Musical Neurological Mysteries

I have been listening a lot to Beethoven recently. My passion for different composers goes through phases. I have had a Bach phase, a Gershwin phase, a Prokofiev phase. I love their distinct styles and utter genius and originality. Each one was a profoundly transformative composer who also created incredibly poignant and beautiful music. Because I have synesthesia, I hear and see my music. To be honest, some music is visually beautiful and some is harsh and hideous to me. Beethoven has music that is like a visual poem. His melodies are like flowing waves of lights when they come together perfectly.

Neurologists might want to ponder the mystery of Beethoven a bit. For a huge portion of his composing career he was either losing his hearing or was totally deaf. How did his brain do the things it did missing a sense- the essential sense it required? I have been learning a bit about art history recently too. Can you imagine a genius like Van Gogh painting blind, remembering how to paint somehow? My mind cannot comprehend how Beethoven wrote his music, orchestrated it, created mood, emotion and phrasing- and all without hearing it. Even an experienced chef likes to taste their food.

The human brain is a mystery. Beethoven wrote some of the most sublime music ever written and he did it as a non-hearing person. Generally that would end a musical career, but he had inner music. He remembered sounds from when he heard. Did he hear them in his head the way we do? Who knows? But we do know he was able to tap into this ability somehow.

I tend to turn subjects back to autism. We don’t understand the brain well. By any logic, a deaf man should not be considered one of the world’s greatest composers. But he is. So once again I caution experts to have a little humility and not presume to think they have a clue about how a nonspeaking autistic person perceives and understands. The brain has so many unknowns, and people who by logic shouldn’t have an ability may have it, and sometimes at a profound level. I shouldn’t be processing human speech, according to some. I shouldn’t be writing my thoughts. I shouldn’t even have thoughts. Well, I say, go listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and imagine writing it deaf and try to be a little humble about the brain’s unknown capacities.

Scientists Try to Find Ways to Demonstrate that Nonspeakers with Autism Understand

This podcast is attempting to explain alternative means of testing the intelligence of nonspeaking autistic people. (It is the companion piece to the article I shared from The Atlantic Magazine in my last post). These tests rely on evidence in the brain to show understanding when a person cannot communicate. I’m all for showing intelligence because it’s important to show.
I think teaching communication is helpful too. I mean, I really can show my intelligence if I communicate.
That is going to be my goal each and every time I hear or read something like this, because intelligence remains trapped if a person cannot type their thoughts or express their ideas somehow.

Incidentally, my mom and I were interviewed for this podcast.

Exploring Why Standard IQ Tests Fail People with Nonspeaking Autism

This article, from The Atlantic and also Spectrum Magazine, attempts to demonstrate that nonspeaking people with autism may have more intellectual capacity than standardized testing reveals. Thanks to researchers like Yoram Bonneh, (mentioned in the article) maybe more scientists will see that intellectual capacity.
My mother and I were interviewed for this story, in addition to a podcast that hasn’t been broadcast yet.
The fundamental concept is that not talking does not mean not understanding, despite a bizarre obsession by experts to conflate the two. The challenge for experts is imagination. But let me help.

I’m administering an IQ test to you, but your hands are in baseball mitts, your mouth is taped shut and the room distracts with a laser light show.

Good luck, and if you don’t do well I’ll assume your IQ is 52.

An Anecdotal Survey

ABA is the first treatment recommended by pediatricians when a baby is diagnosed with autism. It is often paid for by insurance, school districts and other sources.
It covers lots of hours.
It gives parents a break.
Who benefits from all this effort? And how much does it actually help?
I have observed that it is big business, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.
I have seen young practitioners open agencies of their own with only a few years of experience.
The demand is high.

So I want to do an informal, anecdotal survey. My personal experience tells me that ABA has been a source of suffering for a lot of nonspeakers- though perhaps others with different symptoms may be helped by the flashcards, the baby talk, and the “touch your nose,” BS. But for me, I get PTSD flashbacks just hearing the phrases, “High Five!” or “Good Job!” Thankfully, no one gives me a so-called neutral no anymore.

I know so many people now, and there are more all the time, who had years of DTT and ABA –to great expense and parental commitment– who once they reach the age of no return are just written off into “dummy-land.” In other words, too “low,” too “severe,” to be “cured.” Because, after all, “recovery” is the promised land and the parents of the kid that fails to recover during that “window of opportunity,” is then told that the kid just isn’t sufficiently cognitively with it. Sorry for the inconvenience. It only took a decade to figure out.

But lots of these kids type now and they have a different POV. They are highly cognitively with it. But motor “without it.”

So, I’m curious, what was your, or possibly your kid’s, experience with ABA?
How much did it help?
Did it drive you nuts, like it did me, or did you not mind it?
Please specify if the person who received the ABA is speaking or nonspeaking. I’d like to compare the difference in service satisfaction.

I’d love to hear your stories.

