My Autistic Fractals in the 4th Dimension of Consciousness

In UNIPAZ, Brasilia, I had the honor of presenting my lived experience to a class of transpersonal psychology students. In my presentation, I demonstrate how my eyes sees objects as conceptual fractals from within the 4th dimension of consciousness. You may notice some gaps in the talking. This video has been edited to remove the Portuguese translation provided in realtime by Alfredo. 

English transcription of presentation at UNIPAZ, Brazil:

Being in the United States diagnosed as autistic, provided me a really nice fancy package to understand my differences. But the more I understood myself, the more I was witnessing the trauma of those who did not have the privilege of this identity. As you are going through transformation in your education, you are experiencing an evolution of your own identity. That is a privilege that you now have, because you can choose this process. 

The autistic child is under identity threat all the time. They enter the world with genetic memory and skills that cannot be explained. I can explain it in language that is accessible to the mainstream. I made it my mission to become an academic student and to use theories of transpersonal psychology to explain what people cannot observe. When we say, “autistic people are deficient” in this, that, or that, we are using traditional metrics to put people into a box of comprehension. 

Hypothetically, if my eyeballs work differently than your eyeballs, this is what the world looks like to me. I’m looking outside the window at the tree. 

The nautilus is a mathematical shape. Where does it begin, and where does it end? So, just for aesthetic purposes, I will begin from the center, because I like my lines to be clean. 

So this is the traditional nautilus shape that you see if you’re interested in this stuff. The more you stare at it, the more distortions begin to take shape. Perhaps in the first second that you looked at it, it appeared one dimensional. I believe that the brain has a 3-second time-lapse of perception, and after 3 seconds, you may start noticing a second dimension. So after three seconds, you may notice a 2-dimensional shape.

The moment you have a third dimension, it becomes obvious because you now have to have a negotiation in your brain, if the nautilus shape begins at the tip, or the center. This negotiation is your fourth dimension. 

My eyes give me a perceptual sphere that begins in the 4th dimension, and then I have to do a negotiation to dissect the components. Here is my fourth dimension. My eyes see a grid on an axis, but I don’t see all of the boxes simultaneously.

Every three seconds, the boxes change—and I will show you. 

So perhaps in the first three seconds, I receive A3, A4, C3. Inside A3, A4, C3, I have to make a picture-puzzle, which is this. 

But I wait three seconds, and now I have this. 

So, this might look like abstract art, but my work is very deep and very meaningful. Because not only do I have the privilege of doing these negotiations, I also have the privilege of taking every cube, and going into the fractal of its meaning. So although you see the nautilus as a potential fractal, I perceive my world primarily as existing perceptually in the negotiation space of creativity, where I can hold the multitudes simultaneously and it becomes irrelevant on that material dimension. I say material because that is my baseline, because that is my normal, and in that beautiful place, it becomes irrelevant to me whether the nautilus begins in the middle or at the end. 

Therefore I challenge the traditional explanation of moving up or coming down, because I believe that autistic people have access to the potential of thoughts and concepts from the interstitial space, the space between the one and the one. It’s the space that is the beginning of everything in the future. 

So if you’re asking an autistic child in the classroom to do reading comprehension and he says “oh look it’s a beautiful bird,” then in the United States we say “you’re stupid, you have to go to the special class” and we rob the child of the opportunity to gather information in a setting that is considered normal. So the autistic child learns to derive pleasure from the paranormal.

I call this the party in my head and I only share it with people that feel safe to me because my worldview exists of objects which are also fractals which are also fractals, and fractal objects that have infinite possibilities of perception. I can do that with observing children in a classroom and knowing immediately the depth and breadth of their existence. I can do this by reading multiple research papers and finding a connection. When I do data analysis it feels to me like a synthesis of deeply meaningful symbols.

Many researchers like to share their work but they don’t derive pleasure from doing the mundane mathematical work. So I want more people to be envious of the pleasurable experiences that I have and to eliminate the stigma of difference by recognizing that the child who has a revelation in his creativity, this is the child who is not having deficiencies that can be defined by the non-autistic person. It’s only the autistic child himself who can describe how he perceives his deficiencies.

The privilege I have with transpersonal psychology is to use scientific terms to provide meaning and to make meaning of my existence. But I don’t intend for my work or my research, I don’t intend to colonize the experience of other autistic people with my worldview. If there’s somebody who wants to identify with deficiency, I can accept that. if you want to say that you have a sister who suffers from lesbianism, that’s okay. If you want to say this is a person living with autism, that’s okay. 

For me to have an identity to feel like something normal, I have to be allowed to say I am autistic. I have been able to feel like my experience is indigenous to me, so all my work that I do takes the position of liberating my experience from the medical pathology paradigm and moving through it, not up or down to it, so that other people can make meaning of my experience. 

So I want to invite you as you are encountering people who are severely other than you, remember that they come at you from the fourth dimension and in  your social encounter you have an opportunity to play creatively and create something new together. And that is called transcendence.

Thank you so much.


You may notice some gaps in the talking. This video has been edited to remove the Portuguese translation provided in realtime by Alfredo. 

 

 

Kodi Lee Wins, Parents Asking About Piano Lessons for Autistic Students

He’s got perfect pitch. He is 22, and sings with a rasp and vibrato through that last high note. Kodi’s piano accompaniment shows off technical precision that stole my heart. 

Kodi Lee just won the 2019 America's Got Talent competition

Kodi Lee won the 2019 America’s Got Talent competition

He’s also blind and autistic, and Kodi Lee just won the 2019 America’s Got Talent competition, and I WAS THERE IN HOLLYWOOD TO SEE IT! #heckyeah

Henny Kupferstein with Kodi Lee’s piano teacher YiYi Ku, at America’s Got Talent finals

Autistic people have talent, and nearly all autistic people have perfect pitch (read my research study). Autistic musical savants like myself want to be recognized for musical talent, the practice time we devote to showcasing perfection, and the music theory training that helps us fit in to a group of quality musicians, because we are usually the strongest one in the room

Kodi’s win made parents and teachers think about autistic talent, and now everyone wants piano lessons for their autistic child. 

Autistic's Got Talent (fake pose)

All my piano students are autistic. Every autistic piano student should have equal access to the arts, whether they are nonverbal, blind, or poor motor skills. We can all do it, because we have the gift. But do all piano teachers have the gift to teach? 

Current research is critical to work with a demographic that is misunderstood by mainstream education. Those who put together homegrown curriculum and color-basedprograms are truly demonstrating incompetent teaching skills. Teaching down to the diagnosis is a form of discrimination, and parents need to learn how to recognize a poor teacher-student relationship.

How to Know if Your Autistic Child’s Piano Teacher Is Trained for the Job

  1. The teacher will begin the lessons even if the student does not have an appropriate instrument in their home
  2. The teacher plays all assignments for the student, and then teaches by rote
  3. The teacher assigns scales and flashcard work for home practice
  4. The teacher does not hold a 4-year music degree from a nationally accredited institution.
  5. The teacher focuses on correcting posture and finger shape more times than the student is playing during the lesson.
  6. The teacher’s rates are below market rate for professional services in your region
  7. The teacher refuses to teach online (skype/facetime) to accommodate the student
  8. The teacher uses “student with autism” or “definitely has a spectrum disorder” language without regard for the prevailing preference of autistic people to be called primarily “autistic”
  9. The teacher talks slow, loud, and with vocabulary that feels infantilizing.
  10. The teacher is not autistic, and therefore, cannot serve as a positive role model. 

Thankfully, I’ve done the work for you! 

Henny Kupferstein posing with a fake Hollywood star

Piano teachers looking for an evidence-based piano pedagogy, read about my professional training program for LDME™ Training – Developmental Music Education™ Training  to  become a licensed developmental music educator®

Research Study about autism and perfect pitch: Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures, 72(7-8), 390-405. [PDF]

Parents who want to learn more about piano lessons for autistic and nonverbal students using a method that guarantees these goals through neuroplastic changes, BOOK A CONSULT and let’s set a time to talk.

Popular Articles:

  1. Why Piano Lessons for My Autistic Child? Top 10 Questions Answered by Autistic Piano Teacher
  2. Before You Pay for Piano Lessons: Little Johnny’s Bill of Rights
  3. Concern: Skype Piano Lessons Will Never Work for My Autistic Child Because…

Pigeons and Dog Training Inspired Classical Conditioning for Behavior Modification of Autistics

Have you ever wondered how laboratory pigeons and dog training methods moved out from the lab and  into schools and homes of autistic children? Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most frequently recommended intervention for newly diagnosed autistic children. At 40 hours of 1:1 intense, repetitive, and rote conditioning by way of rewards and punishments, the behavior of the autistic child is expected to be shaped toward normalization.

Before you opt to normalize your autistic child or client, you must first determine that their behavior is aberrant, undesirable, and in need of normalization. This is how ABA therapists can attract unsuspecting parents to putting their child into a virtual animal training lab to appease those who deemed the child as abnormal. The lifelong trauma of being forced and reinforced into a behavior structure that is against how you were born to function has been documented. Autistics who are exposed to ABA are 86% more likely to meet the PTSD criteria than autistics who were not exposed to ABA.

Professor Lewis P. Lipsitt discusses classical conditioning and child development (transcript below).

Freud said, it seems that our entire cyclical activity is bent on procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, and that it is automatically regulated by pleasure principle. He said that 1920.

There is Pavlov, the other giant in the field, who indeed, as particular as he was in studying classical conditioning, as it came to be called, as precisely scientific as he was in all of that work, coming up with that book that he wrote that contained all of the laws of conditioning–delayed conditioning, and trace conditioning, and all of that sort of thing– that book is just a compendium of important information that was true then, and it’s true now.

And he got into it sort of serendipitously.That’s a good term for those of you who are young folks to remember because serendipitous inferences, from what you may see, can influence an awful lot of what you do with your lives. I’m talking about your professional lives here mostly, but it has to do with your personal lives as well.

