Oct 25, 2008

The Silent Core

Here is a poem (or is it lyrics) that I wrote in 2003. It's about Asperger. Not everything, but the rich inner visual landscape of the Aspie mind that is both a gift and burden.

© 2003 Adam Parmenter

Locked inside the silent core
Little escapes
The relentless embrace of
The inner mind
So alive
On the inside
Worlds, unseen, bloom and wane
Beyond the reach of
Hands & smiles
If they only knew
The miles & miles
I’ve journeyed alone
Song unknown
Stories untold
Yearning to break free
To be known & seen
From the silent core


Oct 23, 2008

People With Autism Make Rational Decisions

According to Medical News Today, "People with autism-related disorders are less likely to make irrational decisions, and are less influenced by gut instincts, according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust. "

Find the full article at this link.

Lately, I have been "grieving", as it were, over my lack of emotion. Emotional situations become very disturbing, grief leaks out slowly over time, and I wish I could experience emotions as the neurotypicals do. I'm not even sure what that means.

I have discovered that, for me personally, my emotions will come out in a song. For me, everything is a song. Music is a gateway into my emotions that I can't get to through the typical route. I wrote an instrumental song just after my father died. It's called "Kiss Upon The Brow". The last time I saw my father alive, I gave him a kiss on the forehead. That mix of emotions came out in a melody. It is with me forever.

The same happens with lyrics or when I paint. I guess I understand now what people mean when they say they must "express themselves". Do they mean what I mean? I suppose it is wise for me to set aside expressive time in my week so that I'm able to create and capture those emotions.

Now that I'm unemployed and working from my basement, I have music playing at a suitable volume. It makes me feel calm and focused. I used to think that it helped just because it kept me distracted from the noise in my brain. Maybe it is the emotional subtext that I need. Perhaps music for me is the emotional equivalent of crutches for a guy with a broken leg?

I'm no neurologist, so I only have guesses and intuition.

Speaking of intuition. The article noted above makes it sound like people in the Autism Spectrum don't have intuition. That may be true, but I experience intuition for many or most of my decisions. I start with intuition and work back to logic. My version of intuition is devoid of emotion though. My intuition space is filled with timeless principals for living. When confronted with a decisions there is a part of my brain that queries through these principals (i.e. procedures), and reacts first based on a principal. Perhaps that's not really intuition.

Principal led living seems better to me than intuition, but my wife makes decisions based on emotion and intuition and does just as good of a job as I do. In fact she and I share the most important principals for our lives. Hers seem to encoded into both an emotional part of her brain as well as a logical part.

O.K., this post is rambling. I apologize if you were hoping for wise advise. Just some musing today.


Aug 27, 2008

In The Corner Of A Round Room

As an Aspie I rely so very much on certain things in the world being predictable. I often don’t even realize it. So think for a moment about a hospital. They are terribly comforting places and it’s often easy to get lost. However, one can expect a series of hallways, waiting rooms, and nurses stations. Usually this is oriented in squares or rectangles. Sometimes there is a rotunda that joins two wings, the designers hoping to bring in something other than a clinical feel, but typically it goes back to lots of 90 degree edges and straight lines.

The Native American museum in Washington D.C. is a something different entirely. The designers of that building were seeking to achieve a very organic aesthetic. The building is a series of sweeping curves. Successive floors of the building don’t necessarily line up neatly with one another, but instead the whole building has an undulation like the gently rolling hills of the great plains. Some walls are stucco and some are made of flag stone or brick. The curves and variety of forms all combine to say, “this is not an institution.”

This all brings me to Goshen hospital. I visited my dad there as he was recovering from surgery. It appears that some attempt was made to achieve an aesthetic similar to the Native American Museum with Goshen Hospital, or at least parts of it. So the main entry area is a swoops and curves, the walls are of rock in one place and different materials in others. That threw me a little. I think it was a remodeled entry, because once I got back toward the elevators it was back to straight halls.

