Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alternative Certification in Elementary Special Education

The reason I want to become a teacher is that I want to teach Special Education. And I want to teach SpEd because the majority of children in SpEd have autism. I believe that, being on the spectrum myself, I can relate to the autistic children in a way neurotypical teachers can't.

To do this, I have to go through alternative certification. That means going through an alternative certification program. The majority of this program is dedicated to teaching us classroom management. This has meant a lot of large-group presentations with accompanying "ice-breakers." Having to be in the middle of a huge group of strangers is of course bad enough, but then having to engage in these "ice-breakers" that are both so incredibly transparent to me and which does not seem to actually break the ice or allow you to actually interact with anyone long enough to get to know them ("Hi. I'm Troy. I'm doing Elementary SpEd. You?" They answer, then before anything else is said, we're told to sit.) makes the entire thing borderline intolerable.

They bombard you with social interactions and then have you watch videos of social interactions (teachers teaching students, demonstrating certain classroom management techniques) and ask you to say what you saw. This seems easy enough for the vast majority of people, but for someone like me, it's just a confusion. I don't know what I'm seeing. I need to be told what to look for so I know what I'm seeing.

It would be sort of like asking you to take a quick look at a a group of complex organic molecule and then telling me what you saw. There are a few who can do it, but most cannot. If I asked you to look for ring structures and tell me how many you saw, though, almost everyone could do it. Understand that seeing an unfamiliar social situation and asking me what I saw is like having someone do the first scenario. There were a few times when someone asked to see the video again. When that happened, I had a better chance of understanding what was going on. I need repetition and to be told what to look for. So the entire training is, for me, backwards.

That was all day, Monday through Friday, last week. This week and the next four weeks we are teaching summer school (2nd grade Reading and Math for me) 8am-1pm and training 2pm-5:30pm. While teaching, we have a mentor teacher watching us and a coach to assesses us. I will be assessed on whether or not I am doing proper classroom management and if I have all the right things up on the walls in the right places at the right time.

All of this is extremely overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and exhausting. I'm about to collapse from exhaustion every day--and I mean from the moment I wake I am exhausted.

We on the spectrum are easily exhausted by all of these kinds of things. In no small part because our brains are dominated by positive feedback, meaning the more we work our brains, the more our brains work. But positive feedback in a limited system (like the brain) doesn't just go entirely out of control. No, it undergoes a boom-and-bust cycle. Boom it too much and it crashes pretty hard.

The problem is that the time there is not all our day. No, we also have to plan our lessons and make everything the kids need and copy everything, etc. We are completely responsible for all of these things. Thus, we in fact have 16+ hour days. This is impossible for someone on the spectrum---not working for 16+ hours, which we are more than capable of going (for our obsessions), but engaging in a high degree of social interactions and social learning as well as this much work.

What is worse is that since I am going to be a SpEd teacher, I won't actually be doing all of the things they are teaching me on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong. It's useful information that I'm sure I'll use on occasion. But if I have a SpEd classroom, none of this will work because the children will not respond to these sorts of social pressures and subtle movements. And if I'm a pullout teacher, I will only have a few children at a table, where I will be interacting with them in small groups or even one-on-one. And the main teacher will be doing all of that.

So in theory, I could bomb this training and not get hired for a position that doesn't really require any of this training.

Fortunately, I believe this is only theoretical, since I do have a decade of teaching experience---meaning, I have good presence and a "teacher's voice" already in place. Since I mostly taught college students, I didn't have to stand and scan, but it's surprising how many techniques I already developed all the same.

The goal, then, is to survive the next four weeks, pass the certification test, and find a full time Elementary SpEd job.

Monday, June 6, 2016

In the Interest of Justice

Today I had to go to court because I had forgotten to put in a bulk pickup request in a timely manner.

If you are on the spectrum or if you know someone who is, you are likely familiar with the issues with short term memory. I can intend to do something, and forget completely that I need to do it. I can see the limbs or bulky trash set out on the curb as I turn into my driveway, think to myself, "I need to make the bulk pickup request," and forget between getting out of the minivan and opening the front door (everything is behind me, so out of sight . . .). And naturally, I will remember to do it when I'm at Starbucks, a week later, randomly.

I have received letters telling me that I need to make the bulk pickup request. I'm not sure how many, though today I learned it needed to only be one before they would issue a citation. Which I received this past month, sending me to court today.

I have written about institutional discrimination against people with autism before. This is the very kind of thing I was talking about in that post. Legislation that requires good short term memory from its citizenry is necessarily discriminatory against people on the spectrum. Worse, it ends up resulting in the harassment of people who already feel imposed upon by everyone. Unless the person goes to court and points out that they are on the spectrum and that they have short term memory problems as a result, a fine is likely to be imposed. To impose a fine on someone with autism because they forgot to do something is the same as fining them for having autism.

