Let’s have some fun! #Autism and #Menopause :)

women walking along a lake in front of a sand dune balancing pots on their heads
Women walking along a lake in front of a sand dune balancing pots on their heads

Okay, I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking: Autism and Menopause! Where’s the fun in that?!

But bear with me… If you’re a geeky-nerdy type like me, learning all about the inner workings of one of the most misunderstood situations on the planet and figuring out how to work effectively with it to make your life that much better is an appealing prospect.

The thing is, you’re not alone.

Every seven seconds, one of America’s 76 million baby boomers turns 50.

Every day, about 5,000 American women enter menopause.

Until 2020, approximately 2 million women will reach menopause each year. Half of all post-menopausal women will be in Asia.

That’s a lot of us — and since I’m a woman, and I’ve gone through menopause myself (10 years “ahead of schedule”, thank heavens!) — I’ve got a few things to say about this.

Especially since it really affected — and was affected by — my autistic temperament.

It really, truly did. And if I’d know certain things ahead of time, I might have handled things very differently. And my experience might not have been so awful.

The thing that always amazes me about the social conversations we do / don’t have about menopause, is that it’s incredibly common and perfectly natural. And yet, it’s treated like some dread condition that needs to be either ignored completely or eradicated with some combination of meds. Hm. Sounds a bit like autism, to me, actually. So, we autistic women get a “two-for-one deal” on our situation. We get double the excitement, but nowhere near twice the support.

We’re lucky if we get any support at all.

I know I didn’t. At least, not much. My partner went through menopause before me, so I had an up-close-and-personal chance to see how it affects others. Panic attacks. Wild mood swings. Intense anxiety. Explosions! Not much to look forward to, right? But I also have to consider that her situation was unique — she was going through major changes around her parents passing away, family dramas, work problems, and so forth. I didn’t have those, when I was going through the Change. I had my own set of issues — Autism being front-and-center.

So, for me, the experience was different. But equally intense.

Oh, if I’d known then what I know now… I can honestly and truly say that I would have handled things very differently.

What’s done is done, and I can’t change my own situation. But I can certainly speak up about my experience, in hopes of other Autistic women benefiting from my experience. Like Autism, every woman’s experience of menopause is different. That goes without saying. But the qualities of our experiences (outside the specific details) can be very similar, and that’s where I want to focus.

Because heaven knows we need support. It’s challenging enough dealing with the world when you’re Autistic or menopausal. But when you’re both… woo hoo!

Oddly (or perhaps predictably) the mainstream hasn’t devoted a whole lot of resources to exploring this intersection of issues. Older women — especially Autistic women — don’t seem to be high on anybody’s list of priorities. Much more interesting to study Autistic children, teenage boys, or grown men. There’s more money in that, quite frankly. But where the mainstream fails, we can step up and help ourselves. There’s this thing called the internet, and it’s chock full of all kinds of goodies that we can mix-n-match and augment ourselves, to serve our own needs.

‘Cause who knows our needs better than we? Not a soul.

candle burning in the darkness

So, here goes… I’ll be posting more in the coming days and weeks. I’ll also be publishing additional tools and information over at Auptima Press, especially in conjunction with menopause support resources we’re developing over there.

I can either curse the darkness surrounding women + Autism + menopause… or I can light a candle. I’d much rather do something about it.


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The Upsides of #Alexithymia

tree by lake with moon and stars overhead

Something occurred to me, the other day. Namely, that alexithymia has been a huge advantage for me.

Not because it’s confused me about my feelings, but because it’s forced me — literally forced me — to rely on logic to navigate through life.

Okay, so that might not sound like such a great thing, considering how illogical the rest of the world is about stuff. Not being “in touch with my feelings” — heck, not even realizing I’m having certain feelings — sets me apart and puts me in the minority. It makes it harder to figure out whether people are really my friends or not. It makes it harder to figure out if I want people to be my friends. And it makes it difficult to tell what other people think of me, as well as figure out what I actually think of myself.

But that difficulty has been so pronounced, it’s required me to use my powers of observation and deduction to make sense of situations. To notice small details that others don’t see, to parse bits of info that most people overlook. To really invest a lot of myself in figuring out how things (and people) work, so I can be effective in interacting with them. I’m definitely one of the best “people persons” I know — people complement me all the time on my empathy and ability to interact with others. That, my friends, is because people have been one of my all-consuming interests, and I study them and their behaviors more closely than the most devoted American fantasy football player studies the weekly stats.

