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Science Autism

mr peabody

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MDMA may have a surprising effect on our ability to learn

by Claire Cameron | INVERSE | Dec 6 2019

Drug may return the brain to a teenage "critical period,' re-opening neural plasticity.

The drug MDMA has had some highs and lows since United States lawmakers made it illegal in 1985. Also known as ‘ecstasy,’ the drug made a name for itself as the fuel for the party scene of the 1990s. But in recent years, it has attracted a more sedate crowd’s attention for its potential as a therapeutic for brain conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

To understand MDMA’s possible benefits for our mental health, scientists are drilling down on how the drug changes the brains of users. In April 2019, Inverse reported on a study with some remarkable findings: MDMA may turn back the clock on the adult brain, returning it to a state only seen in adolescence.

"This 'critical period' is particularly important for social-reward learning — the time when a person learns that being social is good. That has some big implications for the conditions researchers are most interested in using MDMA to help treat," Gül Dölen, study lead and professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Inverse at the time.

“There are a lot of diseases of the brain that we think would be influenced by the existence of a critical period for social reward learning,” she said.

Oxytocin and MDMA

According to the study, MDMA’s affects on the brain may be down to the hormone oxytocin, which is known to play a role in social bonding. In their experiment, the researchers found only adolescent mice were susceptible to social-reward learning. The adult mice didn’t have the same propensity for learning — but that changed when they got a dose of MDMA.

After treatment, the adult mice demonstrated the same social-reward learning as the adolescent mice — suggesting their brains had increase neuroplasticity.

“This is about the long-term effects of the drug on the brain,” Dölen said.

Being able to learn new, pro-social behaviors in adulthood could benefit people who have brain conditions that are difficult to treat.

“Everybody who has tried to treat disorders of the brain has had it in the back of their mind that maybe these things aren’t working as well as we’d like them to because of critical periods of brain plasticity, but we just haven’t had effective ways of reopening those windows,” Dölen said.

Since the study appeared, clinical trials examining MDMA’s efficacy as a treatment for various conditions continues apace. One of the most-promising areas seems to be in PTSD treatment. In fact, a September 2019 clinical trial found evidence that MDMA could offer a “breakthrough” treatment for otherwise untreated PTSD.

 
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MountainTrails

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It's New Years Eve and a common thing is to reflect backward and forward. This article came to mind. I was going to post it, but a certain mr peabody had that covered a while ago.

Trying to have both articles and conversation in a single thread seems daunting, but this is me trying. I hope people are reading; it's hard to tell. I sprinkle in random details because "finding/sharing a point of common interest" is one of the things I do. Social signaling, eh?

"I'm OK, You're OK" is the title of a book that's been around for a while.

Are you OK? Because I'm sure not. Trying to accept myself seems to be the struggle of my life these days. I can look back sadly at all the mess: too many years of abuse -- it is what it is -- plus the extra bonus of being autistic in a time when autism was poorly and narrowly understood. Retching and gagging over the dinner plate, due to some texture/smell/flavor thing, but I needed to finish the food on my plate. Clothing wars (texture) in September when it was time to get new school clothes. "Strongly self directed." "If only he would work up to his potential." "Lazy." Etc. I made my parents so unhappy in so many ways, and I internalized it all. School? JFC, what a nightmare. Kids are kind, so kind. I internalized all that too. I learned, and it was burned in so deeply, that I suck, that I'm nothing, that I'm a joke, a waste. And weird.

I can see how fuX0red I am, sometimes. A loaned copy of "I'm OK, You're OK" drove home firmly the "Not OK" bit. A piece of writing on self-compassion given to me by a therapist -- gibberish. I could understand the words and parse the sentences grammatically, but the content made no sense to me. It was a strange sensation, trying to read that article; I was so far away from where I needed to be. Self-esteem? snort. All right, then, time to start walking. That way. But, it's a long way from here to there, and I'm not sure my legs are long enough.

The past is prologue. I can see the damage now, and that is progress. Being able to see it is both sad and encouraging.

And then there's this thread on bluelight. I identify pretty strongly with the idea that autism is a communications disorder, and both interpersonal communication and interneuron signal propagation are in scope, from my perspective. My online social life is my social life. Outside family, I currently have zero interaction with people. It's not great, but that's the way it is. I'm not excited about it, but I muddle through. My dog provides creature comfort and an audience for my monologues.

tl;dr: The past doesn't define me, but it sure does explain me. And I'm trying to be real here. If I come across as odd, well, stop the fucking presses. ;^)


Happy New Year! I hope it's your best ever.





