Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Illusion Explained

Sorry to have left this picture up here without any explanation. I was just using the blog as a bulletin board to tack it up. It was the follow up to comments I made on Whose Planet Is It Anyway. You see, my esteemed fellow blogger, the Autistic Bitch From Hell, posted a link to an article about moving version of this. The article said that the dancer spun in one direction for some people and in the opposite direction for others.

The thing is that, when I watched it, it spun first in one direction and then in the other. The timing seemed random. Looking at the comments on the main article, I noticed that I was not the only person to have spotted the truth. It was, in fact, quite clearly spinning in both directions with a random timer determining when the direction would shift. Gullible people would see it moving in one or the other direction and think that, because different people saw it at different times, there was some kind of weird perceptual thing going on, when in reality it was just a bit of cleaver programing.

I was so convinced of this -- after all, I had seen it with my own eyes -- that I posted a comment to that effect. Then it occurred to me to take it apart and find out how the trick worked. So I did.

It turns out that there was no trick. It's an animated gif that presents a 36 image sequence in the same order each time. The still bellow is one of the images. My brain just happens to processes that sequence as moving in both directions, and just happens to reverse the direction it thinks it is moving in every few seconds, in a way that looks random.

What is really fascinating about this is how absolutely sure I was of the veracity of what I saw. It did not fit with the explanation I had been given and, say what you like, I had seen it with my own eyes.

You know what this reminded me of? MK's teacher from last year. She'd seen what she had seen, and you could talk until you were blue in the face, she had incontrovertible evidence in the form of her own observations that things could not be as MK's parents claimed.

The next time I set out to educate someone, I'm going to try to keep in mind that seeing is believing.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I don't usually do this but....

You've got to read this post!

This entry in chaoticidealism's Reports from a Resident Alien says so much of what needs to be said so well, including this wonderful aside:

"(Digression, but what's so important about a "normal life" anyway? The President doesn't have one; neither does the bum on the street corner; neither did Beethoven or Luther or Joan of Arc. I don't have a normal life; but why would you want a normal life? Go to school, get married, work, have 2.5 kids, retire, and die. How is that any better than any other life, simply because more people, at least in America, live like that than any other way?)"

Go enjoy it, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who is running the Hub?

Does anyone know? I know Kevin has turned it over to someone, but I don't know who. I've never been able to find any contact information on the Autism Hub site itself. I wanted to point out to whoever is running it that The Beach on Autism Island has been hijacked by a porn site, which is probably not the kind of content that the Hub wants people being directed to. Any ideas about who to write to?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What's in a name?

Learning the names of the kids in his class was a big challenge for MK last year. They don't take attendance at the beginning of each day in this school, so name learning is harder than it was at his old school. At last year's IEP meeting MK's aid suggested that this year, she take pictures of everyone in the class so that MK could work on learning their names.

She did that and then, at home, we printed the pictures out and made flash cards out of them. The actual memorization took quiet a while. MK is good at memorization (go ahead and ask him any fact contained in the Pokedex if you don't believe me) but he has an aversion of deliberately learning things. He considers it unnatural -- like a sort of violation of his head space. Apparently, it's one thing for knowledge to appear in your head in a natural manner, but another to try and force it in. I can kind of see where he is coming from, but this is one of those cases where I take the very nuanced parental approach of, "Oh, yeah. Tough." Actually, in this case, I bribed him. A couple of weeks later he learned the names that go with all 30 pictures and received his bribe.

This has been really good in terms of talking about what goes on at school. It is also our theory that it will: i) make it easier for him to think about his classmates as individuals, which hopefully will ii) make him more likely to treat them as individuals, which in turn would iii) predispose his classmates to treating MK like an individual.

It seems to be working out. The other day at MacDonald's we bumped into three people from his school. He greeted each of them by name, even though only two were in his class (so knowing the third kid's name was a bonus). Tonight, we met yet another classmate at the video store and, once again MK responded to "Hi, MK," with "Hi, XX." He then went even further by actually asking the kid what movie he was getting. The appropriateness of it blew me away. The other thing that really impressed me was that, while MK asked this question with his back turned to XX (as he is wont to do), XX not only answered, but didn't seem to mind having an exchange with the back of MK's head. Looks like we may be having some iii) going on already.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Late Bloomers, Loners and Sensitive Types

When was the last time you heard one of those expressions used? These words from my childhood seem to have disappeared from the language and been replaced by various medical terms. Jitterbugs, handfuls and dreamers have all been replaced by ADHD cases. Rowdy kids who talk back now have oppositional defiant disorder. One reads about three year olds being diagnosed with social functioning levels equal to 1 year and 8 months. What outstanding accuracy! How precisely we have come to understand human development. The path that leads to (presumably homogeneous) adulthood has been drawn so narrowly that any child who does not march straight down the statistical center is plastered with labels.

In my son's class last year, the teacher confided that there were three kids with diagnoses and five more that needed to have diagnoses, but hadn't got them yet. That is to say that eight out of thirty (about a quarter) of the kids had pathological developmental disorders. I went on field trips with these kids, and I can assure you that none of them seemed any different from the kids I went to school with. Some were goofy, some were quiet and some you had to keep your eye on -- in other words, it was a group of thirty children.

In a meeting with some people from the PTA and the Vice Principal, we discussed "gray area" kids. I'd never heard of the problem before, but everyone was very worried about it. It seems that about 30% of the kids would not actually qualify for diagnosis under today's standards, and yet are failing to keep up academically and socially. The horror! No matter which way I crunched the numbers, the truth was inescapable -- nearly half the kids were bellow average! Whatever are we going to do?

Please excuse the rant. And, no, the next thing I say is not going to be, "All these kids need is a good old fashioned spanking." What set me writing about this was all the brouhaha over the fact that Jenny McCarthey's son, who was not developing typically when he was two (he was having epileptic seizures) was developing more typically at the ripe old age of four. We are told that, in that two year span, the young gentleman had autism and then was cured from it. How exciting.

Diagnostic labels have their uses. They help get access to services. They can predispose some people to acceptance and accommodation, instead of judgment. In some cases they can be useful in terms of giving an indication of what sort of help is likely to be useful. But these sorts of labels also present problems. First, unlike the folk-labels in the title of this post, they narrow the boundaries of what we are willing to consider as natural variation. What was once considered acceptable and even welcomed in the general community tends to be seen as something that, being pathological, requires correction. It also takes away our confidence in our children's ability to work things out as a natural part of growing up.

Recently, at a support group for parents of autistic kids I mentioned how MK still did not speak in proper sentences at age six. A parent asked me how he went from being non-verbal to his current verbal state. My answer was that he was never non-verbal, he just didn't know how to talk, and that this had changed as he learned how to talk. Of course we did what we could to help, but the bottom line is that, as a natural part of growing up, he has got better at things that were difficult for him earlier on. Kids do that.

It's very nice when a late bloomer does well but, by calling it a miraculous cure, we raise the stress levels for all the other kids who are taking their time. It's a good thing for loners to get some support in making friends, if they want it, but do we have to tell them they have a disorder before we are willing to help out? Likewise, sensitive types will benefit just as much from activities that promote sensory integration, such as swinging, swimming and bouncing on a trampoline, whether we refer to it as therapy or just getting out there.

We've come a long way from the days when intervention was limited to curt demands that kids snap out of it and quit acting up. Hopefully, as we move forward, we can drop the notion that everything that benefits from help and understanding first has to be considered pathological.