It's been a busy two months since you
made my campaign a success. The main initiatives are developing a
phenomenological model of autism - that is, a systematic description of how the
world looks to people on the autism spectrum - and recruiting partners from the
scientific world. On both counts I've made great progress, and here are
I'm very pleased that Dr.
Francis McGlone and Dr.
Stephen Fairclough, both of Liverpool John Moores University, have joined
Francis is a professor of cognitive
neuroscience who studies the emotional implications of touch. In scientific terms this is called
affective touch, and it is of great importance to our understanding of autism
since many people on the spectrum have an aversion to what we think of as
affection. Francis has also
developed a "virtual touch simulator" which we can use for the
Stephen is an expert on physiological
computing, and he is developing a next generation human-computer interfaces
that are nothing short of stunning.
Through his lab the project has access to EEGs and other sensors that
will allow us to create interactive environments that respond to the audience's
emotional state - again a major factor in the internal experience of autism.
Thanks to Stephen and Francis the
exhibition will present an important modality in autism - touch - based on the
latest research and technologies. They
are also great collaborators who have devoted many hours to helping me achieve
scientific accuracy. And, in a
wonderful development that makes me think of the Renaissance, they are working
to integrate a clinical research component into the Neurodiversity exhibition.
In the past few months I've had the
pleasure of meeting people diagnosed with autism, both socially as adults and
in special education classes. A
highlight was live a panel featuring Larry Bissonette and Tracy Thresher, two charismatic
autism advocates who were promoting their film Wretches and Jabberers.
In May I visited education programs for
autistic children in Richmond, Virginia and Toronto, Canada, spending half a
day at each school where I was allowed to interact with the kids and speak with
the teachers. And I've had some
illuminating discussions in Denver and New York with adults with an ASD
diagnosis and their families.
I've been working studying the clinical
literature on autism, and I'm learning just how varied the condition is from a
neurological perspective. My focus
has been on the sensory basis of the condition, and I've noticed a distinct
trend towards a sensory rather than behavioral approach from the 1980s through
Recent improvements in fMRI and other
detection technologies has made the field very exciting, but they have also
revealed the complexities of human consciousness.
The opportunity to do this research is
particularly gratifying to me, as I've always pondered the fundaments of
cognition. Here are three papers I
found particularly illuminating.
Enhanced Visual Functioning: An ALE
We've always wondered how some autistic
people can perform incredible feats of visual memory. These researchers perform a meta-analysis of current research
on the visual perception of people with ASD, and they conclude that the
clinical literature buttresses that impression. Meta-analysis is a way of validating scientific claims by
using statistics to examine the results of multiple studies, in effect,
performing a larger and more accurate study. This paper is important for the project because it can be
used to model the visual acuity of certain conditions associated with autism.
A Higher Order Bayesian decision theory
Dr. Hakwan Lau uses Bayes' theorem to
model the perceptual states that result in conscious awareness. Bayes Theorem dates to the late 1700s,
and it's used to judge the probability of an event given the probability of
related factors. I found this
paper fascinating because it describes a possible mathematical model of
conscious awareness that can be used to underpin higher-order descriptions used
in philosophy and anthropology.
Pre-attentive auditory sensory processing in autism spectrum
disorder. Are electromagnetic measurements telling us a coherent story?
Many autistic people are acutely sensitive to noises and
changes in their auditory environment.
In this study the authors measured the mismatch negativity response, or
MMN, which is a neuroelectrical signal that is generated in response to changes
in stimuli. For instance, if
someone is vocalizing 'ssssssss' and they insert a 'd' to make
'ssssssssdsssss'. Amplification of
MMN responses in some autistic individuals comes at the expense of perceptual
generalizations. Put in visual
terms, they see the trees, but have trouble perceiving the forest.