Autistic adults thought they were ‘bad people’

Neuroscience News | Nov 7 2019

Summary: Many people on the autism spectrum who were not diagnosed until later in life grew up believing they were “bad people.”

Many over-50s who were diagnosed with autism late in life had grown up believing they were bad people, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University interviewed nine adults about their experiences of being diagnosed with autism in their 50s. The participants were aged between 52 and 54.

As children, some participants recounted having no friends and being isolated from others, and as adults they could not understand why people treated them differently. Several had been treated for anxiety and depression.

Participants also highlighted the lack of support available to adults with a new diagnosis.

It is thought to be the first study of its kind that examines the phenomenon of receiving a diagnosis exclusively in middle age.

Dr Steven Stagg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and lead author of the study, said: “One aspect of the research I found heart-wrenching was that the participants had grown up believing they were bad people. They referred to themselves as ‘alien’ and ‘non human.’

“The research also suggests that receiving a diagnosis in middle age can be positive. The participants often described it as a eureka moment that brought relief into their lives. It allowed them to understand why others had reacted negatively towards them."

“Clinicians and health workers need to be aware of the possible signs of autism. Often people are diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions and the autism is missed. More work also needs to be done to support older people after they receive a diagnosis.”


 
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mr peabody

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Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Neuro Assessment & development Center

Once assessment is complete, a comprehensive treatment plan can be created. A treatment plan will outline cognitive strengths and weaknesses, address specific needs with regard to everyday functioning, while maintaining the overall goal of improving well being.

Treatment usually consists of a combination of interventions in the following three areas:

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral and educational therapy are crucial for children and adults with ASD. Ideally, the earlier therapy and other interventions take place in a person's life, the more dramatic the improvements can be. Everyone with ASD can benefit from a highly structured treatment plan, however.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy aims at increasing language and communication skills, improve attention and executive functioning skills, improve educational performance, and increase social skills. ABA uses evidence-based methods focusing on a child's environment and behavior, and how they influence on another. ABA therapy focuses on developing new skills, and overcoming problematic behaviors.

Occupational therapy can also be helpful in improving functioning inside a classroom, at home or in a work environment. OTs have in-depth knowledge of sensory integration disorders and collaborate with family members, teachers, and others to address the complicated manifestations of a dysregulated sensory system.
Diet/microbiome interventions

While still considered an emerging field, addressing dysbiosis and balancing the gut microbiome is a promising intervention for those with ASD. Many families have been using dietary interventions with great success for many years, and current research is now catching up and proving the importance of the gut-brain connection.

The primary goal of dietary intervention is to reduce inflammation and intestinal permeability, thereby reducing neurotoxicity. At the NeuroAssessment and Development Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, we have a consultant, Katie Hankus, who can work with you or your child to develop a dietary treatment plan and walk you through the steps and questions you might have along the way. To find out more, click here.

Pharmacological treatment

While there is no standard medication used for ASD, there are several options to target individual symptoms such as anxiety, depression, seizures, impulsivity, hyperactivity, insomnia, self-injurious, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. For example, stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and Concerta are often prescribed for impulsivity and hyperactivity in someone with ASD although it is technically "off label" unless there is a co-morbid diagnosis of AD/HD.

Due to the complexity of ASD and its comorbidities, a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment will evaluate individual symptoms and develop a comprehensive treatment team using a combination of interventions.

 
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mr peabody

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APPS for Autism

Scene SpeakScene Speak is versatile customizable app that provides a framework on the iPad to create interactive visual scene displays and social stories.
Scene Speak allows an image to be edited with active “hotspots”.
Voice MeterThe "Voice Meter Lite" app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, is a simple, but effective FREE (Lite version) app that helps children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD's) (or any other child or group of children) monitor the volume of their own voice/s in a Fun and Engaging way.
Assistive ExpressAssistive Apps presents Assistive Express, an affordable Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) Device, catered to people with difficulty in speech. Assistive Express is designed to be simple and efficient, allowing users to express their views and thoughts at the most express manner, with natural sounding voices.
Proloquo2goProloquo2Go® is an award-winning symbol-supported communication app providing a voice to over 75,000 individuals around the world who are unable to speak.
iPromptsiPrompts®, the original app for visual support, is used by special educators, therapists and parents of those benefiting from visual structure, including individuals with Autism. Features of iPrompts® are based in peer-reviewed research, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s IES SBIR program.