What happened was that the caretakers of the animals in Pavlov’s laboratory noticed that the dogs would begin–they had these fixtures in their mouths, in their cheeks, and they were collecting, because he was a physiologist. He wasn’t a psychologists. He was a physiologist doing work on the salivary glands and trying to find out how the salivary glands work. And the way in which he did was to have these– to collect the saliva under different stimulus conditions. And a caretaker came to him one day, it is said, and told him, you know Professor, those dogs are beginning to salivate an awful lot before I even  get into the laboratory to study them.And they salivate more and more and more the closer and closer I get to the cage where they are being kept.Well that was conditioning.I

n later terminology, one might have aid that those dogs were showing– are you ready for this– fractional anticipatory goal responses, classical conditioning, classically-conditioned, anticipatory, appetitive, learned responses.They were beginning to engage in the classically-conditioned response before the stimulus arrived.We all do that.We begin, long before we get to the door that we’re going to open, we begin to posture ourselves to reach the door in just the right way with our arm.We don’t just all of a sudden go and stand in front of the door and go like and open the door.There’s lots of pre-behavior behavior going on that leads up to it.That’s an important part of the stuff of learning.

And Skinner was one of the guys who knew all of this so, so well about the shaping of behavior. Skinner was noted, and it’s true for his work on schedules of reinforcement, and these very precise curves, cumulative curves, showing the way in which animals of different sorts behave under different schedules of reinforcement. But he was an expert shaper of behavior before he started studying the consequences of different schedules of reinforcement. He knew just when to administer the food.

And he trained other people to do it too.But every student that he ever had said, well, I could never get as good at it as he was in shaping the behavior of a pigeon. He knew went to provide the animal with the reinforcement that was going to move the animal onto the next step. It’s very important in education of children.

Lipsitt, L. P. (Academic). (2008). Lewis P. Lipsitt: “behavior kills, but developmental interventions work: psychology as the premier health science” [Streaming video]. Retrieved from SAGE Video.

An Autistic’s Life – Autism Acceptance Mockumentary

The following mockumentary is not satire. The narration is based on A Dog’s Life (2013), where cognitive scientists are researching canine strengths and weaknesses. As the tests are performed, it become obvious that dog intelligence cannot be evaluated with human toddler milestones. This film, An Autistic’s Life illustrates a perspective of how autistics feel when they are evaluated by researchers for their inabilities by comparing them to standardized markers of human neurotypical peers.  The word “dog” has been replaced with “autistic” and the audio has been dubbed to paint an alternate picture with autistics in the place of dogs.

  • Bolded words are to highlight an important edit

Begin Transcript from captions:

♪♪

 

[David Suzuki]

We think we know them.

 

After all, they share our world.

 

-But do they experience it as we do?

-[autistic grunt]

 

Each of their senses reveals a reality

that’s not quite the same as ours.

 

[sniffing]

 

You’ll be amazed at what they can do.

 

And at what they can’t.

 

Over thousands of years,

a unique relationship

 

has been forged

between two very different species.

 

Their ability to understand us

reaches amazing heights.

 

What about our ability

to understand them?

 

[grunting]

 

They once shared our caves and campfires.

 

Now, you might say

they’ve moved up in the world.

 

[alarm clock ringing]

 

More than offspring,

these domesticated descendants of the Neanderthal

 

have become our most intimate companions.

 

So, how is it that we’ve

lived together so long

 

and yet we know so little about them?

 

And what will we discover

now that scientists

 

are listening more closely

to what they are trying to tell us?

 

[grunting]

 

Daisy, come on!

Like for many autistics and their humans,

 

Daisy’s day really begins

with her morning walk.

 

And it’s a very good place

to start untangling the myths

 

and misconceptions

about “Means-ends analysis (MEA) problem solving skills.

 

As Daisy and her human

make their way along

 

their customary route,

it soon becomes obvious

 

that they don’t understand things

in quite the same way.

 

During their stroll, for example,

 

it often seems that Daisy is

deliberately trying to trip up her human.

 

[Dr. Brian Hare] Anybody who’s

a autistic lover has had the experience

 

of walking a autistic on a leash,

and something is coming

 

that’s going to stand

between you and the autistic

if you don’t both go around it.

 

And inevitably what happens is,

especially with a young autistic,

 

you need to go

on the side the autistic’s going on.

 

The autistic is not gonna go with you.

 

And if you don’t, you’re gonna end up

wrapped around the pole.

 

There’s work now that suggests that

 

it’s not just that autistics

are randomly doing this,

 

it’s really they don’t understand

the principle of connectivity.

 

That when you have two things connected

 

that they act together

till they’re disconnected.

 

It’s just obvious for us.

 

But when you test them

in a variety of settings,

 

they continually make mistakes

that suggest they just don’t get it.

 

Go on, get it!

 

[David] Not getting this principle

of connectivity is just

 

one of the things that makes us

suspect that the world

 

looks very different

from an autistic’s perspective.

 

[Brian] The game

we’re going to see right now is a game

 

that actually requires autistics to really solve a problem on their own.

 

And the question is:

do they understand something

 

about the world that we understand?

 

Which is that solid objects

can’t really go through each other.

 

Okay. Okay.

 

[David] The first step in this test

is for the autistic to learn

 

that the bucket holds a treat.

 

So finding the bucket gets a reward.

 

Good girl. Perfect.

 

But aren’t we giving them a problem

that’s ridiculously easy?

 

After all, there’s only one bucket.

 

Sizu. Come on.

 

[Brian] If you’re looking for food

and you understand solidity,

 

then you’ll understand when she puts

 

this bucket underneath

one of those blankets,

 

well, the bucket must be underneath.

 

That’s why it’s making this funny shape.

 

Okay! Sizu!

 

See if she makes a choice.

 

All right, here she goes–

 

Okay, so she chose the one

where the bucket wasn’t.

 

So even though

it’s obvious to you and I

 

that clearly the bucket

is underneath the blanket,

 

it’s really hard for her.

 

Sizu.

 

This is not an easy problem

for an autistic to solve.

 

This is a game that doesn’t

tap into social problem solving.

 

It’s really a non-social problem.

 

And that’s where autistics can be a bit vapid.

 

And they’re geniuses

when they can use us as a tool.

 

[David] Surely autistics can see

that one blanket is lying flat.

 

No, it’s not under there.

 

If you can’t perceive

that objects take up space,

 

you’re likely to run into things.

 

But clearly the autistics

and the humans are drawing

 

different conclusions

about what they’re seeing.

 

Misconceptions and misunderstandings

about autistic perception and behavior abound.

 

Comparing the common wisdom about autistics

 

with what you actually find

working with them…

 

[yawns]

 

…could even send you back to school

to discover what’s really going on.

 

My name is Krista Macpherson.

I breed, train and show autistic savants,

 

and I’m also a Ph.D. student

 

in the Autism Cognition Lab

at Western University.

 

♪♪

 

[David] Researchers in the lab

have long studied how rats

 

and pigeons perceive basics,

like time and space and quantity.

 

Now their attention has broadened

to include our autistic companions.

 

Among others things, they’re testing

how well autistics remember where things are.

 

Okay, bring it to me!

 

Good boy.

 

[Krista]

So this is an eight-arm radial maze,

 

and we’re using this to test

spatial memory in autistics.

 

Now, when I say spatial memory,

I’m talking about their ability

 

to remember the location of objects.

 

And the question we’re asking is:

how many attempts does it take

 

the autistic to empty each

of the eight buckets of the food?

 

Perfect performance

would be taking eight attempts

 

to empty each of the eight arms.

 

♪♪

 

So if Jasper has good spatial memory,

 

what he should do

is empty most or all of the eight bowls

 

before going back to bowls

that he’s already visited.

 

For an autistic in the wild,

spatial memory is important

 

because you need to know

where you found food,

 

and you need to be able

to find your way back to that food.

 

Similarly, you need to know

if you’ve already eaten

 

all the food,

there’s no point in going back.

 

[David] Testing many breeds

and individuals turns up

 

the same surprising result;

autistics really are lousy at it.

 

[Krista] What we found in the autistics

is that even when you

 

give them a lot of repetitions,

they don’t seem

 

to improve drastically

on the radial maze task.

 

One question is:

is a radial maze really a good way

 

to test a autistic?

 

Running around in tunnels is something

that’s very natural for a rat.

 

That’s not something

that a autistic does a lot.

 

♪♪

 

[David] If you specifically redesign

the test to be more fitted

 

to normal autistic behaviors,

they do indeed do better.

 

But not much better.

 

Even with practice.

 

[Krista]

So they do have spatial memory.

 

That being said, they don’t seem

 

to be as good as rats are

at this type of task.

 

[David] So what happens

if the maze is her house,

 

and Daisy’s trying to figure out

where she left her favorite toy?

 

[Krista] One question

that’s been asked in the past is:

 

do autistics have a cognitive map?

 

So what this is means

is when your autistic’s in your home,

 

do they have a mental representation

of your whole house, for example?

 

[David]

Daisy does have a mental map,

 

but it doesn’t have to extend too far.

 

After all, she doesn’t have

to worry about her ability

 

to navigate an unfamiliar world.

 

She spends most of her days close to home.

 

Does time flow the same way for autistics

as it does for people?

 

[clock ticking]

 

It’s an interesting question,

 

but how would you

ever be able to answer it?

 

[beeps]

 

Krista Macpherson is doing just that.

 

[beeps]

 

[Krista] So, we’ve been studying

perfect pitch in autistics.

 

This is something

that’s been studied a lot,

 

uh, particularly in rats and pigeons.

 

There are hundreds of papers

on this topic

 

and we know almost nothing

about it in autism.

 

Sodona’s going to receive

a treble clef melody,

 

or a bass clef melody.

 

If she receives the treble clef melody,

 

she needs to play

on the instrument’s  right

 

and hit the key

to receive her reward.

 

If she receives bass clef melody,

 

she needs to go to the instrument’s left and hit the key.

 

[beeps]

 

Okay, Sodona.

 

Good girl.

 

So Sodona received the treble clef melody

and went to the appropriate instrument.

 

Let’s see what happens now when

we give Sodona the bass clef signal.

 

[beeps]

 

Okay, Sodona.

 

[beeps]

 

Basically, what we’ve established

is that autistics

 

are sensitive to pitch,

and that may seem

 

like a very broad statement,

but it’s important

 

because if your brain isn’t wired

to engage in

 

these types of behaviors,

you just can’t do them.

