Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Carnegie Mellon Statistician Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism

Press Release: Using New Statistical Tools, Carnegie Mellon's Kathryn Roeder Finds Genetic Risk for Autism Stems Mostly From Common Genes -Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University
I've written before about spontaneous, de novo, genetic variation and autism. The theory, which I consider favored by current research, is that genetics represent the primary factor contributing to autistic traits. Now, with statistical modeling, researchers find a likely correlation between genetics and autism.

If mild autistic traits are within inherited genetics, this suggests autistics are somewhere along the "spectrum" based on which additional variations occur.
"Within a given family, the mutations could be a critical determinant that leads to the manifestation of ASD in a particular family member," said Joseph Buxbaum, the study's first author and professor of psychiatry, neuroscience, genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS). "The family may have common variation that puts it at risk, but if there is also a 'de novo' mutation on top of that, it could push an individual over the edge. So for many families, the interplay between common and spontaneous genetic factors could be the underlying genetic architecture of the disorder."
After you have the predisposition for an ASD, the expression of autism varies based on the de novo variation. Copy number regulation (CNR) is a common source of genetic change. Duplication of genes is an amazing event, and it is astounding more errors don't occur with serious side effects. Term pregnancies are something of a statistical miracle.
Now that the genetic architecture is better understood, the researchers are identifying specific genetic risk factors detected in the sample, such as deletions and duplications of genetic material and spontaneous mutations. The researchers said even though such rare spontaneous mutations accounted for only a small fraction of autism risk, the potentially large effects of these glitches make them important clues to understanding the molecular underpinnings of the disorder.
Random variation rarely is caused by environmental (external) factors. But, most people outside science mistakenly assume genetic means inherited. In fact, the genetics that shape us most are often little more than random variation without a specific cause.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Play: A New Death World Premier

This is why I haven't been blogging a lot this summer. I've been working on several new plays… 


A World Premiere

By C.S. Wyatt

Directed By Kaitlin Kerr
Assistant Directed By Sarah McPartland

July 18 - July 26
The Grey Box Theatre
3595 Butler St, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201



Andy Coleman 
Chelsea Faber
Hazel Carr Leroy
Eric Leslie 
Tonya Lynn 
Sarah McPartland
Jared King Rombold 
John Henry Steelman

Friday, July 11, 2014

Support a Theatrical Production with Purpose…

The LAB Project, a new Pittsburgh, PA, theatrical company, is producing my musical play The Gospel Singer this August. The producer hopes to raise an additional $4000 for community outreach and education efforts. The play is about a gay gospel singer and his partner, during the 1980s. It's based loosely on real people. The play was awarded a development slot by Bricolage Production Company last year, as part their annual "In The Raw" festival.

Some people ask if a play about a gay couple arguing about faith and community is still relevant in 2014. Yes, it is. Laws are changing, and society is changing, but understanding the struggles are incomplete — especially within religious communities — is a valuable lesson.

Please consider supporting The LAB Project.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Abuse and Autism

Autistic traits can contribute to being abused and exploited by others, as the following survey data suggest:
Half of [UK] autistic adults 'abused by someone they trusted as a friend'

A startling 44% of those questioned admitted they stayed indoors as much as possible for fear of being harassed. Almost a third reported having had money or possessions stolen, while 37% had been forced or manipulated into doing something they didn't want to do by someone they thought of as a friend. Almost half (49%) of the 1,300 people surveyed reported having been abused by someone they thought of as a friend.
Being bullied is, unfortunately, part of life for many people. The small, the weak, the different, will be bullied. There might be evolutionary and cultural explanations for power dynamics, but we should resist our worst natures.

I'm less and less trusting, but it took me more than 40 years to realize how many people have no moral compass. I still make mistakes, assuming the best of people and their intentions. In the arts, I've also come to realize people dream big and ask for time, energy, and money… but that's not because they intend to take advantage of anyone. It's important to recognize "zealous optimism" versus genuine manipulators.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Whatever Happened to Book 2.0?

I was recently asked whatever happened to my planned update to Spectrum of Relationships. The simple answer: I have been distracted by more interesting (to me) things and didn't really push to get the book updated.