I’m good. I’m really that good. But it didn’t happen overnight. And it sure as heck didn’t happen by accident. I’ve worked at it. Nobody can take that from me. I’m the hardest-working person a lot of my friends. Well, yeah. Because I have to. Not much choice there.

I know it’s not a realistic option (because no choices are ever truly this binary), but if given the choice between built-in emotional “intelligence” about myself, or pure logic, I’d go with logic every time.

Given the right information about how my system works (including emotional things), with logic I can figure plenty of stuff out on my own. And logic serves me just as well as emotion. If I know — from observation — that such-and-such a sensation in my body means I’m nervous, I can take steps to offset the nervousness or channel the energy in a more productive direction. If I can deduce that such-and-such a feeling in my gut indicates a certain mental/emotional state, I can adapt and adjust and work with what’s there. If I know logically that being tired and hungry makes me feel terrible, emotionally, I can track my meals and sleeping pattern and recognize when my outbursts are related to exhaustion and/or low blood sugar.

Emotional self-knowledge only takes you so far, from what I can see. A whole lot of people around me who have no issues with alexithymia are (to put it coarsely) emotional wrecks. Their emotional states run their lives, and even though they’re “in touch with their feelings”, that doesn’t keep their feelings from taking over their lives. They’re even less happy than I am.

Of course, I’ve had to fail a lot of times before I figured out a lot of this. The rest of the world doesn’t instruct explicitly, but expects everybody to just know stuff. But all that failure has trained me to not take failing so damn’ personally, and to just get on with living my life, learning about it, and adjusting to the ongoing flow of information.

Information, it’s all information. And logic helps me parse through it deliberately, intentionally, self-sufficiently. Just how I like it 🙂

And I seriously doubt that I’d take the trouble to develop my logic, if I had insights into emotions and whatnot.

So, even with the difficulties, alexithymia has really come in handy. And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Some days, I’d like it to be a little less extreme. But I always have logic to fall back on.

And with that dangling participle, I’m off to live the rest of my life.

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Moving right along

person in maze - 360 rana foroohar uncertainty
360 – Rana Foroohar – Uncertainty

I’m chugging along in my life. Finding my way through things. As usual.

Making the most of it — regardless. All of life presents itself to me, and I get to decide what I do with it.

There’s plenty of stinking muck under this lotus.

And there’s plenty of heaven above my metaphorical (and literal) head.

The richest soil comes from compost. All the ingredients that support life, coming from some sort of death. The process of composting is never pretty, never dainty, never as sweet-smelling as we’d like it to be.

Some time back, I spent some (very little) time downwind from a the decaying remains of a beached whale. The stench was overpowering, and it carried to the nearby seaside town. Tourists were walking around with their hands over their faces, but they/we all had to make the best of it. Because it wasn’t easy to get to that town, and we’d all made the investment of time and energy, and By God, we weren’t going to be chased off by the cycle of life.

We made the best of it, finding areas upwind of the rotting carcass, keeping ourselves otherwise occupied, trying to not pay it any attention. It wasn’t easy, but it worked.

And in the end, nature ran its course. The whale was eventually consumed by scavengers and the elements. Was it pleasant? No. Was it convenient? Not at all. But it was part of the whole. And that rancid death made plenty of other life possible. Just like the Mara River in Kenya kills thousands of wildebeasts each year… and then gives life to everything else.

It’s all part of it. The bad with the good. My job is to navigate the whole.

And so I shall.

Let’s see what I care about today…

three abstract people figures talking to each other
I have the day off today.

It’s pretty amazing, actually. I generally work 7 days a week at things other people need me to do. I don’t usually mind it, but it’s a glorious luxury to be able to take some time to listen to music, read, research, and discover new writers I never knew about before.

My latest discovery is Randolph Bourne, a radical thinker of the early 1900s (he died at the age of 32), who had a fair amount to say about war, society, and so forth. I don’t know enough about him, just yet, to really say much… other than he’s my latest discovery. And since he came from a town in New Jersey I used to live near, there’s a little bit of a connection I feel — if it’s possible to connect with a complete stranger who’s long dead, who hailed from a part of the world I tend to associate with some very challenging times.

