COVID-19: A Perspective

COVID-19 appeared in the world with stealth and speed. It spread to every corner of the world thanks to unfettered travel. If forced huge swathes of society into isolation in order to flatten the curve and conserve limited medical resources.

My perspective is that of an individual on the autism spectrum. I must endure some degree of isolation every single day of my life. Isolation from neurotypical peers, isolation from adults who don’t understand us and avoid us, and isolation from ignorant individuals in our midst.

Now consider normal people and how their habits have changed in just a few weeks of relative isolation. Sleep schedules, eating habits, and work habits have gone haywire. People are unable to draw a line between their personal and professional lives – just look at the number of unkempt visages on TV and Zoom calls. Many people have gained weight by over-eating and watching TV all the time. Personal hygiene and relationships have taken a backseat. There appears to be a huge deterioration in discipline in the conduct of daily life.  All these changes in behavior occurred in a couple of months of sheltering in place.

Now look at people like me who have been living in isolation all our lives. Imagine how much effort we put in every single day to regulate ourselves and try to lead a normal life. This is a battle that is very difficult for us because we don’t know the enemy (our neurological system). Every day is different because our enemy is a chameleon. Or perhaps our enemy is like a devious virus that mutates and throes us off course.

So, if we are not perfect each and every day please try and understand what we are dealing with. You are coming apart in a few weeks. Just think of what would happen if you had to isolate for the rest of your life. Next time you are on the verge of criticizing an autistic person, stop and think about your days in isolation – what you went through and how it changed your world-view. Smile and speak a few kind words to them.

3/29/20 Book Club- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

We covered chapters on Terrorism, War, Humility, God, Secularism, Ignorance and justice of this book for this book club. We covered earlier chapters 1 through 9 in a previous book club.

Context: In the lesson about Terrorism, Harari explains and puts it all in perspective how few people are killed by terrorists as compared to traffic deaths, war fatalities and illness. So, why then are we so frightened by terrorists? Fear is a contagious and immobilizing emotion and that is what the terrorists want us to feel – and overreact. The author shares statistics about terrorism kills only 50 in Europe, 10 in US and 7 in China while Blood sugar kills 3.5M people each year, air pollution kills 7M people per year and 50,000 people die in traffic accidents in US each year.

Q: Why do governments lose elections because of sporadic terrorist attacks, but not because of deaths caused by chronic air pollution or high blood sugar?

Ashish: Because terrorists create a sense of fear and urgency to act. It also pulls moral responsibility to react.

Q: Are we using religion to justify our actions?

Ashish: Yes, this needs to change in the new globalized world. Modern day problems require modern solutions. Why women need to cover hair or can’t drive is hidden behind religion.

Q: Needing a tribe is natural. Which Tribe are you in?

Ashish: I am in the “advocating for education for non -verbal autistics” tribe.

Q: The author had a lot to say about the Jewish tribe. What are your reactions?

Ashish: Yes, it is a cultural thing. Likewise Indians take credit for flying machines from historic times and Chinese try to take credit for yoga. I think the author was more knowledgeable about Jewish culture.

Q: Do you think politics get in the way of government getting things done?

Ashish: Yes always. I am glad government passed the $2 Trillion stimulus package after much political discussion

Context: The author concludes that we’ve pretty much done away with global wars. He says countries don’t want to risk starting new wars (except Russia against Ukraine and a few others). Having said that, only 11 countries (out of the 162 studied) today are free from conflict of one kind or another according to Institute of Economics and Peace latest study and the real threat of a nuclear war is still there because of human stupidity (and if terrorists get hold of it). The future of war is AI arms race and whoever will win it will rule the world.

Q: Have we ended wars or are wars inevitable?

Ashish: The nature of war will change, more towards the power of Artificial Intelligence, data and viral weapons. It is inevitable as nations crave power. I hope nations will grow up someday. Wars are not good for a new evolving world.

Q: How would you explain religion to a 10 year old without compromising other faiths?

Ashish: I’d rather talk about respecting all regions. Religion stems from values and faiths from history

Q:  Can we use learning to change values?

Ashish: No, values are way deep rooted in religion.

