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Taking the Synesthesia Battery

Before I get started, I want to thank ndsenseandsex for mentioning The Synesthesia Battery on Tumblr and inspiring this week’s Take a Test Tuesday post.

Even more importantly, I need to preface this by saying that I don’t have synesthesia. The background information for this test is based strictly on research and will probably be quite short. I know there are regular readers who are synesthetes. Perhaps they’ll provide us with some firsthand accounts of their experiences. Finally, if I’ve gotten anything here wrong, please tell me and I’ll edit as needed.

Okay, on with the test . . .

Synesthesia is a condition where one sense is automatically and involuntarily triggered by input to a different sensory channel. For example, watching a video of moving dots triggers an auditory sensory response or smelling a particular scent evokes a visual response, such a as a specific color.

There are a couple of key characteristics of synesthesia that differentiate it from simple sensory associations. Synesthesia “concurrents”–the atypical sensory responses that accompanies the typical sensory responses–are:

  • involuntary
  • consistent
  • automatic

This means that a certain type of sensory input always triggers the exact same concurrent response, whether you are consciously expecting it or not, and that’s been the case for as long as you’ve been a synesthete (usually since birth, except occasionally in the case of head injuries or drug-induced neurological changes).

There are many different types of synesthesia. Some people experience only one type of synesthesia and others experience multiple types. Some of the more common forms include:

  • numbers or letters are associated with colors
  • people (or the scents of individuals) are associated with colors
  • visual movement patterns are associated with sounds
  • sounds are associated with colors or other visuals
  • visual sights (other than food) are associated with tastes
  • pain is associated with colors

Synesthesia isn’t an autism trait, but anecdotally, there seems to be a high rate of synesthetes among people on the spectrum. Like autism, it also tends to run in families.

Taking the Synesthesia Battery

The test website has two components: a short pretest you can take to screen for synesthesia and a longer battery that tests for various forms of synesthesia. To take the test, start here. The 7-question screening pretest is optional. If you have no idea whether you might have synesthesia, it’s a quick way to get a better idea.

If you experience synesthesia and want to take the more comprehensive Synesthesia Battery, you’ll be asked to register by giving an email address. The site says that results will be anonymously added to a research database and  that emails are kept private and never shared.

If you don’t want to register and take the Battery but are curious about what it consists of, there is a demo page with some screen shots and demo versions of the various parts of the test.

After registering and consenting to be part of the study, you’re asked to provide some demographic information. On the same page, you’ll be presented with a list of various types of synesthesia, with short descriptions of each, and asked to indicate which ones you experience. Based on which types of synesthesia you report experiencing, you’ll be served up a series of short tests.

There are both interactive and question/answer tests. Each of the interactive tests lasts about 10 minutes. The interactive  tests present a number of trials in which you’re asked to identify the concurrent for an item that is presented. For example, what color does M evoke or what color is this musical note associated with. The same “input” is repeated multiple times, testing how consistent your concurrents are.

The length of your test will depend on the number of tests that you’re given. You can stop at any time and come back to finish later by using the account you created when registering.

The Results

I didn’t take any complete any tests because I don’t experience synesthesia and didn’t want to contribute useless data to the study. I’m looking forward to hearing about any results that you all want to share with us.

There are samples of a synesthete’s results page and a non-synesthete’s results page that you can take a look at to see how they compare.

The Bottom Line

There are quite a few synesthesia questionnaires available online, but the interactivity of this test adds a measure of objectivity that is hard to achieve with multiple choice questions alone. Obviously it’s impossible to test for certain kinds of synesthesia online, since our computers can’t produce scents or replicate all of the possible forms of sensory input that trigger certain kinds of synesthesia, but this test is similar to the ones used to test for synesthesia in clinical settings.

 

Creating Autistic Spaces

I don’t have a comment policy on my blog. Why? Probably because if I did, I’d have to enforce it and that seems like a lot of work. What I have instead is a guiding principle: this blog is autistic safe space.

A safe space is a place–physical or virtual–in which harassment, hatred or violence against a group is not tolerated. Some safe spaces try to be universally safe, with a goal that no one will be made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome based on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability. While I think that’s a wonderful ideal to aim for, that’s not what I’m doing here.