I’m trying to not drink any more coffee. As much as I’d love to, it gives me a headache if I drink too much…. Water, though! I’ll drink water. That’ll be good.

I really do enjoy lazy Saturdays like today. It gives me time to unwind and just think. My day-job is way too frenetic, with far too much activity and – God help me – so much at stake!!! – it does get tiresome, I have to say. All that excitement… And for good reason. I do work in a situation that calls for plenty of vigilance and hyper-diligence. It’s just part of it.

Still and all, I do relish the times when I’m not in the thick of that.

Reading and exploring… following links at websites that uncover whole essays preserved for the duration of the website’s life… reading the words of someone I actually agree with… taking a break from the churn-and-burn atmosphere of the still relatively freshly minted 21st Century… reading the words of someone who knew how to spell, how to punctuate, how to put words together without autosuggest or autocorrect or auto-punctuate. What a pleasure. And most of all, to read the words of someone not propelled ceaselessly forward by the relentless fight-flight frenzy of the digitally driven world.

As time goes by, as I realize more and more just how much the digital world (and electronically delivered media in general) have fried my autonomic nervous system, and the ANSes of countless other people around me… as I witness increasingly with each passing day, what harm that does to the very existence of complex, higher reasoning… as I find myself unable to either listen or respond to the hue and cry of the wrong-doers and the wronged, as each side is so profoundly limited by the rightness — the righteousness — of their respective positions, which refuses to budge an inch, a centimeter, a millimeter, in response to perceived “challenges”…


The whole thing just makes me tired. It has the same effect on me as a gall bladder attack — it’s exhausting in ways that are hidden but very present, which come upon me suddenly in a rush of illness that tells me in general that I’ve not taken good enough care of myself, but offers no immediate relief, only the gradual, eventual re-gaining of healthy ground, so I can just go about my regular business without the constant nag of pain and self-imposed suffering.

I do it to myself with my media exposure, as well as my lapses in diet… I do it to myself by getting sucked into outrage and disgust and frustration, like so much greasy food on a slipper plate. I invite this pain and suffering on myself. In the steady progression of my ill-considered, ill-managed choices, do it to myself.

So, today I’m undoing it.

Yeah, I’ve spent a bit of time on Twitter, poking around, here and there.

And while I got more than my daily dose of human folly, I also found a reference to Randolph Bourne, which has brought me plenty of joy, just in the last few hours. I’m going to marinate in that some more. Print out some pieces. And read the words of other writers who worked prior to our digital age. Simone Weil. The Stoics. Folks who actually put some extended thought into their work and based their words on consideration, rather than knee-jerk reaction.

Folks who invite me to do the same.

What do I care about today? Peace. Of mind. Of body. Of life. Just some peace. And the cultivation of conditions that foster it.

I may go out for a walk in a bit. Or I may work on my book. That remains to be seen. I need to do some work in my front yard… but it may rain, so maybe not.

Dunno. I’ll figure it out.

But whatever I do, I need to care about it.

Or I’m not going to bother.

By saying that “Girls mask autism better”…

By saying that "girls mask autism better," you are effectively passing the blame on to them for not being able to diagnose them. Stop it.
By saying that “girls mask autism better,” you are effectively passing the blame on to them for not being able to diagnose them. Stop it.

Is #autism a purely cultural construct?

A few months back, I watched this video, and I found it very thought-provoking.

Essentially, what I hear Dr. Grinker saying, is that the concept of “autism” is a cultural creation, laden with all the criteria and aspects which the dominant culture deems important.

As someone with a cultural anthropology background, this idea intrigues me. I was a German-Anthropology double-major at uni, studying for 2 years in the US and 2 years in Germany at the University of Tuebingen (which — I discovered years after I left –has a pretty solid reputation in terms of anthropology). So, cultural context and the ways that the dominant mindset interplays with and fosters phenomena in people’s minds and lives is always in the back of my mind.

Heck, I’m an autistic woman, so of course I’m going to be intrigued by this stuff. If you want to get stereotypical, autistic boys are “little professors” and autistic girls are “little psychologists”. Of course, there’s bound to be overlap — you can cross that gender divide any ol’ way you like, and it’s perfectly fine by me.