The 3 P’s of Communication Skeptics

Nonspeaking does not mean non-thinking. That’s my mantra. Nonspeaking may be caused by motor issues. That’s my message. Motor issues do not cause stupidity. That’s my point.
Being locked internally because of motor issues is not the same as a language processing problem and should not be treated as such.

There is an overwhelming need for professionals to learn about autism from those who live it and can describe it in words. I am referring to the nonspeaking typer who tries to explain autism from the inside out. There are now quite a few of us, and the number is growing. Our messages are always the same. Intact mind/disobeying body. Smart head/dumb body. Thinking mind/non-thinking motor system. Not speaking is not the same as not thinking.

In the six years since my first book, Ido in Autismland, was published, only one researcher ever contacted me to learn about autism from me. That’s kind of pathetic, if you think about it. I’d like to help guide their research based on my real symptoms to help improve treatments and theories. A fair skeptic and an inquiring scientific thinker might take the time to meet a proficient typer, to ask questions, to learn about their journey to increasing fluency. But they don’t, for some reason.

All this is due to the 3 P’s that preoccupy the skeptics. Proofs, prompts and presumption of competence (or lack thereof).

Proof

In ASHA’s response to my editorial, they say they need testing proof before they can entertain the possibility that RPM might have any validity. This intrigues me for a couple of reasons. There is a need to validate claims and I think we all recognize that, but there is more than a single way to get data. Observational data and longitudinal studies, including film, would be one way. Another would be well-designed studies that factor in the motor and anxiety issues people with autism describe. Without doing so, there is a significant chance of a poorly designed study producing skewed or incorrect results.

Have there been studies and internal reviews in the so-called “evidence-based” autism treatments, such as ABA and speech therapy, as to why a significant number of nonspeaking people struggle to progress using these evidence-based methods? It is too easy an out to say progress doesn’t occur because the person is “low-functioning.” If that’s the case, it doesn’t take ten years of costly treatment to find out. On the other hand, some so-called “failures” of evidence-based treatments go on to become successes, as I did, when the treatment adequately addresses the motor issues impeding performance.

Prompts

In ABA the prompts are constant, duly noted in logbooks. In speech therapy the prompts are constant too. There are prompts in PECS, Adaptive PE, in school, in every moment, in every treatment, every day of an autistic kid’s life.

RPM uses prompts too. No surprise really. The acronym stands for Rapid Prompting Method. But the prompts do not consist of motoring someone. People are moving their own arm independently. The prompts are to look, to scan an array of letters, to reach far enough, to help someone gain skills in motor precision and in hands and eyes synchronizing for the purposes of communication. Beginners get lots of prompts. Fluent people get few, and mostly just type, though someone may say “keep going,” or someone may hold a letter board steady. As skills improve, prompts go down. Why are prompts acceptable in every autism treatment except touching letters for the purposes of communication? It’s illogical. And it’s all due to this issue:

Presumption of Competence

Well, you can either presume I’m incompetent or competent. I prefer the latter.

There are two philosophies guiding much of autism theories and education. In one there is no presumption of competence. Rather, the nonspeaking individual is determined to be low-functioning intellectually and not properly processing human speech, thus requiring simplified lessons and constant drilling. This is the prevailing theory.

In the other, there is a presumption of competence— that is, an intact mind may be buried behind a messed up motor system caused by neurological factors. Therefore, if the person is taught to move properly to point and spell words, that person may learn to express thoughts and potentially get a more normal education. Many, once thought to be hopeless cases, have proven that, like books, they shouldn’t be judged entirely by their cover.

That has been true for me and for many, many others. That is why I wrote my editorial, my blog and books. The professionals who insist they speak for science too often ignore evidence that may intrude on their theories, but facts will out. There are more typers each day, and once someone has a voice, he or she wants to speak out.

Interview and Book Reading on Autism Live Podcast

I am belatedly sharing an interview done with my mom and Vana Thiero on the Autism Live podcast last month regarding “In Two Worlds.” Since I was unable to be there in person, I participated virtually by pre-recording answers into my iPad. The second video has a live reading of Chapter 1, Beach Day, read by performer, Eli Bildner.
Many thanks to all involved, and especially to Vana and Eli.

“In Two Worlds,” is a Quarter Finalist

I am proud to share that In Two Worlds is a quarter-finalist in Publisher’s Weekly BookLife 2018 Award!

Not Talking is Not the Same as Not Thinking

Welcome to WSJ readers! I am honored you took the time to check out my blog.
Here is a link to my opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. (Apologies- it is behind a paywall).

Not talking is not the same as not thinking.
The converse is also true.

The American Speech Language Hearing Association, or ASHA, insists that the true voice of nonspeaking autistic people is best left to pictogram systems and garbled speech.
Here is their brief video statement.

Here are films of people with autism who have broken free by learning the methods ASHA disdains. Please note, there are motor challenges in autism, as evident in the films.

