Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wandering (Literal and Figurative)

I wander. My original destination is not completely forgotten, but I end up taking a circuitous route.

My wife complains that when we go anywhere, there's always the chance I'll wander away the moment I see something of interest. If I have my cell phone, it helps her find me. I am at least a creature of habit.

If there are books, movies, music, or food, those are the places to search for me. I can spend hours in a music store and I love bookstores. In a place like Costco, I head right for the "media" tables. I check every stack of movies, CDs, and all the books to see what's new.

Malls are a real problem -- there are so many things to see. Granted, there aren't as many bookstores and music shops are there used to be, but there is a lot of food. Very cool food, too!

Maybe wandering is just who I am...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rhetoric and Writing Studies

My doctoral committee is meeting next week as I head towards completion of my dissertation in the coming months. The focus of my final dissertation revision is changing slightly to accommodate my new plans in life.

Originally, my focus was on language acquisition, especially written language, among individuals with autism. I adjusted my research to study secondary and post-secondary students with autism and their struggles with written language. Now, I'm going to shift away from that emphasis to focus more on creative writing.

I am fascinated by fMRI images and studies of neurolinguistics. I have immersed myself in the science and theory of linguistics, from neural network theories to combination theories. The brain is an amazing thing. But, it is time to leave such things behind for my own sanity.

My Ph.D is going to be in "Rhetoric, Scientific and Technical Communication," I have added a specialty in general writing pedagogy so I might teach creative writing and other university-level writing courses. I already have an M.A. in "English Composition and Rhetoric," as well as degrees in English education and journalism.

I love science and did earn clearance to teach high school science. I was a "general sciences" major at one time, but ended up wanting to write about science instead of being the researcher. The four units I had remaining for the B.S. should have been completed -- I made a mistake, definitely.

Within six months or so, I should be "professor" and know where I will be teaching and researching next school year.

It is a good change for me. I'll be updating this blog as I meander through the last months of my dissertation and into the job market.

I might research something related to autism and language in a few years, but now is not the time. Instead, I am hoping to delve into theatre, poetry, and other forms of creative expression.

Someone has already said that "people like you" aren't creative. Should be fun proving that wrong.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Changing Fields

I'm definitely leaving any and all cognitive research related to autism behind after 2010. I'm shifting back towards creative writing and, hopefully, new media rhetoric. I'm hoping to find a university where I can work on my poetry, scripts, and novels.

Research is interesting, but the public conflict isn't. (If you wanted to be hated, be a major league umpire or an autism researcher.)

The "autism debates" are both political and belief driven, only tangentially based on any real understanding of the sciences involved. The "reporters" covering science often either misunderstand or twist research results. Researchers do use a strange language. I admit that it confounds the public.

I've tried, too many times, to explain that I could rarely, if ever, prove anything. The best I can do as a researcher is disprove other potential causes. Research, statistically, simply finds "Other potential causes for X are less likely than hypothesis A." We actually cannot prove that A is true, only that it seems to correlate with X in some way. Correlation can be later found connected to other variables. Science is not about certainty.

While I like the uncertain nature of science, and the fact that great scientists are only certain of what is not possible, the public thinks scientists look for precise laws, perfect causes. Laws are extremely rare... especially in matters of human biology or behavior.

I admit, I'm not a fan of psychology unless neurology is primary. I like things with biological, physical evidence. Observational, symptom-driven research lacks the concrete nature of other sciences I do admire.

Autism lacks a real definition, which certainly doesn't help. And yes, I believe the shifting definitions and criteria, along with better (?) training of diagnosticians is increasing the autism diagnoses we count. Without etiological certainty, "autism" itself is a matter of belief and interpretation. That's not good.

I've had a parent tell me: "My child wasn't properly diagnosed until his third psychologist. The other two weren't any good."

Either only 1:3 psychologists really know what autism is, or this parent was searching for a particular diagnosis. Either one is possible... which frustrates me. If the parent is right, psychology is a disaster. If the first two psychologists are correct, our diagnostic methods are horrible.