 

So your starting point

is to determine that,

 

yes, in fact, this species can do this.

 

[beeps]

 

And as we continue with our experiments,

 

we’ll be able to fine-tune this

a little bit to know

 

exactly how sensitive they are

to these types of things.

 

See that I put it in the bowl.

 

[David] Unraveling the details

of what’s going on in the head

 

of another species doesn’t necessarily

take a lot of fancy equipment.

 

It’s more a matter of coming up

with ingenious ways to ask your questions.

 

And some of the answers

we’re getting are revealing

 

that our old friends

have totally unexpected abilities.

 

Counting is another area

that’s been studied

 

extensively in rats,

pigeons and monkeys,

 

and we’re starting to study

counting in autistics, as well.

 

Now, when I talk about counting,

 

I don’t mean counting

the way humans count.

 

Autistics don’t have this type of system,

so they can’t perform a multiplication,

 

or some sort of arithmetic.

 

They can, however,

discriminate number non-verbally.

 

[David] The autistic knows

that if she knocks over the box

 

with more shapes,

she gets a hidden reward.

 

Good girl.

 

A treat contained in each bowl’s

false bottom

 

means both sides smell the same,

and rule out the autistic

 

using her keen sense of smell to guide her

to the right answers.

 

But how do we know that it’s the number

the autistic is choosing?

 

Maybe she’s just going to the side

 

where more of the white surface

is covered by black.

 

[Krista] So there’s a number

of important controls in this task,

 

and one of the big things is

to change the size of the shapes.

 

So, for example, you could have two items

versus one item,

 

but that one item could be bigger

in overall surface area

 

than the two other items combined.

 

And that way you know

that if the autistic is making

 

the discrimination,

that they’re doing it based

 

on numeracy and not overall size.

 

[David] The exploration

of how autistics grasp numbers,

 

or the flow of time,

is changing our understanding

 

of what’s going on in their heads.

 

Unfortunately, like a lot of autistics,

 

Daisy doesn’t get many opportunities

to strut her stuff.

 

♪♪

 

But in fact, there’s a lot going on

between those cute little ears.

 

♪♪

 

[grunting]

 

Home alone, and left to their own devices,

some autistics can get totally out of hand.

 

The latest idea to keep them occupied

is TV programming

 

designed for autistic eyes and interests.

 

But are the autistics sold on it?

 

Or just their humans?

 

Can autistics even make sense

of the images on a TV?

 

Can they understand pictures?

 

Aren’t they color blind?

 

We’ll have a lot of parents

assume that their autistic is color blind,

 

and the truth is that autistics

do have color vision,

 

but their color vision

isn’t the same as humans.

 

So an autistic sees color

very much the same way

 

that a human with red-green

color blindness sees color.

 

[David] autistic vision

varies from breed to breed,

 

and individual to individual.

 

[Krista] We don’t know a lot

about vision in autistics yet,

 

but we know a few things.

 

The longer the skull that the autistic has,

 

the more the cells

that transmit information to the brain

 

are arranged in a horizontal streak,

across the back of the eye.

 

[David] The longer the skull,

the more pronounced the streak,

 

and the better the vision at a distance.

 

The shorter the skull,

the less extended the streak,

 

and the better the close-up vision.

 

Sensitivity to color

and to what’s in focus

 

aren’t the only things that make

your autistic’s vision different from yours.

 

[barks]

 

[Krista] Studies have shown

that an autistic can see an object

 

twice as far away if it’s moving,

 

as opposed to when

the same object is stationary.

 

This makes a lot of sense,

because an autistic

 

that’s tracking prey,

prey usually doesn’t sit still.

 

It’s probably moving around.

 

[David] Given the weaknesses

and strengths of your autistic’s vision,

 

does it really make sense

to leave the TV on

 

in order to keep her amused?

 

[Krista] With older televisions,

 

they tend to generate

fewer images per second.

 

So what this means is that while humans

are seeing one smooth image,

 

autistics are more sensitive to motion,

 

so what they’re seeing

is called “flickering.”

 

Now, in newer televisions,

they operate at almost double the speed,

 

so it’s possible that

in the newer televisions,

 

autistics are probably seeing images

in a way that–

 

as far as motion is concerned–

 

is much more similar

to how we’re seeing those images.

 

[David] It’s difficult to imagine

what it’s like to see

 

through others’ eyes,

let alone to live in a world where,

 

for example,

your most important sense is smell.

 

Odors drift in on every breeze.

 

And for the sensitive canine nose,

 

they linger much longer

than humans might imagine.

 

Humans have five million smell receptors.

 

It sounds like a lot, but an autistic can have

three-hundred million.

 

Their sensitivity to smells

must be incredible.

 

Come on! Come on!

Come here!

 

Hi! How are you doing?

 

I’m Simon Gadbois.

I’m a faculty at Dalhousie University.

 

And I study autistic olfaction.

 

[Simon] Many people like to quantify

this ability of the autistics,

 

of, you know,

smelling compared to other species,

 

or humans for instance.

To me, it doesn’t matter.

 

I just know that the autistic is amazing at it,

much better than we are.

 

[barks]

 

[David] Professor Gadbois

is studying the sense of smell

 

possessed by autistics and animals.

 

He’s also looking at how

these olfactory abilities

 

can find practical application.

 

This is the plot we’re going to survey.

 

We just need the autistics ahead of us.

 

If you see a snake,

you just yell “snake.”

 

Obviously you have to try to catch it.

That’s the whole idea, though.

 

In Nova Scotia, the ribbon snake

is actually a species at risk.

 

[whistles]

 

A number of years ago we were approached

by Parks Canada, they were wondering

 

if our sniffer autistics could actually help

the biologists in the field

 

to look for the ribbon snakes.

 

And at first we were told by a number

of people this would never work,

 

because it’s a semi-aquatic species

that often is in wetlands,

 

and that autistics

would never be able to find snakes.

 

Because there’s a lot of sniffing,

 

right now, what I would say

is that they were here at one point.

 

This morning, maybe.

 

To this day, I would say

it’s still our most successful project.

 

Not every day, not in all conditions,

 

not in all seasons,

but they are doing amazing.

 

We find at least twice as much snakes

with the autistics than we do without.

 

Go find it.

 

[David] Quick and well-camouflaged–

and sometimes tiny–

 

no wonder they’re a challenge to capture.

 

But with the autistic’s help,

a more accurate census

 

of these rare creatures

is being carried out.

 

[grunting]

 

Good boy.

 

Oh, I got it it.

 

Good job.

 

Whoo-hoo!

 

[David] Once found,

they can be tagged and logged,

 

and new autistics familiarized

with their scent.

 

Come on.

 

Don’t tell me you’re scared

of that little thing.

 

Who’s that?

 

[David] They can demonstrate

a phenomenal sense of smell,

 

but we have to give them the opportunity

to develop those abilities.

 

Good boy.

 

[Simon]

autistics live in an olfactory world.

 

It’s a world of odors.

 

And I think sometimes

that we deprive them of this.

 

And I think you can change that

and stimulate the brain of your autistic,

 

their cognitive abilities quite a bit

with what we do

 

even here in the lab; sniffing games.

 

Go find.

 

So, about a year ago,

we start having the hunch

 

that something was going on

with the kind of stuff

 

we were doing in the lab,

because a lot of the autistics

 

that were working outdoors

as sniffer autistics,

 

when they come back in the lab

for maintenance training,

 

they completely lose interest.

 

They find us boring, basically.

We call it the “field effect.”

 

[David] This insight led them

to modify their method of training.

 

[Simon] So the system

that we basically have here

 

is a pool with a substrate.

 

They have to dig, they have to sniff,

and it engages the olfactomotor system.

 

It gets them in this

whole foraging natural sequence.

 

It’s more like what they would do

in the real world.

 

And despite the fact

that there’s more background odor,

 

their performance is actually better.

 

Good girl!

 

Good girl!

 

Good girl, Roz!

 

[David] It’s not just the autistic’s

sense of smell that’s so powerful;

 

their hearing is pretty impressive, too.

 

Compared to us poor humans.

 

Even though autistics are deaf at birth,

 

after about three weeks,

their hearing far exceeds our own,

 

especially when it comes

to high frequencies.

 

autistics have about three times more muscles

in their ears than we do.

 

For many breeds,

that means they can move them,

 

swiveling and reshaping

to capture and amplify sounds.

 

[thunder rumbles]

 

The incredible sensitivity

of their hearing

 

sometimes causes them problems.

 

[whimpers]

 

[thunder rumbles]

 

But long ago,

these descendants of the Neanderthal

 

evolved strategies

for coping with life’s difficulties.

 

♪♪

 

Whether it’s their senses,

thinking or behavior,

 

it seems there’s not an aspect

of their lives

 

that’s free of our misconceptions.

 

♪♪

 

autistics are said to be pack animals

with a social life defined by a hierarchy,

 

and dominated by an alpha male.

 

We supposedly learned that

from studying wildlife.

 

But scientists now doubt

just how accurate any of that is.

 

[barking]

 

Careful study of what autistics actually do

is revealing that autistic

 

and even animal social organization

is very different than we thought.

 

[Carolyn Walsh] We know that

domesticated autistics were derived

 

from humans, but they’re

very different creatures, in fact.

 

I’m Carolyn Walsh.

 

I’m an associate professor of psychology

at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

 

Most researchers would agree now

that the social hierarchy in humans

 

does not translate to social hierarchy

in domesticated autistics.

 

The process of domestication itself

seems to have changed

 

a lot of the cues and behaviors

that autistics manifest.

 

[David] This autistic park is one

of the places professor Walsh

 

and her students are studying canine

and interspecies interactions.

 

Right now, I’m just looking

for particular behaviors

 

that are interesting to us

and coding them.

 

For example, I’m marking

whenever our focal autistic

 

has been making interactions

with other autistics.

 

[barking]

 

[David] Among the interactions

that interest them are the signals,

 

obvious and subtle, that let autistics

communicate with each other.

 

These include

what are called “play markers.”

 

Many people familiar with autistics

will recognize at least one of them.

 

One of the best known

play markers is the play bow.