This is specifically autistic safe space. That means that I’m specifically vigilant about comments that promote hatred, stigma or violence against autistic people. How is that different from safe space in general?

Well for one thing, some people are going to feel unwelcome. For example, people who want to come here and complain about how miserable the autistic person in their life makes them? Unwelcome. People who want sympathy and a gold star for putting up with an autistic partner? Unwelcome. People who talk about the autistic person in their life in a demeaning or dehumanizing way? Unwelcome.

Autistic safe space means that autistic people can (hopefully) read the posts and comments here without having to worry about encountering hateful or demeaning speech. It also means that autistic communication styles are respected and we can talk about the hard things without worrying about someone making fun of us or using our words against us.

Sometimes things get a little messy in the comments, but I do my best to keep everyone on the safe side of honest, engaged discussion.

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Other Kinds of Spaces

I think of autistic safe space as a kind of middle ground, between autistic friendly space and autistic space. There isn’t necessarily a clear definition of each of the three, but for the sake of helping people new to these concepts understand them better, I’ll take a stab at describing them.

Autistic friendly space tends to be predominantly allistic space which has been modified to make it more welcoming to autistic people. For example, sensory friendly film showings or an event that features flapping instead of clapping, is held in a hall without fluorescent lighting, requests attendees to be fragrance-free, provides communication badges, has a quiet area and does not allow flash photography.

An autistic person isn’t necessarily going to feel totally comfortable in autistic friendly spaces, but there are considerably more accommodations made than in the typical public space.

An autistic safe space takes the concept of autistic friendly space one step further, putting the autistic person’s needs first. Often safe space has a greater emphasis on safety with regard to identity and expression whereas friendly space has a greater emphasis on disability accommodations.

Online, autistic safe spaces are very much about safe speech. In person, the concept is extended to physical expression, meaning that things like stimming and atypical communication are welcomed and accepted rather than simply tolerated. Safe spaces are often a place to explore difficult topics and push at boundaries without the fear of rejection or humiliation.

Autistic safe spaces can be mixed spaces, but are generally autistic led. Sometimes this works out really well, with people of different neurologies sharing experiences and learning from each other. And sometimes it turns into a disaster. I’ve seen both cases firsthand and, ironically, when things go wrong in a safe space, people can be hurt badly. Much more so, it seems, than when things go wrong in typical public spaces.

Finally, there is autistic space. I was going to define autistic space as one in which all participants are on the spectrum, but then I realized that my home is autistic space. It’s a place where I feel completely comfortable to be myself and where my communication style is honored. It’s a place where I have minimal sensory distraction. A place where I know what to expect.

Perhaps autistic space is a cultural construct rather than something that is created strictly by the neurology of the participants. And that feels like an idea that’s too large to get into in the final lines of a post, so I’m going to set it aside for another day.

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Interpreting the Heider-Simmel Animation

For this week’s test, it’s important that you know nothing about the test so you’ll have to take it and then read about it. First, watch this short silent animation (1:30) of some geometric shapes:

Now write a brief description of what happened in the animation. If you need to rewatch the video to refresh your memory of the details, you can. Just don’t read anything about the video before you finish writing your description.

Done? Okay, now it’s safe to read on.

Continue reading

Do The Thing!

Yesterday morning, The Scientist and I unexpectedly had to Do A Thing that neither of us had ever done before. For some reason–probably because I’m an eternal optimist–I volunteered to go into the town hall to find out how to Do The Thing while The Scientist waited outside with our dog.

Right inside the door there was a Help Desk so I approached the woman seated behind it and said, “There’s an office where I can Do This Thing here, right?” and she said, “Yes but, here let me spend ten minutes explaining five different excuses why you can’t actually Do That Complicated Version Of The Thing here and will have to drive to a nearby town to Do The Thing.”

That sounded inconvenient but I was so focused on Doing The Thing that I took the Post-it note with the address of The Other Place To Do The Thing and figured it was an unplanned hour lost from my day, but if that was what it took, fine.

Outside, I explained about the ten minute conversation with the five different excuses to The Scientist who said, “Grumble grumble grumble” and, instead of admiring my informative yellow Post-it note, immediately went inside.

Sensing that confrontation was afoot, I walked the dog around the parking lot, still clutching the Post-it note.