It doesn't matter which is true. Clearly, there's a mess in the field that needs to be addressed and the new DSM-V will make matters worse, I fear, not better. I was told I should study the DSM-V from a "rhetorical perspective." No thanks. It's a subjective manual created by a political process. Only a few conditions in the DSM have specific, demonstrable, etiologies. Everything else is too fuzzy. (Just consider the debates over homosexuality and the DSM during previous decades. Not exactly pure science.)

Creative writing might have debates and discussions, but far less violent, vitriolic hate for individuals and groups. Whatever comes next, I won't be accused of being paid by "Big Pharma" or some mythical Illuminati to write comedies. (Okay, I might be -- anything is possible.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Autism Diagnostic Rate

I've written many times that the diagnostic rate for any condition is not the same as the actual prevalence. Examples of sudden "explosions" in diagnoses, abound, from various cancers to mental health conditions. In some cases, diagnoses were impossible. In others, conditions were clarified and reclassified by improved science.

Anyway... these are for consideration. I generally distrust some of the sources, but the links are interesting enough that people can read them and reach their own conclusions. The odds are, most people have conclusions and will decide to agree with those supporting an existing bias.

From Left Brain/Right Brain is this good link:

New Statistics Due. Autism Rate 1 in 100?

And here the above blog's predictions about the media coverage are somewhat proved:

David Kirby on HuffPost

I don't care who you do or don't believe. What matters is we are about to be buried by another round of scary statistics. Parents are going to hear "1 in 100 children born today will have autism." The broader definition about to be adopted by the DSM-V will make this even more likely. It will be interesting to see how scientists, parents, and politicians react to the evolving data.

Each time I attend a conference, I meet dozens of people over 40 recently diagnosed with an ASD or with ADD/ADHD. I've started studying scholars I encounter and asking myself, "Would this person be diagnosed with an ASD?" Trust me, you watch enough scientists and you start to think most of them meet the criteria for something!

As I finish my doctorate this year, in a matter of months, I am considering leaving behind all autism-related research. I am headed towards something else, I believe. The nature of public discourse as it relates to science will always be fascinating. When I mention "autism research" I am seldom asked about what I actually research. Instead, people ask me about Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy, and David Kirby.

The "1 in 100" ratio will only increase the frequency of those questions.

It is a good time to shift research interests. Or maybe career paths. Time to have more fun exploring new topics.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tough Weeks

A few weeks ago, I pulled a muscle and the pain has been severe. Vicodin several times a day. Upset stomach. Lots of bed rest because moving was miserable.

I'm finally starting to get back to moving about, with only minor pain in my right hip area, and my eyes decide to start having problems again! The base membrane dystrophy leads to minor tears and "erosions" of the surface epithelial layer. The pain is so bad, I have come close to fainting. To go from one horrendous pain to another is too much for my system.

Feeling lousy leaves me impatient, annoyed, and in no mood for people. I need quiet, calm, relaxing surroundings. It's also important that the room be slightly dim since my eyes hurt so much. I'm normally light sensitive, but in pain I am so sensitive that any light hurts. I have the brightness on my computer down to "one click" above black. I have the volume of audio down to cat's whisper (though our cats are not quiet).

Driving during the day means mixing all the worst things: sunlight, road noise, a painful seat, crowded roads, and so forth.

Running errands is tough. I have to do it, but it is miserable. Mainly, I just want to hide away and let the pain pass. Working means I cannot do that. I have to function. That's life. Learning to push ahead, no matter what, is part of working towards any goals I might have.

My wife has been great during a lousy July and a tough start to August. She's trying to finish her master's degree, with me whimpering in pain constantly. It has to be frustrating.

September has to be much, much better.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Representations of AS

Characters with Asperger's Syndrome are currently featured in three films, including an animated feature:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/health/04aspe.html

Not sure there's much else to say, but I wanted to record the link.