Saturday, August 30, 2008

The days and the years start to blur together .....

I was browsing through some online comments about a story about a radio interview with Jill Price, who has written a book The Woman Who Can't Forget about her life with hyperthymestic syndrome, which is a condition in which people have extraordinary autobiographical memory ability. I believe that I have a condition that has some similarities with hyperthymestic syndrome. I have very old and not particularly interesting memories jump out at me for no apparent reason, and it's definitely not PTSD. I was rather stunned by a somewhat rude and skeptical comment that was posted underneath the story about Price, but it wasn't the rudeness that I was struck by.

"If she truly had perfect recall, she would have no way to distinguish between recent memories and distant memories." "For example, she would never know where she parked her car at the office. In her mind, there would be no difference in her memory of parking her car two days ago or twelve years ago. How would she know which memory was the most recent, and in turn, which memory to take action upon?"

It's a good question, and Jill Price is the only person who can answer it. I can say that I have exactly the problem described in the comment, and it is annoying at times. But isn't this type of problem completely normal? Doesn't everyone find it impossible to distinguish between old and new near-identical memories? Am I really a freak? Surely not. The cause of this annoying memory phenomenon cannot be dismissed as absent-mindedness; I know it happens because of a troublesome persistence of older memories, which cannot be distinguished from more recent memories, because the old and the new have nothing much to distinguish between them. The solution to this problem is simple; just park in the same or similar spot each time I visit the same car-park. It does also help to have a car that has an appearance that is unique in some way that is visible over a distance. No white Commodore sedan for Lili Marlene. Does my problem, and my solution, explain why autistic people often have a "need for sameness and routine"? Is this memory phenomenon an autistic trait? Do autistic people routinely suffer from troublesome and misunderstood side-effects of a superior memory ability when people interfere with the self-discovered strategies that they use to avoid such problems? Autistic people are known for having superior memory ability, as are some synaesthetes, so this seems like an explanation that could be applied to the behaviour of other people who share my unusual neurotypes.

One person who was the subject of an old case study from the psychological literature is more famous than any other for being a person who was supposedly had cognitive difficulties because he was unable to forget things. His real name was Solomon Shereshevskii, but being the subject of a case study he was given the anonymous name of "S" by A. R. Luria in his famous book The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Shereshevskii had synaesthesia in abundance, a number of different types, and it appears he experienced synaesthesia as an interference to his thought processes. I have a number of different types of synesthesia, and it is a frequent but subtle experience, and to a minor degree it does influence the direction of my thoughts. Lorna Wing, who is recognized as an expert on Asperger syndrome, has mentioned Solomon Shereshevskii as a possible case of Asperger syndrome, but she has also made it clear that the evidence necessary to make a conclusive diagnosis is no longer available. Like Shereshevskii, in my case there is some evidence implicating me as a case of AS, but this will never be confirmed with a professional diagnosis. I would never have dreamed that I would have so many things in common with some dead Jewish Russian mnemonist neurological case study subject bloke.

Another memory-persistence problem that I have is remembering whether I washed my hair yesterday (or was it the day before?) I strive to wash my hair every second day, but there is no way in the world that I am ever able to pull out my memory of yesterday's shower from all of those other thousands of memories of hugely unmemorable showers past, in the same bathroom. To achieve this would be Mission Impossible. So I stand there in the bathroom wasting time examining the state of cleanliness of my hair each damned morning. If you think this memory-persistence problem means I have a generally infallible memory, you'd be wrong. I have a poor memory for the content of past conversations, and I am not much good at keeping track of my knowledge of the experiences of other people. I guess this could be explained as a deficit in "theory of mind". I often forget to do things that I had intended to do. Memories of past experiences are different to memories of recent resolutions to do things. I am sure two completely different memory systems come into play with these two different types of memory. The thing that stands out as different and possibly superior about my memory is my spatial memory; my memory for cities, highways, homes, kitchens, buildings, regions, workplace computer systems (virtual space), national parks, university campuses, country towns, imagined dream landscapes, gardens, library shelf floor-plans and suburban streets that I have moved through and seen any time in my past. It appears that these memories never die, but that's not the same as saying they are always easy to access. I guess there must be many advantages to having a generally good memory, and I've probably benefited in many ways over the years, but I'll never enjoy the anonymity of driving a white sedan of the most popular make and model.