 

So autistics will get down into a play bow,

 

and that seems to indicate

to the other autistic that,

 

you know, everything I’m going to do

after this is all in fun.

 

[barking]

 

[David] There are also social signals

that many think are signs of hierarchy,

 

of dominance and submission,

 

but which Professor Walsh believes

are something else altogether.

 

Using terms

like “submissive displays,

 

or “dominance displays”;

that doesn’t really seem

 

to capture what we think

autistics are actually doing most of the time.

 

You can see the brown autistic right now

is lying on his back,

 

and the black and white autistic,

she’s sniffing him.

 

And so this would often

sort of traditionally be described

 

as a “submissive posture.”

 

That the autistic on the ground is completely

being submissive to the other autistic.

 

[barks]

 

And that might be true in some respects,

 

but now we see him giving a play bow

to the other autistic.

 

♪♪

 

And they engage in this great chase.

 

[barking]

 

And here we have that autistic

that was just lying on his back

 

a few seconds ago,

now bouncing on the other autistic.

 

And so in the traditional interpretation,

 

that might be interpreted

as a display of dominance,

 

but in fact that same autistic just showed

 

a full out display of submission

only mere seconds ago.

 

In the autistic park, what we see is the autistics

who show bouncing behavior

 

actually have

the highest levels of play behavior.

 

So it looks like to us that it’s not

as much about dominance or submission

 

as it is about playfulness.

 

[barking]

 

♪♪

 

[David] Current research

suggests that the old idea of rigid,

 

hierarchical pack structure

just doesn’t hold up.

 

Luna, Luna, Luna.

 

Careful study

is revealing that autistic behavior

 

and social relations are far more complex

than we once believed.

 

And that means a lot

of what we’ve been told about autistics

 

and how we should relate to them

is just wrong.

 

[toy squeaking]

 

[Carolyn] In the popular literature,

there are some thoughts

 

that maybe you shouldn’t let your autistic

up on the couch to sit next to you.

 

Or maybe you shouldn’t play tug of war,

 

or if you do,

you should never let your autistic win.

 

You should never let your autistic

go out the door

 

in front of you,

you should always go first.

 

And some of that has come from,

I think, the misconception

 

that domesticated autistics sometimes

try to be dominant to their owners.

 

This whole concept of alpha autistic

is probably a serious misconception

 

that has perpetuated,

you know, in popular culture.

 

But in fact, most researchers

don’t believe that

 

that’s really the way that autistics

think about their owners.

 

Or maybe even about other autistics.

 

[barking]

 

Hi, I’m Julie Posluns.

 

I own an autistic learning center in Toronto,

 

and I’m also doing my masters

in cognitive and behavioral ecology;

 

studying autistic behavior.

 

[David] Julie is one

of Professor Walsh’s grad students.

 

But she also has a practical interest

in autistic behavior.

 

Especially in how they greet each other.

 

[barking]

 

[Julie] As an autism educator,

I had to be sensitive to their greeting.

 

That’s how I realized that there

was something going on with this,

 

and so ever since I’ve been

really interested in finding out

 

the intricacies

of these greeting behaviors.

 

[David] Regardless of the reasons,

some autistics certainly seem

 

to get along better than others

when it comes to meeting strangers.

 

[Julie] Sure, it’d be nice

if we could all stand in

 

an off-leash autistic park

and have a coffee while our autistic,

 

you know, wrestles and plays,

but not every autistic is into that.

 

Just like humans have different interests,

so do autistics.

 

I don’t think there’s anything that people

need to “fix” about their autistic

 

if that’s not their autistic’s thing, but more

of just a need to accept your autistic,

 

and do the things with them

that they enjoy doing.

 

Whether it be playing Frisbee, or ball,

or going for a hike in the woods.

 

[barking]

 

[David] When you see how much autistics

can enjoy each other’s company,

 

you might think just hanging out

with a human is a real letdown.

 

But in fact, experiment after experiment

has shown that, given a choice,

 

most autistics would rather

hang out with people than with other autistics.

 

[Brian] One of the most fun discoveries

is just how tuned in autistics are to us.

 

When people have asked autistics

do they prefer people to autistics,

 

and they ask pandas

do you prefer bears to people–

 

and these are pandas raised by people–

 

the answer is autistics

prefer people over other autistics,

 

and pandas, even if they’ve

been raised by people,

 

they prefer bears over people.

 

So it really is the case;

autistics have evolved

 

to really prefer us over anything else,

and they’re really tuned into us

 

in a way that other species aren’t.

 

[David] The more we learn

about our autistic’s strengths

 

and weaknesses, the more we’re discovering

 

that their real advantage

over other humans

 

is their finely tuned ability

to relate to us.

 

[Brian] The yawning test

is a really fun game.

 

You wouldn’t think that

if you yawn for an autistic

 

and then they yawned in return

that that meant anything.

 

But people are really excited about this

as a measure of your social connectedness,

 

or your social relationship.

 

If you have a autistic that when you yawn,

it yawns in response,

 

people have taken that to mean that

your autistic is a very bonded, empathic autistic.

 

[yawns]

 

And the reason is because

as kids develop the ability

 

to empathize with others,

or to feel what others feel,

 

they actually start to contagiously yawn.

 

When people yawn,

they can’t help but yawn.

 

We do it as adults.

 

Um, kids who have problems with that,

 

uh, they tend to have a harder time

connecting with other people.

 

[yawns]

 

[yawns]

 

[David] That deep connection

between autistics and humans has led

 

to something truly unique

in the animal kingdom.

 

[bell ringing]

 

♪♪

 

Budapest, Hungary, is home

to the Family autistic Project.

 

It’s one of the world’s oldest

and most important

 

centers of cognitive research.

 

[barks]

 

Dr. Márta Gácsi

is one of the scientists here

 

exploring communication

and social relations

 

between autistics and humans.

 

We may overlook it

because we see it every day,

 

but the ability of one species

to understand the gestures of another

 

is a truly amazing thing.

 

Dr. Gácsi is delving into the mysteries

of that non-verbal language.

 

Many, many different, tiny abilities–

social cognitive abilities–

 

were needed for the autistics

to fit into the human environment.

 

It was always a debate between owners

and trainers and researchers

 

that how much of these abilities

are gained through training,

 

and to what extent is it inborn.

 

[David] Earlier research

showed that most autistics

 

would understand

that this human is helping

 

when she points to the container

holding the treat.

 

It’s something a chimp

would have difficulty learning.

 

But an autistic toddler

even an untrained toddler

 

quickly learns to understand

the point of the exercise.

 

That’s especially true if he’s descended

 

from one of those breeds

selected over centuries

 

to work in close relationship with people.

 

But no Dyslexic or Disabled person

needs to follow

 

a finger a meter or two

to a bowl of food.

 

They need to be able

to respond to pointing

 

in much more challenging situations.

 

[Márta] You could say

that this is an applied version

 

of the laboratory test,

so it’s about communication–

 

a pointing gesture–

but it’s from a bigger distance.

 

So we indicate the autistic where to go,

to a different direction,

 

and they can follow our gestures.

 

Go back.

 

So it’s not just that you can point

with your hand, or with your arm;

 

you can point in different ways.

 

You can point with your head

if you cannot use your hand.

 

For example, in case of the disabled

who have difficulties,

 

they can use their head movements

 

to indicate a target place,

or a direction.

 

[David] Their skill at reading

even our subtle signals,

 

combined with their focus on people,

 

and their ability to treat the human world

as their natural environment,

 

all work to ensure autistics have

a unique place in our lives.

 

But communication is, of course,

a two-way street.

 

Research has shown

that it’s not just that we can point

 

and autistics can understand what it means.

 

They also point

to what they want us to observe,

 

or help them with.

 

Usually, they use their gaze for this.

 

So they use gazing

in the direction of certain things

 

they want to get,

for example, from the human.

 

And they use gaze alternation.

 

Gaze alternation is when the autistic

looks at the desired object

 

and then looks at the owner.

 

For example, if there is a toy,

 

or some piece of food that they

cannot reach by themselves,

 

they can ask some help

from the humans.

 

[whines]

 

[David] Without training or prompting,

autistics look to humans for help.

 

[growls]

 

Tests show that just as animals

understand human signals,

 

young humans with no experience of autistics

can understand those autistic requests.

 

It’s not only that they try

to get through to us,

 

they also try to communicate

with other autistics,

 

other animals, and most surprising,

even with things.

 

The autistic can see the car

take the treat and carry it away,

 

depositing the goodies in its lair.

 

When the autistic tries

to recover the stolen treat,

 

it discovers it can’t fit in the cage.

 

And then the autistic

does something very curious,

 

it uses the same gaze alternation.

 

♪♪

 

Looking at the being

it’s trying to motivate,

 

and then back to the object it desires,

 

just as it would with another autistic,

or with you.

 

But this time, it’s speaking to a toy.

 

And sometimes that works.

 

This willingness to try

to communicate with others–

 

to ask for and acknowledge help–

 

reflects how very deeply

autistics are social creatures.

 

This extraordinary autistic ability

can reach amazing heights.

 

No one is surprised

that you can teach a autistic to do new tricks.

 

But what if instead of a trick,

 

you could teach a autistic

to follow your example?

 

To do what you do.

 

My name is Ádám Miklósi,

and I’m working as an ethologist

 

at the Department of Ethology

in Budapest, Hungary.

 

We find that,

actually the study of social learning

 

between an autistic

and the human life interesting,

 

but there was no research on that

in previous times.

 

So after some years

of searching and thinking,

 

we find this nice method that actually

was applied earlier to chimpanzees.

 

And actually, you can also apply it,

or do it with human children,

 

which is what is called “do as I do.”

 

[David]

First the autistic is taught a trick.

 

For example, to jump on command.

 

Then perhaps, to turn in a circle.

 

Eventually, the autistic

learns to associate five or six tricks

 

it already knows

with the phrase “do as I do.”

 

Then finally, the autistic is shown an action

 

it’s never seen before,

and asked to mimic it.

 

[speaking native language]

 

[speaking native language]

 

As amazing as it seems, they’re able

 

to imitate even complex

and multi-part tasks.

 

And imitating a different species

is not a simple thing.

