Sorry I’m late with the Blog Carnival. My home was invaded by interesting geeks.

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I should have it up later today, and I mean that about today, because there’s nothing really planned for today.

Yesterday I got a visit from three people from MIT, and by the time they were gone I was totally exhausted. (They were fun though, very autie-friendly and geeky. But there were still three of them.) I thought of trying to get the blog carnival done last night, and did some of it, but haven’t finished, so I’ll finish it sometime today barring anything unforeseen.

I wanted to mention something interesting they brought along with them. It was a glove that uses a couple of simple electrodes that attach to an LED, that measures your body’s (physiological, not sexual) arousal by how much your hands are sweating. The brighter the light, the more the arousal, which usually correlates to some kind of emotion, whether positive or negative. (Either laughing or being scared or stressed out, for instance, make it glow brighter.)

Anyway, the gloves were all too big for me, but they had one that was just electrodes that attached to a thing that transmits to a computer, which then shows it on a graph. Because there were so many people in the room, my arousal level was really high, it turned out (I wouldn’t be surprised, being around lots of strangers stresses me out). But if I sat and rocked and didn’t look at the people, it slowly went down. The moment one of them turned her head to look at me, though, it suddenly jumped up again. And this was before the point of eye contact, even, and certainly before I could feel more than a small difference in my stress levels.

She said that Ami Klin had tried to claim at a lecture that eye contact doesn’t actually cause any stress for autistic people, and that some autistic guy in the audience had stood up and told him he was full of crap (well maybe not using those words, but something along those lines). I showed her my Eyeballs Eyeballs Eyeballs post and also discussed with her the research in this regard that says yes, in fact, autistic people are generally stressed out by eye contact.

I wish I’d had that on during the interview with Sanjay Gupta so I could show him that I was even reacting in a measurable physiological way to his attempts at making eye contact (he asked me, in a part that didn’t get aired, why I didn’t just look at him, and he was, I think in an attempt at friendliness, leaning into me the whole time in a way that was making me very stressy indeed, too stressed out to fully explain to him the effect he was having on me). I also wish I had one of those devices to play with for longer. It sounds as if they could be really useful in learning what stresses me out before it reaches the point that I notice it. I also wonder if showing readings like that to the sort of professionals who are heavily invested in forcing eye contact and other invasively direct forms of interaction on autistic children would make them think twice about it.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

14 responses »

  1. I have used a similar device (I think it was called GSR/galvanic skin response) for biofeedback. You may want to look up websites that sell biofeedback equipment and see if you can find one of them. The one I recall (it was a long time ago) was pretty rudimentary–it just wrapped around one finger.

    About the eye contact thing–it is hard to take it seriously when someone not on the autism spectrum says that eye contact is not stressful for ASD people. Although I can now make eye contact whenever the social occasion calls for it, it was one of the hardest things I ever learned to do, and remains one of the most challenging parts of socializing for me. (And for my son, who has way more ASD traits than me, I have NEVER tried to force eye contact. I hate it when I see teachers and speech therapists grab his chin and try to make him look at them when he is talking. When he is a little older, I’ll probably teach him the trick about staring at a person’s forehead when talking…)

  2. No worries on the blog carnival–I’m just glad to know it was fun geeky visitors that delayed posting, and nothing annoying or sinister.

  3. That does sound interesting [assuming they come in different sizes and you could persuade anyone to wear them] But that aside, often you [one] can tell that they’re upset, it’s knowing the ‘what’ that’s upsetting them that can be tricky. Still it’s a step in the right direction, especially as it would be an early indicator that they’re getting riled in the first place which I probably miss.
    Cheers

  4. Very interesting. It seems that physiological responses to stress are present, even when they aren’t seen by someone or measured by a device. My daughter has very difficult to manage diabetes, and we notice big correlations between her stress and her blood glucose levels, both awake and asleep. It’s very consistent that when she is having a stressful time, her blood glucose levels rise in the middle of the night. Her blood glucose levels also start to rise a few days before she gets sick. I’m guessing that both the skin response and blood glucose response to stress comes from the rise in adrenaline. The fact that it is unseen by an observer makes it no less real.