References and further reading

Elfakir, Abdelhadi (2005) Mémoire et autisme: de la neuropsychologie à la psychanalyse. Le cas de Cherechevski. I’Information Psychiatrique. Novembre 2005, Volume 81, Number 9, p.763-70.
[French paper that appears to be arguing that S. Shereshevskii was autistic]

Gura, David (2008) Woman who can't forget. Blog of the Nation. NPR. May 19th 2008.
[the comment quoted in my blog is from the comments posted here]

Luria, A. R. (1968) The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. (translated from the Russian by Lynn Solotaroff) Jonathan Cape. 1968.

Schacter, Daniel L. (2001) How the mind forgets and remembers: the seven sins of memory. Souvenir Press, 2001.
[an excellent book about memory]

Wing, Lorna (1981) Asperger syndrome: a clinical account. Psychological Medicine. 11, p.115-129.
[Shereshevskii mentioned as a possible case]

Copyright Lili Marlene 2008.
(please don't quote without citing source)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do you speak Mandarin?

I couldn't help laughing when I heard that the young UK maths genius with AS who was featured in tonight's Catalyst programme has learned to talk Mandarin fluently, just like our clever Kevin here in Australia. Could this be an autistic trait? This maths genius isn't the only Mandarin-speaking autist that I know of either - there is an autist artist in the US by the name of Gregory Blackstock, who learned Mandarin, and a number of other languages, from records and from listening to foreign speakers. My word, there's something most familiar about the appearance of Mr Blackstock. Who does he look like?

Info about a book by Blackstock, with a photo of the artist

Catalyst story about Daniel Lightwing

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Has Lili Marlene discovered another form of synaesthesia?

Would you call this “music-motion synaesthesia” or “music-spatial synaesthesia”?

The other day I was looking through a dusty drawer full of old cassette tapes, hoping to find some old musical gem, with the intention of horrifying/fascinating our teens, and reliving the music of my youth.

While playing an old favourite track “That’s Pep” from the Devo LP “Freedom of Choice” I remembered that I have always been most impressed by the fact that this track has a simple, cute, twangy electronic sound repeated often in it that goes in a circle. Those clever technical Devo people! How did they manage to coax some musical notes into going in a circle? It’s no wonder they look so smug, in those red plastic hats.

The stereotypes that we feel comfortable with

This Thursday the ABC TV show Catalyst is going to be featuring a mathematically gifted young man who apparently has Asperger syndrome. Good on him for going on TV. I’ll watch the show with interest, but I’m disappointed that the Catalyst people chose (oh yes, they chose) to follow the standard script for journalists covering AS; all aspies are young and all aspies are male and all aspies have a special talent for mathematics. The UK professor who deserves much of the credit for writing the International Standard Character Outline of Autistic Stereotypes, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, will also be featured in this upcoming story on Catalyst. And by the way, have you ever noticed the way media people often describe autistic people as “brilliant minds” rather than “brilliant people”? I think we all know, at some level of consciousness, what is meant by that.

The stereotypes of autism are well known, but I’ve noticed that a number of stereotypes have also developed over the years pertaining to people who have synaesthesia. In the earlier years of the second wave of scientific interest in synaesthesia (first wave in the 1800s, second wave from the 1980s onwards) there was a stereotype of the synaesthete as a statistically rare adult female who is prone to migraines, excessive emotional reactions, unusual experiences and odd beliefs. I think I might know her type; she smells of essential oils and wears brightly coloured, loose-fitting pure organic cotton clothing, and she is likely to inform you about the colour of your aura. In recent years another stereotype of the synaesthete has developed, an adult (usually male) painter or musician. I like to think of this fellow as the "Aesthete Synaesthete". He has cultivated tastes in matters of art, food and the senses. Get used Mr Aesthetic, as there’s no sign of this new, scientifically-improved synaesthesia stereotype going away any time soon. Actually there is a historical link between Aestheticism and synaesthesia, the Symbolist art movement of the late nineteenth century, a fact which I find interesting as I've had a great fasination with the art of that period for many years, but I've never figured out why. Maybe there's something behind this stereotype business.