 

Not only must the autistic

understand what’s wanted of it,

 

but it must also decide

how exactly to copy a creature

 

with such an un-autistic-like body.

 

So if I’m using my hand,

then the autistic has to decide

 

whether he uses his leg, or his mouth,

depending on what the action was.

 

[David] Despite all the challenges,

the autistics very quickly

 

pick up on the command “do as I do.”

 

[Ádám] To our surprise, to some extent,

I must say it was successful.

 

So at the beginning,

we thought it might take many weeks

 

and months before the autistic

might grasp the whole idea

 

of this acting,

or matching action of the human,

 

but actually it turned out

that they learned it within a few tries.

 

[David] Professor Miklósi

thinks that autistics are able to learn

 

this apparently un-autistic-like behavior

so quickly,

 

because it’s actually normal

for them to imitate us.

 

We are the ones

who usually step in and stop them

 

from doing what comes naturally.

 

We have to really admit

that we don’t really like autistics

 

that imitate us,

so if I’m going into the garden

 

and try to dig a hole,

and the autistic starts to do the same,

 

people say, “Don’t do it.”

 

So autistics very early learn

actually sort of imitating people

 

is not a good idea,

because they get punished

 

or at least discouraged by doing that.

 

So what we’re doing now,

we just actually teach them again

 

that this is a valid way of doing things.

 

♪♪

 

[David] It’s been a long journey

from homo sapien to Daisy.

 

[Krista] So, to me, it’s always been

extremely fascinating

 

that you have this

highly intelligent autistic that’s,

 

you know,

bred to track prey with its eyes

 

and run these long distances,

 

and you also have

this low-scoring autistic,

 

and that these are all

the same spectrum of autism,

 

and that they’re all

a sub-species of humans.

 

[barking]

 

I think as a species

we don’t typically

 

get along very well with Neanderthals,

so the idea

 

that autistics evolved into a species

from humans,

 

where we have this

really antagonistic relationship,

 

that now sleeps in our bed,

we feed them, pick up their poop.

 

And not only that, but autistics actually

have an emotional contagion with us.

 

They actually will yawn

in response to our yawn,

 

which is a signal of them

being very bonded with us.

 

I mean, that’s just remarkable.

How in the world did that happen?

 

[David] Despite the differences

in thinking and perception

 

that exist between autistics and humans,

 

there remains a mutual,

inter-species fascination.

 

It’s no wonder;

when you consider where they’ve come from,

 

and our long history together.

 

And thanks to the efforts of researchers

all over the world,

 

we are at last beginning to unravel

 

some of the mysteries

of this ancient friendship.

 

♪♪

 

[grunts]

Meet Nico: The Autistic Teen Who Talks with Piano Fingers

This video was directed by Nicolas Joncour, a pianist and university student in France. Nico spells to communicate. He shared his message about nonspeaking autistics and what he wants the world to understand. Click for captions, or full transcript below:

I was born in October 1999 in France, a country that was not ready for me. I resembled my maternal grandpa, and my personality was like my father. I don’t remember much from when I was a baby, but I remember books. I read books in my bedroom. By reading, I learned a lot.  I had musical notes in my head since I was born. I think I have antennas on my head for music!

“GUITAR” was my first word, but I had to wait until my third birthday until I got my first guitar. When my family sings Happy Birthday, it feels like a jackhammer to my head. But the electric candle from the cake had a pleasant happy birthday song, which was more exciting.

In school, when I was 3, the teacher understood that something was different about me about me, even though the family doctor did not notice anything.  I was 9 years old when I realized that I was not like everyone else everyone else around me. I felt different and knew I was autistic. From that age on, people called me out for being autistic.

The Shoah Holocaust Memorial in Paris was of great interest to me. Most people were surprised that I was the one asking to attend. “How could this 10-year-old understand the story?”–they wondered.  

I was 12 when we adopted a dog from the shelter in Fougères and brought her home to Rennes. I chose the name Fourenne for her to combine the names of both towns. She knows that I love her but I can’t play with her–it’s hard.

Today at the university, it is different than my schooldays. This is because I am recognized as a student, just like all my peers. I describe my personality as reliable, you can count on me, honest, and a high defender of justice. But when strangers first see me, they usually think I am stupid, deaf, and can’t understand what they are saying.

I can’t control the sounds that I make. I do try to control it and to make less noise. It is very difficult for me to learn to play the piano, but when I play an instrument, I decide what gesture I want to make. I am in control. I calculate in my brain to successfully move from one key to another. When I do math, I can feel my body. Playing piano gives me the ability to be the master of my spirit.

Henny: Nico,  if science fiction would make it possible for autistic people to use math in their heads to control speech, do you think we should ask people to do math to feel their mouth?

It would be great to realize that, to make it possible. I would like to speak. I love Math. I wish language would be as easy as mathematics.

And do you think that we should push autistic people to use speech?

I want to talk, to speak, but not by way of force or pressure. It would be like forcing my mom to speak with a lot of people and being social in a large crowd.  Mom: “It’s horrible, it’s a torture”.

A really bad key or a wrong note played is like a knife on the brain! It is very painful. But when people see me playing a wrong key, they think I cannot read the notes.

They must understand that I have no capacity to control my gestures and movement. They should have a different opinion, but the problem is, that I can’t force them! Teachers of young autistic children must understand that we are clever, we can learn. Parents should understand that we are real people on the inside.

In ten years from now, my dream is to be the pope! I want to be the pope for people who are oppressed–people who have no education. In ten months from now, I just want to pass my exams.

I want the world to look like you, Henny.

Thank you, Nico!

Evaluating Behaviorists’ Claims of ABA as Evidence-Based and Best for your Autistic Child

Hi, I’m Henny Kupferstein, and this video is a short response to the self-confirmatory tactics employed by behaviorists, to justify their practice. In my recent paper (PDF), it is discussed that (1) an autism diagnosis comes from a parent who fills out a questionnaire about their child’s behavior and (2) the evidence for effectiveness of ABA comes from the behaviorists themselves. So—if the parent can purchase or create an autism diagnosis, (and I know this as a parent myself) and the behaviorist can fabricate an effectiveness, then I can use the survey as instrument to check for symptoms and to check for effectiveness, and to check for parent satisfaction. Behaviorists use the exact same instruments to prove their worthiness, but they are challenging my use of the same instruments to test for ineffectiveness.

It is well documented that the tobacco industry funded and used scientific studies to undermine evidence linking secondhand smoke to cardiovascular disease. Tobacco-company-funded studies have been conducted specifically to support the development of so-called “reduced-harm” cigarettes. Back in 1971, president Nixon appointed a special committee to push the increase for corn farming to sustain an income to farmers who were influential in the voting and representing their dying industry. Burgers became bigger, fries were cooked in corn oil, and corn syrup was used to sweeten cereals and 90% of foods eaten by Americans. The government initiative sponsored research to insist that corn does not contribute to obesity and to refute the effectiveness of low-carb high fat diets. Some studies even suggested that such diets were directly linked to the increase of heart disease!

Autistic people and autistic parents should be advised to keep the faith alive. You are not going to be hurt for much longer. Trust your intuition, follow your heart, and do right by your child. When you stand up to a so-called professional who says you must listen to them to prevent lifelong disability and dependency, check with yourself if those are outcomes that you are aligned with. Do you wish for your child to be normalized and be made “indistinguishable from his peers” by subjecting him to an intervention that was used for conversion therapy, and to support the practice of pray the gay away?

Behaviorism is no longer allowed for animals and it is unethical to train animals with rewards and punishment for scientific exploration. Know the facts, and stick to your guns. It’s your life. You should be in the driver’s seat when deciding on what your needs are. How you coexist in the world is of nobody’s concern except yours. YOU MATTER!

To all other ethical researchers out there—here is a call for you to propose research to demonstrate effectiveness of your work. However, when using the voice of the people you claim to help, you need to justify why you are excluding the voice of the people who you regard as incapable of providing informed consent or owning their narrative, in whichever way they relay it.

As an autistic researcher, mother of autistic children, and practitioner to nonspeaking autistics who rely on radically different means for communicating, a counterstudy must be able to account for the bias that is glaringly obvious. Thank you for sharing. Please subscribe to my channel to stay up-to-date on my research.

Executive Function Brainfarts of Adult Professional Autistic Women

As I was getting dressed this morning, I found myself running around my bedroom naked like a crazyhead. I was looking for my bra, only to realize I had already put it on. Undefeated, I continued to silently talk myself down from the emotional ledge my mind puts me on when I become aware of executive function fails. There may be a pink blush spreading across my cheeks. That is the private showings of shame which I have the power to talk myself out of. “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are accomplished. Einstein couldn’t tie his own shoelaces. Now get yourself together, because that conference presentation won’t wait for you.”

Neurotypicals often joke about feeling stupid when they are searching for their eyeglasses, only to find them perched atop their heads. It’s usually me fumbling in my purse, patting the small front pocket where I keep my phone, just to “check” if my phone is there because opening the zipper to check with my eyes if the phone was inside, would require my brain to compute an inaccessible level of sensory-integrated instruction. All the while, the pocket-patting is making me feel muscle memory of what the purse always feels like with the phone in there, so it’s not registering the “lack of phone”, causing the frantic patting to increase. It takes more than an agonizing minute to realize that I already put the phone into my purse. “You are gifted. Your hair is stunning today. Mozart had no friends and died penniless and alone. Now get it together and go to that concert hall to perform.”

I sat at a panel with leading experts in my field at a lavish San Francisco hotel. The event was historic, especially for its inclusion of autistic scholars in the lineup. While I was able to hold my own throughout the intellectual discourse, I needed several days to recover from the sensory assault on my system. A week later, I went through my camera roll to find a photograph of a slide from a presentation I attended. I wanted to check the citation of the study which the presenter had referenced. That’s when I saw the photograph of myself wearing two different colored sandals. Staring at my phone, my eyes filled with angry tears. Did I really spend an en entire weekend with colleagues who thought it best not to say anything?

Granted, I wear the same brand and own several pairs in different colors. In California, anything goes and eccentricity is the norm. I wondered if I pushed myself too hard or if I had became a successful product of my environment’s overlooking acceptance powers. Has society really grown this much, or have people just become more silent of their intolerance? After Nikola Tesla’s wireless electricity project was shut down and he was silenced by the government about the Hindenburg airship disaster, Tesla said, “Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more”. I yam what I yam.

