Thursday, May 30, 2013

Object Permanence Testing in a Cat

Smudge scored at Stage 3 - finding a partially hidden object.

I often do cognitive testing on him - he gets excited as soon as he sees me setting up the camera tripod, because he knows he's getting treats and attention. This time, I used the scale found in the appendix of this study to figure out what stage of object permanence Smudge is at.

I used one of Smudge's favorite toys, a freshness seal from a drink container, as the target. First I taught him to associate finding the target with getting a treat. Then I started hiding the target, in full view of him, to see if he could find it.

I thought he'd score higher, actually, because cats often chase prey that likes to hide. But I suspect it's different when they can still hear the target scuttling around out of sight.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum or Reactive Attachment Disorder?

I just sent the following email off to one of the author of this article (another article by the same author on the same topic can be found here). This study proposes a screening questionnaire for FASD that distinguishes FASD kids from ADHD kids and normal controls, but which has a worrying degree of overlap with questionnaires for Reactive Attachment Disorder.

"I read your 2006 article about the behavioral phenotype of FASD, and I have some concerns about how specific those behaviors are to FASD.

FASD children, by definition, are born to mothers who have a problem with alcohol. This places these children at considerable social risk as well. Many FASD children become victims of neglect and abuse, and many experience foster care as well, often with repeated changes in placement. Streissguth et al (2004) found a significant correlation between adverse post-natal life events and the FASD child's risk of multiple bad outcomes, including trouble with the law, developing alcohol/drug problems themselves, and displaying sexual behavior problems. This emphasizes the importance of controlling for post-natal environmental adversity in understanding FASD.

Unfortunately, your study compared FASD children to children with ADHD and to typically developing controls - both groups which are significantly less likely to have experienced postnatal environmental adversity of the type usually seen among FASD children. This raises the important question of whether your findings reflect FASD or the impact of trauma and attachment disruption.

Indeed, when I compared your FASD screening items to the Relationship Problems Questionnaire by Minnis et al (2002), a screening scale for Reactive Attachment Disorder, two items are present in both scales - 'acts younger than his/her age' and lacks conscience or 'doesn't show guilt after misbehaving'. Many of the other items in your scales are also commonly reported among children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, including many who have no prenatal alcohol exposure.

Therefore, I recommend you assess which behaviors distinguish FASD children from other children who have experienced unstable, neglectful and/or abusive postnatal environments, such as foster children, maltreated children or older adopted children."

This seems to be a common problem. It seems obvious to me, but so many people, when they hear that a child was prenatally exposed to alcohol, seem to forget that the child's postnatal environment matters as well. FASD children, like any other child, will be adversely affected by abuse, neglect, or frequent placement changes. And the very circumstances that cause FASD also tend to cause abuse, neglect and placement changes.

Unless the FASD child in question was early-adopted or raised by a mother who sobered up shortly after birth and had no other major problems, you have to consider that this child's behavior could be influenced by trauma and/or attachment issues. Don't leap to a neuropsychological explanation for all of it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Learning to Walk (A Grandroids Video)

First, I want to show you this video, of a Thompson's gazelle about 5 or 10 minutes old.

And now, compare it to Bones, the latest Grandroid prototype:

I posted an earlier video of Spot the dog walking. But even though Spot's gait was more even, it was also more robotic, and he was a lot less versatile. In contrast, Bones is clumsier, but he's clumsy in exactly the same way that a newborn gazelle is clumsy, and for mostly the same reasons. He's using a pretty similar process to walk (even though his limbs are more dog-like).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Still Have Those Bits

And even though they don't seem to be effective or needed for giving me pleasure, that doesn't mean I can hate them and feel free.

David Hingsburger wrote something for Clitoris Awareness Week. And even though my clitoris doesn't seem capable of performing its intended purpose, his message still had me in tears, as he touched on a wellspring of shame deep inside me and made me look at it critically.

I thought it didn't matter, that sexuality is linked to shame in my mind. After all, I don't have a sexuality. I don't have urges that drive me into facing those feelings and either sorting them out or getting drowned in them. I can just put sexuality out of my mind entirely, for months or years, without my body forcing me to look at it again. (Incidentally, this is why asexual sexual abuse survivors have milder PTSD on average. We don't have sexual feelings unintentionally dredging up all that pain on a regular basis.)

But just because I don't need sexuality, doesn't mean I can disown a part of my body normally used for that purpose.