 
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Blowmonkey

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@MountainTrails

Personally, the euphoria I get on mdma is very pronounced, but it still has a "fake" and forced feeling, that was the sense I was getting after a while of (ab)use anyways. But yes it did wonders on my social anxiety, couldn't be bothered, went into this empathic mania each time. Dancing on it still feels awkward af though, maybe even moreso. Alcohol and various gabaergics are better at disinhibitions and not caring about how I might come across anyways.

You see that a lot though, people have this notion in their head that autistic people don't have emotions, I just think they're not always able to identify them, or experience them differently from otherwise "normal" people. I certainly do experience emotions, to the point where I assume I'm comorbid with borderline, but that remains to be seen, could just be my terrible depression. I'm your atypical autist anyways, considering I repeatedly got told they categorized me under the monniker of "not otherwise specified", gee, thanks?

Nearly every article and post in here is so damn familiar.

I have trouble with cannabis, which can both numb and intensify my emotions, but me and it just clicked, I have trouble letting it go, it's just an addiction by now. It does help a lot of autistic people apparently if you go by literature, but I don't ever suggest starting a serious habit out of it like I've done, that's counterproductive as hell, amotivational syndrome is defnitely something to be on the look out for.

I don't think a lot of stimulants affect me like they do "normal people", as in, it has nearly the same effect for me as it has on people diagnosed with ADHD, unless I overindulge. Recently been experimenting a little with isopropylphenidate, barely feel anything but my focus returning, my heart rate increasing somewhat, but no overstimulation at dosages that give other people problems (>20+mg). No euphoria either, but a contentness, which just reminded me that it was the same as it has been with amphetamine in the past. Small dosages increased my focus, less distracted, don't remember much else happening, just thought I was unaffected at the time and it was "bad speed".

The rest, yeah, pretty much the same as all you normies.
 

Wilson Wilson

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Since we have a few aspies here I am curious what your experiences with drugs enhancing creativity are? The stereotype of course is that people on the spectrum are uncreative robots. I never found this to be the case, because aside from the fact that technical ability requires creativity, I've always had an active imagination and noticed the same in others on the spectrum.

On psychedelics this is enhanced a lot and I get ideas coming to me which I make notes of. When I take regular old amphetamine it gives me the energy and motivation to actually sit down and bash out creative projects.

I'm not sure how many well known creative types have an actual diagnosis and don't like to speculate, but one notable diagnosed writer is Dan Harmon, creator of Rick and Morty. If you read his articles about his creative process and story structure you can very easily see it basically systemises creativity, which sounds like an oxymoron but is clearly very effective and far from a novel idea (it's all based on the monomyth which goes back to 1871).

And well if you've seen Rick and Morty, Rick is actually a pretty stereotypical autistic character: high IQ, low social skills. Rick makes a joke about being autistic while he's playing Minecraft in the episode where he fights the president too.

Anyway I bring this up because I've had even psychologists and psychiatrists mention creativity as being an antithesis to the autistic personality, but I just don't see the real world basis for that. I also find it odd when daydreaming and being "lost in your own world" are very common symptoms in autistic people (and indeed ADHD is very common with autism too) but how does one get lost in their own world without creativity? I'm curious if, much like with emotions, drugs bring out this side of people on the spectrum.
 

MountainTrails

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Since we have a few aspies here I am curious what your experiences with drugs enhancing creativity are? The stereotype of course is that people on the spectrum are uncreative robots. I never found this to be the case, because aside from the fact that technical ability requires creativity, I've always had an active imagination and noticed the same in others on the spectrum.

On psychedelics this is enhanced a lot and I get ideas coming to me which I make notes of. When I take regular old amphetamine it gives me the energy and motivation to actually sit down and bash out creative projects.

I'm not sure how many well known creative types have an actual diagnosis and don't like to speculate, but one notable diagnosed writer is Dan Harmon, creator of Rick and Morty. If you read his articles about his creative process and story structure you can very easily see it basically systemises creativity, which sounds like an oxymoron but is clearly very effective and far from a novel idea (it's all based on the monomyth which goes back to 1871).

And well if you've seen Rick and Morty, Rick is actually a pretty stereotypical autistic character: high IQ, low social skills. Rick makes a joke about being autistic while he's playing Minecraft in the episode where he fights the president too.

