A Proposal for Education Reform

All teaching should be structured so that autistic children can learn the material. Because if an autistic child can learn it, a neurotypical child will be able to learn is using that method as well.

That means anchoring language to images and repetition.

But it does not work the other way around. What works for neurotypical children won’t necessarily work for autistic children.

Coincidentally, both do best in a Montessori school.

KLE1738, GABA, and a Possible Autism Connection

I have written on the role of GABA in autism here and here and here. GABA is involved in calming neural activity, and having less of it is associated with autism. Now we have discovered a gut bacterium that seems to survive only on GABA.

Many of us on the spectrum also have gut problems. It may be that we need these bacteria, named KLE1738, but it also may be that one can have too many. Or, seemingly oddly, not enough.

It may very well be that one needs these bacteria to clear out GABA. Without enough KLE1738 to eat excess GABA, it’s likely that GABA would get converted back to glutamate (enzymes work both ways, after all). This would keep glutamate levels high, and glutamate both contributes to positive feedback in the brain and to leaky gut.

This may in fact  be the more likely scenario simply because too many KLE1738 would result in starvation and result in the numbers dwindling back to normal. At the same time, one could imagine a scenario where there is a boom-bust cycle of KLE1738, with an alternation between too many and too few. Both too many and two few would result in GABA imbalances. And these swings could also result in the seeming bipolar behaviors we see in many on the spectrum.

North Carolina Higher Ed Center Weighs in on Nancy MacLean Controversy

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, out of North Carolina, has recently published a piece on the Nancy MacLean autism controversy in which this blog is cited and linked. As far as readers of this blog are concerned, there is perhaps not a great deal of new information in the piece by George Leef, but he does point out that Duke University has failed to address any aspect of her comments or conduct.

It is difficult to avoid politics in a situation like this, especially since Nancy MacLean’s work is highly politicized to begin with, and much of the controversy is itself politicized. This is why my objections were picked  up by libertarians and conservatives and pretty much ignored by the other political side. That being said, I do not consider her comments to be political in the least. I don’t like her anti-autism comments, and I went after her because she’s a well-known academic who made these comments. I will do the same any time anyone who is relatively well-known says anything ableist or spreads misinformation about autism or, as she did, accuse us of being the origin of an evil ideology. What’s worse, is that in her C-SPAN interview, she still tries to make that tie between autism and ideology.

At this point, I think it’s clear that MacLean simply doesn’t get it. She doesn’t actually understand the reason I object to her comments. She is so bound to her conspiracy theories that she doesn’t actually understand what she did wrong, or that it’s wrong. While I do appreciate the apology she did submit, I still don’t think she understands the actual offense she committed. While I think it’s silly to necessarily tie autism to a particular ideology, there’s nothing necessarily offensive in arguing some historical figure is or is not autistic. But it is offensive if you say that the reason they believe evil things is because they are autistic. In her C-SPAN interview she still makes that suggestion. What good is an apology when you then double down on your initial claim?

(Disclosure: I have published articles in The James G. Martin Center site, though none directly on autism and none on MacLean.)

Autism and Behavior, Choice and What Cannot Be Helped

There are a great many thing about human beings that we think can be helped and/or chosen. The most obvious that comes to mind is homosexuality. Many consider homosexuality a “choice,” meaning homosexuals choose to be gay. Anyone who actually knows anyone who is gay knows this to be nonsense—most have known they were gay since at least puberty hit. They felt a natural attraction to members of the same sex that is as natural as the majority’s attraction to members of the opposite sex. I no more chose to be straight than a homosexual chose to be gay. Our sexual orientations and subsequent behaviors are natural, no matter what those orientations and behaviors are.

But we forget—or don’t realize—the degree to which many of our personality traits are genetically wired into our brains. Degrees of aggression or passivity, argumentativeness or agreeableness, curiosity or lack of interest in new things—one could go on and on—are primarily genetic in nature, and are often reinforced by the environments they create by the expression of those personality traits.

The same is true of people on the autism spectrum. We all have personality traits that are inherent to our brain structures and neurochemistry—which is also true of neurotypical people and their brain structures and neurochemistry—that strongly affects what behaviors are natural. And we cannot help those behaviors any more than a neurotypical person can help theirs. I mean, let us face it, the autistic ability to concentrate for long periods of time on one thing of high detail is something neurotypical people ought to be able to do, right? There are plenty of jobs out there that require those skills. All you have to do is change your behaviors and you should be able to do it, right?

