Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Alyssa Reads Neurotechnology and Direct Brain Communication: Part 1

I got Neurotechnology and Direct Brain Communication out of my university library. (I love libraries.) I got it because I do research related to brain-computer interfaces in my graduate program, and it seemed like a directly relevant book that is in my library. I didn't realize when I took it out that it'd be as interdisciplinary as it was, but, hey, added bonus. I like mixing my fields up a bit.

Farisco, M., & Evers, K. (Eds.). (2016). Neurotechnology and direct brain communication: New insights and responsibilities concerning speechless but communicative subjects. Routledge.

Anyways. I'm reading, have some reactions from their introduction:

I think the mention of how brain and mind relate, as being philosophically considered the same thing, substantially different, or somewhere in between, is a nice touch, as is the admission that science tends towards taking the two to be pretty much the same. Maybe I'll get to see more discussion related to that in later chapters? It'd be cool.

One of my classmates told me that when she did research related to "motor imagery" brain computer interfaces, while most participants did start by imagining a certain motion, they didn't necessarily keep imagining that same motion as they kept using the system. The signal kept coming from the same place, but what they were doing to make that signal changed. I think that says something about localization.

They ask if it's possible to interpret what someone is thinking directly from brain signals. Thinking as someone who does work in brain computer interfaces, I don't know if that might someday be possible, but what we have right now is nowhere near that. It's a few characters of text per minute, when things work well, which isn't always  the case. (As opposed to the 60+ words per minute I type with my hands, or the over a hundred words per minute of typical conversational speech.)

And yay paying attention to the assumptions used in neurotechnology. I like it when people recognize that technologies aren't conceptually neutral.

I wonder what age range they're taking as infants, and how they're determining that infants don't understand language. Because the coordinated movements involved in speaking are an issue, and receptive language tends to be way ahead of expressive language for quite a bit of child development. That is, people understand more than they can say. And I spoke at six months. It's true that speaking at six months is unusual, but if we're doing the "interrogate assumptions" thing, we should interrogate this assumption too. Especially when it's being used to question the use of the word "communication" when applied to babies. And especially when the first chapter goes on to discuss neurological responses that suggest hearing infants do recognize spoken language.

And now the first chapter:
Lagercrantz, H. & Padilla, N. (2016). The emergence of consciousness: from foetal to newborn life. In Farisco, M., & Evers, K (Eds.) Neurotechnology and Direct Brain Communication (pp. 21-34). Routledge.

The authors ask what it's like to be a baby. I don't know what it's like to be a baby -- I don't remember anything from when I was that young, and even though I was talking a bit at six months, I don't think my parents asked me what it was like to be a baby. Maybe if I meet another six month old who talks, I'll ask them what it's like to be a baby.

Oh no. Oh no. Early identification of "risk" for autism and then early intervention. In a world that used a model more like the Foundation for Divergent Minds one, I'd be totally cool with early identification, and early actions to support people. But I know what model is really used in early intervention, and it increases our risk of PTSD. So, no. Here's another assumption I'd like to see challenged, thank you.

Discussion of whether dreaming during REM sleep is a conscious or unconscious state is interesting. However, I do want to question the assumption that insight and self-reflection are absent during dreams. Lucid dreaming (dreaming while aware that it's a dream) is a thing, and both insight and self-reflecting are totally possible in that state.

EEG and NIRS are the same technologies we tend to use in our lab, because they're portable. It's interesting to see them come up in infant studies for similar reasons.

I do wonder how they're deciding certain neuronal connections are required for consciousness, as opposed to being required in order to communicate consciousness to outsiders. Those aren't the same thing. See also, "I heard it all" or "I understood it all" from people who were in comas, as well as from non-speaking autistic folks who get access to communication later.

"Resting" neural activity is definitely a thing. There are always, always neurons firing in alive people. That's why, when we do neuroimaging studies, there's often a comparison between activity at rest and activity during whatever task we're asking people to do. It's because things are still happening when we're resting. Autonomic breathing control, for example, is still a thing. So is sensory processing. I wonder what my rest state looks like compared to that of my neurotypical classmates.

"However, dreaming is tightly linked to the ability to imagine things visually, which is less likely to occur in the foetus and extremely preterm infant." (p. 12).
Wait, really? People with minds eyes confuse me. My imagination doesn't get to plug into the monitor anytime other than while I'm asleep. I don't have the ability to imagine things visually when awake, and I can't make an extra layer of intentionally imagining more things visually while dreaming, either. But I do dream, and often in color. My other senses often work in dreams too -- things like taste and touch. I would never have come up with an association between dreaming and visual imagination on my own, even though "do you dream?" is one of the first questions I'm asked when I tell people I'm aphantasiac and explain what that means.