Anyway I bring this up because I've had even psychologists and psychiatrists mention creativity as being an antithesis to the autistic personality, but I just don't see the real world basis for that. I also find it odd when daydreaming and being "lost in your own world" are very common symptoms in autistic people (and indeed ADHD is very common with autism too) but how does one get lost in their own world without creativity? I'm curious if, much like with emotions, drugs bring out this side of people on the spectrum.
Creativity, that's an interesting one. I don't think I've ever noticed anything notable there. Unusual thought patterns, sure ... ;^) I'm not hugely experienced with psychedelics, though: LSD 3 times around 1980 in unknown blotter dosages; another 3 times 2 years ago @ 100 micrograms, as part of a candyflip experiment to see if the reported synergistic properties would break something loose for me (no); mushrooms; LSAs (HBR and MG); 2CB. Amphetamines mainly get me into a hedonistic mindset. I'm indifferent to opiates. With weed and weed product, shifting drifting thoughts are always possible.

And divergent thinking seems to be a strength among autists without any substances whatsoever.

As far as getting lost in my own world goes, I definitely have an "inside" mode where I am internally focused and just kind of don't track the external things. I think of it very, very clearly as a focus shift. I also have a small quiet place where I can retreat and things recede away, but I'm pretty sure that's not autism but abuse. It's like a big red emergency button. I hit it and whoomp, distance.

I have been playing a tiny bit with art. Jerry Fodor wrote a book back in the '70s called The Language of Thought. Reading it, I was exposed to the concept of "surface languages." That is to say, not what goes on inside your head, but the various means of expression you have available to communicate externally (to others). Words (English, Spanish, Klingon), movement, art ... I have been noting a stronger drive in me to communicate, to be known, to express emotion (gulp) as I get older, and seized a while back on expanding my expressive toolkit. Dancing is hard (tied to self-consciousness) but getting easier. I even had a granddaughter comment favorably on that this past weekend (I was quite pleased). Art is still feeling scary for some reason. Like, "That's crap, you should stop." I think I need to turn off the critic, push through, and find satisfaction.
 
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mr peabody

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Of the nearly 4,500 children identified, 25 percent were not diagnosed. Most were
black or Hispanic males with deficits in mental abilities.



One-fourth of children with autism are undiagnosed

Rutgers | Neuroscience News | Jan 9 2020

A quarter of children under the age of eight on the autism spectrum are not being diagnosed, a new study reports.

One-fourth of children under age 8 with autism spectrum disorder — most of them black or Hispanic — are not being diagnosed, which is critical for improving quality of life.

The findings, published in the journal Autism Research, show that despite growing awareness about autism, it is still under-diagnosed, particularly in black and Hispanic people, said study co-author Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and director of the New Jersey Autism Study, which contributed to the research.

Researchers analyzed the education and medical records of 266,000 children who were 8 years old in 2014, seeking to determine how many of those who showed symptoms of the disorder were not clinically diagnosed or receiving services.

Of the nearly 4,500 children identified, 25 percent were not diagnosed. Most were black or Hispanic males with deficits in mental abilities, social skills and activities of daily living who were not considered disabled.

“There may be various reasons for the disparity, from communication or cultural barriers between minority parents and physicians to anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process and fear of stigma,” Zahorodny said, “Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later often attribute their first concerns to a behavioral or medical issue rather than a developmental problem.”

Screening all toddlers, preschool and school-age children for autism could help reduce the disparities in diagnosis, Zahorodny said. In addition, clinicians can overcome communication barriers by using pictures and/or employing patient navigators to help families understand the diagnosis process, test results and treatment recommendations.

"States can help improve access to care by requiring insurance companies to cover early intervention services when a child is first determined to be at risk rather than waiting for a diagnosis," he said.

The research was conducted through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, a surveillance program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracks the prevalence of the developmental disorder in 11 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

 
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MountainTrails

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@MountainTrails

You see that a lot though, people have this notion in their head that autistic people don't have emotions, I just think they're not always able to identify them, or experience them differently from otherwise "normal" people. I certainly do experience emotions, to the point where I assume I'm comorbid with borderline, but that remains to be seen, could just be my terrible depression. I'm your atypical autist anyways, considering I repeatedly got told they categorized me under the monniker of "not otherwise specified", gee, thanks?
@Blowmonkey

Emotions are tough for me to figure out. I feel them, definitely. But a lot of times there's a detachment, or they seem in the background unless I pay attention. Your post made me think of empathy. Absolutely yes! But is it cognitive or affective, I haven't a clue.