The idea that synaesthetes are in some way more creatively gifted than normal folk still hangs in the air, like a whiff of patchouli incense at a weekend market, neither proven nor responsibly disposed of, as far as I can tell. And let me warn you now, about a new synaesthesia stereotype that is just appearing over the horizon; the hyper-empathizer synaesthete. Just because one small study found some kind of link between mirror-touch synaesthesia (only one type of synaesthesia) and one (only one) element of a questionnaire that is supposed to measure "empathy" (whatever that is exactly), a mythology has grown around the idea that synaesthesia is a "gift" and part of that "gift" is an increased, sometimes unbearable hypersensitivity to the feelings of others. This is sure to be the subject of a future blog post by Lili Marlene if it keeps up.

In celebration of the fact that people are so much more interesting (and human) than stereotypes or descriptions of subjects in academic journal papers I have compiled this (rehash) list:

Defying the stereotypes: a referenced list of 55 famous people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum who are or were NOT solely famous for being mathematicians, computer innovators, scientists, technologists, academics, visual artists, musicians, architects, savants, eccentrics or obsessives

Joy Adamson – naturalist, author
Hans Christian Andersen - author of many famous children’s stories including The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes
W. H. Auden – poet, described as one of the greatest 20th century writers, won a Pulitzer Prize For Poetry
Sir A.J. Ayer - British philosopher, logical positivist, wrote Language, Truth and Logic
Dan Aykroyd C M - film actor, comedian, singer, screenwriter, Member of the Order of Canada, one of the “Blues Brothers”
Daisy Bates - journalist, welfare worker, amateur anthropologist, famous in Australian history
Samuel Beckett - winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, playwright, poet, novelist, “almost certainly the greatest prose stylist of the century”, wrote the play Waiting For Godot
Jeremy Bentham - philosopher, jurist, reformer
Gordon Brown – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Tim Burton – film director, works include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands
Lewis Carroll – children’s book author, nonsense poet, mathematician, logician, photographer, academic, Anglican clergyman, wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
King Charles XII of Sweden - Sweden reached it’s height of power under his reign but his decision to attack Russia finished the Swedish Empire
Bruce Chatwin - travel writer, novelist, wrote The Songlines
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels
Eamon de Valera - Irish president, author of Ireland’s constitution, professor of mathematics
Greg Egan - Australian science fiction author, computer programmer, winner of a Hugo Award, won three Locus Awards
Robert Emmet - Irish nationalist leader
Tim Fischer AC – ex-politician, recently nominated as an ambassador, once Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the National Party of Australia
Janet Frame ONZ CBE – New Zealand author, subject of movie An Angel at my Table, winner of major literary prizes
Charles de Gaulle – French statesman and military leader
Kurt Godel - logician, mathematician, philosopher of mathematics
Major-General Charles George Gordon CB - British army officer famous for campaigns in northern Africa and China
Daryl Hannah – American film actress
Patricia Highsmith - wrote Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, pioneer of lesbian literature
Gerard Manley Hopkins – English poet, Jesuit priest
John Howard (1726–1790) – philanthropist, prison reformer
General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson - confederate general, a brilliant tactical commander

