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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Alyssa Reads Neurotechnology and Direct Brain Communication, Part 2

Still reading this book:
Farisco, M., & Evers, K. (Eds.). (2016). Neurotechnology and direct brain communication: New insights and responsibilities concerning speechless but communicative subjects. Routledge.
Part 1 was here, with the introduction and first chapter.

Now reading chapter 2:
Demetriou, A., Spanoudis, G., & Shayer, M. (2016). Mapping mind-brain development. In Farisco, M., & Evers, K. (Eds.) Neurotechnology and Direct Brain Communication: New insights and responsibilities concerning speechless but communicative subjects, 21-39.

The chapter starts off with a theory for how the mind is set up. (It's a theory I've seen before.) Thought is broadly considered as categorical, spatial, quantitative, causal, or social. Our perceptual systems are generally set up in ways that support these kinds of thought and connection-making. There's the idea that abstraction notes similarities between things, alignment actually sticks stuff together by those similarities, and then cognizance stores the stuck together stuff as its own thing. It seems like a reasonable way of thinking about how stuff works. Then they start talking about how it develops, with episodic representation, then mental representation, then rule-based representation, and then principle-based representation. 

And I'm pretty sure they're talking about how everything develops in neurotypical people, though they don't specify that. I think it would be better if people talking about neurotypical psychology and neurology explicitly said they were doing so, rather than just saying they were talking about people. For example, there's discussion of visual circuits, and aphantasiacs don't do the visual things the same way y'all think people do visual stuff. And kind of like language development people tend to assume we start at one word and build up, while some people start at phrases and break down, then remix, then build up on occasions where remixing isn't enough.

Or there's two main circuits that do verbal working memory type things, one for rehearsal (getting ready to say a thing, I guess) and one for “nonarticulatory maintenance of phonological information” (p. 29). What does this mean for AAC users? Or even neurotypicals on social media or otherwise using typed language for real-time communication? What does this mean for the students in my online classroom at AoPS? (And no, I can neither assume that my students are neurotypical nor can I assume that they're neurodivergent. I have no idea.) I wish I knew what their citation was for these two verbal working memory networks. Rehearsal is supposed to be left-lateralized (in righties or in everyone? They didn't say!) premotor-parietal, for which it would make sense to me that we'd just get premotor areas related to whatever body part is being used to communicate instead of related to the mouth, but use a similar circuit regardless of communication medium. Verbal maintenance is supposed to be bilateral, anterior-prefrontal to inferior parietal.

I wonder how the rehearsal areas might activate when using, say, a P300 speller. Would activation depend on whether the current stimulus is for the desired letter or not? How does the slower speed of typing affect the activation of and demands on working memory? Is this even the most relevant working memory circuit for P300 use? (I know working memory is relevant, but it could be a visual working memory circuit we need to care about, or one of the verbal ones, or all the parts that are in either, or only the parts that are in both. I dunno!)

Oh, come on, now we get to see theory of mind come up, where a mentalizing network is suggested to be needed to serve awareness of mental states, and that this (with alerting and orienting attention?) is key to consciousness. If I never see theory of mind theory again, it will be too soon. (I say shortly after turning in revisions to a chapter that examined the effects of of theory of mind on interpretation of autistic autobiographical narratives, which required me to deal with quite a bit of theory of mind nonsense. Why do I do this to myself?) There's apparently been research into the neuroanatomical (phrenological?) and neurochemical bases of this theory of mind thing, too. Because they cite
Abu-Akel, A., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. (2011). Neuroanatomical and neurochemical bases of theory of mind. Neuropsychologia, 49(11), 2971-2984. 
Which is apparently a well-cited article, per my looking it up. Why.

How is it “obvious” that mentalizing ability and executive control would be served by the same systems? Is it only obvious that these use the same systems in neurotypicals? Or is it therefore paradoxical to be decent at guessing how others would feel in a given situation, while also having pretty terrible executive functioning. Am I a paradox? I think it'd be interesting to be a paradox.

If salience/shifting networks are already in place in some form before birth, like Hoff et al seems to suggest, and salience networks function differently between autistic people and neurotypical people, is this one of the places we can point to neurodevelopmental differences even before birth? (I'm kind of betting it is, even if it's not one we've checked yet. There are a lot of things we don't know yet about brain networks.) Hoff et al is:
Hoff, G. E., Van Den Heuvel, M., Benders, M. J., Kersbergen, K. J., & de Vries, L. S. (2013). On development of functional brain connectivity in the young brain. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 650.
I run into an autism/connectivity paper on the first page when trying to find Hoff, so bookmarking that too:
Belmonte, M. K., Allen, G., Beckel-Mitchener, A., Boulanger, L. M., Carper, R. A., & Webb, S. J. (2004). Autism and abnormal development of brain connectivity. Journal of Neuroscience, 24(42), 9228-9231.
The introduction of that paper already annoys me with the prevention/remediation nonsense, though I appreciate how it called autism research disconnected. I kind of already knew that whenever I deal with autism-related literature, I need to grab what useful bits I can while wading through messes.  

Or even the ages of transitions between levels of abstraction in thought. There's some range in typical development, but that doesn't mean that neurodivergent people will fall inside those ranges. (And we may well build up the ability to do things at one level that y'all wouldn't have, because the "next" level grants it easily and you get there by the time you need it.)

Oh, and while we can point to networks that are active in certain functions, there's no cognitive functions whose corresponding networks are totally known, even in the totally neurotypical. No, I don't think I run all the same networks for everything that a neurotypical person does. There's already some autism-related evidence that I don't, and there's starting to be some aphantasia-related evidence that I don't, too. Please, please specify when you're talking about neurotypical networks and structures. 

Part 3 is/will be here.

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.