 361-372.
9. Muzafer Sherif: A Study of Some Social Factors in Perception: Chapter 3
10. Minority Influence and Moscovici
Benson. (2002). Different shades of perception, Monitor on Psychology, 33(11), 28.
12. Language And Color Perception Linked In Human Brain (2008). ScienceDaily,
13. Grandin. (1998). Consciousness in Animals and People with Autism
14. Bio 202, Spring 2008 Notes, April – End,

January 16, 2014

Autism and Vitamin D

Over the past few years evidence has been mounting that vitamin D is involved in the autism epidemic. Research has demonstrated that vitamin D has multiple mechanisms of action, many of which have been demonstrated to play a role in autism. Scientific data have made it clear that various reasonable mechanisms exist for how vitamin D could help children with autism. Be it via anti-inflammatory actions, anti-autoimmune activities, upregulation of neurotrophins, or stimulation of antioxidant pathways, adequate doses of vitamin D (enough to obtain natural levels of 50-80 ng/mL) may be a potential treatment for some cases of autism. Role of Vitamin D In Autism – Vitamin D inhibits the synthesis and biological actions of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, which are elevated in autism. – A number of autoantibodies to the brain have been identified in autistic children, causing some to believe that many cases of autism are autoimmune. – Research has shown that high levels of certain brain-antibodies are associated with low vitamin D status. – Vitamin D up regulates neurotrophins, the family of proteins that induce the development, function, and survival of nerve and brain cells, up to 5-fold. – Vitamin D stimulates production of glutathione and several other antioxidant and detoxification enzymes. – Even though there are no studies proving the benefits of vitamin D in autism specifically, the proven safety and benefits of vitamin D, added together with the fact that vitamin D has been shown to have a beneficial effect on many of the mechanisms of action that underlie autism, make vitamin D a smart option for children with autism.

Read more here
By John Cannell, MD

January 15, 2014


“Even though it might be hard for them (children with autism) to make friends, they want to have friends like everyone else and they have a lot of love and beauty to give. Sometimes that means the rest of us have to find ways to help understand them and connect with them, just like those with autism are trying to find ways to communicate and connect with people who think in a more typical way.”

Tara’s song lyrics as sung through the heroine, Starabella:
I can fly in a dream full of happiness
Though I’m down on earth where I was born
I am flying high, where the angels live
Having lovely thoughts of of friends
who want to play with me.

I would be so happy holding hands and singing songs
Everyone would like each other and
play the whole day long
I am flying high to a new place
where I’ll be free
To love and laugh and smile and
just be happy being me

Please listen with your hearts and find ways to enter their world.

To see accompanying illustration,

Please visit Starabella at:

Sharon Fialco
Starabella narrated musical picture books for children

Fitness Universe Weekend 2013

Here are photos from my Fitness Universe Competition in Miami, Florida held in the summer of 2013.

January 8, 2014

2nd Annual Strike Out Autism Grand Slam Event.

Hello friends,

We’ve set aside a special occasion for an informal meet n greet and fun time to get to know our team members; volunteers gearing up for the

2nd Annual Strike Out  Autism Grand Slam Event.

When: Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 9:30am – 11:30am
Where: Constellation Field, One Stadium Dr., Sugar Land
Enter the VIP entrance (next to ticket office),   take the elevator to the second floor
Attire:  Jeans and sportswear… we’re takin’ pictures!
Refreshments: Pastries, bagels, juice and coffee


Our all-star team would absolutely positively love for you to attend and hear about all the H43 happenings, but most of all join us for a few hours of fun.  If you can’t make it, send a friend, send two!  The more the merrier.

Questions?  Give us a shout: Darla 713-858-7965 or Angie 832-274-9246  832-274-9246 FREE  
We’re super excited and can’t wait to share “ausome” news!

January 5, 2014

Can Neuroscience Explain Human Experience? |

Human beings have always had a strong need to make sense of the world around them. This was undoubtedly part of (although by no means the only) the original function of religions. In non-theistic cultures, spirits were the causal agents—diseases were caused when ‘evil spirits’ entered the human body, while changes in the weather were caused spirits of the wind or the rain. In theistic cultures, Gods (in the singular or plural) were responsible. Even if they didn’t directly cause events, people became ill, had accidents, died and became pregnant because it was ‘God’s will.’

For many people, these divine explanations have been superseded by science. We now have a much more rational understanding of how the world works, which is perhaps one of the reasons why religion no longer has such a central role in our culture.

However, even in modern science, it’s easy to see the same impulse for certainty at work, grasping at potential ‘explanatory material’ and creating connections when none may be there. There is a quasi-religious need to build up an ‘explanatory structure’, which often inflates and distorts evidence.