Thomas Jefferson – past US President
Muhammad Ali Jinnah - founder of Pakistan
Sir Keith Joseph CH PC - politician described as “the founder of modern conservatism in Britain”
James Joyce – writer, poet, wrote Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, a novel of great literary importance
Immanuel Kant – very influential German philosopher
Andy Kaufman – American performance artist, immortalized in the movie Man on the Moon
Stanley Kubrick - film director and producer, considered one of the greatest movie directors of the 20th century, works include A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining
Charles Lindbergh – American pilot who made the first lone continuous flight across the Atlantic Ocean
H. P Lovecraft - writer of horror, science fiction and fantasy books

Herman Melville – author, wrote Moby Dick and Billy Budd
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein KG GCB DSO PC – successfully commanded allied forces during WWII
Les Murray - considered Australia’s greatest living poet, won T. S. Eliot Prize
Moe Norman – Canadian professional golfer, had a reputation for accuracy
George Orwell – author, journalist, wrote the famous dystopian novel 1984 and the famous political satire novella Animal Farm
Patrick Pearse - also known as Pádraig Pearse, Irish nationalist rebel, political activist, teacher, barrister, poet, writer, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916
King Philip II of Spain - Spain reached the peak of it’s power under his reign
Enoch Powell MBE - controversial right-wing British politician
Bertrand Russell – influential philosopher, winner of Nobel Prize in literature
Socrates – classical Greek philosopher, one of the founders of Western philosophy
Spinoza – Dutch-Portuguese philosopher, laid groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment
Jonathan Swift – Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer and cleric, possibly the best prose satirist in English literature, wrote Gulliver’s Travels
Robert Walser - Swiss writer
Simone Weil – French philosopher, social activist, Christian mystic
Orson Welles - film director, theatre director, actor, radio broadcaster, he directed, co-wrote, produced and acted in the movie Citizen Kane, considered by some the greatest film ever made
Herbert G. Wells - writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his science fiction novels, a socialist
Ludwig Wittgenstein - one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century
William Butler Yeats - poet, dramatist, mystic, winner of Nobel Prize in literature


Books that discuss more than one famous person

Attwood, Tony (2000) The autism epidemic – real or imagined. Autism Asperger’s Digest. November/December 2000.
[Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Mozart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Glenn Gould, Alan Turing]

Condon, Deborah (2004) Did Yeats and de Valera have autism? 9/1/2004.
[brief review of the book “Autism and Creativity” by Fitzgerald, many discussion postings follow the review]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2006) Autism, Asperger’s syndrome and creativity. Autism2006: AWARES Conference Centre. October 4th 2006.
[Stanley Kubrick, George Orwell, Andy Warhol, Temple Grandin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Simone Weil, Joy Adamson, Wittgenstein, Sir Keith Joseph, W. B. Yeats, Lewis Carroll, Newton, Gregor Mendel, Kant, Spinoza, Charles Lindbergh]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[Gaudi, Hopper, Quine, Wittgenstein, Maxwell, Swift, H. Christian Andersen, Melville, Carroll, W. B. Yeats, Conan Doyle, Orwell, Chatwin, Spinoza, Kant, Weil, A. J. Ayer, Mozart, Beethoven, Satie, Bartok, Gould, van Gogh, J. B. Yeats, L.S. Lowry, Warhol]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2004) Autism and creativity: is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability? Brunner-Routledge.
[Wittgenstein, Sir Keith Joseph, Eamon de Valera, W. B. Yeats, Lewis Carroll, Ramanujan, Socrates, this book is at least partially available to read through Google Book Search]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2002) Asperger's disorder and mathematicians of genius. (letter) Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. February 2002, 32(1) p.59-60.
[G. H. Hardy, Gauss, Lagrange, Cauchy, Riemann, Galois, Lobatchensky, Archimedes, Wittgenstein, Eamon De Valera, Paul Erdos, the author writes that William Hamilton is the only person described in the table in this paper who “did not meet criteria for Asperger’s disorder”]