Anyway, the more I think about this concept that “autism is a cultural construct”, the less I agree with it. I’ve long been convinced that we autistic folks have our own culture, our own ways of being, and the things we find compelling and meaningful are likely to appeal to us because we are autistic. We aren’t autistic due to the neurotypical identification of our “condition”, any more than species in the Galapagos Islands were invented by Darwin when he first documented their existence.

Let’s not get confused about this, people. Just because you identify and name something, doesn’t mean you have rights to it, or you own it, or you get to define it. All you’ve done is identified it, placed a label on it, and granted it (dubious and frankly unneeded) permission to occupy your thoughts in a systematic way.

Autism isn’t something that was invented by Asperger or Kanner, or even the other guy (Eugen Bleuler) who apparently coined the term “autistic” in … what?… 1911. No, Kanner wasn’t even the inventor of the term, nor was he the discoverer of autism. He was some dude who had a knack for recognizing the value in obscure but useful concepts, and turned that raw material into his own gold. ’nuff said ’bout that guy.

Autism wasn’t invented by anyone. Nor is it the domain of anyone who thinks they can (or should) cure it or fix it or do whatever with it. Autism has always been. It just hasn’t always been recognized. Just ’cause a bunch of people have been staring at their shoes for aeons, then suddenly they look up and notice the beautiful sunset, doesn’t mean they get to decide what the sunset means, what to do about it, or who has access to it.

Likewise, the idea of anyone declaring autism a cultural construct is telling. It’s telling that it comes from a straight, white, neurotypical male in academia. How presumptuous. And how clueless. He may have an autistic daughter, and he may have written some book(s) about the subject and studied autism in different contexts, but seriously… calling a distinct neurotype a veritable invention of the dominant milieu… yah. No.

I am especially convinced of this, as I did a couple of family visits with my autistic parents in a very autistic part of the United States, where they’re just starting to understand autism as something other than an extreme, mentally debilitating condition. My father is ill with a still-to-be-diagnosed condition, and both of my parents (being under duress) have become increasingly autistic along the way. But to them — and their friends — they are wholly and entirely normal. They behave “the way people are supposed to behave” and that’s that, as far as they’re concerned.

I spent a fair amount of time, on one of my visits, discussing an article about autism which my parents read and discussed with their (ultra spectrum-y) book group. In no conversation, other than one about my aunt, did the idea of anyone in our family being autistic come up. I haven’t discussed it with them. They hew to the classic, post-WWII understanding of autism. Frankly, they’ve got enough on their minds that needs processing.

Knowing what I know, seeing what I’ve seen, I firmly believe that autism is a specific neurotype. It is, in itself, not necessarily disabling. Now, what the dominant paradigm considers “autism” is actually the symptoms of the condition, exacerbated by a number of factors (genetic, environmental, social, cultural, interpersonal, etc). I also believe, having grown up in an area where autistic behavior and traits were/are the norm, rather than the pathologized exception, that even in the face of acceptance, the autistic neurotype still retains its distinguishing characteristics. It still lays the foundation for the classic issues that arise (and are pointed out in the DSM-V). However, in an environment where autism is the norm, there are specific cultural supports and accommodations which are naturally extended to individuals. Those supports are every bit as remedial as are found outside the community, but they’re not extended as part of a specialized response to a pathological disorder, rather just something you do for someone to help them out.

In the area where I grew up, in my extended family, as well as our immediate rural community, autism is simply another way of being. And there are specific supports and responses to its challenges, which are woven into the fabric of the subculture as part-and-parcel of that way of life. It’s not pathological, it’s not embarrassing. It’s just how people are with each other and the world around them.

But if you view it from a distance, the characteristics are every bit as autistic as any you’d find identified outside the normalizing context.

Based on my upbringing and the last 20 years of actively exploring the nature of autism in my own life, I believe that autism is actually very much “a thing” in itself. When it’s accepted as simply another way of being, autism retains its nature and characteristics (and challenges) — but the community incorporating it is transformed.

So, it’s not a question of a culture inventing autism. Rather it’s a culture learning to recognize a part of itself that it may have never noticed before… putting a name to it, trying to understand it, and figuring out how to incorporate it (or, sadly, in some cases, eradicate it). It’s a question of culture creating a disorder — which should never be confused with the autism, itself.

Is autism a cultural construct?

Nah. But autism does a great job of constructing culture.