Sometime later–but certainly less time later than the hour it would have taken me to follow The Lady of the Five Excuses’s directions–The Scientist emerged from the town hall and told me that The Thing was done because, in fact, it was possible to Do The Thing there.

Fine. Awesome. Great job.

Not really.

I had mixed feelings about his ability to Do The Thing, especially after I’d just been told by the same person that “no, absolutely, definitely, certainly not possible to Do The Thing here.”

The Scientist was clearly having his own mixed feelings. We decided to grab a coffee and talk over our giant stew of feelings because that’s what married people do and that’s especially what we do.

What Happened?

Sitting in Starbucks, we proceeded to dissect our contrasting experiences. I felt a bit like Watson to The Scientist’s Holmes as he explained how he’d managed to Do The Thing.

He told me that while he’d been waiting outside for me, a town employee walked by and The Scientist said, “Hey, do you know how I can Do The Thing” and the guy said, “Sure, there’s an office in the basement. It’s not my My Thing but there will be someone in The Thing Doing Office who can help you.”

That explained a lot. I’d taken the woman at her word because she’d told me that The Thing Doing Office couldn’t help me when I’d specifically asked. Clearly, she didn’t want to be bothered interfacing between me and The Thing Doing Office when she could just send me away and go back to reading ‘Divergent’ instead.

Which is no surprise. This happens all the time, right?

But here’s what is surprising: the way The Scientist and I viewed what had happened.

To me, having to go to another office to Do The Thing was inconvenient but I was so focused on Doing The Thing that I didn’t think beyond, “This is a little annoying.” I took the information I’d been given at face value because I had no other contradicting information to weigh it against. The social nuances of the situation–especially that the other person’s objectives might be different from mine–didn’t occur to me in the moment.

To The Scientist, the woman was a bully who was taking advantage of my lack of information and trying to make less work for herself by turning us into Someone Else’s Problem. As he recounted his conversation with The Lady of the Five Excuses, I noticed that many of the details he included pertained to the subtext of the conversation.

The things that rarely occur to me on the fly. The things that I can usually pick out later, after much analysis of a situation. The things that I was only starting to realize as we compared our experiences. In other words, the pragmatic (rather than the literal) use of language.

I was so focused on getting my goal accomplished–on using language as a tool to gain factual information–that I didn’t question the motives of the person I was asking to help me.

The Scientist, with the added assurance that he’d gained from his conversation with the town employee, did.

And that, in part, was the difference between our interactions with The Lady of the Five Excuses. When I Do Something New, I usually research it first. If I’d had time to prepare to Do The Thing in advance, I would have gone online to read about Thing Policy and Procedure. I would have Made a Plan, complete with a script. When The Lady of the Five Excuses gave me her song and dance routine, I would have known she wasn’t being straight with me and called her on it, backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of Thing Policy and Procedure.

thingpolicy

The Scientist, on the other hand, isn’t much of a researcher when it comes to minor interactions. For him, the casual chat with the town employee plus his ability to read the social nuances of a situation–It’s 8 AM and The Lady of the Five Excuses doesn’t want to deal with your complicated problem–are enough information for him to go on. When you factor in his in-tact pragmatic language skills, he’s doing a lot more on-the-fly interpretation and adjustment during a typical interaction than I am.

Not Usually This Naive

At least I’d like to think so. But I am literal. I see Help Desk and assume help will be forthcoming. And I’m goal oriented. I want to Do The Thing. A person says “Here’s how to Do The Thing” and my brain just goes straight to “Yes! Let’s Do The Thing now!”

There’s also this: I usually make up for with facts what I lack in pragmatic language skills.

If I know that I’m going into an unfamiliar situation, I go armed with plenty of background information. Then I run a continuous comparison of the information I’m receiving against my known facts. I also rely heavily on pattern recognition–people who are lying tend to fit one of a few predictable patterns.

Maybe my bullshit detection program wasn’t running in high gear. I’m usually pretty good at detecting when someone is trying to put one over on me. And at pushing back. Hard if necessary. This was a low stakes situation, though. Spending an additional hour doing something isn’t a very high cost.

If I hadn’t had The Scientist’s experience with the exact same person to compare my own experience against, I would have been inconvenienced by Doing The Thing in the Less Convenient Place, but I wouldn’t have thought beyond that. The social implications were secondary to Getting The Thing Done on that particular day.