Of course, the majority of neurotypical people (perhaps all of them) are horrified at the very thought. They would complain that it’s boring, inhumane to make someone sit for hours and pore over highly detailed text or computer programs or whatever else fits the above description without much of a break, but the fact is that someone like me loves to do just that. The best job in the world for me has been the occasional proofreader jobs I have gotten, where I just looked for errors in texts. Eight hours of that is great. Love it. I am accurate and I am fast. It’s a great job.

But I’m equally sure that almost nobody else would want that job. Is there something wrong with you if you would hate doing that? I can do it because of how my brain is structured. And most cannot do it because of how their brains are structured. It is neither better nor worse, just different. And you should be thankful people like me exist, to do the jobs that you don’t want to do (and perhaps cannot do), but which need to be done. Probably everyone who writes code is somewhere on the spectrum. Certainly editors of code are.

So keep these things in mind when you see how someone is behaving. They almost certainly cannot help it. Which doesn’t mean that behaviors cannot and will not change. If there is enough negative feedback (in both senses of the term), a person can be nudged one way or another. But even so, we shouldn’t be surprised if there is some residue of the original behavior, or that we find it cropping up here and there. I have had to adjust to the realities of a neurotypical world that is outright hostile to many of the ways I behave—even those that we commonly give lip service to being positive traits, like creativity and “thinking outside the box” (two things most people actually deeply despise).

The current shift toward acceptance of homosexuality as a structural difference that results in behavioral differences does give me hope, though. We just need to help people to understand that being on the spectrum means we have structural differences that result in behavioral differences. It will probably help as we learn that autism doesn’t mean just the most severe versions, but means people like me, people who have college degrees and are married and have always been considered a little “odd” or “quirky,” but who find that the demands of society make living in society difficult at best.

All of this reminds me of the movie about Alan Turing, who was ostracized because of his homosexuality. People thought him a bit odd because of his autism, which was harder to hide than his homosexuality, but it was the latter for which he was punished. The feeling one gets from the movie is a feeling of outrage that a society that benefited so much from this man would then turn on him because of a trait he couldn’t help.

It seems to me that we need to see some movies where the situation is as I have found it—that a society that benefits (or could benefit) from someone turns on him because of his autism. Because that is the reality right now for the vast majority of us on the spectrum. We are either directly punished if we admit to being on the spectrum (as has happened to me) or we are indirectly punished for our autistic behaviors, despite whatever benefit we may be bringing. We are deserving of a movie that will elicit such outrage.

At the same time, If the Alan Turing movie had been made in the 20th century, it wouldn’t have elicited the same degree of outrage. Many if not most would have considered the sin of his homosexuality to outweigh his contribution. The movie could make its point precisely because we don’t need the point made.

The same is likely true of autism. We will have to have a revolution in the way we think of autism. We will have to depathologize it (for the vast majority of people on the spectrum), and recognize that our “sins” are behaviors we cannot help, and which others need to learn to accept. We will have to have the autism version of Ellen and Will & Grace and change the cultural attitudes. We are different and our behaviors are odd—but no more or less odd than homosexuals’ behaviors were considered within the lifetimes of most people (and still are by too many)—but we are humans of a different kind, and we deserve to be treated as such.

Nancy MacLean: It’s a Libertarian Conspiracy!

About a month ago, I wrote a piece in which I discussed comments made by Nancy MacLean about autistics lacking empathy. To say that post blew up is an understatement. It was picked up by Reason Magazine and spread across the internet, through Reason‘s link to my post was dropped by most other outlets. I further discussed  the fact that intellectuals like her tend to be anti-autistic, and I discussed some further discussions of MacLean’s comments. But although I had read that she had apologized via email to a few people, I had not heard anything from MacLean herself about the controversy. Until now.

C-SPAN did an interview with Nancy MacLean March 11 in which the interviewer asks her about the autism controversy. The question occurs at the 20:26 mark.