So today I had to go to court. When the judge asked me if I was going to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest, I said, "Well, let me explain my situation first . . ." I then proceeded to tell her that I had Asperger's and that meant that I had short term memory problems that affected my ability to remember to do things like put in requests. I then asked her, "What is the purpose of my being here? The purpose of imposing a fine is to ensure that I will remember next time, right? But imposing such a fine on me won't have the desired outcome, because I simply cannot remember."

The prosecutor suggested that my cased be dismissed "in the interest of justice."

The judge agreed, but said next time I would be fined.

I was hardly going to argue with her, though the problem nevertheless remains. However, since I did in fact go read the ordinance (which oddly left out the number of warnings and any mention of a fine), there is a certain probability that my exceptional long tern memory will aid my short term memory and I'll actually remember.

To avoid an absurdly high $280 fine, let's certainly hope so.

So the good news is that justice in this case prevailed. If I forget again, it won't. And worse, how many people are out there on the spectrum who consistently forget such things and find themselves fined? My guess is very few if any have enough self-understanding and presence of mind to make the argument I did in court today. As a result, there are likely hundreds of thousands if not millions like me who are being fined for having autism. And that is hardly in the interest of justice.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Autism Pill?

Given the interconnected roles of glutamine, vitamin D, and serotonin, a simple solution could be a properly formulated pill.

Glutamate overproduction causes leaky gut, and glutamine closes up the pores in the gut, helping alleviate leaky gut. Leaky gut causes reduced vitamin D absorption. And as noted here,
vitamin D hormone activates the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), that converts the essential amino acid tryptophan, to serotonin in the brain. This suggests that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required to produce serotonin in the brain where it shapes the structure and wiring of the brain, acts as a neurotransmitter, and affects social behavior. They also found evidence that the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) is inhibited by vitamin D hormone, which subsequently halts the production of serotonin in the gut and other tissues, where when found in excess it promotes inflammation.
This mechanism explains many of the known, but previously not understood, facts about autism including: 1) the "serotonin anomaly" low levels of serotonin in the brain and high levels in the blood of autistic children; 2) the preponderance of male over female autistic children: estrogen, a similar steroid hormone, can also boost the brain levels of serotonin in girls; 3) the presence of autoimmune antibodies to the fetal brain in the mothers of autistic children: vitamin D regulates the production of regulatory T-cells via repression of TPH1. The Patrick/Ames mechanism is relevant to the prevention of autism, and likely its treatment.
 The authors say that
The study suggests dietary intervention with vitamin D, tryptophan and omega 3 fatty acids would boost brain serotonin concentrations and help prevent and possibly ameliorate some of the symptoms associated with ASD without side effects.
I would argue that this should be combined with glutamine as well.

Is it possible to have a treatment for at least some forms of autism in pill form? Very possibly.

A pill that combined glutamine, vitamin D, tryptophan, and omega 3 fatty acids could very well alleviate gut problems and improve cognition in many with autism. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Variety of Genetic Pathways to Intense World Autism

Recent research into the gender bias of autism (4:1 in favor of males), has shown there are sets of genes that are expressed more by males than females which express certain sets of autism genes. In this research it was found that
Many of the shared genes in these sets are related to microglia, immune cells in the brain that trim away excess neuronal connections, or synapses, in the developing brain and that may be dysfunctional in people with autism. One of the sets also contains genes related to star-shaped cells called astrocytes, which may be involved in learning and memory; these cells are thought to be both smaller and denser in autism brains than in controls.
 Failure to trim away extra neurons is a recurring theme when it comes to autism.

If microglia cannot work properly, we would expect less synaptic trimming to take place. Which means a hyper-connected/hyper-active network.

Astrocytes are involved in clearing away neurotransmitters, and if they cannot work properly, we would expect buildup of certain neuotransmitters. Surely some of those neurotransmitters would be glutamate, which acts as a positive feedback neurotransmitter. Which means a hyper-active network.

Genes involved in the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle would contribute to imbalances in these neurotransmitters. Imbalances in favor of glutamate would result in a hyper-active network.

Genes involved in serotonin production can affect synaptic trimming, since serotonin is needed to trim synapses. Low serotonin would result in less trimming, meaning a hyper-connected/hyper-active network.