Sharing: Mothers with autism: ‘I mothered my children in a very different way’ | Life and style | The Guardian

Being a girl or woman with autism is hard: it’s only in the past two to three years that many professionals have begun to recognise that the condition is not limited to boys and men. But what’s harder is to be a mother with autism – and harder than that, is to be a mother with autism, of children with autism.

Experts say that there is a hidden pool of mothers who have grown up with undiagnosed autism. These women often only recognise their own condition when researching their children’s symptoms.

Read the rest at: Mothers with autism: ‘I mothered my children in a very different way’ | Life and style | The Guardian

#Autism always existed. It’s the world that’s changed.

construction workers hanging on rebar
I’d rather be doing this, than sitting at a desk all day. Alas, such is not my lot at this time.

Once upon a time, the world I inhabited was regulated. Regimented. You got up at a certain time, you had your shower and your breakfast, and you went to work. Everybody did, in fact. And you went to work at a manual job — factory work, making things, repairs, farming. Or you had a service job — nursing, teaching, ministering, feeding people at the local restaurant. There were other “professional” jobs, of course, but those were few and far between, and you didn’t actually have to do accounting or web development or data science or some other sort of advanced science to A) make a living, or B) hold your head up in the world.

You worked your regular job according to pre-ordained principles. If you had a manual job, you could see how well you were doing, each day — how much you produced, how well your product turned out, how much hay you baled or how many gallons of milk you poured into the bulk thank. And when you were done with everything that needed to be done, each and every day — the machines were shut down, the tools were put up, the bulk tank was cleaned out, the lights were turned off and the door locked behind you — you went home to your supper, your evening routine, and sleep.

Then you got up and did it all over again.

Part of me longs for those days. Especially for the jobs that involve a lot of heavy manual labor, as well as clear parameters of what needs to be done, and what constitutes success. For this Aspie, those are the magic ingredients for a happy life — hard, hard work that makes you sweat, routine that doesn’t change, measurable results, and the knowledge that you’ve done something tangible to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

Now, things are very different, and I’m left to my own devices, to provide the kinds of supports and structure that really works for me. It takes work. It takes a different orientation. And my own needs don’t always make sense to others. They don’t translate well to neurotypical folks, who seem to think that structure and hard work are optional… or should even be avoided. It’s hard to function seamlessly in this world, to have the kind of flow I need to have in my days. Stuff is always coming up to throw off my cadence, my routine. My workdays are punctuated with non-stop interruptions and changing priorities, to the point where it’s pointless for me to plan on anything, depend on anything, or even expect to get into a flow state while I’m at work.

I’m not the only autistic one who feels this way, I’m sure. And I wonder if maybe part of the reason we’ve seen such a “rise” in autism, is due to the changes in society and culture, which have erased the once-hard-and-fast features of everyday life that used to stabilize and orient folks on the spectrum.

Thing Then Now
 Exercise Part of everyday life, part of doing your job You have to make your own, on your own time. No exercise built into our everyday lives – in fact, quite the opposite.
 Routine  Part of everyday life, part of living your life. Everybody did it, and that was that.  Everybody just do whatever they danged well please! It’s all personalized and customized and spontaneous. Woo hoo!
 Tangible results  Hay bales, head of cattle, pieces produced on the line, a repaired car that starts up, etc.  It’s all intangible, now. Hard to know, from one day to the next, if what you’re doing even matters to anyone.
 Roles and Responsibilities  Hard and fast. Everybody expected to adhere. Not always a great thing, but still existed. You knew where you stood.  Who can tell? I mean, it’s great to have self-expression and not be driven to suicide over not fitting the mold – that’s a big improvement. But it’s still more disorientating than it used to be.

See what I mean?

I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when “men were men, and women were women”, or when racism was the order of the day, pretty much universally. But I am saying that this modern-ish world is fairly well devoid of the things that really stabilized me as a kid and helped me manage my autistic issues.

And I wonder if autistic folks growing up after 1980 actually struggle with their autism more, because they never had those kinds of structures and elements in place. I wonder if this doesn’t make autism all the more obvious, because society has stripped away the very things that used to help us find and preserve our place in a regularly functioning world?

Of course, things are always changing, and so many of the changes that have taken place are actually really, really good.  Perhaps the answer is not so much going back to how things were, but rather understanding the benefits and purposes those elements served, and making sure that modern-day autistic folks (especially kids growing up) have those kinds of supports in place.