My first posts mentioned MDMA. The atypical feelings aside (which could be due to a number of things), that substance did something. It opened back up my ability to cry. That sounds stupid to say, but damn it, it did. That response had been locked up for years, and now I leak regularly. An example, this morning I was reading a gardening article about a variety of sweet peppers, and thinking they would be a good addition for my 2020 garden -- and then it hit me: I moved my parents from their nearby home to live with my sister out of state for better care last month, a daughter's family is moving away in June, and there's nobody to share my garden with. There's no point in growing all those peppers, which I have every year. And I started crying.

I call that progress.
 
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MountainTrails

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Does this article specifically mention autism? No.
Why is it here? Because it really excites me. I think there's a lot more variety among the "non-neurotypical" than many people realize. And individual brain models are the way to get there. (I also think that mapping functions into brain areas with the expectatation there are differences -- major differences -- between people is going to reap some stunning insights as methods improve.)

"The spectrum." This term creates a model/expectation that is WRONG. Some autism slider that you push left or right and get less or more autism and autistic behaviors along a 1-dimensional axis. I hate that term. The understanding in this article is a step in the right direction, IMO.

My mental model has a visual and mathematical basis, and I'm gonna try to describe it.

So you assemble some group of "autism" attributes, which might include physical (neurological) and/or behavioral items depending on intent, each with some quantifiable value (number). You construct your basic multidimensional vector for each individual. Then map them all onto what is a hypersphere. (n attributes = n-dimensional hypersphere) This hypersphere naturally has lower density of endpoints as you go outward. The way I see it (literally) is that "neurotypical" describes that group of individuals whose vector endpoints are within some defined radius r of the origin. And the neurodiverse are everyone else outside that arbitrary threshold of "normal" (normal in the sense of norms and statistics). Literally data outliers, each distinct in the constellation of humanity. Sure, some groupings, but definitely NOT all in a line; rather, beautifully individual and diverse, with attendant diversity of mind, thought, and ability. (That might be hand-wavingly fuzzy, but it's the gist of it.)

Let me know if that last paragraph makes sense, please. (Reading about the Music Genome Project may help -- or not, but it's interesting reading if you use/like Pandora music.)


[My "Unpaywall" Firefox plugin found an accessible copy of the full paper, FWIW.]


The importance of individualized models for understanding brain function
https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-01-importance-individualized-brain-function.html

New research conducted by Professor Itamar Kahn, director of the Brain Systems Organization in Health and Disease Lab in the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with scientists from France and the U.S., demonstrates the importance of personalized brain models. The research team's findings show that individual variations in the brain's structural connectome (map of neural connections) define a specific structural fingerprint with a direct impact on the functional organization of individual brains.

The groundbreaking research, "Individual structural features constrain the mouse functional connectome," was published in PNAS, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Technion MD/Ph.D. candidate Eyal Bergmann and Université d'Aix-Marseille doctoral student Francesca Melozzi were lead co-authors.

By using a connectome-based model approach, Prof. Kahn and his partners aimed to understand the functional organization of the brain by modeling the brain as a dynamic system, then studying how the functional architecture rises from the underlying structural skeleton. Taking advantage of mice studies, they systematically investigated the informative content of different structural features in explaining the emergence of the functional ones.

Whole brain dynamics intuitively depend upon the internal wiring of the brain; but to which extent the individual structural connectome constrains the corresponding functional connectome is unknown, even though its importance is uncontested. After acquiring structural MRI data from individual mice, the researchers virtualized their brain networks and simulated in silicofunctional MRI data. Theoretical results were validated against empirical awake functional MRI data obtained from the same mice. As a result, the researchers were able to demonstrate that individual structural connectomes predict the functional organization of individual brains.

While structural MRI is a common non-invasive method that can estimate structural connectivity in individual humans and rodents, it is not as precise as the gold standard connectivity mapping possible in the mouse. Utilizing precise mapping available in mice, the authors identified which missing connections (not measurable with structural MRI) are important for whole brain dynamics in the mouse. The researchers identified that individual variations thus define a specific structural fingerprint with a direct impact upon the functional organization of individual brains, a key feature for personalized medicine.