What really threw me was the patient rooms. Typically there is a square area with a nurses station. Instead the nurses station was in the center of a . . . well I think the idea was that it would be a circle, but all the walls were straight. It was sort of like the Pentagon, but with more like ten sides. A decagon? As you can imagine, the center of a circle or decagon is smaller than the outside (my apologies to all you geometry experts for the way I worded that). With the patient rooms on the perimeter of this decagon, each patient room was roughly wedge shaped. Like a slice of pie.

Pie sounds really good right now, but walking into that room I felt like a had just entered Picasso. So not only am I emotionally charged from visiting my father who is recovering from surgery, but my conceptual brain is working in over drive trying to get the wall of the room to straighten into a rectangle shape. It was all I could do to not start rocking back and forth. I really wanted to stand in a quiet corner, but there weren’t any.

Corners are comforting because they are distinct and strong and fixed. Corners don’t breath in and out, or shift and shimmer. This building had no quiet corners that I could stand in. Instead the walls in the patient rooms drifted out, the hall outside drunkenly careened in dizzy circles, and the entry of the hospital was trying desperately to be the American prairie.

That really freaked me out.

Aug 24, 2008

Bite Marks Are Bad (in food that is)

I had two pieces of gluten free banana bread this morning for breakfast. My wife makes it now and then. This morning I noticed, again, that I don't like the round bite marks left in the previously rectangular bread and feel compelled to bite the tips off so that the bread is returned to its roughly rectangular shape.

I'm the same way with a sandwich (don't get many of them these days) or any square food item. The bite mark seems chaotic and disorderly.

I can only guess that there is a part of the brain that identifies the general shape and properties of a piece of bread as being rectangular or square and another part of the brain that assigns meaning to the bite mark. There are probably still other sections that develop texture, color, etc. All these elements a some how combined by another part of the brain and then forwarded to the frontal lobe so that it can decide what I think "about" it.

In a neurotypical brain, a bite mark in food would usually mean nothing unless you hadn't started eating your food yet. Then it would be a problem, especially if the waiter just set it down in front of you supposedly fresh from the kitchen. Then the executive function of your brain would raise an alarm that some one else had taken a bite out of your food, and would set off a cascade of other reactions.

So, I think it goes back to the whole sensory integration. I'm guessing that because those of us in the Autism spectrum have a deficit when it comes to integration, that the something isn't getting combined and forwarded correctly to the decision making part of the brain. So, while that bite mark isn't alarming, it is vaguely disquieting. I even out the edges and it feels right again (of course then I feel just a little neurotic).

Perhaps the message that the bite mark belongs to me is lost in processing. I have a memory of biting the bread and eating it, yet the perhaps the visual image of the bite mark has not been integrated with the other sensory and cognitive memories of biting and eating. So, I know it's my bite mark, but there is a missing "green flag" and it makes me feel a bit uneasy.

Just some guessing based on what little I've read about brain function.


Aug 8, 2008

Why Isn't THAT Funny?

I was sitting in a staff meeting at work and one of my colleagues announced the new corporate IT policy that your laptop computer would follow you where ever you go. It used to be that if you changed departments you had to leave you computer with the other department and got a new computer in the next department. Now the computer transfers with you.

But when he said, "Your computer follows you wherever you go, I pictured this little computer floating along just behined my shoulder. At first it's convenint, but then it gets on my nerves because it's always there. So, I laughed and said, "It sounds like some kind of corporate drug trip." No one laughed.

But later when another guy was talking about something mundaine having to do with the family cat, everyone burst out laughing. What is it with humor and neurotypicals. They get a bigger charge out of laughing at each others mundain stuff, but can't laugh at the odd or nonsequeter.

I still don't understand neurotypicals. They don't get edgy funny stuff.


Jul 30, 2008

Syncronisation Disconnect

A new study published in the Journal of Social Neuroscience explores the mechanism for understanding social cues and the "disconnect" within the autistic brain. According to the study, inefficient pathways for transmitting information between certain brain regions are to blame.

"The communication between the frontal and posterior areas of the social brain network is impaired in autism, making it difficult to understand the intentions of others" said the study's senior author, Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

The study is the first to measure the synchronization between the brain areas that make up the Theory of Mind (ToM) network, which is responsible for processing the intentions and thoughts of others. It is the first to provide such concrete evidence of faulty social network connections.