INTERVIEWER: NOW, LAST MONTH THE HEADLINE CAME OUT THAT SAYS “DUKE PROFESSOR SAYS ARCHITECTS OF MODERN LIBERTARIANISM SEEM TO BE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM.” IS THAT A…IS THAT A FAIR QUOTE

MACLEAN: THAT QUOTE WAS … AND I REGRET THAT I SAID THAT. IT WAS ASKED AT THE END OF A LONG EVENING. IT WAS AT THE 100 MINUTE MARK OF A SPEECH THAT I GAVE AT A LIBERTARIAN CHURCH, AN INVITED SPEECH. AND IT WAS A YOUNG MAN WHO  HAD LISTENED TO MY WHOLE TALK. HE UNDERSTOOD THE POLITICS, HE UNDERSTOOD THE IDEOLOGY, BUT HE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND HOW PEOPLE, THESE TWO INDIVIDUALS IN PARTICULAR, JAMES BUCHANAN AND CHARLES KOCH, WOULD DO WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO THEIR FELLOW CITIZENS. HOW THEY COULD BE SO UNFEELING AND HOW THEY COULD NOT SEE THAT THESE MEN ARE BRINGING INTO BEING A SOCIETY THAT’S UTTERLY UNSUSTAINABLE. SO, IN TRYING TO GET TO THE DEPTH OF THE QUESTION HE ASKED — I MENTIONED, AND ACTUALLY THERE WERE THREE FIGURES, ONE WHO IS AT GEORGE MASON, TYLER COWAN, HAS SAID HE WAS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, CHARLES KOCH AND JAMES BUCHANAN, ONE COULD HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT, BUT I SAID IT’S PURE SPECULATION. BUT NOW HERE IS A POINT WHERE YOU SEE HOW THIS NETWORK WORKS. BECAUSE TWO GEORGE MASON PROFESSORS, EITHER THEY WATCH EVERY APPEARANCE I DO OR THEY HAVE UNDERLINGS WHO DO, SO THEY WATCHED TO MINUTE 100 AND THEN THEY STARTED TWEETING THIS OUT TO PEOPLE WHO HAD AUTISM ORGANIZATIONS, TRYING TO WEAPONIZE THEIR PAIN, AND TURN THE PAIN OF THOSE PEOPLE AGAINST ME AS AUTHOR. AND I ACTUALLY, ON PAGE 232 OF MY BOOK, TALK ABOUT HOW THEY GLOAT, THEY TALK ABOUT UPPING THE TRANSACTION COSTS OF DISSENT FOR THE OTHER SIDE, UPPING THE TRANSACTIONS COSTS FOR THE OTHER SIDE. SO THEY WEAPONIZE THE PAIN OF AUTISM SUFFERS AGAINST ME. AND I APOLOGIZE. I HAVE SINCE LEARNED ABOUT AUTISM. AUTISM SUFFERS I HAVE LEARNED DO HAVE EMPATHY, DO FEEL COMPASSION, MAY NOT BE ABLE TO EXPRESS IT AS WELL. I STAND BY WHAT I SAID ABOUT THESE LIBERTARIAN ARCHITECTS OF THE STEALTH CAUSE. BUT WHAT WAS SO GROTESQUE IS THAT WITHIN 48 HOURS, AGITATED FOLKS WITH AUTISM, SENT THEIR GROUP CAMPUS REFORM AGAINST ME. AGITATED OTHER PEOPLE, TRIED TO GET ME FIRED, TRIED TO GET ME PUNISHED. THIS IS THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE GALL TO TALK ABOUT FREE SPEECH IN OUR SOCIETY. THEY ARE GIVING OUT CAMERAS TO YOUNG PEOPLE ON CAMPUSES TO TAPE THEIR PROFESSORS. AND THOSE STUDENTS ARE BEING TRAINED BY JAMES O’KEEFE WHO IS THE PERSON WHO TRIED TO ATTRACT THE WASHINGTON POST, DESTROYED THE CAREER OF A WONDERFUL CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS NAMED SHIRLEY SHERROD WHO WORKED FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, WITH UTTERLY DISHONEST EDITING. AND CHARLES KOCH-FUNDED ORGANIZATIONS ARE BRINGING SOMEONE LIKE THAT TO TRAIN OUR YOUNG PEOPLE ON CAMPUSES ON HOW TO ATTACK THEIR FACULTY. I WAS JUST SPEAKING IN FLAGSTAFF, AT NORTHERN ARIZONA UNIVERSITY WHERE STUDENTS FROM THAT ORGANIZATION, CAMPUS REFORM, TRAINED BY A KOCH-FUNDED ORGANIZATIONS HAD CREATED THROUGH THEIR DISHONESTY AND MISREPRESENTATION OF THE SITUATION, A DEPARTMENT CHAIR OF THAT UNIVERSITY RECEIVED MULTIPLE DEATH THREATS. IT ALL CAN BE DOCUMENTED. IT’S…FRANKLY IT’S DISCUSSING WHAT THE CHARLES KOCH FOUNDATION AND THE OTHER ORGANIZATION THAT THAT MAN FUNDS IS DOING TO OUR HIGHER EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THEIR, AGAIN I WILL SAY IT, BECAUSE I BELIEVE IT, THE MESSIANIC DETERMINATION TO TRANSFORM OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING HONEST WITH THE PEOPLE OF WHAT THE TRUE SOCIETY IS THAT THEY AIM TO GET TO. SORRY, THAT PUSHED A BUTTON, BECAUSE I HAD TO SPEND MANY, MANY, MANY HOURS ANSWERING HATE MAIL AND ANSWERING MAIL FROM PEOPLE WHO WERE UPSET. AND WHEN I APOLOGIZED TO THE AUTISM SUFFERERS, I RECEIVED BEAUTIFUL MAIL BACK. ALL THEY WANTED WAS THAT RECOGNITION. BUT THOSE PEOPLE ON THE PAYROLL OF THE KOCH NETWORK UNDERSTOOD THAT THEY WERE ACTIVELY WEAPONIZING OTHER PEOPLE’S PAIN IN ORDER TO HARASS SOMEONE WHO IS A PROBLEM FOR THEIR CAUSE. IF WERE ONLY ME, I WOULDN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT, BUT IT’S A CONSCIOUS STRATEGY THEY’RE DOING TO PEOPLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY. AND IT IS BENEATH CONTEMPT.