Q: Do you agree with the Fly/Bull’s analogy to destroy a China shop? Fly can’t move a thing, but gets into Bulls ears and Bull races and destroys the China shop.

Ashish: The US reaction to kill Osama Bin Ladin was more to reclaim power in the US and not sit quietly. In my opinion it was a moral responsibility of our country.

Q: Do you agree with the gravitational pull of power? What is the best way to avoid it?

Ashish: Yes I agree. The best way to avoid it is by getting the facts from peripheral people. In old days kings used to talk to people in their kingdom in disguise to get the pulse of their country.

1/16/20 Paideia School Neurodiversity Class

It was an honor to be invited to Paideia School’s neurodiversity class to be with the neurotypical students and discuss the book “Educated” by Tara Westover. The students at Paideia read “Educated” by Tara Westover this past summer. Tara was raised at a Mormon household, almost isolated from the rest of the world and never received formal education. She found an Algebra book, taught herself how to take ACT and later enrolled herself to go to college. She later received a doctorate in literature from Oxford University and wrote this book/memoir about the journey of her life and her education. She no longer follows the Mormon religion. It was amazing to notice similarities in her life with my life.

I did not read the book, I reviewed it through the following link that was provided by their teacher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvYg_gp0JPc

Then, we were led through a discussion that included the following questions:

Question: In whatever way you interpret education to mean, what do you see as the most valuable thing education can offer? What are the barriers we face in gaining access to this kind of offering?

Ashish: I think education helps in expanding knowledge about facts and also helps broaden our understanding of how various systems work. Some examples are how countries, economies, laws and, laws of physics work. You learn about the human body through biology. I was in the same boat as Tara, never received age appropriate education at school system. I think most valuable thing education offers is the ability to innovate once you understand facts how things work.

Ashish: The barriers are, schools think autistics are cognitively impaired and and don’t offer any meaningful education. The schools provide babysitting services. The real barrier is our inability to show our gifted thoughts as we can’t tell them via speech, writing, or typing independently due to our fine motor differences.

Ashish’s comments on a student’s response: Yes acquiring knowledge is the end goal, how various systems work together and then we see patterns. Our strength is draining insights from patterns.

Question: Tara’s father believed – to an extreme – that “You can teach yourself anything better than someone else can teach it to you.”
Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Ashish: I both agree and disagree. I agree because chasing your dreams is self taught. No one can teach you to motivate you to chase your dreams. Facts based systems/subjects are best if taught by someone else. If not taught, these lead to a lot of assumptions.

Question: What is something that you have taught yourself? How did you learn it?

Ashish: Having focus in life is pivotal to success. Having a growth mindset helped me to take each obstacle as an opportunity to grow. I taught myself a lot of science and math concepts by watching Khan Academy videos. I don’t test well but that does not stop me from learning new concepts.

Question: What is something you have learned from someone else that you feel you could not have learned as well on your own? Who taught it to you?

Ashish: Physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, US government, micro and macro economics and many other subjects were thought to me through my on-line school using text to speech feature. My dad made it his life’s purpose to educate me well.

Question: Name something that you really want to learn that you haven’t yet.
What’s stopping you?

Ashish: Playing and learning to play piano. My fine motor movement differences get in the way. I wish to be able to learn to speak, my autism gets in the way.

Question: What do we value most as a society – school, education, or intelligence?

Ashish: Intelligence finds its way either through wit or by solving complex problems. For example Elon musk solved a problem by recovering rockets on ship to be able to reuse. Another example is building self driving cars that will help people like us go places.

Question: What should we value most as a society – school, education, or intelligence?

Ashish: Intelligence, because it breeds innovation. In my opinion, composing good music is the highest form of intelligence. It reaches people beyond words.

Then we did an activity on Gardner’s 9 types of intelligences. Here is the link to the video that explains them
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au0z3EtUiBg

Ashish’s ratings for himself for 9 types of intelligence (1 being low, 5 being very strong)
Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart) 4
Logical-Mathematical (Number Smart) 5
Visual-Spatial (Picture Smart) 2
Bodily-Kinesthetic (Body Smart) 1
Musical (Music Smart) 3
Interpersonal (People Smart) 5
Intrapersonal (Self Smart) 4
Naturalistic (Nature Smart) 4
Existential (Life Smart) 4
Some other types are Teach smart, IQ, EQ and some other forms
Emotional Intelligence: Ashish: These days there is a lot of focus on EQ.