Jun 28, 2008

Some interesting new research:

New evidence shows that the brains of adults with autism are "wired" differently from people without the disorder, and this abnormal pattern of connectivity may be responsible for the social impairments that are characteristic of autism.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Washington's Autism Center also found that the most severely socially impaired subjects in the study exhibited the most abnormal pattern of connectivity among a network of brain regions involved in face processing.

"This study shows that these brain regions are failing to work together efficiently," said Natalia Kleinhans, a research assistant professor of radiology and lead author of the paper published in the journal Brain. "Our work seems to indicate that the brain pathways of people with autism are not completely disconnected, but they are not as strong as in people without autism."

Source: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

Jun 2, 2008

The Plant People

There is a thought structure that I've noticed in myself and in my daughter. It's a tendency to anthropomorphise objects. That is to ascribe human feelings to some objects.

When I was a teen living at home, I had a dresser with a large mirror on it. on the mirror I had taped pictures of all of my good highschool and church camp friends. When I got dressed in the morning I felt compelled to stand in my closet to get dressed or to cover the pictures. I knew that they were people, but the photos did have eyes, and it didn't quite seem right to get dressed in front of them.

I also remember as a child, when I had to erase a word on a school assignment, that I felt bad for the letters that were being erased. You know, letters want to be put to work on a page. It's why they exist. I eventually decided that the eraser was sucking the letters back into the pencil, and placing those letters in un-employment until such time that there was a word that required their services. That's a little better, but unpleasant if that particular letter has a wife and kids. That can be rough. I blame my kindergarten teacher a little for that one, because when we were learning our letters each one had a personality. There were even stories about the letters doing things together, getting into arguments, or being friends. That was supposed to help us learn our letters, but it just imprinted on my mind that letters have feelings too.

Once when my daughter was young some came to me with a moral dilemma. The end had broken off of her pencil. I said, "Just through it in the trash can." She said, "I can't. I named it." Big problem. If you have a name, then you certainly have feelings. I said, "You know, that bit of pencil wants to go in the trash. The little trash can is like a bus. Eventually the bus will take it to this wonderful resort village where all of his friends are. It's the junk yard resort. They love it there." Problem solved for a little Aspie girl.

So that brings me to this past weekend. A good friend of our family has an over abundance of decorative grasses and ferns in our back yard. So I spent two days chopping some of these plants out of her yard and transplanting them into our back yard.

Often when you move a plant it looks quite wilted. Also, it's important that when you transplant it you give it plenty of support by mounding up the soil around its base. Without thinking I referred the plants as being upset at being moved. I told my son to plant them deep enough and mound the soil up around enough so that the plants were happy. Of course some of the stems got snapped in the process, and for some I chopped the plant in half to spread it out or fit in in a spot. They all looked quite unhappy on Saturday. Sunday I fared a little better, but still I chopped and moved plants essentially against their wills, and they didn't look entirely comfortable with the idea.

So last night I had a horrific dream that I was making these people go stand in my back yard, and that I also was giving some of them a chop with a machete. There was no blood shed in the dream, but I awoke wondering what kind of monster I had become that I would dream such things.

Thankfully, I quickly realised that all those unhappy people are the ferns and grasses in the back yard. At that point at 2am in the night was one of those times when I hated being Aspie.


May 24, 2008

Music Used To Explore The Autistic Brain's Emotion Processing

14 May 2008 Music has a universal ability to tap into our deepest emotions. Unfortunately, for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), understanding emotions is a very difficult task. Can music help them? Thanks to funding from the GRAMMY Foundation Grant Program, researchers at UCLA are about to find out. Individuals with ASD have trouble recognizing emotions, particularly social emotions conveyed through facial expressions - a frown, a smirk or a smile. This inability can rob a child of the chance to communicate and socialize and often leads to social isolation. In an innovative study led by Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a researcher at the UCLA Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity, music will be used as a tool to explore the ability of children with ASD to identify emotions in musical excerpts and facial expressions. "Music has long been known to touch autistic children," Molnar-Szakacs said. "