To keep things in context, she gave her talk in which she made the anti-autism comments on Feb. 7, and I posted about it Feb. 10. Now, I cannot speak as to what may or may not have happened on Twitter prior to my post, but I only learned about the talk Feb. 9, when it was posted on Facebook by a Facebook friend. After watching it, I made my post. And yes, I did then engage in a Twitter campaign that did include many autism organizations, because I believe that as many people as possible needed to know such a high-profile person as Nancy MacLean was saying what she was saying about autism. But my Twitter campaign doesn’t at all resemble what she claims happened.

The first mention of Nancy MacLean’s talk in the libertarian mainstream media was, as far as I have been able to discover, the piece in Reason Magazine that cited my blog post. The same day the Reason post came up, I received an email asking for an interview, which I was happy to grant. That interview came out in PJMedia several days later. The majority of outlets criticizing what MacLean said seem to be primarily based on the Reason piece, but fail to cite my blog.

The bottom line, though, is this: Nancy MacLean says she apologizes to the autistic community, but she buries that apology in a strange conspiracy theory in which she blames the Koch Foundation, or some sort of Koch network, for having the audacity to point out that she was being an ableist bigot! Don’t get me wrong, there’s no question they pointed out her bigotry precisely because it benefited them to do so. Of course they did. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t say what she said, and it doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have been roundly criticized for what she said. And whatever others’ motives may have been in pointing it out, she was still wrong in what she said–both factually and morally.

Further, while MacLean doesn’t mention me at all, since it seems that I was Reason‘s primary source it would then follow that it would seem she would think I’m part of this Koch-funded network. This would be a great surprise to both me and my bank account! For her, it seems to be outside the realm of possibility for an informal, decentralized network without anyone funding anything to discover her talk and for me to randomly see someone’s sharing of the talk, watch it myself, come to my own conclusions, and decide entirely on my own to write about it on my autism blog as an example of the kind of ignorant bigotry we on the spectrum have to face.

As far as I’m concerned, if she did learn anything about autism–she says she has since learned we do have empathy, and I’ll take her word that she now understands that–she did not learn quite enough about us. We are not “sufferers” of autism–other than suffering from having to live in a society controlled primarily by people exactly like her. In that respect, we do suffer quite a bit–we suffer discrimination, we suffer unemployment, we suffer from the spread of misinformation and ignorance about us. We aren’t in pain, we are not suffering. We simply want to be accepted for who we are–and the language MacLean continues to use against us is the language of rejection, the language of mere pity, the language of a refusal to truly accept our humanity.

