Thursday, 10 June 2010

Study identifies 'many more' autism genes

"The largest ever genetic study into autism has identified many more new genes involved in the disorder."

Read the full story

Monday, 7 June 2010

Autistic Superstars

The BBC are doing a series of programmes about people with autism and on the whole they've been very good (such is the advantage of license-funded television :) ) and one such show was Autistic Superstars. The show aims to show-case the savant-like talents that some people with autism can exhibit, although it was concentrating mainly on those with musical talents.

One such chap I want to concentrate on is Derek Paravicini, who is a blind pianist. One of the party tricks he did on the show was for people to shout out songs and he would play them as an example of his incredible memory for songs. The thing is…is he a musical genius? Or just someone with an incredible memory for songs? For him is a song just a series of notes, like a computer program is just a series of ones and zeros for me? It is also known that autistic people can have a talent for patterns so this all that Derek is actually demonstrating? Not music per se, but patterns.

When he was playing his songs there was an incredible lack of warmth in his playing, the songs were mechanical and cold. I know it's a hard thing to put into words, but his songs just don't "sound right", they don't sound like music. This was best shown when someone shouted for him to play "Poker Face" by Lady Ga Ga. I assume you're aware of the piece :) It's not quite Beethoven, and it has some rather repetitive elements with a certain note in particular being repeated, and when he came to the repetitive bits he just literally hit the exact same note in time with the song. Ok…it might have been technically correct…but it wasn't music. What song has a pianist just hitting the same note, twice a second for 5 seconds and nothing else? It was like he knew the notes and the order and the timing but he was unable to interpret and produce what we consider to be music. He wasn't able to inject warmth or emotion.

There was another girl called Carly Ryan who could sing, however there were incredible similarities with Derek. Was she really singing, or just replying those ones and zeros in the right order with the right timing? When she spoke she would often use lines from movies and songs as sentences and she would recite them in the same style as they were uttered at the source…almost like an imitation, so she would seemingly break into an American accent while reciting what seems to be a sentence but is actually a line from a movie. Were her songs just imitations too? If she was given a new song to sing could she sing it? Did she know what notes were and how to hit them?

Obviously I don't want to knock these people for their extraordinary talents and abilities; I just thought it was quite a fascinating insight into what is maybe going on under the covers with these savant-type skills.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

My telephone poles, my dark trenches, my broken windows, my park benches

Well my holiday is almost all but over and it's been a journey of mixed emotions. I really enjoyed by trip back to my home city, however it only reminded me how much I'd love to live in a big city again, a thriving city full of things to do and places to go. It is a city of options and opportunities. A place one could truly get lost. I did have one "AS moment" though when my companion and I tried to get into a particular bar one evening. I did what I normally do…head down and no eye contact as my companion satisfied the social requirements of entering the premises. I could hear the usual pawns being exchanged such as "Y'all right?" and I stood, fixed on the door waiting for the bouncer to open it. Then an unusual move, "Y'all right?" I know enough that "Y'all right" is rhetorical and never repeated so I looked at the bouncer who was staring right at me with incredible intent. "Y'all right?" "Yeah" I said and tried for a moment to be "normal", I looked him in the eye and answered "yeah mate". He stared suspiciously then said to my companion "Not tonight…yeah?" and with that we left. I'm guessing he took my lack of eye contact to be a deliberate attempt to conceal some form of narcotics use and my detachment from the world as being the smoking gun. The irony was that I was stone cold sober, I was just being me.

That aside, during my long-weekend back home I really felt that I had re-gained something that I'd lost since my diagnosis. I spent a long time in the company of others and of course there were lots of silences…I doubt I'm ever going to be a social butterfly and unless it is a topic I'm interested in conversation will always dry. But I pretty much pulled it off. If I ever revealed my dirty secret I doubt they'd be surprised, I don't think "but you seem so normal" would be the first thing they'd say. I did re-discover some confidence though and I came back feeling quite happy and pleased.

Though naturally I was still delighted to get back, back to my current home, my current town. By the end of the week I was even actually enjoying my time off. I was enjoying just pottering around and not doing a lot. Enjoying not having the stress of work. That didn't last though…come Saturday I started feeling a lot of anxiety, and today was no different. I've been anxious all day, pacing up and down, every second feeling like an hour. This is all too familiar to me…that wait for Monday when I can recommence my routine of work and gym. Only then will my happiness return. It's not just the anxiety though…everything has fallen apart. In the week since my holiday started everything has broken…my flat is a tip, clothes are everywhere, nothing has been done, dishes are piling up, rubbish is piling up. I'm just watching the clock, for tomorrow will be truly magical.