Studies from the early days of autism research have already shown us that music provokes engagement and interest in kids with ASD. More recently, such things as musical memory and pitch abilities in children with ASD have been found to be as good as or better than in typically developing children." In addition, he said, researchers have shown that because many children with ASD are naturally interested in music, they respond well to music-based therapy. But no one has ever done a study to see if children with ASD process musical emotions and social emotions in the same way that typically developing children do. In this study, Molnar-Szakacs will use "emotional music" to examine the brain regions involved in emotion processing. "Our hypothesis is that if we are able to engage the brain region involved in emotion processing using emotional music, this will open the doorway for teaching children with ASD to better recognize emotions in social stimuli, such as facial expressions."

The overarching goal of the study, of course, is to gain insights about the causes of autism. Molnar-Szakacs will use neuroimaging - functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI - to look at and compare brain activity in ASD children with brain activity in typically developing kids while both groups are engaged in identifying emotions from faces and musical excerpts.

"The study should help us to better understand how the brain processes emotion in children with autism; that, in turn, will help us develop more optimal interventions," Molnar-Szakacs said. "Importantly, this study will also help us promote the use of music as a powerful tool for studying brain functions, from cognition to creativity." Approximately 15 children with ASD, ranging in age from 10 to 13, will participate in the study, which is being conducted under the auspices of the Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance. The alliance, directed by UCLA's Elizabeth Laugeson, is an innovative partnership between the nonprofit Help Group, which serves children with special needs related to autism, and the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and is dedicated to enhancing and expanding ASD research. The project is also being conducted in collaboration with Katie Overy, co-director of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. "The hope, of course, is that this work will not only be of scientific value and interest, but most of all, that it will translate into real-life improvements in the quality of the children's lives," Molnar-Szakacs said.

Source: Mark Wheeler University of California - Los Angeles

May 6, 2008

Hit and Miss

We've eased my children off of some meds. I've also cut back on mine (read this post). I had cut my SSNRI completly to nothing, but with a number of added stressors, I've gone back to taking two thirds of the prescribed dose. Fortunatley, I have a doctor who is willing to listen and discuss. I told him to give me the presecription in pills that equal one third the dose so that I can vary timing and amount.

Well, once again, my employer is restructuring and cutting, my wife had outpatient surgery and the demands of missionary pre-field can also be stressing. So, my pain levels had gone way up (happens in the spring anyway), and going back the SSNRI seemed to help.

I originally was prescribed the SSNRI for chronic pain associated with mild fibromyalgia. As always I put in my disclaimer: I'm not a doctor nor healthcare professinal. Don't use this blog to diagnose nor treat illness. This is just my story. Maybe it will give you something to think about.

There are two SSNRIs that I know of that are on the market:

Lyrica is a follow-on drug to Neurontin. A follow-on drug is when a company takes one of their own successful medications and attempts to re-engineer it to reduce side effect or improve efficacy. Neurontin was never approved for fibromyalgia (nor until recently were any drugs), but it was found to help. Doctors have the freedom to prescribe meds "off label".

Neurontin was effective but was found to make people sleapy and dizzy. I have found that Lyrica did not have that effect on me. I took part in a trial to gain FDA approval to use Lyrica for treating fibro, but I didn't like the way it made me feel.

I find the other SSNRI is easier for me to tolerate. Don't take my word as law though. There are whole message boards with people screaming about the nasty side effects of Cymbalta.

Keep in mind that both these drugs have wide application and broad dosing. I know a man who is on 20 mg of Cymbalta a day. My prescibed dose is for 60, but I typically only take 20.

How did these drugs help me? In both cases, I had less pain, but still had some pain. However, on both of them I noticed that I was better able to focus and tune things out. I had less repetative thinking, and my mood was more stable. Both drugs have something of a stimulating effect to varying degrees. I have taken Ritalin off and on throughout my adult life to help deal with major transitions or when I suffered from Chronic fatigue. Yikes, when I changed dosages or stopped, look out mood swings. My son took Stratera for several years. Now that he is home schooling, he is completely off of that. He had some side effects both going on and off of that med. So, for me, the Cymbalta has been just enough of the Ritalin benefit along with changes in diet and life style.