  • Exercise
  • Routine
  • Tangible results
  • Roles and responsibilities

I know it’s not fashionable to enforce those things on growing kids, these days. It’s not common practice, anymore, to enforce much of anything on kids growing up — and that’s a shame. Because a lot of us autistic people really need them.

We need them a lot.

Up early, and making the best of it

superhero with cape flying in fireworksI’m up early today. I got to bed at a decent hour, last night, but the pain caught up with me. I shoveled and snow-blowed (or is it snow-blew?) and raked my roof for three hours on Saturday, trying to get the packed slush and heavy snow out of the way, so cars can get up and down the driveway, and my roof doesn’t leak in the places it developed “issues”, a few years back when we got hit with a blizzard, and I had massive ice dams along much of the edge of my roof.

For the ice-dam-uninitiated, don’t ask. You can Google it. Even thinking about them makes me twitch. Trigger alert: Ice dams 😉

Anyway, it’s no good, leaving 4 inches of packed slush, topped with three inches of heavy wet snow blocking the driveway. What if I need oil for my furnace? What if there’s an emergency? What if there’s a fire? I have to clear a path for vehicles to reach me, just in case.  So, I fired up the snowblower and set about at least trying to move the stuff towards the woodlot beside my driveway. Not an easy task at all. There was such a layer of slush, I couldn’t get good traction with the snowblower, and it kept skidding and getting stuck, which meant I needed to heave at the heavy *&$^#%, using every last muscle in my relatively in-shape frame.

Couldn’t get it all up, though, even after nearly 2 hours of wrangling with it, so I had to push a lot of slush with my shovel. Again — it took work. I can’t believe how much work. Js F*****g Cht, it was a … challenge. And then clear enough of the stairs and the back deck to get in the house. And then rake the roof, so the slush didn’t turn to ice, lift up the shingles, and seep through in that hair-raising drip pattern that starts in the eves and manages to trickle down the line of the rafter, to finally drip from a spot roughly 6 feet away from the wall. If you’re not traumatized by the memory of it, the physics of ice dams are fascinating. And the physics indicate that my roof definitely needs to get raked as soon as humanly possible — especially during the day, so the melt doesn’t have a chance to freeze under the shingles when it gets cold at night.

That’s no good.

Anyway, on Saturday I spent about three hours moving heavy, wet snow, and while I didn’t wreck my back, it would seem that I exerted every single muscle in my body. Every single joint. Every single sinew and tendon and bit of connective tissue. The result? Pain. Universal, inescapable, aching, burning pain — the kind that isn’t solved by Advil and a hot shower or even a long nap. Only time and healing rest will fix this, meaning I need to eat properly (and a little more than usual) for the rest of this week, so my body can rebuild. That’s the one part of this I like — eating more food, which I can’t often do, because it makes me feel sluggish and not-great.

Anyway, the pain woke me up at 4 a.m. I lay there for a while, trying to get comfortable, then decided to just forget it and make the best of it. I can use the extra time, to be honest. I feel like my days have gotten away from me, so to speak, with the business travel from a couple weeks ago wreaking havoc with my schedule and my ability to function at the level I want. I’m not that comfortable with mediocrity, so when I’m on reduced resources and barely scraping by, I’m not a happy camper. At all.

So, I got up, I rode my exercise bike and lifted my weights. I listened to music and made my breakfast. Today I get to sit down to read and write, which I never feel like I have enough time to do. That’s an illusion, of course. I have the same 24 hours that others have, and others do far more (and far less) with their time than I — it’s a management issue, really. Still, it’s nice to have a block of 3 hours to just do as I like, without watching the clock, without feeling pressured to Do Something Else Right Now (as I often do).

I’m in a lot of pain, but it’s not difficult to get my mind off it and laser in on other things that are far more interesting and edifying than physical discomfort. I have a couple of books I need to finish. I have some blog posts I need to write. And with the extra time (even if I am dragging, later today), I can do it all at my own pace.

Which is nice.

I don’t care to make a habit of this, but if I have to be up so early, I might as well use the opportunity for what it’s good for.

Happy Monday, everybody.