Fitzgerald, Michael, and O’Brien, Brendan (2007) Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world. Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2007.
[Archimedes, Newton, Henry Cavendish, Jefferson, Charles Babbage, Darwin, Gregor Mendel, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Nikola Tesla, David Hilbert, H.G. Wells, John B. Watson, Einstein, Bernard Montgomery (of Alamein), Charles de Gaulle, Alfred Kinsey, Norbert Wiener, Charles Lindbergh, Kurt Godel, Paul Erdos, parts of this book available to read free through Google Book Search]

Gernsbacher, Morton Ann (2007) A conspicuous absence of scientific leadership: the illusory epidemic of autism.
[Henry Cavendish, Nikola Tesla, Glenn Gould, Moe Norman, Michael Ventris, Einstein, Jefferson, Newton]

James, Ioan (2005) Asperger syndrome and high achievement: some very remarkable people. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[Michelangelo, Philip of Spain, Newton, Swift, John Howard, Cavendish, Jefferson, van Gogh, Satie, Russell, Einstein, Bartók, Ramanujan, Wittgenstein, Kinsey, Weil, Turing, Highsmith, Warhol, Glenn Gould]

Ledgin, Norman (2002) Asperger’s and self-esteem: insight and hope through famous role models. Future Horizons, 2002.

[Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Orson Welles, Marie Curie, Carl Sagan, Glenn Gould, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, Bela Bartok, Paul Robeson, Gregor Mendel, Oscar Levant, John Hartford, Temple Grandin, a book that is supposed to be an esteem-builder that appears to be loaded with negative and antiquated language, parts of the book available to read through Google Book Search]

Lyons, Viktoria and Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) Asperger Syndrome - A Gift or a Curse? Nova Science Publishers Inc.
[Kinsey, Kubrick, Patricia Highsmith, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, Robert Walser, Joy Adamson, Enoch Powell, William James Sidis, Kurt Godel]

Osborne, Lawrence (2002) American normal: the hidden world of Asperger syndrome. Springer.
[Glenn Gould, Thomas Jefferson, Temple Grandin, at least part of this book is available to read through Google Book Search]

Paradiz, Valerie (2002) Elijah’s cup: a family’s journey into the community and culture of high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. The Free Press, 2002.
[Andy Kaufman, Andy Warhol, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Glenn Gould, Temple Grandin]

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2008) Royal College of Psychiatrists: link between creativity and psychiatric disorder ‘not a myth’. (press release) February 21st 2008.$1206253.htm
[Charles de Gaulle, H. G. Wells, discusses the book by Fitzgerald and O’Brien “Genius genes”]

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2006) Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Meeting 2006 Glasgow: Thatcherism founder had Asperger's Syndrome. (press release) The Royal College of Psychiatrists. 11th July 2006.
[Sir Keith Joseph, Enoch Powell, Eamon de Valera, W. B. Yeats, Sir Isaac Newton]

Sacks, Oliver (2004) Autistic geniuses?: we’re too ready to pathologize (letter). Nature. May 20th 2004, Vol. 429, p. 241.
[a letter in which Sacks states that he does not believe that Wittgenstein, Einstein nor Newton “were significantly autistic”]

Walker, Antionette and Fitzgerald, Michael (2006) Unstoppable brilliance: Irish geniuses and Asperger’s syndrome. Liberties Press. 2006.

[“… many of the most notable people in Irish politics, the arts and sciences may have exhibited traits of Asperger's syndrome …”, Robert Emmet, Pádraig Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Robert Boyle, William Rowan Hamilton, Daisy Bates, WB Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett]

Westfahl, Gary (2006) Homo aspergerus: evolution stumbles forward. Locus Online. March 6th 2006.
[H. L. Gold, H. P. Lovecraft, Greg Egan]

About W. H. Auden
Auden, Wystan Hugh (1970) A certain world: a commonplace book. Viking Press.
[contains selections of work of other writers in a dictionary format, thought to be loosely autobiographical, has an entry with the heading “Children, Autistic” with a piece written by discredited autism “expert” Bruno Bettelheim]

Davenport – Hines, Richard (2004) Auden’s life and character. (Chapter 2) In:
Smith, Stan (2004) The Cambridge companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge University Press.
[parts of this book available to read free through Google Book Search]

About Sir A. J. Ayer
McLynn, Frank (1999) Fond, foolish Freddie. New Statesman. 28th June 1999.