I have a clitoris. It is not dirty. It is not ugly. It's just another body part. It gives me no special sensations that I can't get by twanging my lip or something, so why should I feel any more shame about it?

I have a vagina. I feel no urge to get someone to put something inside of it, but I do plan on using it for its' other purpose. And I shouldn't feel ashamed of it. After all, someday it might give me a child.

I can live my entire life as a virgin, and be happy. I can decide never to use those parts for one of the major purposes most women use them for, and I'll be fine.

But I can't hate those parts and be fine.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Launch of Norn Tales

I finally did it!

Norn Tales is my video introduction to Docking Station, aimed at people who have not played the Creatures series before. I plan to make a series of videos (not sure how long it'll go) and explain some of the workings of Docking Station norns as I go along.

I'm no Total Biscuit, but I hope people will like this anyway.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Dissociation - Broader Than I Thought

I have a dual diagnosis of PTSD and autism, and because of this, I have an ongoing thing of trying to figure out what's autism and what's PTSD. And I just realized that a couple things I thought were autism are actually PTSD. Or specifically, dissociation.

I've known for quite awhile that I dissociate on rare occasions, under extreme stress. I have no memory for most of the sexual abuse that occurred, even though I remember that I used to remember it. The one memory I have is so dramatically different from most of my memories (colorless and from the ceiling, with absolutely no emotion unless I try to imagine being that little girl down below) that I strongly suspect I laid down that memory while severely dissociated. And a couple of times since then, during my worst flashbacks, I've ended up freezing and my vision blurring, and my thoughts feel like they're echoing in an empty room. I know that stuff is dissociation.

But apparently some other stuff is as well, and I never realized.

On a forum, someone pointed out a study about anomalous self-experience. The study in question focused on schizophrenia, but another study suggests that a lot of those experiences are shared with dissociative disorders.

"2.4 Diminished Presence 
A decreased ability to become affected, incited, moved, motivated, drawn, influenced, touched, attracted or stimulated by objects, people, events and states of affairs. This decrease should not be understood as active and deliberate withdrawal, but more as something that afflicts the patient and hinders his life. The patient does not feel fully participating or entirely present in the world; he may 
feel a distance to the world, which may be accompanied by changes of world perception. This item includes both physical and social hypohedonic states as well as apathy (lack of feelings).

Subtype 2 
Nonspecified: a pervasive nonspecified (quasi-perceptual) feeling of distance to the world, or a sense of a 
barrier between one-self and the world (a feeling of being 
enclosed in a ‘glass case’ or being behind a glass). Yet this 
sense of distance cannot be specified by the patient in 
further details, e.g. in terms of specific perceptual/experiential changes (e.g. if the ‘glass case’ patient seems to 
experience looking through a glass, then it is subtype 3).

2.15 Diminished Transparency of Consciousness 
A pervasive or recurrent sense of not being fully alert, fully awake, fully conscious, as if there was some lack of clarity, inner hindrance, or feelings of internal pressure, blocking, opacity. The acts of consciousness or the very way of being conscious appear as somehow peculiarly faded, diminished or inefficient. 
If the patient complains about a sort of globally unpleasant, but not further describable pervasive mental state, or a global feeling of pressure, oppression, blocking, and the like, locating these sensations to his head, mind or brain, then diminished transparency should be rated as present, that is if the complaints are not caused by a concomitant thought pressure (1.3). Experiences of diminished transparency should not be rated if they appear to be secondary, e.g. linked to thought pressure, hallucinatory states, mental exhaustion, clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder, and organic brain disorder (e.g. epilepsy) or drug intake.
Typical vignette 2: A patient says that he is frequently affected by ‘dizziness’, which means that he is ‘only incompletely in contact with the world, only 60–70%. It is, as if there was no hole (no opening) to the world. There is a lack of transparency between me and the world’. He emphasizes: ‘It has nothing to do with perception, perceptual impressions or the senses.’ 
NB: In this case, there should be scored diminished presence, subtype 2, ‘glass case’ (2.4.2), but also diminished transparency, because the patient’s experience appears to involve diminished transparence of consciousness as a medium of experience (e.g. his insistence on the 
fact that the problem is not located in the sensory processes/perception)."

This sounds like the floaty feeling. Like the patient in vignette 2, I seem to have both 2.4.2 and 2.15 at the same time. In my case, it's episodic and triggered by certain styles of writing. It never lasts more than a couple hours, but I find it extremely unpleasant while it lasts.