Neuro research – Ouch! There #Ifixedit – Enhanced Hemispheric Symmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism

picture of two people facing each other, person on the left has a gray brain, person on the right has a rainbow colored brainSo, I came across an article from the Huff Post, earlier today, talking about how autistic folks’ brains are actually more symmetrical than neurotypical brains. That’s interesting. I followed the link to the original research paper, and this is what it said:

Reduced Hemispheric Asymmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Many past studies have suggested atypical functional and anatomical hemispheric asymmetries in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, almost all of these have examined only language-related asymmetries. Here, we conduct a comprehensive investigation of microstructural asymmetries across a large number of fiber tracts in ASD.


We used diffusion tensor imaging for a comprehensive investigation of anatomical white matter asymmetries across the entire white matter skeleton, using tract-based spatial statistics in 41 children and adolescents with ASD and a matched group of 44 typically developing (TD) participants.


We found significant asymmetries in the TD group, being rightward for fractional anisotropy and leftward for mean diffusivity (with concordant asymmetries for radial and axial diffusivity). These asymmetries were significantly reduced in the group with ASD: in whole brain analysis for fractional anisotropy, and in a region where several major association and projection tracts travel in close proximity within occipital white matter for mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity. No correlations between global white matter asymmetry and age or socio-communicative abilities were detected.


Our findings in TD children and adolescents can be interpreted as reflecting different processing modes (more integrative in the right and more specialized in the left hemisphere). These asymmetries and the “division of labor” between hemispheres implied by them appear to be diminished in autism spectrum disorder.

Sigh. I mean, the language used is standard-issue “disorder” stuff, complete with using neurotypical folks as the control, and comparing us autistic folks to them. What, I wondered, would the abstract read like, if it were phrased differently? Granted, it’s not a huge change, and it doesn’t shift the world on its axis (and to non-autistic people who don’t have the level of attention to detail that we’ve got, it probably wouldn’t even register), but it does read differently. To whit:

Enhanced Hemispheric Symmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism.


Many past studies have suggested unique functional and anatomical hemispheric asymmetries in Autism. However, almost all of these have examined only language-related asymmetries. Here, we conduct a comprehensive investigation of microstructural asymmetries across a large number of fiber tracts in Autism.

We used diffusion tensor imaging for a comprehensive investigation of anatomical white matter asymmetries across the entire white matter skeleton, using tract-based spatial statistics in 41 Autistic children and adolescents and a matched group of 44 non-autistic (NA) participants.

We found significant asymmetries in the NA group, being rightward for fractional anisotropy and leftward for mean diffusivity (with concordant asymmetries for radial and axial diffusivity). Symmetries were significantly enhanced in the Autistic group: in whole brain analysis for fractional anisotropy, and in a region where several major association and projection tracts travel in close proximity within occipital white matter for mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity. No correlations between global white matter asymmetry and age or socio-communicative abilities were detected.

The differences between Autistic and Non-Autistic children and adolescents can be interpreted as reflecting different processing modes. NA participants showed disproportionately more integrative in the right versus more specialized in the left hemisphere in, while brain activity in the Autistic participants showed more equally balanced the “division of labor” between hemispheres. Autistic children and adolescents appear to have more symmetrically connected brains.

See what I mean?

Just a different choice of words can make the whole thing read differently — and depathologize the whole concept of Autism. That would do wonders for the situation, in my opinion. Just stopping the assumption that the “norm” is the best, just stopping the talk about deficiencies, just stopping the use of words that totally disregard the chance that differences might just be good things. Just using words that call out the positives, rather than focusing on the negatives. Stop talking about what’s “reduced” and talk about what’s enhanced.

Of course, taking a positive approach — declaring that autistic folks are actually okay, we just function differently — doesn’t get grant money. It doesn’t get funded by people who are trying to save the human race from the scourge epidemic known as “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. It’s much more lucrative if you strike fear in the hearts of people, and then point them in a direction that might “solve” the terrible problem you’ve just identified. It’s typical marketing mentality, and in the intense academic atmosphere that a lot of researchers are under, I’m sure striking a dramatic note for the sake of procuring funding is one way to ensure your continued survival in what’s become a cut-throat industry.

But still.

It would be awesome if we could find a way to talk about autism in ways other than deficits and disorders. that would be awesome. Even more awesome, would  be talking about autism with pride. Imagine that.