Rogers, Ben (2002) A. J. Ayer: a life. Chatto and Windus, 1999.
[on pages 4 and 5 Rogers mentions why he and Sir Ayer’s widow considered that Ayer may have been autistic, and why the biographer decided that “this approach was unfruitful.”, on pages 20, 21, and 287 characteristics that could be relevant to AS are described]

About Dan Aykroyd C M
Gross, Terri. (2004) Comedian – and writer – Dan Aykroyd. Fresh Air. NPR. November 22 2004.
[discusses his childhood diagnosis at around 29 minutes into this radio interview]

About Jeremy Bentham
Lucas, Philip and Anne Sheeran (2006) Asperger’s syndrome and the eccentricity and genius of Jeremy Bentham. Journal of Bentham Studies. Number 8.

About Gordon Brown
Harris, Robert (2006) “Autistic” Brown loses the plot. The Sunday Times. TimesOnline. September 10, 2006.,,2087-2350740.html

About Tim Burton
Entertainment News Staff (2005) Helena Bonham Carter’s child craving. Softpedia. November 17th 2005.

Sampson, Cory (2004) Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands as a psychological allegory. The Tim Burton Collective.

World Entertainment News Network (2005) Burton may be autistic.

About King Charles XII of Sweden
Gillberg, C. (2002) [Charles XII seems to have fulfilled all the criteria of Asperger syndrome] (article in Swedish) Lakartidningen. 2002 Nov. 28;99 (48):4837-8.

Lagerkvist, B. (2002) [Charles XII had all symptoms of Asperger syndrome: stubbornness, a stereotyped existence and lack of compassion] (article in Swedish) Lakartidningen. 2002 Nov. 28;99(48):4874-8.

About Tim Fischer
Fischer `mildly autistic' as child (1999) The Newcastle Herald (includes the Central Coast Herald). Dec 14, 1999. Edition: Late, Section: News, pg. 5

McLeonard, Kieran (1999) Tim Fischer tells of life with autism. AM Archive. ABC Local Radio. 13th December 1999.

On the brink 1 – Tim Fischer. Life Matters. ABC Radio National. 13th December 1999.
[“The first of our series 'On the Brink', about the teenage years…” Fischer claimed to have had a degree of autism]

Rees, Peter (2001) The boy from Boree Creek: the Tim Fischer story. Allen and Unwin, 2001.
[parts can be read through Google Book Search]

Wright, Tony and Gray, Darren (1999) Fischer claims autistic links with his child. The Age (Melbourne). December 14th 1999. Edition: National, Section: News, pg. 3

About Janet Frame ONZ CBE
Abrahamson, Sarah (2007). Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism? The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 12th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1263.

Abrahamson, Sarah (2007) Author responds to criticism of her 'Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism?' viewpoint article. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.

Autistic diagnosis proposed for Frame: celebrated author Janet Frame may have been autistic. (2007) The Press. October 12th 2007.

Cohen, David (2007) Autistic licence. New Zealand Listener. November 10-16 2007 Vol. 211 No. 3522.

Frame, Janet (c1982) To the Is-land. The Women’s Press, 1983.
[Frame’s first volume of autobiography, no mention of AS or autism to my knowledge]

Frame, Janet (1984) An Angel at My Table. The Women’s Press, 1984.
[Frame’s second volume of autobiography, no mention of AS or autism to my knowledge]

Frame, Janet (c1984) Envoy to the Mirror City. The Women’s Press, 1985.
[Frame’s third volume of autobiography, no mention of AS or autism to my knowledge]

Frame, Janet (c1963?) Towards Another Summer. Vintage, 2007.
[described as a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1963 but not previously published, in which Frame “wittily spoofs her own social gauchness”]

Frizelle, Frank A. (2007) Peer review of NZMJ articles: issues raised after publication of the viewpoint article on Janet Frame. [editorial] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.