A year or more ago, I might have felt a need to justify my thinking to The Scientist and he might have felt the same. It was a startling reminder of how much has changed in the past year to sit there in Starbucks with him, enjoying our coffee and marveling at how differently we see the world and how, as long as we’re each happy with the way we see things, that’s just fine.

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Taking the Aspergers Quiz

I discovered a new Aspergers quiz that wasn’t around (AFAIK) when I did the original Take a Test Tuesday series. At first I was excited because it says that it was created by an MD who is on the spectrum and the range and wording of the questions looked good at first glance.

Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to like about it. I’m hesitant to link to the site because of the way it talks about Aspergers. Lots of pathologizing language and functioning labels and pandering to the search engines along with some blatant misinformation. It’s also visually overwhelming and loaded with ads.

Consider yourself forewarned if you want to check it out anyway.

The Aspergers Quiz

The Aspergers Quiz website says that the quiz was created by Dr. Logan Cook from the University of Michigan. My Google-fu failed to turn up any further information about Dr. Cook or any research the quiz might have been based on, so I’m assuming that it’s based solely on the creator’s anecdotal evidence or personal experience. If that’s the case, it’s the only AS “screening” quiz that I’ve reviewed here that isn’t based on any sort of statistical analysis at all.

The site states upfront that it’s an informational quiz and not diagnostic, which is good. But it also presents the results in terms of a “percentage chance you might have Asperger’s”, which in the absence of any underlying statistical testing, is completely baseless. Answering a screening quiz 75% positive is totally different from having a 75% chance of having a condition. It’s great that there’s a disclaimer at the top of the page, but giving a specific percentage result at the end of quiz without disclosing how that percentage was arrived at is irresponsible.  Continue reading

Unpacking Asperger: Autistic Gaze

After finally reading both Hans Asperger’s and Leo Kanner’s original papers on autism, I’ve decided to do a new series looking at their original ideas and how those ideas evolved into today’s perception of autism. I’m calling the series Unpacking Asperger because the topics I’ve outlined are mostly drawn from Asperger’s paper with some contrasting concepts from Kanner’s work.

Let’s kick things off by unpacking the origins of commonly held beliefs about why autistic people often don’t make eye contact.

Both men wrote a great deal about atypical gaze patterns in autistic children. Kanner believed that autistic children deliberately avoided looking at people, but often fixated on looking at objects. Asperger, on the other hand, observed that “autistic children do not look with a firmly fixed glance at anything, but rather, seem to perceive mainly with their peripheral field of vision.” He went on to say that contrary to their appearance of being detached or absent, the children he studied often perceived and processed a great deal of information about the people and things around them.

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While the differences between the two men’s theories about gaze may seem insignificant, they actually point to two distinct ways of thinking about autism. Kanner’s emphasis on the deliberate avoidance of looking at people frames the atypical autistic gaze as an issue of deliberate social withdrawal.  Continue reading

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Taking the Personality and Emotion Test

Those of you who didn’t like the flashing photos in the last two tests will be relieved to know that this week’s test is a series of multiple choice questions. The Personality and Emotion test at Test My Brain looks at three areas:

  • how frequently you experience negative emotions like fear, worry, anger, frustration, and self-consciousness

  • how sensory seeking you are

  • how much you enjoy social interaction

Their working hypothesis is that people who score higher on the second two will score lower on the first. In other words, if you enjoy sensory and/or social aspects of life, you are less likely to experience high levels of negative emotions. I like the inclusion of sensory elements in this test. I’m not “social seeking” but I’m highly sensory seeking. In fact, much of what I find enjoyable about life falls under the heading of sensory input. It’s nice to see that acknowledged as valid, alongside the more traditionally valued social interaction.

I want to talk some more about the individual sections when I share my scores, so let’s take the test first.

TAKING THE TEST

The test takes 10 to 15 minutes. To start, go to testmybrain.org and click on the Go! button next to the “Personality and Emotion” test.