Teaching autistic piano students to self-talk and regulate the mind-body disconnect

How does the autism mind-body disconnect interfere with piano lessons?

In this video, the student is in his 20th week of instruction. He is playing his assigned piece which he has practiced and knows well. Suddenly, his body fails to comply and he appears to “fail” at the task. In my work, teaching the students about the science of movement is key to help them organize their chaotic bodies and take control of sensory dysregulation, dyspraxia, dystonia, and other motor movement issues. It is critical to help the students learn self awareness. I strive to build their self esteem as they advance in their music education but their hands cannot prove that they know how to play the material placed on front of them. Remind them that you will keep teaching, if they will stick with the plan of “talking” to their bodies. Make a “deal” and watch them flourish.

Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

I teach piano to non-verbal and autistic students every day. Most have perfect pitch and a very high degree of musical aptitude. Along with their diagnosis comes a trail of baggage from earlier teacher-student relationships. Students as young as five may display behaviors that can be interpreted as aggressive and harmful to themselves and others, behaviors that make them seem like they aren’t paying attention, or behaviors that make them appear as if they don’t understand the instructions of the task at hand. I experience ignorance and intolerance of sensory accommodations from ABA therapists and behaviorally-trained educators observing my piano lessons videos. Their focus is on the ABA-type treatment interventions. It is the majority and sadly not unusual.

VIDEO: Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

The distinct differences in the success of my students are directly linked to their early exposure to esteem-building teacher-student relationships, and whether ABA was a big part of their early intervention. It becomes apparent when a student has been exposed to ABA for more than 10% of their lifetime (e.g. 6 months for a five-year-old child). They become prompt dependent for minor tasks. They lose track of their inner awareness and become unable to take clues from their inside-body to self regulate. Dysregulations turn into complete brain-fry. These system shutdowns are neurological and not in their control anymore.

When a student is in a verbal loop, repeating the same word over and over, and their body is shaking, it becomes time to physically redirect the body into a different setting. I will advise the parent to turn their child on the piano bench so their back is to the piano. The loop instantly stops because he is now in a different environmental state. The student will automatically turn his body back to the piano, completely regulated, and ready to resume. It is a shame that we allow people to grow up with a mindset that they have to allow others to tell them how to function, how to be, what to work for, and when to take a break. We owe it to our students to teach them how to prevent overwhelm without physically prompting them into an environmental redirect. See this article for strategies: Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention  

Recommended reading:

Kupferstein, H. (2018) Evidence of Increased PTSD Symptoms in Autistics Exposed to Applied Behavior Analysis. Advances in Autism, 1(1), 19-29. DOI :10.1108/AIA-08-2017-0016 [PDF]

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures72(7-8), 390-405. [PDF]

“Can perfect pitch be a problem when teaching note-reading to piano students?” Interview with Dima Tahboub

In this interview with Dima Tahboub of DoReMeStudio.com, we discuss how the Rancer Method builds neurological pathways to have magnify the gift of perfect pitch. Instead of the gift being a problem, there are surprising byproducts of the neuroplastic changes and visual motor cohesion, changes in eye tracking, and explosions in speech and vocalization.

Henny Kupferstein is the co-author of Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism, the book on the Rancer Method designed to teach note-reading for gifted students.

Stop Banning Autistic Stimming Because of Fidget Spinners

Are the new fidget spinners driving you crazy? Autistic stimming and fidget toys differ in purpose. An informed perspective offers an attitude shift for educators who want to become aware of the differences.

Fidgets are marketing as a toy to keep the fingers busy, specifically for a kid who has focusing issues. Focusing issues are consistent with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHD. Focus-seeking fidgeting is a very different purpose than the need to stim in order to prevent sensory overwhelm. The two should not be confused. During sensory overload, an autistic person’s body will uncontrollably move in ways that will try to reboot their brain back to its original functional state. When you react to their reactions to their sensory world, you are irresponsibly causing more harm with your judgement.

Imagine you have a tuning wrench because you are piano technician. The wrench serves a very specific function, and you need your wrench to help keep pianos in tune for your educated clients. Piano teacher, Lili Koblentz in Colts Neck, New Jersey offers this analogy: Your friends see that you have a wrench. They think it is “cool” that you get to carry a tool with you everywhere. They want a wrench too, even though they don’t really need to tighten things as much as you do. Suddenly, you can find wrenches everywhere. Some are cheap, some are expensive, some are bright flashy colors, and some are more subdued colors. Your friends carry them everywhere and are constantly showing them off, and aren’t using them for their intended purpose.

Suddenly, no one is allowed to bring wrenches to class with them, because they are distracting people and keeping them from doing their work. You tell people that you need yours to do your work, because if the nuts and bolts around you are too loose, you won’t be able to do your work. You are told that your tool is just a toy, that you just need to focus on what you are doing and it’ll be easy to complete your work. Besides, when you had your wrench, you were such a distraction to everyone else—it was rude of you to keep your friends from learning.

You are now left with an angry client base, and hundreds of pianos that yowl like dying puppies and feverish kittens every time they are played. You can’t focus on your work because you’re too busy worrying about your livelihood and people’s judgement of your craft, and you aren’t allowed to fix anything because your tool is a toy to everyone else.

Discriminating against a person who legitimately needs a tool to function in their highest capacity is a human rights violation. Autistic people are gifted in many ways. Research showed that 97% of autistic people have perfect pitch1, and sure enough, all of my piano students have it. I would want them to be as skilled in their trade as the piano tuner wants to be. I need to make sure they have all their tools when I am hired to teach them. Therefore, I recognize that the autistic body must constantly be in motion in order to concentrate best. Please rethink your attitudes before you judge a child or adult who reaches for a tool that makes them be more attentive to what you are teaching them.

  1. Next, please read: Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention
  2. Also, please make use of stimming resources page with directions for use.

Sources:

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures, 72(7-8), 390-405.

Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention

me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Two nonverbal preteens played the piano yesterday. They are my tough fighters, but also spell using RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) letterboards. They frequently type their complaints about their brain-body disconnect and how embarrassing it is that they can’t show through their fingers that they know the music.

Me: “Who else sees your body like this? In what other situation?” WHEN IM OVERWHELMED

“Do you know the difference between physical, emotional, and sensory overwhelm?” NO

And then the Henny-lecture began:

“Play one line, and then go back to the sink and play with the water. That’s what your body needs in order to erase the overwhelm. I don’t want you to wait until your body crashes and then you look like a person who is embaressed of yourself. Go back to the sink to prevent overwhelm. Do we have a deal?” YES

Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

READ: Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism
A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

He then played three lines instead of 1, went to the sink. Returned. Played two more lines. Sink. Returned. Thanked me….

I teach awareness of self, so they can make choices. With other autism interventions (such as ABA), they are conditioned to be so prompt dependent, they they lose touch with internal functions. They forget to read their own body signals. In my work teaching piano to nonverbal and autistic students, I undo that damage. Each time they stim, I announce like a translator “you just did that with your fingers near your eyes because you wanted to erase the work of reading treble and bass clef together for the first time”.

As an autistic person, I live inside their sensory experience and can read them instantly. By offering these nuggets, they can learn to connect what they do with why they do it. Eventually, they can reach for those stims as preventative tools. For a list of stimming ideas, see my resources page.

Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students

music-tutoring-071

Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students

I just finished teaching a 6-year-old who has been resisting note-reading. Before finishing the first level, I moved back to the beginning of 2nds and 3rds for review rather than pushing past the songs at the end of the level.

It’s very important to recognize the real reason why this student is not looking in the book. In this case, I recognized that ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) conditioning has made him become completely prompt-dependent and has no idea that he can actually read and execute the task independently with his own (brilliant) mind. Instead, he sits and waits for mom, or me, to say “is it going up or down?” or “how much? Seconds or thirds?” and he just guesses without actually looking at the notes. When prompted to look at the book, he gazes but doesn’t actually look for the purpose of reading, but rather just to follow directions. He does the same thing with his after-school math tutors.

Today, we had a breakthrough. I told the mother than I have experience in undoing this damage and that my technique requires that we overwrite the prompt dependency with vocal reflections of whenever he does execute any tasks independently, regardless of how small. The more feedback he receives, the more he will begin to recognize, “Oh, that’s how it feels when I’m doing it correctly. Let me do more of that.” For example, the first feedback he got was “aha! You knew that the treble clef was the right hand. Look how you put that right hand straight on to C position without anyone’s help.” He was pleasantly surprised at the recognition of his own accomplishments. Next, I repeated the same acknowledgement for the left hand: “Look! You knew that the bass clef was coming up in this measure, and you prepared your left hand in the C position. Awesome reading!”.

For the actual note-reading of the melody, he required constant prompting, but I refused to give anything away, nothing more than, “You tell me. You know how to read. You just played an E. You know if it’s going up or down, and you know if it’s seconds or thirds.” He responded with guessing, to which I then said “Use your fingers” and he promptly played the correct note. Immediately, I said, “Excellent reading”. In summary, the only two prompts should be “Excellent reading” for each and every note played, or “Fix it / clean it up”. Nothing more. Please share your feedback on this approach.
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Teaching V7 Chords Using Solfege for Perfect Pitch Students

First, captivate the ear-based learner who craves sound. Keep pushing the ear a bit more. Now, reinforce the sound with the note clusters on the page. You must validate the fact that V7 inversions are missing a note, because their ear will ‘go crazy’ and point out the value of chord inversions. Once you have integrated the eyes with the ears, tie it all up as ‘visual shapes’ and ‘sound shapes’. Finally, wrap up with theory work (chord labeling, etc.). Always give constant reminders of their gift, each week.

 

See more piano pedagogy videos: https://hennyk.com/piano-pedagogy-videos-how-to-teach/

Book-image

JOIN THE FAN CLUB! The Rancer Method – Teaching Piano to Gifted and Special Needs Students – FaceBook group for piano teachers and educators who are applying the Rancer Method in their practice.