Ashish: Thank you for having us here today. It was a joy to hear about your perspectives.

It was very kind of the teacher to invite me again to a celebration lunch with the class at the end of their semester.

My 2020 Goals

  1. I want to become independent in typing using the iPad
  2. Work on my OCD
  3. Get ready to apply to college
  4. Do more outreach, be more social

Speech for Shefali’s White Coat Ceremony

Dear Shefali,

Congratulations on your white coat. It is a well-deserved honor and privilege to wear this coat. I can think of no kinder and smarter person to wear this coat. You worked very hard for this day. I am very proud of your accomplishments and wish you the very best in your study of medicine. Dad, Mom, and I are behind you every step of your long journey. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath. One phone call, and we will be at your side. 

You are a great source of inspiration to me as I try to figure out what to do with my life. On a selfish note, please find out if there is any meaningful research on Autism going on at MCG, and try to be involved. 

Fortunate are those individuals who will be treated by you in the future. Be humble and hungry to learn. There are far too many ailments about which we know very little yet. You have a very bright future. 

Best wishes,

Ashish

P.S. I am so happy you decided to stay in Georgia.

9/28/19 Communication Gathering Event

On 9/28/2019, I attended a Communication Gathering event with other letter-boarders and their communication partners. It was a lot of fun to chat with them. This is how it went:

Started out with introducing ourselves: 

My name is Ashish Jain 

I am from the city/town of Peachtree Corners and I am 20 years old.

Something interesting about me is that I am a fun loving guy.

I like to watch movies, read books, and like maths and biology. 

I want to do work in the area of pricing for retailers. 

Q: How are you feeling about being here today?

A: I am feeling happy about being here today. 

Q: Any comments on others’ thoughts?

A: I love Cal’s goal as I have the same goal of going to college.

I agree with Payam, love having deep friendships without talking. Finally.

Game played: I would rather do X than Y and why?

Q: Would you rather dance or sing? 

A: I would rather dance all day. I also love karaoke and sang every single song along with other performers on the cruise ship.

Why?

It is so much fun to dance sing to the rhythm

Q: Would you rather be able to fly anywhere you go or teleport?

A: Fly. Teleporting has not been invented yet. Some day.

Q: Would you rather know the history of every object you touch or able to talk to animals? 

A: History. I think it will be fun to learn about evolution of things. Block chain keeps track of the journey of every object.

Q: would you rather communicate with other letter-borders or neurotypicals?

A: I’d rather talk, period. Any person will be fine.

Then we played communication bingo to mingle with others.

Q: Do you like movies? What kind?

A: I like Marvel movies, Spiderman.

Q: Do you like going to the beach?

A: Yes

Q: what is your favorite subject?

A: Economics

A Journey Through Asia

I am currently studying Geography in my online high school. After the unit on Central and Southwest Asia, I wrote an essay documenting a 10 day trek through Asia.

“Ashish, my boy, how would you like to accompany me on a little journey?”

I looked at my boss, Mr. Ali, with suspicion.
“Don’t worry,” he interjected, “it’s for business. I have trades to make in Samarkand, Dubai, Damascus, and Tel Aviv. If we finish early, I’ll take you somewhere special.”

“Yes, absolutely.” I stammered, trying to contain my excitement. I was excited to experience the geography, cultures, and cities along this journey.

Day One: We left Kabul at dawn. Once we drove outside the mountains, we were surrounded by grassy, bare steppes. As we drove into Uzbekistan, the terrain became rocky. This was the Kyzyl Kum desert. We spent the night with a nomadic tribe. Mr. Ali was able to speak their native Turkic language.

Day Two: We left the camp early and continued through the Kyzyl Kum. Eventually, we saw the signs for Samarkand. In the marketplace, Mr. Ali traded some of our goods for some beautiful silk carpets. His business associates fed us a delicious lamb and rice dinner. I loved Samarkand’s old and historic nature.