More information:
Francesca Melozzi et al. Individual structural features constrain the mouse functional connectome, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1906694116
 
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MountainTrails

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Adhd drugs are euphoric for me personally. Creativity is systematic in a way that you must practice it and work on it so it becomes more natural.
I get the same results from those drugs as you. Could you expand a bit on your creativity comment, maybe an example? It's a cool topic and I don't want to go off on an Emily Litella tangent.
 

schizopath

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Like painting, writing lyrics, or playing instruments. You gotta find the confidence and train those skills because I believe that every autistic can systematically train skills to be better than normal humans. They say that artists are autistic for a reason.
 

indigoaura

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I just wanted to quickly say, thanks for inviting us over to this thread from the MDMA forum. There is a lot of really fascinating information here, and I am going to read through it all diligently.
 

MountainTrails

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Adhd drugs are euphoric for me personally. Creativity is systematic in a way that you must practice it and work on it so it becomes more natural.
Like painting, writing lyrics, or playing instruments You gotta find the confidence and train those skills because I believe that every autistic can systematically train skills to be better than normal humans. They say that artists are autistic for a reason.
With that understanding, I definitely agree.

Thinking about it takes me back to my comment about surface languages. We do this stuff in our heads -- thinking, feeling -- and then sometimes want to express it to the outside as communication. The tools we have for expression are called surface languages. English, Elvish, music, art, movement, etc. All can be practiced, and should be if we want to get better at them. Writers know that clear communication takes skill and practice. Athletes and dancers understand the importance of practice, and flexibility improves expressiveness. Artists learn new techniques and tools, and practice them to explore their boundaries, as do poets.

And the translation mechanisms/routes to the outside vary by individual and surface. We have different ways of thinking, and different facilities and preferences in those surface languages. We each have to find our own way to best -- or most satisfyingly, or with greatest fidelity -- express what's inside. And that, I think, is where creativity lives. And substances definitely impact that.

The inside-to-outside issue is a large one for me. The example I usually rely on is words. I'm a visual thinker. So I have this large and complex "thought object" in my head that I want to express. I have to serialize some subset of it into a string of words, which I hope have the same substantive meaning to the recipient as I intend. I usually have to refine those words, as the first approximation can be clumsy (which is why I'm better in writing than I am face-to-face: everything I write can be edited before hitting send; once I speak, there's no editing that). And I have to hope that the path of words (a word vector) I've chosen to describe the object has supplied enough context that my intent is grasped and the communication is successful. No? A different vector through the space, as additional perspectives usually increase understanding. Not everyone has patience for that.

Van Gogh had a miserable life, and it was only after his death that his talent and genius were recognized. The people of his time didn't understand or appreciate his language.
 
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MountainTrails

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How do opiates affect you? I think they make me kind of psychopathic personally, but are also euphoric/fun.
I have abused them but have never had a real problem there. They make me mentally fuzzy for too long, not in a good way, and I don't like that. Also, aside from pills, the unpredictable variability in strength is a safety issue for me.
 

MountainTrails

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The mystery of why some people become sudden geniuses
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180116-the-mystery-of-why-some-people-become-sudden-geniuses

There’s mounting evidence that brain damage has the power to unlock extraordinary creative talents. What can this teach us about how geniuses are made?

It was the summer of 1860 and Eadweard Muybridge was running low on books. This was somewhat problematic, since he was a bookseller. He handed his San Francisco shop over to his brother and set off on a stagecoach to buy supplies. Little did he know, he was about to change the world forever.

He was some way into his journey, in north-eastern Texas, when the coach ran into trouble. The driver cracked his whip and the horses broke into a run, leading the coach surging down a steep mountain road. Eventually it veered off and into a tree. Muybridge was catapulted into the air and cracked his head on a boulder.

He woke up nine days later at a hospital 150 miles (241 km) away. The accident left him with a panoply of medical problems, including double vision, bouts of seizures and no sense of smell, hearing or taste. But the most radical change was his personality.

Previously Muybridge had been a genial and open man, with good business sense. Afterwards he was risk-taking, eccentric and moody; he later murdered his wife’s lover. He was also, quite possibly, a genius.

The question of where creative insights come from – and how to get more of them – has remained a subject of great speculation for thousands of years. According to scientists, they can be driven by anything from fatigue to boredom. The prodigies themselves have other, even less convincing ideas. Plato said that they were the result of divine madness. Or do they, as Freud believed, arise from the sublimation of sexual desires? Tchaikovsky maintained that eureka moments are born out of cool headwork and technical knowledge.