I'm not nearly as involved in autism advocacy in Pennsylvania as I was in Minnesota. I don't speak to groups, I'm not connected to any schools or service providers, and I don't receive the same volume of questions. The lack of engagement means I don't feel the same need to gather my thoughts for autistics, their families, and care providers.

There are plenty of books on autism. Maybe there are too many. Yes, my book should be updated, and it might happen someday, but other projects that offered more feedback captured my attention and energies.

The first edition was (is) mediocre. I know it needs to be better. But, without much feedback, I don't perceive the demand for a new edition.

Maybe I'll get back to work on the book this fall. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know. Without questions, I am at a loss as to what more I should add to the topic of autism and relationships.
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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Autistic Artists and Creatives

As a creative writer, I find that a handful of autism advocates dismiss the creativity of HFA/AS individuals as evidence that artists are "really" autistic. These critics suggest that the savants with autism are genuine, but not those of us with careers.

Yesterday, I ran across yet another mention of the "Shining Aspie" narrative, and how artists and educators with various diagnoses don't really represent "genuine" autism.

Are you an artist? A creative? (And aren't we all "creatives" to some extent?) How do you respond to claims that art, which is emotional and empathetic, represents autistic experiences?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Wife's View of the 'Autistic Me'

A reader asks, "If you don't think about the autistic traits, what about your wife? They tend to notice what husbands fail to see in the mirror."

Is my wife be more aware of my "autistic" traits than I am? Probably. I suppose the above is true of all friends and family in our lives. The people observing us probably do see us for whatever we are, more clearly than we can see ourselves.

She knows how annoyed I get with myself, which might help her tolerate me a little more. I dislike how locked in I get to thoughts, how much I worry constantly about failing at things, how tense I get in various situations. She knows I don't like my sensitivities, my fears, and my general anxiety.

My wife reminds me to accept my limits, though I hate those limits. She tries to maintain order and calm, knowing how much I hate disorder in my life. I don't like to be told the obvious though: my mind doesn't let go of things, even when I wish it could. She'll tell me to ignore something or try to forget it, but I cannot. And the reminder doesn't help — it makes me more stressed, more upset with my feedback loops.

Every week I worry that I'm not doing enough, not successful enough, not social enough, and on and on and on.

If she can add her thoughts and observations, that might help others.

From Susan:

  • Your sensory sensitivity is definitely autistic -- you can hear things most people cannot, and they can cause headaches. Unfortunately, I don't always know when you can or cannot handle some noises. You need to speak up more to prevent problems.
  • Stop stressing about not doing enough. You are doing plenty. 
  • You need to accept, and consider, your physical and neurological limits more often. It may prevent some downward spirals that take you days to recover from. However, now that I know yard work and planting hostas is one way to reset you, you might be doing more yard work in the future. That's why we live in "the country."
  • I maintain order and calm not only for you, but also for me. I like structure, order, and routines, and breaking my routines can stress me out a little, just not to the downward spiral and meltdown point that it stresses you to. Also, the more calm your life is, the less stressful my life is.
  • Every time you think you are abnormal or hard to live with, consider some of the "normal" people you live and work around. They are much more demanding, unreasonable, self-centered, and psycho.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Pain of Memories

I don't generally speak of it, but driving on the shortest Interstate between Pittsburgh and our house upsets me most times. But, it saves about 20 minutes if I'm in a hurry to get home. I need to decide between the emotional stress, the memories it triggers, and the convenience of getting home quickly. (The "quick" route is only fast when driving toward home — it is the worst imaginable path into the city.) Usually, I'll opt for the circuitous (and less stressful) drive that takes me on three different Interstates and two state routes.

The problem is, there's no way skip around the symbols (and traffic signs) that upset me if I want to go to the best grocery store, bookstores, music store, restaurants, and a good mall. So, I feel lousy getting to whatever I want to do. That's hard to explain to other people.

If I could clear my mind, and ignore the signs that upset me, that would make life more comfortable.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cities and (in)Sanity

Now, for some paradoxes about where we choose to live.

Greater Pittsburgh, as a community, has proved to be a great place for my wife and me. The region, which includes parts of West Virginia and Ohio, offers excellent opportunities for people like us. But, those opportunities come with a cost.

