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Secrets Unlocked Within the Autistic Mind

Patience. Patience. Patience. Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me. It may be true that I’m not good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed that I don’t lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates or pass judgment on other people? Also true that I probably won’t be the next Michael Jordan. But with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein. Or Mozart. Or Van Gogh.

– Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew 

Recently, there has been talk of the advantages of autism as research sheds light on the assets of this debated disability. Many autistic rights movements have sprung up over the years, stating that autism is not a disability but a different approach in thought.

In the past, research has emphasized on their incapabilities. These days, they are discovering that past research has been biased and unfair. The accounts that most of the autistic population are suffering from mental retardation are proven to be based on data from intelligence tests which “overestimate autism”.

A psychiatrist at the University of Montreal, Laurent Mottron, thinks that autism “is perhaps just a different way of looking at the world that should be celebrated rather than viewed as pathology.”

Intelligence tests, like the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), seem to highlight the abilities that autistic kids lack the most. For example, the WISC is a timed verbal test that constantly references on social knowledge. These types of tests will prove to be difficult as autistic kids are impaired in communication and social comprehension and are easily distracted by sensory input.

However, there are other intelligence tests that can fairly evaluate an autistic child, such as Raven’s Progressive Matrices and the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI). They asses the child’s ability to complete designs and patterns through nonverbal instructions.

Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher at Harvard University, has discovered a 30% leap when a group of autistic kids write the Raven’s test as opposed to WISC. Some kids were able to jump up by 70%. This includes the entire spectrum as both high and low-functioning autistic kids were able to score in the average percentile.

Getting down to the bigger picture, WISC is widely used among school. As a result, autistic kids are branded as slow and unable to learn when the fact is that they only learn in a different way. We are starting to realize that their potential lie in pattern recognition, logical reasoning and picking out irregularities in data or arguments.

 “It doesn’t mean that it’s easy for them in everyday life, or that it’s easy for their parents or teachers, but it shows that they have this reasoning potential, and maybe we have to start teaching them differently and stop making the assumption that they won’t learn.”

– Isabelle Soulieres

For more info, check out:

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids: Scientific American.


Untangling the Brain

This video describes the Human Connectome Project, where scientists try to map the neurons and connections within the human brain.

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot?

Plants have been waging a war with animals-and humans alike-for a long time. As herbivores and omnivores rely heavily on plants for nutrients and survival, they can easily live on without us. Due to this, many plants have developed techniques to rebel animals from eating them (e.g. vile smell, thorns, unappealing, difficult to reach, etc.). However, other plants will try to attract animals (e.g. colourful, sweet smell, etc)  to eat their fruits so as to spread their seeds and germinate.

So what makes hot peppers so special?

This peculiar fruit attracts animals through its bright colours and sweet scent. However, as we all know, these signs are misguiding as they fill our senses with a fiery explosion of pain.

The reason for this pain is due to the chemical, capsaicin, which attachs to receptors called vanilloids which are found at endings of trigeminal nerve (sensory and motor fibres in the face). These receptors are typically found inside the mouth and-when bound by capsaicin-creates a sensation of pain.

Hot Peppers

As researchers began studying on the reasons for this “backwards” phenomenon, they discovered that vanilloid receptors are found in all mammals but not birds.

In this article Bora Zivkovic talks about how:

 Back in 1960s, Dan Johnson had an interesting proposal he dubbed “directed deterrence” which suggested that some plants may make choices as to exactly which herbivores to attract and which to deter. 

Following this proposal, researchers found out that mammals tended to chew, crush or semi-digest the seeds. While birds are able to eat through to the seeds and keep them fertile even after digestion.

For more details, check out:

Hot Peppers – Why Are They Hot? | A Blog Around The Clock, Scientific American Blog Network.