But until recently, most sensible people agreed on one thing: creativity begins in the pink, wobbly mass inside our skulls. It surely goes without saying that striking the brain, impaling it, electrocuting it, shooting it, slicing bits out of it or depriving it of oxygen would lead to the swift death of any great visions possessed by its owner.



Eadweard Muybridge was thrown from a stagecoach - and then led a life of creative genius (Credit: Alamy)

As it happens, sometimes the opposite is true.

After the accident, Muybridge eventually recovered enough to sail to England. There his creativity really took hold. He abandoned bookselling and became a photographer, one of the most famous in the world. He was also a prolific inventor. Before the accident, he hadn’t filed a single patent. In the following two decades, he applied for at least 10.

In 1877 he took a bet that allowed him to combine invention and photography. Legend has it that his friend, a wealthy railroad tycoon called Leland Stanford, was convinced that horses could fly. Or, more accurately, he was convinced that when they run, all their legs leave the ground at the same time. Muybridge said they didn’t.

To prove it he placed 12 cameras along a horse track and installed a tripwire that would set them off automatically as Stanford’s favourite racing horse, Occident, ran. Next he invented the inelegantly named “zoopraxiscope”, a device which allowed him to project several images in quick succession and give the impression of motion. To his amazement, the horse was briefly suspended, mid-gallop. Muybridge had filmed the first movie – and with it proven that yes, horses can fly.

The abrupt turnaround of Muybridge’s life, from ordinary bookseller to creative genius, has prompted speculation that it was a direct result of his accident. It’s possible that he had “sudden savant syndrome”, in which exceptional abilities emerge after a brain injury or disease. It’s extremely rare, with just 25 verified cases on the planet.

There’s Tony Cicoria, an orthopaedic surgeon who was struck by lightning at a New York park in 1994. It went straight through his head and left him with an irresistible desire to play the piano. To begin with he was playing other people’s music, but soon he started writing down the melodies that were constantly running through his head. Today he’s a pianist and composer, as well as a practicing surgeon.

Another case is Jon Sarkin, who was transformed from a chiropractor into an artist after a stroke. The urge to draw landed almost immediately. He was having “all kinds” of therapy at the hospital – speech therapy, art therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, mental therapy – “And they stuck a crayon in my hand and said ‘want to draw?’ And I said ‘fine’,” he says.



Gottfried Mind was an "artistic savant" who drew cats in extraordinary detail (Credit: Alamy)

His first muse was a cactus at his home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was the fingered kind, like you might find in Western movies from the 50s. Even his earliest paintings are extremely abstract. In some versions the branches resemble swirling green snakes, while others they are red, zig-zagging staircases.

His works have since been published in The New York Times, featured on album covers and been covered in a book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. They regularly sell for $10,000 (£7,400).

Most strikingly there’s Jason Padgett, who was attacked at a bar in Tacoma, Washington in 2002. Before the attack, Padgett was a college dropout who worked at a futon store. His primary passions in life were partying and chasing girls. He had no interest in maths – at school, he didn’t even get into algebra class.

But that night, everything changed. Initially he was taken to the hospital with a severe concussion. “I remember thinking that everything looked funky, but I thought it was just the narcotic pain shot they gave me” he says. “Then the next morning I woke up and turned on the water. It looked like little tangent lines [a straight line that touches a single point on a curve], spiralling down.”.

From then onwards Padgett’s world was overlaid with geometric shapes and gridlines. He became obsessed with maths and is now renowned for his drawings of formulas such as Pi. Today he’s incredulous that he once didn’t know what a tangent was. “I do feel like two people, and I’ve had my mum and my dad say that. It’s like having two separate kids,” he says.

Why does this happen? How does it work? And what does it teach us about what makes geniuses special?

There are two leading ideas. The first is that when you’re bashed on the head, the effects are similar to a dose of LSD. Psychedelic drugs are thought to enhance creativity by increasing the levels of serotonin, the so-called “happiness hormone”, in the brain. This leads to “synaesthesia”, in which more than one region is simultaneously activated and senses which are usually separate become linked.

Many people don’t need drugs to experience this: nearly 5% of the population has some form of synaesthesia, with the most common type being “grapheme-colour”, in which words are associated with colours. For example, the actor Geoffrey Rush believes that Mondays are pale blue.

When the brain is injured, dead and dying cells leak serotonin into the surrounding tissue. Physically, this seems to encourage new connections between brain regions, just as with LSD. Mentally, it allows the person to link the seemingly unconnected. “We’ve found permanent changes before – you can actually see connections in the brain that weren’t there before,” says Berit Brogaard, a neuroscientist who directs the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research, Florida.