There are some interesting sensory findings here. Apparently typical newborns already have some capacity for facial recognition, though their visual acuity isn't great. (I wonder if they're better at recognizing faces than I am. And at what point developmental/congenital prosopagnosia can be detected, if typical newborns already have some facial recognition. See Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. 1977. Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198, 75-8; Farroni, T. Chiarelli, A. M., Lloyd-Fox, S., Massaccesi, S., Merla, A., Di Gangi, V., Mattarello, T., Faraguna, D., & Johnson, M. H. 2013. Infant cortex responds to other humans from shortly after birth. Sci Rep, 3. and stuff citing them for references if I ever try to look more closely at this, I guess?)

I think it's pretty cool that infants can start acquiring another language if someone reads and tells them stories in that other language. It makes sense, considering how many kids are bilingual from a young age due to immersion in multiple languages. 

"Even the preterm infant ex utero may open its eyes and establish a minimal eye contact with its mother and show other signs of conciousness like cortical responses to pain." (p. 16)
Wait, we're using eye contact as a sign of conciousness now? I'm too autistic for this. Nope.

Part 2 is/will be here!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"But that won't fly in [high school/college/the working world/etc...]!"

When people have somewhat unusual methods of ... doing anything, really, there are often authority figures who will try to stop it with the excuse that it won't fly in some other context, so it needs to be stopped in this one, too.

It's bullshit.

First, different contexts are different. A K-12 classroom is not a university classroom is not a construction site is not a factory floor is not an online chatroom is not a floor full of cubicles is not a ballroom. Just because I shouldn't waltz on a construction site, that doesn't mean you should tell me not to waltz in a ballroom because it wouldn't fly on a construction site. Just because some people will (incorrectly) assume my iso headphones (noise reduction, but not cancelling or music) mean I'm not paying attention, that doesn't mean I shouldn't wear them on a factory floor or at a construction site. It doesn't actually mean I should skip them at school or in an office, either. It's an assistive tool for sensory processing issues, and willful continued misinterpretations once I explain that to you once are not my problem.

Second, the context you cite may well consider the unusual method a non-issue. Some people like to tell me that being nonbinary might sound cool on the internet, but at work no one would tolerate that. They're just wrong. I use "they/them" pronouns and either "Mx." or no honorific at all as a teacher. I do the same as a graduate student. I get asked about it on occasion, but it's a non-issue. Your statement that it won't fly in [insert other context here] may well just be wrong. Others would like to tell me that sitting on the floor or under tables won't be tolerated later, so kids with disabilities need to be table-ready as a first priority, ahead of things like getting communication supports. I sit under an actual literal table when I have to go into the lab in graduate school. No one cares.

Third, even if the people in this other context have an issue, have you considered the possibility that they're wrong to do so? The administrators at a university where I studied abroad were of the opinion that I shouldn't come, because "people like that shouldn't be in college." (People like that meant autistic people, in this case.) I feel OK assuming just about any specific autistic trait they took issue with was a cover for them not wanting autistic students at all. Or a rock climbing instructor takes an issue with flapping (without letting go of the person on the wall!) and being left-handed. They're just wrong. Why are you backing up their wrong-ness?

Different environments have different expectations for actual reasons, they might not have the expectations you'd think they have, and other people are just as capable of having bullshit expectations as we are. "That wouldn't fly at work, so I'm not letting it fly in my classroom" is not a good argument. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

In defense of "microlabels"

This is about being an online math teacher, or a graduate teaching assistant, or a physics lab assistant, and it's about being a panromantic asexual nonbinary (or just queer.)

I'm a teacher. When people ask me what I do, I can say I teach. Sometimes they'll want more details, sometimes they won't.

I'm queer. Sometimes people want more detail than that, and sometimes they won't. Sometimes I'll give it to them, and sometimes I won't.

I can tell you that I teach mathematics. I can tell you I'm pan, or that I'm bi. (I consider both statements to be true of me.)

I can tell you that I teach online. I can tell you that I'm ace.

Or maybe I can tell you that I teach online math classes. I'm panromantic and asexual.

I taught in a lab. I'm transgender.

More specifically, I was an assistant in that lab. More specifically, I'm nonbinary.

I've been a lab assistant at 天津师范大学 (Tianjin Normal University), and at the University of Rhode Island. My autism does affect how I do gender, so gendervague is a word I sometimes use to describe exactly how I'm nonbinary.

Obviously, teaching experiences, gender, and sexuality aren't identical. However, when you specifically don't need to know that I did one of my lab assistant jobs in Chinese, you probably aren't going to tell me that it's divisive for me to specify that much, or that I'm just a special snowflake, or anything in that area. People do say that when I come up with words like gendervague.

Not every detail of who I am is going to matter to every person. That's fine. You might not care that I assisted a physics lab in China, using Mandarin. My supervisor in the electrical engineering lab does, because she speaks Mandarin too, and it's useful for her to know I understand the language. You might not care that I'm gendervague. Another reader, themselves autistic, questioning their gender, and wondering if they just might not "get" gender, could find the existence of the word useful. My issue comes up when sharing those details in a mixed audience, where some people will find those extra details to be of interest, is met with outright hostility from the people who don't need them.

Just because it's not information you need, that doesn't mean it's a useless word.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I'm apparently an #AAC talk example.