  5. Eye contact is stressful. A lot of neuro-typical people (not everyone, but a good deal I think) find it easier to listen to someone else when they are making eye-contact and find it harder to pay attention other wise. For us, it’s pretty much the opposite, and if we’re moving our hands or doing something or at least looking at something like a wall or a curtain, it’s much easier to understand what they’re saying. In elementary school the teacher would always yell at us for not listening and make us look at her, and then we’d stop understanding what was being said.

    These days, though, we tend to hide it by staring at people’s mouthes when they talk, because the lip reading kind of reinforces what we’re hearing (even though we’re terrible at lip reading) and it’s not as distracting as watching someone’s eyes.

  6. I think the next time you do have an interview, that you should wire yourself up and record it, so that you can display a “stress” level in the video. Then NTs might get an idea of what it is that is causing stress.

    As an aside, the “reason” that people sweat for non-thermal reasons (i.e. “stress”) is to release ammonia for “my” bacteria to turn into NO and nitrite, which is a compensatory reaction to “stress”.

  7. Following on what McEwen noted—-it’s often been the case that, by the time we realize something is upsetting Charlie, he is already very upset. One keeps trying to learn the signs, just a bit earlier and in time.

  8. I noticed that on the CNN video. The guy was practically sitting in your lap! (At least from my point of view, which really means that he was just WAY too close for comfort and not actually trying to sit in your lap…). I wouldn’t have looked at him, either, if he was that close. Too close, and also I am far-sighted and hate looking at blurry people. The geeks sound fun. When I went for my diagnosis, the psychologist asked, “So, how are you with eye contact,” to which I responded, “YOU tell ME.” She watched me for awhile and said “You can do it but it’s not your favorite thing.” I do seem to be able to either listen or look. Part of what happens when I make eye contact (I think) is that I am then trying to process the face, since I am somewhat face blind, so I am busy with all that and don’t hear what the person says. Looking at mouths is OK because it helps me to get what the person is saying at the time they are saying it (I don’t lose attention as much that way… or maybe I do, it depends…). Looking at something else nearby helps calm me and also puts the speaker in my peripheral vision where I can keep an eye on her/him.

    Rhonda

  9. Like rr, I too noticed the way that guy from CNN was leaning way into you, and you were turned away as though in response to his invading your space. I thought it was rather weird for him to do that when he has (I assume) been reading your blog, and I think the article said he had been corresponding with you by email. I usually find it icky and off-putting when someone leans in close to me like that. And I recently noticed that I do look at people’s mouths a lot more than at their eyes. My husband is the only one whose eyes I look at frequently.

  10. My reaction to reading about the physiological-arousal-measuring glove:
    1. Oh cool!
    2. The happy dance. (Which involves my toes drumming rhythmically against the floor when I’m sitting down)
    3. My ankle hits the back of my chair.
    4. I have a sore ankle.

    And what you posted about the measurement of your stress levels… it would be good if people who came out with things like eye contact doesn’t actually cause any stress for autistic people” would actually PAY ATTENTION to this sort of thing.

  11. Wow I feel honored!
    I was the guy who told Ami Klin he was full of crap.
    We kept discussing it and he eventually was like “no you’re wrong. Just because it’s true for you doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone. People tend to project their own experiences onto others” and my processing delay made it so I couldn’t argue with him on the spot and when I figured out why I was still right he had moved on, but a bunch of people approached me afterwards. I sent them to the asperger LJ community. I bet one of them was the person who talked to you. This experience has made me want to do that to more researchers, on a volunteer basis. Still have not been able to find any. Maybe I am going to meet you when you come to Boston for the lecture during which I have to work. Maybe not. It is 4 a.m. I am going to bed.

  12. Oh cool. Thanks for standing up to him. There’s at least one study refuting his claims, too. Morton Gernsbacher talked about it in her web class on autism. Maybe you should contact her and ask her about it, because I know it exists, and it showed increased stress response in autistic people when they looked at people in the eyes.

    That “projecting your own experience onto others” thing is stuff autistic people get accused of all the time. I mean it happens, but not as often as people think. I’ve been accused frequently of projecting my experience onto others even when I’m talking from not just my own experience but thorough reading of both personal and scientific accounts of autistic people, and knowledge of a very large number of other autistic people. It’s a way to shut us up and make us sound like we can’t possibly be useful for knowledge of anything other than ourselves as individuals. You would never hear Ami Klin saying that to a non-autistic researcher, even if that researcher did happen to be making that or a similar mistake.

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