Actor Geoffrey Rush has synesthesia, where stimulation of one sense affects others, such as smelling or tasting colours (Credit: Alamy)

But there is an alternative. The first clue emerged in 1998, when a group of neurologists noticed that five of their patients with dementia were also artists – remarkably good ones. Specifically, they had frontotemporal dementia, which is unusual in that it only affects some parts of the brain. For example, visual creativity may be spared, while language and social skills are progressively destroyed.

One of these was “Patient 5”. At the age of 53 he had enrolled in a short course in drawing at a local park, though he previously had no interest in such things. It just so happened to coincide with the onset of his dementia; a few months later, he was having trouble speaking.

Soon he became irritable and eccentric, developing a compulsion to search for money on the street. As his illness progressed, so did his drawing, advancing from simple still-life paintings to haunting, impressionist depictions of buildings from his childhood.

To find out what was going on, the scientists performed 3D scans of their patients’ brains. In four out of five cases, they found lesions on the left hemisphere. Nobel Prize-winning research from the 1960s shows that the two halves of the brain specialise in different tasks; in general, the right side is home to creativity and the left is the centre of logic and language.

But the left side is also something of a bully. “It tends to be the dominant brain region,” says Brogaard. “It tends to suppress very marginal types of thinking - highly original, highly creative thinking, because it’s beneficial for our decision-making abilities and our ability to function in normal life.”. The theory goes that as the patients’ left hemispheres became progressively more damaged, their right hemispheres were free to flourish.

This is backed up by several other studies, including one in which creative insight was roused in healthy volunteers by temporarily dialling down activity in the left hemisphere and increasing it in the right. “[the lead researcher] Allen Snyder’s work was replicated by another person, so that’s the theory that I think is responsible,” says Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist from the University of Wisconsin Medical School, who has been studying savant syndrome for decades.

But what about more mainstream geniuses? Could the theory explain their talents, too?

Consider autism. From Daniel Tammet, who can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at stupendous speed, to Gottfried Mind, the “Cat Raphael”, who drew the animal with an astonishing level of realism, so-called “autistic savants” can have superhuman skills to rival those of the Renaissance polymaths.

It’s been estimated that as many as one in 10 people with autism have savant syndrome and there’s mounting evidence the disorder is associated with enhanced creativity. And though it’s difficult to prove, it’s been speculated that numerous intellectual giants, including Einstein, Newton, Mozart, Darwin and Michelangelo, were on the spectrum.

One theory suggests that autism arises from abnormally low levels of serotonin in the left hemisphere in childhood, which prevents the region from developing normally. Just like with sudden savant syndrome, this allows the right hemisphere to become more active.

Interestingly, many people with sudden savant syndrome also develop symptoms of autism, including social problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and all-consuming interests. “It got so bad that if I had money I would spray the money with Lysol and put it in the microwave for a few seconds to get rid of the germs,” says Padgett.

“They are usually able to have a normal life, but they also have this obsession,” says Brogaard. This is something universal across all sudden savants. Jon Sarkin compares his art to an instinct. “It doesn’t feel like I like drawing, it feels like I must draw.” His studio contains thousands of finished and unfinished works, which are often scribbled with curves, words, cross-hatchings, and overlapping images.



It is believed that many creative geniuses - such as Albert Einstein - may have been on the spectrum (Credit: Alamy)

In fact, though they often don’t need to, sudden savants work hard at improving their craft. “I mean, I practiced a lot. Talent and hard work, I think they are indistinguishable – you do something a lot and you get better at it,” says Sarkin. Padgett agrees. “When you’re fixated on something like that, of course you do discover things.”

Muybridge was no exception. After the bet, he moved to Philadelphia and continued with his passion for capturing motion on film, photographing all kinds of activities such as walking up and down the stairs and, oddly, himself swinging a pickaxe in the nude. Between 1883 and 1886, he took more than 100,000 pictures.

“In my opinion at least, the fact that they can improve their abilities doesn’t negate the suddenness or insistence with which they are there,” says Treffert. As our understanding of sudden savant syndrome improves, eventually it’s hoped that we might all be able to unlock our hidden mental powers – perhaps with the help of smart drugs or hardware.

But until then, perhaps us mortals could try putting in some extra hours instead.
 
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