Day Three: The rocky terrain turned to sand as we drove into Turkmenistan. This was the Kara Kum desert. Eventually, I felt a cool breeze and saw water: the Caspian Sea. The climate was very pleasant. Mr. Ali said the rest of Iran was mountains and deserts.

Day Four: We traveled through the winding roads in the Zagros and Elburz mountains. Iran’s largest peak is somewhere around here! There were lots of trees, and the air was cool and moist. I even saw some snow!

Day Five: After driving past the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, we approached the Persian Gulf coast. The coastline was hot and desert-like. Mr. Ali said it’s nowhere as hot and arid as the Rub’ al Khali, or the “Empty Quarter.” The temperature difference there ranged from scorching days to chilly nights.

Day Six: As we drove through the coastal cities, I noticed the British influence from their colonial architecture.

Dubai was unlike any other city I’d seen: a sprawling blend of traditional and modern cultures. We visited several huge bazaars. As Mr. Ali made his trades, I wandered through the stalls, amazed at the variety of goods.

Day Seven: We drove up the Persian Gulf coast and into Iraq. To avoid the harsh desert conditions, Mr. Ali drove through Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The land was grassy and hilly, and the weather was pleasant. We spent the night in Baghdad, an old and historic city.

Day Eight: We followed the Euphrates river all the way to Syria. We crossed through the Syrian Desert to get to Damascus, and it was blisteringly hot. Damascus is near the mountains. Damascus is a large city and has a lot of people. We visited several souks to made trades.

Day Nine: From Damascus, we drove into Israel. The landscape was very diverse. We drove through mountains, and as we approached the Mediterranean coast, the land became coastal plains. Tel Aviv is a modern urban center, and contrasted some of the older cities I’d seen.

“Well, Ashish, we finished early.” said Mr. Ali as he finished his last trade. “Tomorrow, I’m taking you to Jerusalem.”

Day Ten: Jerusalem was beautiful! It is thousands of years old, and holds much religious significance. I explored each of the four quarters. Today, many cultures blend together in each quarter.

I had an amazing journey through Asia! I experienced diverse geography and unique cultures. I hope Mr. Ali will take me along on another business trip soon!

4/13/19 Panel on Movement Differences- Part 2

I was invited back to continue the discussion about Movement Differences on 4/13/19. I am so happy and grateful to continue to have these opportunities to be a self-advocate, as well as educate the community about the differences and challenges autistic individuals face.

Introduction: Hello all. My name is Ashish Jain. My brain is trapped in a body that I cannot completely control.  I love happy moments with my family. I love learning everything in my online High School with my Dad. My favorite subjects are Biology and Economics. I am working very hard on being independent on a keyboard. I would like to open new avenues for autistic kids by proving that the letter board is no fluke.

How movement works with the brain and with the body? Sensory input from the environment goes from the musco-skeletal system to the brain.

Panelists, can you relate to the items on the list having affected your body and changed your output? Yes, I can relate to a few things.

  • Environmental overload: Too much sound and bright light overload my senses and cause me to act-up. Fluorescent light is very irritating.
  • Food sensitivities: Dairy products and grains don’t agree with me. They make me feel lethargic and queasy.
  • Changes in vision: I have very strong direct vision but not so strong lateral vision. I like things to be in front of me but not below me.

I then answered a few clarifying questions from about lateral vision. It is hard for me to read a horizontal book. It is easier to read a monitor or vertical book.

How is esteem granted or dignity granted to you? I feel dignity is grated to me when someone looks past my awkward exterior and shows love and kindness. Also when people don’t assume that I am stupid. This is a great support from the letter board community. I feel accepted and that I belong here. I get the same sense of belonging at the temple.

Please share your experiences of Communication Partners, professionals, or families having lack of awareness in their own dysregulation. I am proud of the appropriate behavior of my dad and my sister, who are my main communication partners. Lesser said about my former teachers, the better. They would gnash their teeth in frustration and wish they didn’t have to deal with me. My family is very supportive of me. I am the one who is dysregulated.