I took a class on augmentative and alternative communication in fall 2017. It was a tiny class, with only three students, which made it practically an independent study. Pretty early on in the class, I watched this video.

This quote stuck out, just a few minutes in. “Sometimes we find ourselves on the floor or under a desk because that's where somebody wants to be.” The context? The speaker is talking about how there aren't any prerequisites for AAC use, including behavioral prerequisites. 

I laughed, and then I got worried.

I laughed because I spend quite a bit of time on the floor, possibly under a desk. I hung out under my cloak, under the table, before my measure theory (graduate math class) final exam. I tend to sit on the floor when given the choice. People in the wearable biosensing lab (the lab my major professor runs) don't just know to look for me under a table if I'm in the lab. They know which table I'll be under with my laptop and whatever I'm reading, or with whatever object I'm doing emergency sewing on. My advisor is quite used to the fact that I sit on the floor during my meetings with him. 

Essentially, I represent this statement. I am the student who is often on the floor or under a desk. I'm also studying for my PhD in neuroscience and passed my comprehensive exams last week, so I'm generally not in too much danger of being denied access to communication based on behavioral prerequisites. (I am at risk of being denied access to communication based on the fact that I can usually speak well, so people could assume I'm faking when I need AAC. That's a problem, but it's a different one.)

My worry is for the people who are in danger of being denied access to communication based on ideas about prerequisites. I understand what it means that a kid hanging out under a desk is the example given here. I have to assume people have been denied access to communication systems for "behavioral" reasons including a tendency to sit on the floor or under desks. I even have to assume this is common. Otherwise, there would be no need to explain: yes, you can get on the floor or under a desk while working on communication supports, if that's where someone wants to be.

That's scary. I know my making it through school has a lot to do with my being passed off with the idea that "gifted kids are weird." I know how easily it could have gone differently. I've written before about one way it could have gone wrong: failing special education kindergarten

What about all the people where it did go differently? What about all the people for whom it's still going differently?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Five Meals

Hi all, long time no see, time for a "meet the blogger" type post to see if I can get myself writing. (It's been a rough year, and not just because of the political situation. Though being scared of that makes things much harder.) Anyways.

That's the short version. Food is an important part of culture, and of who we are. That's true of both the special foods (that cake!) and the everyday (mac and cheese).   Here's the explained version of why I think each of these five dishes tells you something about me.

  1.  Mom's chicken noodle soup means home, and it means comfort. When I get sick, this is what I want to be eating. It's a very concentrated broth (sometimes made by starting with store-bought chicken broth and then boiling the chicken in it) made entirely with legs and thighs instead of a whole chicken. Noodles are done separately so they don't get soggy, and so mom and I can have different soup:noodle ratios. I basically want a bowl of noodles and chicken with a few pieces of vegetables, barely covered by broth. (My non-Jewish stepmother actually makes a more "traditional" Jewish chicken noodle soup than my Jewish mother does, but that's because my mom modified the recipe so we'd like it better.)
  2. 拉面 is something I ate a lot of every time I studied in China. It's a noodle soup, but Chinese instead of traditionally Jewish. Long, thin noodles in broth, with some shaved meat (beef, where I got it), some vegetables, and a pot of spicy oil available somewhere if you wanted to make it spicy. At the place on campus at 浙江大学 (Zhejiang University), there were just the two options, a small bowl or a large bowl. Most other places where I ate this had a variety of noodle dishes, but this is the one that was already familiar. It was also the cheapest, and I was a student.
  3. Mac and cheese with cayenne and tuna: Think boxed macaroni and cheese, but we buy our own cheddar cheese powder in bulk so it's not technically box mac and cheese. It's the same basic recipe, but heavier on the cheese, butter, and milk (whole milk!), and then we add some extra spices and put tuna in it. Cayenne is the main extra spice. When I get queasy, this is one of my safe foods. I'm aware that's weird, but it works. (When I was in Tianjin and couldn't cook, I put noodles in my basket at local 麻辣烫 place for my safe option of "absurdly spicy noodles." At restaurants in the US that have it, a seafood alfredo is usually as close as I can get, and will be my order if I'm queasy.)
  4. Lamb vindaloo. From my sophomore through senior years of high school, I was on the Eastern Massachusetts team for American Regions Math League. (Well, the E team for it. We sent three teams and went A, E, B for some reason that I never understood and never really asked about.) While we were in Pennsylvania for the competition, I went to an Indian restaurant with some of my teammates. I forget what I got. A teammate with no spice tolerance got vindaloo. I finished his vindaloo, and it has been my favorite Indian dish since.
  5. Three layer chocolate cake with chocolate whipped cream frosting I make for my birthday. I got the recipe from my dad, who also makes it for his birthday. He makes it for one of my sister's birthdays too. We all have the same favorite chocolate cake. The recipe comes from a book of chocolate desserts. When I make it, I use a darker chocolate and slightly more of it than the recipe says, and we all take it out of the oven a bit earlier than the suggested time so as to get the suggested texture.