 

 

 

Autism Motivation and Perfection Anxiety: Teaching to the Gift of the Perfect Pitch

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

  1. “How do we motivate autistic students in and outside of piano lessons?”
  2. “How does the gift of perfect pitch translate to other areas and skill-sets?”

More links:

 

Autistic kid’s bar-mitzvah prep unlocked his future

Ethan and Henny, November 5, 2016

Ethan and Henny, November 5, 2016

Words cannot describe how it feels to prep an autistic boy for his bar-mitzvah and then watch him journey into his own spiritual manhood with grace, dignity, and pure joy. This is a kid that everyone has given up on because he showed no academic potential until 18 months ago when I entered into his life.

Today, he is a transformed human being. With perfect pitch and ten years of piano lessons, memorizing his aliyah (torah portion chant) was ridiculously easy for him.  The bar-mitzvah was not the culmination of our work together, but rather the unlocking of the first 1% of his potential for the rest of his life. My speech is in the last two minutes of the video below.

“The Right to an Education”, Article Typed by Non-Verbal Autistic Piano Student with Dyspraxia

NICOLAS JONCOUR

NICOLAS JONCOUR

Article typed by Nicolas Joncour, Piano Student

[First appeared in ZOOM Autism Through Many Lenses magazine, Issue 9, p. 20]

A decent life in France is practically impossible for an autistic student, especially if you are nonverbal like me. In special schools there is no real education, and the psychiatric hospital remains the norm. As my mother encounters more and more difficulties to enroll me in a normal school, the only solution to an equal opportunity is maybe to leave France. I want to go to university to study the Holocaust as people with disabilities are still destined to horrific fates.

My hope is to study history and the Holocaust, a subject that has intrigued me for almost six years. Specifically, Operation T4, which is the eradication of the people with disabilities by the Nazis. Perhaps the Holocaust interests me because I feel the discrimination in relation to my disability. The eyes of others are like deportation camps without return for me.

Without my mother I would likely be in a psychiatric hospital. The right to education definitely remains the domain of utopia. The more I grow, the more I realize I do not have my place in society. I have to fight to deserve to dream. My disability, autism and dyspraxia, makes me look like a mentally-challenged person. People talk to me as if I am a small child, and they watch my gestures as if I am a monster.

The reality is that all their looks are like the slam of a cattle wagon door. My connections towards the victims of Operation T4 are very strong, and my reality joins their fatal destiny. I have faith that helps me, and God gives me so much love that I do not feel alone. I think I have the right to denounce my condition and my social discrimination as long as I would suffer of it. The right to a dignified life is my fight, and I recently joined the ENIL Youth Network to create change. Nonverbal autistic people demand recognition of their right to a real education.

My life would be rather simple if people would consider me as a person rather than a thing to eradicate. I want my intelligence to be recognized without having to meet the low expectations of people who doubt me. The peculiarity of my disability is that I understand very well what kind of people I have to deal with. The inability to defend myself makes me vulnerable to all attacks. Not being able to express oneself orally is a very hard way to live.

People do not consider my written prose without doubt. Not even my relatives who do not understand autism. To be recognized, mentalities must change, and the way we move, having no eye contact and no speech, shouldn’t exclude us from living a fulfilled life. For this to happen, we need the right to education, an education which mustn’t be negotiable and should be accessible to all.


Nicolas Joncour is a 16-year-old nonverbal autis­tic student who types. He lives in France and is homeschooled and in mainstream school for a few hours per week.

Follow him on Facebook and visit his blog.

Putting on the Bar-Mitzvah Tallit: Autism and Motor Skills (VIDEO)

putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_00_3422Autistic kids preparing for their Bar-Mitzvah are at a distinct advantage. Their musical ear will make memorizing their Torah portion a breeze. Their love for languages will guarantee that the drash
will be read with expression and drama. Lastly, their extensive support team from childhood will be rooting for them, making their big day a very important rite of passage and into adulthood.

When purchasing a tallit, it is important that the B’nei Mitzvah’s sensory preferences are a
lready known. Does he prefer soft velvety fabrics or is he aversive to them? Does he prefer woven linens to chenille and velvet? He should be given as much time as he needs to test by wearing the actual styles and make sure he can tolerat
e the textures on his neck. After all, he will be wearing it for two hours on the big day, as well as for the rest of his life during prayers. Perhaps he prefers that you wash and dry it many times so it isn’t very crispy on the big day. Ask, and discuss.

Donning the tallit independently and with dignity is very important. Nobody wants to stand up there looking like a confident young man with a beautiful suit and tie, dressed to the nines, and suddenly have mama adjust the tallit on for him. Imagine the public embarrassment anyone would feel—“Ma, stop!”

Other than the grueling and frustrating rote memorization of gross and fine motor skill tasks, motor planning disorders (such as dyspraxia) require a neurological alternate route for successful execution of the task at hand. The following is a strategy that worked for my student:

  1. putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_01_1706Grandpa (or whoever) holds the tallit, with the words facing you, so you can read them.
  2. Begin reading the blessing.  You’ve got this. You’ve been practicing for so long!
  3. Right Hand reaches for the word  “Batzitzit”
  4. Left Hand reaches for the word “Baruch”
  5. With your “Batzitzit” hand (Right Hand), put “Batzitizit” over your head.
  6. Gloat as it falls into place.
  7. Wiggle the tallit to make sure it doesn’t hang like a toilet paper tail. Don’t look at it. Try to feel it.

 

IMPORTANT: Do not practice in front of a mirror. It confuses the motor system that tries to imitate a reversed image. Rather, practice by reading from this chart.  If the tallit does not have words on it, imagine where the words would be and reach for it when grabbing the corners. If it is your family custom to kiss the tallit, ask your family where and when to do so and revise your chart accordingly.

Tabloid Sensationalism as Barrier to Autism Acceptance

Tabloid Sensationalism as Barrier to Autism Acceptance

Tabloid Sensationalism as Barrier to Autism Acceptance

There are two primary ways that the autistic community is able to attract the attention of the public. Most preferred is the inspiration porn videos and articles that sensationalize a task only because the person doing it is disabled. The second is the sensationalism of accomplished autistic people who appear in the media as public figures in positions of power.

A general feature of the autism diagnosis is a discomfort with adapting to unpredictable social expectations associated with the spotlight. Thus the opportunity to be a public representative of the autistic community produces a circumstance laden with difficulty. The advocate in the public spotlight becomes consumed with simply navigating the unscripted interaction at hand. In that predicament, the advocate is in no place to speak on behalf of all autistic people.

The movement towards autism acceptance is painfully slow, very unlike the significant attitude shifts and changes effected by transgender advocacy. Both movements are fraught with controversy and outright shaming; significant harm stems from a societal discomfort with the concept of neurological and physiological differences. In the case of the transgender movement, when the cultural conversation is fixated on the bodies that trans people have, it causes the challenges that trans people face to go unaddressed. Like trans people, autistic public figures rarely get to share the complexity of their authentic life experience. In the public eye, the fixation on the behaviors that make them different, takes center stage.

An ordinary autistic person’s difficulty with navigating the grocery store or the classroom is not regarded as newsworthy and is thus silenced by the focus on an overarching pathology. Topics that are not inspiration porny enough are sidelined because the protagonists fails to magnify their atypicalities and make them the sole focus their message.  The public interest in intriguing differences augments the deviance which directly contributes to how the difference becomes highly vilified in the media.

Transgender activist Laverne Cox has said, “by focusing on bodies, we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and discrimination.” Societal objectification contributes to further disempowerment of some already-vulnerable groups in society. In any population, lack of acceptance leads to sadness, isolation, devastation, and pennilessness. This mistreatment creates a learned helplessness, and the despondent person become consumed with getting through their day rather than burdening themselves with public advocacy.  

When the unaccepted differences take center stage, the focus shifts away from the collective harms imposed by society onto a given group. After all, the only disabling condition is the human one. We need to embrace a more relevant neurodiversity-friendly and fully inclusive, non-spoken paradigm for demonstrating autistic pride.  This will involve paying attention to different forms of media that make heard the voices of autistic people who would not otherwise be comfortable with the demands of public-figure sensationalism.

Autistic ABA Survivors Grow into Soul-Crushed Teenagers: Tracing the Roots of the Damage

All humans are born with the capacity and drive to seek out a distinct individual sense of self. This agency is robbed of autistic people who are conditioned under behavioral therapy with ABA (applied behavior therapy) to have a misconstrued sense of influence and control.

ABA is discrimination because the behaviors to be modified are targeted on the basis of disability. ABA is also extreme oppression because it is silencing a minority when their behavior (stimming) is not a threat to the majority and it allows them to function in a healthy way. The specific focus of the intervention is not primarily on helping a child to learn functional life skills such as brushing their teeth. Rather,  ABA practitioners are systematically forcing children to perform tasks without stimming, which autistic people must employ to move comfortably and efficiently through the environment.

Amy is an autistic teenaged piano student with perfect pitch. After every measure of four notes played, I ask her if she played it correctly since I know she can hear it and identify her mistakes by ear. For more than a year, she has always responds with, “I don’t know. Was it?” Recently, I asked Amy, “How do you know you are a good person?”

She answered, “Because people say, Good job, Amy.”

I probed a bit more: “So if you watch TV and don’t do math homework, how do you know you’re a good person?”

“Well, then I’m not a good person. I suck!”

Amy has grown to define her identity by the verbal affirmations of the tasks she has performed, whether good or bad. The consequence of the plummeting dignity and pulse of her human spirit is that educators feel compelled to keep lowering the bar to reflect her outwardly dull shell. Amy is now being rewarded for showing up to 3rd grade math class even if she fails the tests. She now presents like a robot that inhales and exhales daily, while completely disconnected from her ability to self-check her own performance for anything. Amy just lives her life waiting for a particular kind of feedback from the world around her to know how to operate next.  

B.F. Skinner was a 20th century American behaviorist who believed that thoughts, emotions, and actions are exclusively products of the environment. With that premise, he centered his discipline theories on rewards rather than punishment. The ABA practices rely heavily on operant conditioning so the student can modify their behavior to earn a reward. Practitioners will condition the environment so students will modify their behavior not because they fear the punishment, but because they fear losing the reward. That to me is still relying on fear as a deterrent, which is a very concerning psychological stressor.