Here is a link to an organization of professionals, autistic people, families and others who dispute this harsh judgment and believe the communication of these individuals is their “true voice.” Take a look at the different films and decide for yourselves which seems more logical- a mistaken autistic person not understanding his own disability, or a potentially mistaken professional.

To gain an insider’s POV into autism, please consider reading my books, In Two Worlds and Ido in Autismland.
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Ido

A Little Taste of ‘In Two Worlds’

In_Two_Worlds_Cover

Here’s a little taste of my new book, In Two Worlds, in which you meet the protagonist, Anthony, and his family. This is Chapter 1, ‘Beach Day.’

If you enjoy this sample, please check out my book on Amazon, available in paperback and kindle, and as an ebook at Smashwords.

 

Chapter 1: Beach Day

 

Anthony enjoyed going to the ocean. He loved the cold water on his hot body. He loved the hot sand tickling his bare feet. He loved the sensory pleasures of the ocean breeze on his skin, the whitecaps breaking and the seabirds running after the waves. He enjoyed finding seaweed that washed ashore and stomping on the air bubbles. Seaweed was enticing. It twirled and trailed after Anthony in fascinating patterns. Putting it all together, the ocean was a huge rush, thrilling every sense, even taste.

“Anthony, take the seaweed out of your mouth!” his mother yelled. The three boys were playing in the sand. Mark had prepared a long path meant to funnel the tide. Little Gary played with his toys, attempting to build a tower of sand. And Anthony, who had resisted all attempts to get him to make his own tunnel or tower, was sitting nearby running sand through his fingers and loving the feel. He stared, mesmerized at the sight of the sand tumbling in falling columns to the sand on his feet. He had to taste it. The urge was overwhelming. Oh no, not again. Anthony’s father jumped up.

“No, no!” He brought a towel and wiped Anthony’s tongue. The people lying closest to Anthony’s family were staring. “Give him some water,” his dad yelled to Anthony’s mother. “I can’t get it all.” Then he stared sternly at his son. “No eat sand, Anthony,” he said in clipped broken English. “No, bad. Bad.”

Part of Anthony wanted to eat more sand just because he hated baby talk so much. Compulsions were hard to take. They were like a body ordering a mind. It wasn’t as if Anthony enjoyed a mouth full of sand. It was gritty and tasted salty and he felt a bit like gagging. He saw his brothers pretending they weren’t with him. He saw his father’s shame. If Anthony could have explained, he would have told his parents that he had to obey the compulsion. It didn’t matter that the sand was gross in his mouth or that he looked like a strange oddball to the strangers who were staring with such curiosity. His body ordered him to eat sand, so he ate sand.

His impulsive acts were like a lizard hanging out on a rock and without thought ambushing the cricket that wandered by. Like the lizard, Anthony lived with impulsive actions governed by his primitive brain, but unlike the lizard, they often were not functional. A lizard eats his cricket to survive. Anthony’s impulses, like pulling petals off flowers or eating strangers’ leftover scraps he found on the tables in the mall food court or putting sand or seaweed in his mouth, seemed idiotic, harmful, or just plain weird. But he had no means to resist these compulsions.

“It isn’t good, Anthony,” his father said. He took Anthony by the hand to play in the waves. Gary took his father’s other hand. The moist sand vanished under Anthony’s feet. Anthony bounced up and down on his toes and waved his arms in the air, excited. The three of them jumped over the approaching waves over and over. Finally, Anthony tumbled forward and brought his hand deep into the soft, muddy sand. There was no stopping himself. He put a handful of it into his mouth. “I can’t take this any longer,” Anthony’s father muttered. He brought Anthony and Gary back to the towel. “He did it again,” he told Anthony’s mother.

“I saw,” she said. “Maybe we should go home.”

“No, no, no!” cried Gary. “It’s not fair!” He was right. The family obeyed Anthony and his impulses too often. “I want to stay longer, please.”

“He has autism,” Anthony’s father yelled to the staring strangers. They turned their heads, embarrassed at being noticed. “Fine, let’s go play ball,” he called to Gary and Mark, “and maybe,” he suggested to Anthony and his mom, “you two can stay here on the towel.” Anthony’s mom gave him a snack. She poured sand on his legs and dug holes in the sand with him. He started to calm down inside. His mom sang to him and he snuggled next to her. Then she took Anthony by the hand and they went for a stroll by the shore. He felt the velvety sand under his feet squish between his toes with every step. He felt salty and damp. He was happy. When they came back to the towel, after a long walk, Gary’s tower stood, pail-shaped, made by inverting damp sand into a multi-tiered edifice.

Anthony had to obey. He stepped on it.

 

 

 

Announcing the Launch of my New Book, “In Two Worlds”

I am thrilled to announce the  launch of my new book, a novel called In Two Worlds. It is  currently available on Amazon in paperback form and will be available in Kindle and Smashwords very soon!

In Two Worlds release 071718