The title of this blog is "Hit and Miss". What I'm pointing to hear is that keep your eyes open for different treatments and new drugs, and be willing to carefully try new things. Always research first, but you may find that you can reduce or eliminate some medications when using other treatments such as diet, excercise, and nutrition. If your doctor won't talk about reducing meds and doesn't want to help with that. Find a doctor who will. You need to be able to safely try new things.

Aspie is with you for life. The drugs you take now might be with you for the rest of your life, but they might not have to be permanent.


Feb 26, 2008

So. . . No More Pills. . . Or What?

O.K. I read an article today with this headline "The anti-depressants aren't working".

"The researchers looked at the four most widely used anti-depressants, including Prozac and Paxil. They reviewed data on 47 clinical trials. Some of that data was unpublished. The researchers used freedom of information laws to get access to it. They concluded that in most cases, the drugs had more or less the same effect as placebos. The drugs only proved really beneficial for a small group of severely depressed patients. GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Paxil and Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac, both rejected the study as insufficient. But a spokesman for Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists said the message was clear -- that drug companies must be compelled to publish all the data from their clinical trails."

According to www.politics.co.uk the study was published The Lancet, a British Medical Journal. The Lancet report claims that for most users, anti-depressants are only as effective as placebo.

What's odd is that I on a whim I had tried cut me dose by a third. Then I cut it down to one third of the original dose. Then I ran out and forgot to get it refilled. Prior to this I have drastically altered my diet and begun using enzyme supplements. I also exercise more, and frankly I'm putting far more effort into my Christian faith.

I also have been using ankle weights and other sensory integration stuff.

The last several days I had lots of joint pain, but my thoughts are nearly as repetitive and I'm not as bothered by crowds. Just recently I stood in a line and shook hands with about 750 people. I survived it.

Maybe I don't need a refill on my SSRI.

That said, I absolutely rely on my Tricyclic so that I can sleap at night.

I make no recommendation for anyone else dosing strategy, but it is good to read and study and investigate diet and exercise. Diet and exercise have a clear link to emotional health and Aspie survival. Also, take some time to study sensory integration issues. I suggest the book "Too Loud, To Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight". I've used a number of the authors suggestions, and have found them calming.

Big, Big help is investing more of my time, energy, and attention into my Christian faith. I've taken more time to consider the claims of Jesus Christ, and the Bible writers. I've started to read a passage from the Bible and then study the cultural context in which it was written. In that sense the passage comes alive with meaning. Then there is a method for considering what the timeless teaching is that transcends any culture. It has provided a clearer sense that Jesus Christ is God, is the savior, and that living for Him is the best most enjoyable way to live.

My faith experience has been transforming. I would venture to say that my faith experience, more than any other treatment method, has guided me into better mental/emotional health and provided a means to reduce my medication.


Jan 14, 2008


All you Aspies out there will likely identify with how difficult some transitions are.

Personally, Mondays are difficult for me as I am a missionary on the weekend, and now I'm an employee Monday and it's hard to adjust to the change. I spend a great deal of time on preparation to leave the country as a missionary.

I remember one evening in particular that was fairly stressful. I could feel my personality decouple from the me, and fracture into about five archetypal persons. Sounds strange. It was very visual in my mind and intense.

It's not the Multiple Personality thing, because they didn't talk (to me or through me). They were vivid images of myself. One a weeping child, one an angry teen, one a failed adult, and one ..... I can't remember the other one. It was very disturbing since I felt separate from each.

I believe it's called depersonalization. I just had to try and relax. My wife listened as I talked through my "feelings" and about a day later I am mostly re-packaged into a single image of my person.

I continue to reduce the drugs that I take, and one big help (besides diet) is accepting that I am this way, and being patient with myself. Prayer and my relationship with Jesus Christ hold me together and help me stay focused, and my wife is such a team-mate. I can trust her with myself, and that is such a gift.