MacLean doesn’t actually take responsibility for what she says in this interview. She says she apologizes, but she spends most of her time blaming some “Koch Network” that would have to include me in order to exist and which, therefore, does not exist. The problem, according to what she says in this interview, isn’t with what she said, but with the fact that the villains of her book have had the audacity to point out that what she said was wrong. I have to wonder if she would think that those on the Left who accuse anyone and everyone they disagree with of being racists, sexists, and homophobes are weaponizing other people’s pain and therefore are beneath contempt. I somehow doubt she would be willing to extend those principles to those she supports.

Finally, although she says she reads Reason, and although if she read Reason she would know I played a significant part in outing her for her comments, she makes no mention of me. Why? It’s simple: I don’t fit in with her theory.

Oh, and while she did email an apology to the Duke Chronicle, that apology completely misses the point of my complaint. So, I’m still waiting for a proper apology from her. You know, one where she doesn’t blame others–or the lateness of the hour–for a comment that she had very obviously thought through (because if, as she said in the initial comments, she had chosen, for some reason, NOT to put it in the book, that means she had thought about putting it in the book).

I’m still waiting, Nancy MacLean. I’m still waiting.

The Struggle With the Daemon

I recently finished reading The Struggle with the Daemon: Holderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig. For someone on the spectrum who is himself a literary writer (or, at least, I try to be), this book very much felt like it ought to have been titled The Struggle with Autism, especially as each of the three artists’ sections felt like an aspect of my personality was being emphasized–albeit, much more intense versions of me (I’ve managed to avoid descending into a final state of insanity, and I’ve never felt suicidal–though it’s my understanding that the last is an all-too common feeling among autistics).

Holderlin would seem the hardest case to make among the three, except many of his feelings as described by Zweig seem my feelings as well. Getting caught up in an obsession, and feeling like the rest of the world is a terrible imposition on your work is a very autistic way of being in the world–at least, from my experience.

Kleist, on the other hand, just screamed “autism” from Kleist’s description. For one, Kleist wandered all over Europe, and autistics are known to be avid wanderers (which can be a major problem when the wanderer is a child). “He was reserved to excess, and kept everything locked up within himself. He did not express his passions either in looks or in spoken words” (158). Zweig says

he remained mute, not from dumbness or sloth, but from overpowering chastity of feeling; and this silence, this dull, brutalising, oppressive silence, which he would maintain for hours when in company, was his most salient characteristic–that and absence of mind, a confusion which obscured his clarity of intellect. When talking, he would suddenly break off and stare into vacancy (158)

He could not converse unconstrainedly in an exchange of the small talk of ordinary life. Convention and customary obligations were repugnant to him, so that many assumed there must be something “dour and sinister” in this unusual companion; while others were wounded by his harshness and cynicism and bluntness when, as happened now and then, pricked by his own silence, he threw of all constraints. (159)

“Those who did not know him intimately believed him cold and indifferent. His intimates, on the other hand, were afraid of the fires that consumed him” (160).

If you’re autistic, perhaps especially if you have Asperger’s, this may sound quite familiar to you. If you know someone with Asperger’s, this also may sound familiar to you. Zweig’s description of Kleist throughout the book only reinforce my original conclusion (based on the above quotes) that Kleist had Asperger’s.

I have already written about my belief that Nietzsche had autism, and Zweig’s description only confirmed my beliefs. However, there is something quite interesting that Zweig pointed out that sounded quite personally familiar–and I would be interested if my autistic readers have had the same experience.

What makes Nietzsche’s transformations so peculiar is that they seem retrogressive. If we take Goethe as the prototype of an organic nature in harmony with the forward march of the universe, we perceive that his development is symbolical of the various stages of life. in youth he was fiery and enthusiastic; as a man in his prime he was actively reflective; age brought him the utmost lucidity of mind. His mental rhythm corresponded in every point with the temperature of his blood. As with most young men, he began in chaos and ended his career in orderly fashion, as is seemly with the old. After going through a revolutionary period he turned conservative, after a phase of lyricism he became a man of science, after being prodigal of himself he learnt how to be reserved.