Before reviewing the toll I pay for working in Pittsburgh, I wish to list the amazing benefits of the Steel City:

  • I teach at a top-ranked research university, among the best in the world;
  • My plays have received public readings (and, soon, stagings) by some of the most supportive actors, directors, and crews possible;
  • I can walk large sections of the city, after I find parking, avoiding mass transit; and
  • My office is a short walk from one of the largest urban parks in America and the Phipps Conservatory.

But, cities still exhaust me. As a result, I commute an hour or more each direction so we can live in the exurbs. People consider where we live to be "country" though I consider the country to be what we see as we enter Ohio: open fields, rolling green hills, and cattle.

A recurring theme of this blog is my deep distaste for dense urban environments. I hate cities. It is no mere dislike; cities leave me physically and emotionally traumatized. It can take me weeks, not hours or days, to decompress from the sensory overload of a commute into the urban core where we live.

One reason we had to leave Minneapolis was the dense nature of the urban neighborhoods. Although the neighborhood in which we lived features single-family homes with small patches that pass for yards, the density was too high for my nature. I have detailed the misery of that experience.

Pittsburgh is worse. Much, much worse. It is an old icy, dating back to pre-Revolutionary days. The row houses resemble New York or, with the steep hills, the core of San Francisco. Driving in Pittsburgh is a nightmare, unlike anything I've experienced anywhere else. Walking is also more difficult.

As I approach the city, my anxiety increases. My stomach churns. My head aches. I dread the city.

Leaving the city is as stressful as entering. Paths in or out require navigating bridges, tunnels, and left-hand exits. People honk their horns and gesture, believing my 65 to 70 mph speed in the left lane is merely to annoy them. I have witnessed the shock of these drivers as they realIze the "fast lane" is actually a short, 20 mph hairpin exit to another freeway. The sounds of screeching brakes sticks with me. One woman in a white compact car flashed her lights, used her wipers, gestured, and was definitely screaming at me, and then realized we were in a left-hand exit to a busy suburban street. She skidded into the middle lane.

The city itself is noisier than Minneapolis. The abundance of hospitals explains the endless sirens.

Once in the city, I do much better because I'm learning how to avoid the very things that make it urban. I like the park, the conservatory, and the quiet pockets that resemble small towns within the city. I do not like the financial district or the entertainment district. I'd rather stick to the quieter spaces.

But, I am a playwright and a professor — both of which require traveling through and working within the urban core at times.

At least I know that at the end of any day in the city, I get to return to the peace and quiet of our "country" home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Titles Mean

Hamerschlag Hall is one of the principal teach...
Hamerschlag Hall is one of the principal teaching facilities of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For the 2014-15 academic year, my title will be "Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor of Business Communication." Reading this long title on my contract, I considered how labels and titles, beyond "disabled" and whatnot, shape how people view us.

And so, an analysis:

Visiting: not expected to remain; a guest; a traveler heading elsewhere.

Assistant: working to aid others.

Teaching: responsible for educating, with any research duties subordinate.

Professor: respected for past academic accomplishments.

Business Communication: specializing in workplace communication, instead of academic discourse.

The full title implies my role is to teach classes in the business school so other professors can focus on research. It is a temporary post, one that many scholars hold at an institution before locating a permanent position.

Thankfully, teaching is not dismissed or undervalued at the institution where I work, but that is a problem at many research universities. True, dedicated researchers often earn more money, but many "Research Professors" find themselves like "Teaching Professors" — without the promise of tenure or job security. The "Tenure Track" represents that mix of teacher-scholar that I enjoy. But, if asked to choose between research and teaching, I'd go with the teaching as my job. I enjoy working with students and watching them make discoveries.

Job titles convey meaning not only to others, but to the holders. The title helps me understand my role on campus. It's also valuable to understand that titles are bureaucratic, used to comply with rules, regulations, and traditions.

Outside academic settings, people use the title "professor" without the various rank and responsibility modifiers. To my neighbors and family, I'm a professor of communication, and that's it. Trying to explain academic rank resembles explaining military ranks.

As readers know, I like "writer" as my primary label, but "professor" can only increase the writing and public speaking opportunities.
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