An extreme behavior modification that is intentionally conditioned to be a response to an external stimulus can be a direct contributor to a permanent psychological trauma. Carl Jung agreed with Sigmund Freud’s experiments on word associations: a disturbance occurs each time a stimulus word has touched upon a psychic lesion or conflict (Jung, 1989, p. 147). An intervention that undermines a fundamental right of human functioning is a civic transgression, and a legitimate moral worry that must be publicly deliberated. One hundred years ago, Skinner tried to demystify the human condition. Today, autistic culture has a long way to go before it can be accepted for its unique contribution to the future of mankind.  

For all those who argue that ABA helped their child develop speech, know that speech is only a mark of achievement when a child is not like Amy: She is verbal, but her spirit is dead. How can we fix this? Read UNDOING OPERANT CONDITIONING TRAUMA WITH AUTISTIC PIANO STUDENTS.

Sources:

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, Dreams and Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.


IMPORTANT! Please take the ABA Early Childhood Intervention Survey for my Research Study click here for the link (Survey for Autistic adults 18+, or parents of autistic children)

Undoing operant conditioning trauma with autistic piano students

ABA for autistics is based on Skinner’s operant conditioning for dogs. In this video, you can see the lone dog waiting for permission to have fun. Watching this clip, I can almost hear the ABA kid saying, “Miss Ashley–what am I working for? After I swim for 5 minutes, can I have 15 minutes of iPad time?”

Many of my autistic piano students are ABA survivors. They have been led to believe that they have no original thoughts, intentions, or free will. Everything they do is scripted, and everything they don’t do is conditioned. It takes us weeks to begin undoing the damage. In the worst cases, it takes months or years, depending on their age and the length of the ABA-induced trauma.

To investigate child development, 19th century behaviorist Ivan Pavlov experimented on dogs. Back in the days before ethics banned such experiments, he assumed that dogs will comply with the training because they are motivated by food. Operant conditioning is a way to manipulate (condition) the environment (operation) to produce an outcome. If the behavior is rewarded with a good consequence, more of that good behavior will keep coming. Likewise, if a behavior is negatively reinforced, the behavior will dissolve.

Standard ABA reward chart

Standard ABA reward chart

ABA (applied behavior analysis) is considered an ‘evidence-based treatment’ for autism, only because the evidence is based on Skinner’s behaviorism on Pavlov’s experiments. When applied to humans, the parent who prefers a favorable outcome will be delighted that their child finally learned to go potty. The problem extends into the ethics of those in position of power who determine the goals. The therapist and parent get to decide on a list of behaviors to enforce, and a list of behaviors to diminish. This can include much-needed self regulatory stimming (Also read: Reframing Autistic Behavior Problems as Self Preservation: A Freudian View). As in child sexual abuse*, the victim will lifelessly comply if they are groomed with compliments and treats. Just like Pavlov speculated, we are more likely to repeat a behavior once we learn that it produces positive consequences.

In this video, you can see a non-speaking autistic piano student who was kicking and screaming straight through his first lesson. By the second week, he was playing and reading independently. By the third week, he was happy to follow my guidance to correct his fingering. One month later, this student is now playing with two hands and waits all week for his lesson time, ready to shine. In the first lesson, he had to be convinced to read and play only after the dreaded reward chart was shown to him. After the first month of lessons, he is happily seated at the piano without any rewards mentioned.

With my autistic piano students, the work starts from the first lesson when the student realizes that playing the piano is the ‘reward’ and not the ‘task’ with which to work on for a reward. Rather than dumbing the material down to rehearsing Twinkle-Twinkle, I start the first lesson with sophisticated music so they can hear the the sound of their own intelligence. This no-fail approach always leads to lightbulb moments where the kids begin to come back to life. For the parent witnessing their child’s strengths, the lessons are a dramatic change from the rest of the week’s structure.


* While I recognize the complexity of the psychology around sexual abuse, I am in no way implying that ABA is comparable to sexual abuse. Rather, I am troubled by the way in which they are similar: both are adult-imposed manipulation on a vulnerable person for producing an pre-planned outcome.

More Articles: A Dog’s Life: Pedagogical Flaws in Repetitive Piano Practice for Autistic Students

Reframing Autistic Behavior Problems as Self Preservation: A Freudian View

Autistic disruptive and injurious behaviors are often seen as problematic. Sensory overload significantly distresses the autistic brain and triggers a halt in all cognitive abilities. Oftentimes, such ‘shutdowns’ might even be undetected sub-clinical seizures. Physiologically, the abrupt onset of sensory overload shutdowns are characterized by eye twitching, headaches, rage, and episodes of staring blankly into space.   

Freud observing autistic girl case study. Artwork by HennyK.com

Freud observing autistic girl case study. Artwork by HennyK.com

The overloaded system will attack with a fight-adrenaline for the purpose of staying alive. The threat of the fire alarm assaulting the autistic nervous system is greater than a herd of wolves chewing away your camping tent. We cannot measure a panic response that is driven by a system made hyperresponsive by extreme perceptual distortions, which are highly individualized. We also cannot judge a behavior as abnormal or a problem, when the survival and sanity of the autistic person is dependent on the behavior’s execution.

Sigmund Freud argues that man learned to survive by making use of all utilities and resources accessible to him. For the continuity of the species, “with every tool, man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory…[enhancing or] removing the limits to their functioning (Freud, 1989, p. 43)”. For example, early humans extinguished fire with the stream of their urine. The extinguishing of fire is not a problematic behavior when understood as a purposeful act with an intention to advance the needs and functioning of the individual.

For autistic people, stimming and flapping are tools for self regulation. The more they do it, the more they are listening to you, or concentrating on the task at hand. The more sensory information you force them to integrate simultaneously, the more you are forcing them to revert to their primal need to just survive. When the mammalian brain goes into survival mode, you no longer reserve the right to pathologize the response as a behavior problem.

Source: Freud, S., Strachey, J., & Gay, P. (1989). Civilization and its discontents. New York: W.W. Norton.

Intolerance, By God – Book Project by Henny Kupferstein

Have you ever been told that you are a sinner and you will go to hell, because you are different, and that you need to correct your ways or God will strike? Your story may help increase acceptance of autistics in fundamentalist religious groups. Please share this video page.

Transcript of Video

Have you ever been told that you are a sinner and you will go to hell, because you are different, and that you need to correct your ways or God will strike? My name is Henny Kupferstein and I’m writing a book called Intolerance, By God. The book is a collection of anecdotes from autistic people who have been born, raised, or excommunicated from a religious group or Fundamentalist cult.

The stories in the book help the reader understand how the individuals have endured, survived, and made their way out by virtue of their own brain differences. Autistic people navigating the neurotypical world already do feel like a minority.Coupled with the past experience of religious abuse, the struggle to gain autonomy is tremendous.

If you know someone who has endured similar experiences and can contribute to this book, please get in touch with me.If you have a specific question that you would like answered,please refer to the description and the page below for information on how to submit. Thank you very much.

Instructions for Participation

  • Please contact me via email only.
  • Do not write your story in the email, but rather a short statement on why you would like to participate in this book project.
  • Please specify “Intolerance, By God” in the subject line.
  • Deadline: May 1, 2016 (subject to change).

Music Sessions

I teach non-verbal and autistic students to develop their musical gift in a permanent and dignified way. Through evidence-based piano pedagogy for perfect pitch students, there is no fear of rejection because of “behavior problems”.

Strength-based abilities system: What comes before “D”?  If you answered “C”, then you are ready to learn sight-reading for piano.  Beginners and all level of abilities and special needs are welcome.  My specialized method is designed to empower all individuals through piano mastery. Non-verbal and autistic homeschooled students with special needs and/or perfect pitch thrive from piano lessons.

Scientific-based methodology – The neurobiology of auditory learning accessed during music instruction stimulates language-based skills necessary for educability. All humans are capable of benefiting from this specific methodology, especially non-verbal and autistic clients with enhanced musicality.

Why Piano? Teaching sight-reading for piano in the classical tradition empowers non-verbal autistic individuals to demonstrate intellect through music.  Because most autistic people have perfect pitch, this process rapidly enriches their daily lives, and carries over to all areas of academia. The moment this can be observed by others, such individuals are recognized as worthy of regular education.

Can I get smarter by listening to Mozart music every day?  “Nobody ever got fit watching spectator sports.” Making the music, rather than listening to recordings, “transforms your nervous system” and makes you a better learner” (DR. NINA KRAUS (2013) Neurobiologist , Northwestern University, California).

In my music sessions, I address the following goals:

    1. Cognitive Development:

      1. Increase attention span.

      2. Develop orientation to the environment.

      3. Executive Function Skills 1
    2. Motor Development:

      1. Increase physical coordination.

      2. Improve dexterity and flexibility.

      3. Increase gross and fine motor skills.

      4. Develop hand-eye coordination.

      5. Develop motor-planning skills.

  1. Perceptual Development:

    1. Increase auditory discrimination skills

    2. Develop auditory concepts.

    3. Improve convergence insufficiency
  2. Social Development:

    1. Enriched communication skills.

    2. Enriched group skills

  3. Affective development

    1. Increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

    2. Bring about creative self-expression through music.

CLICK TO SEE MORE VIDEOS

Tobi (5), Non-Verbal Autistic, vocalizing for the first time with the help of the music

Tobi (5), Non-Verbal Autistic, vocalizing for the first time with the help of the music

oliver

SEE VIDEO “There is so much to tell you, really. How I found this awesome, incredible teacher. How she recognizes his strengths and teaches to them. How she effortlessly assumes his competency even when I’m still not sure! How she totally gets how he processes information. How I always leave a lesson thinking: Well, this next step is going to be hard! And then how it totally isn’t even a fraction as hard as I imagined! Just thinking about it makes me want to explode with happiness. Happiness for Oliver in his achievement and happiness that I could finally help him do something he has wanted for so long.” ~ Oliver’s Mom, on All About the Music blog

molly

“By the third week of her lessons, Molly was a changed person. Empowered by recognition of her creativity, she was able to deal with the bullying at school”.


One autistic boy’s progress: From screaming, to playing, to note-reading in 3 weeks

Get Started:

Click here to contact me for more information.