Nietzsche took an opposite course. Instead of aspiring to an ever more complete integration of his ego, he desired complete disintegration. As he advanced in years he became increasingly impatient, vehement, revolutionary, and chaotic. His outward aspect was in strident opposition of the customary evolution of a man. While his university companions were still delighting in the usual horseplay of undergraduates, Nietzsche, though but twenty-four years old, was already a professor, aspirant to the chair of philology at Basel, that famous seat of learning. At twenty-four, Nietzsche’s intimates were men of fifty and sixty years of age, sages such as Jakob Burckhardt and Ritschl, while his closest friend was the most celebrated artist of the day–Richard Wagner. (288-289)

Zweig goes on and on about the staid, scholarly Nietzsche, then notes that when he was thirty, he resigned from his position with a pension, went to live alone in Switzerland and northern Italy, and transformed himself into the writer of Zarathustra–a transformation that ended with Nietzsche’s loss of sanity. His life is the reverse of Goethe’s.

Now let me give a brief of my own life. In grade school, I wore dress slacks and button-down shirts. In high school, I started wearing jeans, but they were dress jeans. I went to college to major in recombinant gene technology, then attended graduate school in molecular biology. During grad school, I started wearing t-shirts and listening to contemporary rock (alternative music–I started in with the grunge scene with Nirvana’s In Utero, when I was around 22). It was around this time that I started reading Nietzsche, and I also started writing more fiction and poetry, and myself growing more and more chaotic.

I dropped out of grad school, had two massive anxiety attacks, started writing Hear the Screams of the Butterfly to deal with all of my emotional issues, and also took a year of undergrad English classes to get into a graduate program in Creative Writing. While there I was quite bohemian in my lifestyle. If there was a reversal, it was when I started my Ph.D. program in the humanities, where I started off doing creative writing, but ended up with a scholarly dissertation. After graduating, I met my future wife, got married, had three children, and have lived the past decade wasting my scholarly and writing talents in looking for gainful employment. I’ve also grown more radical in my politics, and I think more daring in my art.

Now, do not get me wrong. I would trade nothing for my wife and children. In that I’m a happy Goethe, so to speak. However, an inability to go “full Goethe” in the sense of his life development, has meant considerable employment difficulties. At the same time, I have been fortunate in also not going “full Holderlin/Kleist/Nietzsche” either. I’m instead in an uncomfortable truce, neither giving in to my obsessions nor being able to live a “normal” life.

The scientist I was in college became the artist became the artist and interdisciplinary scholar–became more and more interdisciplinary, unspecialized, going in the opposite direction of most people. I’ve grown less conservative over time, less satisfied with life, more radical. That is, from order to chaos. Nietzsche is a model for my own changes, though I certainly had no intention to follow that model–it just seems a natural development. Yet, I struggle against that development, and thus (mostly) keep it under control. The forces of order and the forces of chaos are always in a constant struggle within me. I continue to alternate between art and scholarship. If anything, my family is what keeps the struggle just barely on the side of order.

Habitat

Sunday after church there was a meal in honor of a member who was leaving. Apparently, Daniel (who actually likes church) had had enough, and declared, “I want to go back to my habitat.”

On Being an Autistic Writer

I was recently contacted through Facebook Messenger by a woman who said she was recently diagnosed with mild autism and recognized that she was a pattern thinker, leading her to discover my post on pattern thinking. She said she was a writer, and she asked me about my writing process and how I integrated pattern thinking into it.

There are a number of ways I integrate pattern thinking into my writing. I suppose an obvious way is in the use of patterns in the writing of my poetry. I tend to use regular rhythm, repetitions of words and sounds, including end-rhyme. Even before I started writing in more formal verse, I was always attracted to the repetition of sounds in alliteration. I probably have a bit more of a tendency to use alliteration in my prose, particularly my creative prose, than in my poetry, since I can use other forms of repetition in poetry than alliteration. Also in my prose I have a tendency to be more repetitious with word choices–which allows for the thematic development of those words’ meanings. Finally, there are lists. I do love lists. Those of course are the creation of an ordered pattern as well. My fiction is full of lists–sometimes rather explicit lists, but also in the listing of things, features, etc., particularly in parallel structure.

With my poetry, it did take me a while to develop the ability to write in regular rhythm–most notably, iambic pentameter–before it became so ingrained that it is now second nature to write in it. I almost don’t have to count the syllables or check the rhythm anymore. Once that pattern became internalized, I was able to allow the words to flow in a more natural way. With poetry, then, I write when inspired. It flows out of me as though the Muses are speaking through me. I completely understand why the ancients believed the poets were vessels of the gods, the gods speaking through them in poetic lines.

However, my plays (mostly in verse), short stories, novel manuscripts, and nonfiction work, are a product of a very different method.