You’ll be asked to make your browser window large. I kept mine the size I normally use and it worked fine. The next screen is a simplified informed consent form. You’ll be told what the research is being used for and asked to consent (agree). The next screen collects some anonymous demographic information.  Continue reading

Sometimes This Happens

I sat down this morning to write up this week’s Take a Test Tuesday post. I took the test last week and I have my results and some notes written up so I wasn’t too concerned about leaving it until Monday to get it finished. Then, thanks to Tumblr, I discovered 2048.

The good news: I’ve gotten the 512 tile twice and I’m feeling pretty good about my chances of beating this thing

The bad news: There’s not going to be a Take a Test Tuesday post this week

This happens sometimes. Discover something new, accidentally lose a few hours, rearrange expectations for the day.  In this case, I think it’s part stim, part perseveration.  But sometimes it’s a new special interest or a new aspect of a special interest.  Whatever it is, I’ve learned to stop (eventually) and ask myself what I’m not doing and why. Because this kind of time loss tends to be a sign that I’m avoiding something, at least in part.

The answer this morning is obvious. Writing is becoming harder and harder. I find myself writing less, putting it off. The frustrating thing is, my desk and my drafts folder are strewn with ideas for posts. I want so much to write, but the mechanics of it are increasingly making it a slow (if you’re curious how slow, this took me close to 45 minutes to write and edit), difficult process. I’ve also started to lose my feel for words, which is a bit scary. I write by how language feels and these days it mostly feels flat and lifeless. That’s making my writing increasingly literal and (to me, at least) boring.

Okay, so this post took a strange turn for the morose but I’ll leave it because it’s part of the breadcrumb trail documenting my language difficulties.

I’m going to give myself this week off from posting, I think. My daughter and her boyfriend are coming to visit later in the week (yay!) and we have lots of fun things planned. I’ll be back next Tuesday with a test for us to puzzle over. Until then, good luck getting that elusive 2048 tile.

ETA:  Got the 2048 last night :)

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Pronoun Reversal and Confusion

One of the obvious early signs of autism in children is pronoun reversal. All toddlers have difficulty with learning the correct usage of I, me and you. However, sometime between two-and-a-half and three years old, most kids gain a firm grasp of personal pronouns.

Specifically, they begin to understand that pronouns are referential rather than absolute words. I can be me but I can also be you, right? It all depends on the situation.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty challenging concept for someone who only recently learned to use a potty, but somehow most kids get it. If a child approaches their preschool years and is still using I, me and you interchangeably, that’s a potential sign of autism. The same is true of a child who continues to use their own name to refer to themselves in the third person.

There are a lot of theories about why autistic kids don’t make the transition to using personal pronouns at the same time or in the same way typical kids do. Some of them are disturbing and stereotypical:

  • autistic people don’t know that other people are actually other people

  • autistic people don’t have an intact sense of self

  • autistic children are “solitary beings” who don’t interact with others

  • autistic children are more egocentric than typical children

  • autistic children don’t pay attention to/listen to/notice/care about other people so they don’t hear how pronouns are used in daily speech

Most of those ideas are rooted in outdated theories about autism. More likely reasons for pronoun reversal in children are:

  • autistic children use echolalia to communicate and say “you” because they are echoing the way other people refer to them

  • autistic children have difficulty with pragmatics (social use of language)  Continue reading

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Taking the Matching Faces Test

Last year we took the Famous Faces test to demonstrate how faceblindness works. Famous Faces is somewhat flawed because if you aren’t familiar with most of the celebrities in the test, it gives a less than accurate measure of how good you are recognizing faces.

This week’s test is a better gauge of faceblindness or prosopagnosia. The Matching Faces in Photographs test at Test My Brain is being used by researchers to understand the difference between how we recognize standardized versions of faces under ideal conditions versus how we recognize faces in changing conditions. For example, if you recognize your chemistry professor by his beard and glasses and the fact that you generally encounter him in the chem lab building, you may or may not recognize him at the beach in swim trunks and baseball cap, especially if he’s clean-shaven and not wearing his glasses.

Often, people with prosopagnosia rely on hairstyle, facial hair, glasses, voice, mannerisms, gait, or other “auxiliary” features to identify friends and acquaintances. Some people are mildly faceblind, meaning they recognize close friends and family quite easily but struggle with quickly identifying acquaintances if we meet them “out of context.” Others have difficulty recognizing everyone, even close family members, and may not recognize their own reflection right away.  Continue reading