What suggestions do you have for supportive people in your lives as to how to be better Communication Partners, partners, teachers, family support: Please continue to support me as you always have. I will do my best to make all of you proud of me. I want to prove to the world that letter board is no fluke. I love my family, my friends, and all the families I meet at the temple.

Final Thoughts: This has been a fascinating session. I want to thank the audience and my fellow panelists.

Additional Questions and Answers from 12/15/2018 Presentation: 

Is the observed movement a symphony or chaotic? This was asked after watching a video of ballet dancers (Slide 16 from December presentation): I think it is an exquisite symphony. Ballet dancers are so graceful.

Thoughts on Brain Lateralization: I am predominantly left brained. There are some contradictions though – I am minimally verbal and I enjoy creative writing. Great minds think alike. Have you considered that Einstein was also on spectrum? He was a great scientist and also very creative.

Do you have any input on self-care strategies?  I would like to know more about self-care strategies for autistic people.

December Panel Discussion- Dealing with Movement Differences

In December 2018, I had an incredible opportunity to be a panelist, along with 3 other kids, to discuss how we deal with movement differences. I am so grateful to have had a platform to share my experiences and insights!

Introduction: Hello all. My name is Ashish Jain. My brain is trapped in a body that I cannot completely control.  I love happy moments with my family. I love learning everything in my online High School with my Dad. My favorite subjects are Biology and Economics. I am working very hard on being independent on a keyboard. I would like to open new avenues for autistic kids by proving that the letter board is no fluke.

Thoughts on value based evidence research and practice: All research is supposed to be based on rigorous experimental procedures that are repeatable. This is a prerequisite for any meaningful research. I think the emphasis must be on practice that is adjusted or tweaked based on evidence. Research must always be focused on solving tangible problems.

Thoughts on Chaos: There are patterns to everything, except perhaps the decimals of Pi.

Thoughts on the disconnect between Intention and Actions: I set out to have some ice cream. Instead I picked up some lemonade from the fridge. I set out to have a meaningful conversation with my family.  Instead I started stimming on restaurants.

Thoughts on the concept of missing competence (in assessments): I would like others to know that I am a very competent person whose intelligence is masked by some stimming and odd behavior. My competence was missed for several years because I didn’t know about the letter-board.

Thoughts on the assessment process: I have a bit of tactile processing breakdown in my body. I think proprioceptive and vestibular deficits are easier to notice and address. Tactile processing deficits are harder to discern and measure.

Thoughts on brain-body disconnect and pause in cognition during complex motor movement: The brain-body disconnect is not always bad. Even neurotypicals’ neural systems get overloaded and misfire sometimes. I don’t experience a pause in cognition when I’m doing a complex movement; but I’m not an acrobat either. My cognition is always in overdrive, no matter my movements.

Final takeaway: Too many kids slip through the net of competence because of lack of rigorous, evidence-based assessments. It would be helpful to develop easy to follow exercises to remedy sensory processing deficits and make them available through a Youtube channel.

January Book Club- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

In January 2019, my book club group read 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Below are some of the topics we discussed, and my thoughts on them:

Q1: would you like to be treated by a traditional doctor or an Artificial Intelligence doctor?

Ashish: I would like to be treated by an AI doctor, as I am not verbal and I think sensors will convey my symptoms better. I think sensors will be advanced soon and be reliable enough.

Q2: The author thinks that biotech and infotech will continue to disrupt humanity. Which innovation do you think will be most beneficial or harmful for humanity?

Ashish: I think genetic engineering to cure diseases will be most beneficial to humanity, even though there are a lot of moral and ethical questions about it. Scientist should press ahead with CRISPR research.

Q3: What will be the consequences when a large number of people become irrelevant by AI?

Ashish: AI is not a solution for every problem. It only has to be better than humans to be beneficial. Without regulation it can be extremely harmful too.

Q4: Will the government allow a few corporations to own all the data and become a digital dictatorship?

Ashish: I think we should let individuals control their data. I think the European data privacy laws are a step in the right direction. Companies like Google and Amazon should be broken up at the soonest. Facebook is another candidate for breakup.