For all my writing, I get my ideas through a combination of reading 3-5 books at a time (so the ideas can chaotically crash into each other), watching and listening to people, the news, T.V. shows and movies,–pretty much, everything in life. I try to remain open to the odd syntheses of ideas emerging from a variety of places. Patterns among these different sources speak to me and inspire. To the extent this is unconscious, poems emerge. To the extend that I’m writing things down and taking notes, I get plays, fiction, etc.

Often I’ll get a vague notion, and write it down. That can germinate new ideas around it, leading to a plethora of notes. If it’s fiction, of course, those notes are internally generated; if it’s non-fiction, I’ll fill pages and pages of notes from things I’ll be reading on the topic in question. All notes are written by hand, the hand seeming to have a more direct connection to the way my memories form. (And the Muses are the children of Zeus/God and Memory/Memneke.)

The notes are not ordered, are not organized. They are jotted down as they come to me, as they flow out of me, as I read things that I intend to read as research, as I read other things I never realized might matter. Out of this chaos of notes and fragments (sometimes multi-page fragments), will emerge coherent stories and essays, plays and books. My bottom-up thinking results in a bottom-up process–out of chaos emerges order. I write once the notes have reached a critical point of unconscious organization, and I need to pour out what I’ve filled myself with and mixed well in my mind.

So, that’s my writing process. From the outside I am sure it looks like a random mess out of which nothing could possibly emerge. But I’ve written a great many works–essays, plays, short stories, a novella, and a non-fiction book–this way. As for the blog, well, most of the time I’m inspired by something I’ve read or heard someone say or, in this case, someone asked.

A Variety of Genetic Pathways to Intense World Autism

Recent research into the gender bias of autism (4:1 in favor of males), has shown there are sets of genes that are expressed more by males than females which express certain sets of autism genes. In this research it was found that

Many of the shared genes in these sets are related to microglia, immune cells in the brain that trim away excess neuronal connections, or synapses, in the developing brain and that may be dysfunctional in people with autism. One of the sets also contains genes related to star-shaped cells called astrocytes, which may be involved in learning and memory; these cells are thought to be both smaller and denser in autism brains than in controls.

Failure to trim away extra neurons is a recurring theme when it comes to autism.

If microglia cannot work properly, we would expect less synaptic trimming to take place. Which means a hyper-connected/hyper-active network.

Astrocytes are involved in clearing away neurotransmitters, and if they cannot work properly, we would expect buildup of certain neuotransmitters. Surely some of those neurotransmitters would be glutamate, which acts as a positive feedback neurotransmitter. Which means a hyper-active network.

Genes involved in the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle would contribute to imbalances in these neurotransmitters. Imbalances in favor of glutamate would result in a hyper-active network.

Genes involved in serotonin production can affect synaptic trimming, since serotonin is needed to trim synapses. Low serotonin would result in less trimming, meaning a hyper-connected/hyper-active network.

Vitamin D is involved in serotonin production, and vitamin D deficiency has been connected to autism:

vitamin D hormone activates the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), that converts the essential amino acid tryptophan, to serotonin in the brain. This suggests that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required to produce serotonin in the brain where it shapes the structure and wiring of the brain, acts as a neurotransmitter, and affects social behavior. They also found evidence that the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) is inhibited by vitamin D hormone, which subsequently halts the production of serotonin in the gut and other tissues, where when found in excess it promotes inflammation.

As noted before, vitamin D absorption is affected by glutamine/glutamate levels.

In other words, mutations affecting microglia, macroglia, glutamate-glutamine-GABA production, serotonin production, and vitamin D levels can all have pretty much the same effect in having hyper-connected/hyper-active neurons. Those are a large number of causes resulting in essentially the same effect.

The Freedom To Do and Be

Wednesday night I attended a talk at Southern Methodist University by Deirdre McCloskey, an economist at the University of Chicago. She is the author of a series of books–The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, and Bourgeois Equality–in which she argues that economists have misunderstood the driving force of economic growth and widespread wealth. It’s not savings, and it’s not capital investment–rather, it’s ideas. And it’s a specific set of ideas: treating people equally, equality under the law, and respect for people who engage in business. She argued last night that when people are given the freedom to do what they want to do and be who they want to be, that freedom results in the creation of wealth.

This made me wonder how much wealth the world has lost because autistics are not allowed to do what they want to do, and to be who they are.