Vitamin D is involved in serotonin production, and vitamin D deficiency has been connected to autism:
vitamin D hormone activates the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2), that converts the essential amino acid tryptophan, to serotonin in the brain. This suggests that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required to produce serotonin in the brain where it shapes the structure and wiring of the brain, acts as a neurotransmitter, and affects social behavior. They also found evidence that the gene that makes the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TPH1) is inhibited by vitamin D hormone, which subsequently halts the production of serotonin in the gut and other tissues, where when found in excess it promotes inflammation.
As noted before, vitamin D absorption is affected by glutamine/glutamate levels.

In other words, mutations affecting microglia, macroglia, glutamate-glutamine-GABA production, serotonin production, and vitamin D levels can all have pretty much the same effect in having hyper-connected/hyper-active neurons. Those are a large number of causes resulting in essentially the same effect.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Imposing On Me All the Time!

A common "personality trait" of people on the spectrum is the feeling that many things are a terrible imposition on them. I certainly feel that all the time.

I feel like having to deal with other people driving on the road at the same time as me is a terrible imposition on me. They are all in my way, they are all driving too slow or taking off from the red light too slow, or driving like an idiot because they are on their cell phones (you're not that important, people!), etc. I hate everyone in a vehicle on the road at the same time as me.

Having to do anything at all that is not exactly what I want to do at that given time always feels like a terrible imposition on me. I feel like I ought to be able to work on what I want to work on and that I ought to be able to make a living at it. I feel like there should be no barriers to entry for anything I want to try to do. I feel like I should not be made to work at jobs that are not completely interesting to me. I feel like when I am working that everyone ought to leave me alone to let me do my work. I feel like all bureaucrats ought to be fired because their only job is to annoy and harass people who have actual work to do. All of these things feel like a terrible imposition on me.

I suppose much of this comes about from a combination of things, such as my need to work/focus on my obsessions as well as a need for order and things to change more slowly than they typically do.

Also, I suppose this is related to my need for any and all expectations to be met. If I am told that something is going to happen (or not going to happen), and my expectations are not fulfilled, I feel as though I'm being imposed upon. And it's not just big things.

A small example that I know logically doesn't amount to a hill of beans happened a few days ago. My wife declared early in the morning that we were all going to spend all day Saturday watching movies, TV, or otherwise just relaxing at home. Come 6 p.m. or so, my wife says she's going to Walmart. First, she's only taking Daniel. Then she suggests we all go. Naturally, the kids are all for it. But I didn't want to go. I didn't want to go because and only because she had said earlier in the day that we wouldn't be going anywhere all day long. Had she said nothing of the sort, I would have almost certainly agreed for us all to go. I knew that, but knowing that could not overcome the way I felt. Going felt like an imposition on me. And so Melina and I stayed home and Anna took Daniel and Dylan.

A bigger thing involves my getting alternative certification this Summer in order to get a job in a public school this Fall. The idea of teaching itself doesn't feel like an imposition. But being forced to get teacher certification when I have a Ph.D. does, and having to deal with all of the administrators when I am hired somewhere most certainly does. If I knew that everyone would just leave me alone to do my job, I'd be extremely happy, and I'd do my job, and do it well. But the very existence of administrators in the world causes me anxiety and they all feel like an imposition on me and my doing my job well.

So what wouldn't feel like an imposition?

Having expectations met. Having people always follow through on everything they say. Now, when I say "always," that doesn't mean things cannot come up that people can't help. That happens. I'm talking about the casual way most people don't actually mean to follow through on their small commitments they make throughout the day. When I tell you I'll do something, you can guarantee I'll do it. Unless, of course, I just plain forget. Which is, as anyone who knows someone with autism knows, a distinct possibility.

Another thing would be to be allowed to work on my obsessions. In my ideal world, at least, that would mean being allowed to work on my poems, plays, short stories, novels, and scholarly work. And having someone who would send all of those things out for me. In my less-than-ideal-but-still-pretty-good world, that would mean a job doing creative work of some sort, being constantly mentally challenged in a job where creativity and innovation are what matter more than anything else in the world. Or proofreading. I love proofreading. I can just sit and do that for hours.

I can't speak for anyone else in the specifics, but I would be willing to bet that the first sentence of each of the two paragraphs above are true for everyone on the spectrum.

It's probably impossible for someone on the spectrum to go through the day without feeling that something is an imposition. So long as there are people disappointing our expectations, we'll feel it. So long as I have to drive on roads with other drivers, I'll feel it. I can think about it, stand outside myself and write about it, as I am now, but it seems impossible for me to not feel it. So when I'm annoyed and sighing and rolling my eyes, it's because I'm feeling imposed upon. Trust me, if I could help it, I would do away with it in a heartbeat.