Until recently, the main explanatory tool was genes. In 2000, geneticists were in the process of mapping the ‘human genome,’ in the hope that the genes responsible for the whole spectrum of human experience would be identified. (Sometimes the genome was referred to as ‘the book of life.’) There was a hope that this would lead to a revolution in our understanding of everything from disease to human consciousness. These were the ‘gene for’ years, when it was presumed that there was a genetic explanation for everything. Genes (or at least genetic processes) made people religious, criminal, gay, psychopathic, alcoholic, intelligent, depressive…

But the genome project was a disappointment. It threw up more questions than it answered, and revealed that genes are much less significant than thought. It found that human beings only have around 23,000 genes, much less than expected – only half as many as a tomato. The genetic map does not show what makes human beings different from other animals (such as chimpanzees). We have also learned, surprisingly, that inheritable characteristics such as height are only very slightly related to genes. There are no ‘genes for’ after all. We have also found that most common diseases do not appear to have a genetic basis, so that the project has not led to significant medical benefits, as many believed it would. As Jonathan Latham, director of the Bioscience Resource Project, puts it, “Faulty genes rarely cause, or even mildly predispose us, to disease, and as a consequence the science of human genetics is in deep crisis.”

Neuroscience as an Explanatory Tool

Now, as a result, the explanatory emphasis has shifted away from the genome, up to the human brain. Neuroscience is the latest explanatory fad. It’s no longer genes which are responsible for everything, but “neuronal circuits.” Neuroscientists have claimed to identify the brain activity—or the parts of the brain—associated with terrorism, creativity, aesthetic appreciation, political affiliation (Republicans have different patterns of neurological activity to Democrats) and a host of other characteristics. And of course, a causal connection is usually made here. A particular pattern of neurological activity ‘causes’ terrorism, so that in theory one could ‘cure’ terrorists by changing these patterns, perhaps via neurosurgery or by means of drugs.

But just as with genes, there are major problems with explaining human experience in terms of brain activity. Firstly, correlation does not mean cause. Just because certain parts of the brain are more active when I read a poem or stare at a beautiful sunset, it doesn’t mean that the brain activity is responsible for the sense of beauty or wonder I experience. You could just as easily say that the feeling of wonder comes first, and ‘causes’ changes in brain activity.

There are also major problems with the assumption that brain activity can produce any type of subjective experience. Despite decades of intensive research and theorizing, no scientist or philosopher has come any where near close to explaining how the brain might be able to do this. In the field of Consciousness Studies, this is known as the ‘hard problem’ of how the soggy gray lump of matter we know as the brain can produce the richness of conscious experience. As the philosopher Colin McGinn puts it, to even assume that this is possible is tantamount to believing that water can turn into wine.

Finally, there are very serious practical problems with identifying the neurological activity associated with different characteristics. Most of the information we glean about brain processes is based on brain scanning technology, such as fMRI. When it comes to the brain activity, fMRI scanning is much less reliable and clearcut than many people realize. It doesn’t directly measure brain activity, only increased blood flow to the brain. There may well be important neuronal activity which doesn’t produce increased blood flow, perhaps from neurons which are acting more efficiently than others. FMRI scanning also makes it easy to forget that the brain’s activity is normally widely distributed than localized, depending on many different networks spread over the whole brain. It is absurd to attempt to pinpoint a particular part of the brain associated with a particular emotion or behavior.

In addition, to detect unusual types of brain activity, you have to know first what the normal pattern of activity is – which is very difficult to ascertain. One person’s ‘normal’ brain functioning may be different to another person’s. And finally, brain scans are vulnerable to bias and positive interpretation. It’s easy for researchers to interpret them in a way which supports their intentions. When different neuroscientists were sent the same image and asked to ‘unpick’ it, they responded with widely varying interpretations. As New Scientist magazine has admitted, “The reliability of fMRI scanning is not high compared to other scientific measures.”

Accepting Uncertainty

I have no doubt that neurological explanations of human experience will prove as inadequate as genetic explanations. Perhaps the real question we need to answer is why we have such a strong impulse for certainty and understanding, and are so ready to create explanatory frameworks.

I suspect that the need to explain everything is rooted in a sense of insecurity, which creates a need for control. The world is chaotic and sometimes overwhelming, life is uncertain and contingent – and we’re just in here, conscious entities apparently trapped inside our own heads, forced to face up to the enormity of reality. So it’s important for us to create an explanatory framework to provide us with some security. In this sense, we’re not so different from our ancestors, who used spirits and gods as explanatory tools.

Perhaps, however, we should accept that there are some things we will never be able to explain. It would be more humble and sensible for us to accept that there are limitations to our intelligence and our awareness. And then, perhaps, we could learn to accept and even love the incomprehensible strangeness and randomness of life.  Steve Taylor, Ph.D