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.

Georgia State Special Olympics

I attended Georgia Special Olympics at Emory University last week. It was a really mind boggling experience. I participated in 2 events – the 100 meters sprint and the 200 meters sprint. I did well in both events, winning the silver in the 200 meters and the Bronze in the 100 meters.

What impressed me the most was the grit and the determination of all the athletes.  I was blown away by the courage of the athletes, the seemingly insurmountable odds they overcame to compete, and the cheerful optimism they exuded. My disability was trifling in comparison.

The haves and have-nots fused into one at the Special Olympics. Everyone had a marvelous time competing in various events. The organizers zealously cheered every contestant, even those in the last place or struggling to finish their races. The volunteers were equally generous with their time and praise. Such was the spirit of magnanimity in the Games. The Special Olympics epitomized teamwork at its finest.

I wonder why special education in schools doesn’t follow the same model as the Special Olympics. Far from encouraging every student from reaching their maximum potential, the schools are bent upon denying education to special needs students. We are thought to be fit only for the lowliest and most menial tasks. The schools are overlooking a vast, untapped pool of talent. If only some of the teachers and administrators got out of their ivory towers and watched us fighters at the Special Olympics!

My Moment of Awakening

The moment was a bookend to my teen years. I was 14 years old and attending Hull Middle School in Duluth, GA. I was working on an assignment with my classroom teacher, Ms. Pamela Hau, when she said:  “Ashish, your work can be so much better if you put your mind to it. What is preventing you from doing better at school?  How can I help you?”

Up until then I was not a diligent student. I did not take my studies seriously. Despite my best efforts, things did not come easily to me. My brain worked too quickly and in a haphazard manner to make proper sense of anything.  It seemed to fly off in a million different directions, no matter how hard I tried to regulate it.  I was at a loss to explain what was happening in my brain.  I did not comprehend fully yet how my brain functioned.  However, I resolved to try and quiet my brain so I could learn more productively. I resolved to work harder and better meet her expectations.

From that moment onwards, I made a conscious effort to improve my understanding of the material taught in class. I worked regularly on my homework assignments. I did my best to slow my brain down so I could comprehend things better. I tried to minimize distractions so that my brain could focus. I thought a lot about how I could learn in a more constructive manner, about how I could decompose my thoughts into logical chunks.  Could I learn new concepts quick enough? How soon could I show meaningful improvement? The constant refrain in my brain was:
Enough if this self-doubt! 

         Enough of self pity! 

         It is time to swing into action!

         It is time to show the world what Ashish is capable of!!

That day was a turning point in my life. There was no looking back! I started showing results quickly after that. I made real progress in all my classes. I started doing well in my tests. My teacher was happy with my progress and so was I. Life was so much better with a boost in self esteem from accomplishing things at school.

At the end of the semester, Ms. Hau left the school to move back home to Wisconsin. Before she left, she told me she was very proud of my progress. She told me to have high expectations of myself, and always strive to be a high achiever.  Her words inspire me to this day. Because of her inspiration, I am able to pursue a High School diploma today. Perhaps the day I get my High School diploma will be the closing bookend to this particular journey.

Back to the Future

Most of the time we live in the present. I feel we should make an effort to imagine living in the future.  Let me explain:

The Future

Given that the Earth is very likely to be overwhelmed by natural disasters within the next century, let’s imagine that we are transported to Mars to escape Earth. Imagine that we are living in a biting cold climate in a space suit.  We don’t have food to eat; we sustain ourselves by swallowing nutrition tablets.  We don’t have beds to sleep in; we sleep standing up in our space suits.  We don’t converse because there is no air to propagate sound.  Life would be very boring indeed!

Despite this humdrum existence, we would develop our civilization on Mars.  Elon Musk would find a way to launch a giant mirror in space that would reflect the light from the Sun on Mars.  There would now be signs of life on Mars.  We would now be able to live on Mars like we did on earth.  We would be a lot more careful about what we eat and how we live.  Pollution would be non-existent and we would eat only renewable plant-based food.  The weather patterns will be a lot more stable, and there will be little to no change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere.  We would move around in Tesla’s powered solely by sunlight – there is already one waiting for us on Mars!  Most forms of life will thrive in this scenario.  It will be like Heaven on Earth!

Back to the Present

Instead of moving millions of miles to another planet to create utopia, let’s work with a sense of utmost urgency to reclaim the Earth.  Let’s eliminate meat and dairy from our diet, and let’s lead a simpler life with fewer wants.  We can soon drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resulting pollution, reverse the ravages of climate change, and re-create heaven on Earth.  I would prefer this any day than to move to an alien planet.