"2.7 I-Split (‘Ich-Spaltung’) 
The patient experiences his I, self, or person as being divided or otherwise compartmentalized, disintegrated into semi-independent parts, or not existing as one unified whole. The patient’s complaints must have an experiential quality that may form a continuum from a vague sense of split, ‘as if’ division, to a split that is elaborated in a delusional way. It does not suffice to score this item 
in cases where the patient is aware of having, e.g., a ‘multifaceted personality’.
Subtype 2 
The rating of I-split is based on reports of ‘as if’ experiences.
To subtype 2 
• Approximately, once a week, she had a feeling ‘as if she was two’, ‘as if she was able to see herself from the outside’. ‘She splits up into two parts and fl ies away, composed of those two parts’.
NB: Score also dissociative depersonalization (2.8). 
• She says that her thoughts ‘divide themselves’, and she feels a split in herself. It is a question of negative and positive thoughts. She feels it as if there were two different parts of her which 
‘carry out a war with each other’. 
• He describes that he often has no contact to his left side; it feels as if he ‘was half’ only. This feeling can propagate itself into the depth of his body. 
NB: Here, score also somatic depersonalization (3.3)"

The middle quote sounds a lot like me. I feel like there's a rational part of me and an emotional part, and they don't talk to each other very well. The rational part is usually in control, with the emotional part mostly dormant, but during a meltdown the emotional part takes over and the rational part is a helpless observer. Sometimes the rational part can influence what I do, but only within certain limited options (eg do I scream at my parents some more, or do I start punching myself?).

"1.10 Inability to Discriminate Modalities of Intentionality 
Brief occasions or longer periods with difficulties in the immediate awareness of the experiential modality one is currently living or experiencing. The patient may be uncertain whether his experience is a perception or a fantasy, a memory of an event or a memory of a fantasy. This phenomenon applies to affectivity as well: the patient may be unable to discriminate between different affects, feelings or moods. He may experience (usually negative) mental states that he is unable to designate or describe (has an experience that he does not know – has no words for it). He may be unsure whether he had spoken loudly or had just thought."

I have this sometimes. Typically in the form of thinking I've said something that I only thought about saying, or thinking I did something I only thought about doing. Or sometimes the reverse - thinking I only thought about saying or doing something when in fact I actually did it. It only happens retrospectively, not as I'm thinking/saying/doing the thing, so I'm not sure if it might just be a memory problem. I seem to have poor 'source memory'.

"3.2 Mirror-Related Phenomena (C.2.3.6) 
This is a group of phenomena, which have in common an unusually frequent, and intense looking in the mirror or avoiding one’s specular image or looking only occasionally but perceiving a facial change. 

The patients either perceive changes of their own face 
or they look for such changes, and therefore examine 
themselves in the mirror often and/or intensely. They 
may become surprised or frightened by what they see, and 
even tend to avoid mirrors because of what they see. 
Sometimes they look in the mirror to assure themselves 
of their very existence. They might also look at photos of 
themselves to find out about their own identity.

Subtype 2
The patient perceives his own face as somehow changed 
or deformed.


To subtype 2 
• She had an experience that her face looked witch-like, and therefore she did not like to see herself in the mirror. 
• She saw that her neck muscles were strangely protruding. 
• When she looked at herself in the mirror, she focused on the eye, 
which she suddenly saw as a ball in her head. It was ‘surrealistic’, and she felt that her face was changed."

This one I'm uncertain about. I like staring at my eyes in the mirror, and when I focus closely on my eyes, they start to look strange to me. Not that anything about the way they look is objectively different, but it seems different. However, I enjoy this feeling, instead of finding it distressing. (I especially liked when, to test my retina, the eye doctor put medication in my eyes to make my pupils expand. Several times while waiting to be seen I would run into the bathroom, stare at myself in the mirror, and then start giggling madly.)

I also keep feeling like my face doesn't look the way I expect it to look. It's like I forget what my face looks like when I'm not actually seeing it. But this is also not unpleasant, just a bit startling. I figured this was due to poor interoception (there's a test for it which I describe here, and I score well below average). I guess poor interoception could be linked to dissociation, though it seems to fit well among sensory processing issues as well.

It's weird. I knew I had dissociative episodes before. But now, I feel almost like I've discovered a new diagnosis for myself. I don't know why I never considered that this stuff could be part of dissociation. It's incredible.