Hann, Arwen (2007) Autism claim draws fire from family, mum. The Press. October 22nd 2007.

Johnston, Martin (2007) Author Janet Frame suffered from “high functioning autism”. The New Zealand Herald. October 12th 2007.

King, Michael (2000) Wrestling with the angel: a life of Janet Frame. Picador, 2000.
[a biography, on pages 417-418 can be found a very revealing excerpt from a letter written by Frame in which she described and explained an example of behaviour that she had in common with her niece’s autistic daughter]

Matthews, Philip (2008) Back on the page. The Press. July 26th 2008.
[about the posthumous publication of “Towards Another Summer” and other works by Frame, Pamela Gordon’s role as literary executor, and the autism controversy]

Oettli, Simone (2007) Janet Frame and autism? Response from a Frame scholar. The New Zealand Medical Journal. November 9th 2007, Vol. 120 No. 1265.

ONE News (2007) Frame autism claim rubbished by family. October 12th 2007.
[with a link to a clip of New Zealand TV coverage of this story]

Sharp, Iain (2007) Frame of mind. Sunday Star Times. Section C8 (books) October 21st 2007.
[gives Pamela Gordon’s view on the controversy, Frame’s literary executor and niece reveals that she has a daughter with “severe autism”]

Stace, Hilary (2007) Janet Frame and autism. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007. Vol. 120 No. 1264.

Stace, Hilary (2007) Was Janet Frame on the autistic spectrum? November 8th 2007.
[interesting blog article with comments]

Tramposch, B. (2007) "Diagnosis by mail": a response to the viewpoint article on Janet Frame. [letter] The New Zealand Medical Journal. October 26th 2007, Vol. 120 No. 1264.

About Kurt Godel
Fitzgerald Michael and Lyons Viktoria (2004). Kurt Godel: The mathematical genius who had Asperger’s syndrome. Autism/Asperger’s Digest. May/June 2004, 46-47.

About Major-General Charles George Gordon CB
Mersh, Paul (2000?) Did General Charles Gordon Have Aspergers Syndrome? The Victorian Web.

About Daryl Hannah
Erickson, Hal (2006) Daryl Hannah. (2006) Daryl Hannah. CNET Networks Inc.

About John Howard (1726–1790)
Lucas, Philip (2001) John Howard and Asperger's Syndrome: psychopathology and philanthropy. History of Psychiatry. 2001 12: p.73-101.

About Stonewall Jackson

Fitzgerald M. (2003) Did ‘Stonewall’ Jackson have Asperger’s syndrome? Society of Clinical Psychiatrists

Fitzgerald M. (2003) Did ‘Stonewall’ Jackson have Asperger’s syndrome? Irish Psychiatrist. 3,6, p.223-224.

About Thomas Jefferson

Ledgin, Norman (2000) Diagnosing Jefferson: evidence of a condition that guided his beliefs, behavior and personal associations. Future Horizons, 2000.
[appears to be available to read through Google Book Search]

About Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Arshad M., Aslam U., Fitzgerald M. (2006). Did MA Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, have Asperger’s syndrome? Irish Psychiatrist. February/March 2005 6(1) p.17-18.

About Sir Keith Joseph CH PC
Laurance, Jeremy (2006) Keith Joseph, the father of Thatcherism, 'was autistic'. The Independent (London). July 12, 2006. 13 Dec. 2007.

About Les Murray
Baird, Julia (2006) Les Murray: the poet who helped save the Snowy. Sunday Profile. ABC Local Radio. June 4, 2006.

Mitchell, Paul (2006) Paul Mitchell reviews Les Murray. Cordite Poetry Review. Number 24, 1st July 2006.

Moran, Rod (2007) Murray’s troubled waters run deep. The West Australian. Weekend Extra, page 4, February 10, 2007.

Murray, Les (1997) Killing the black dog: essay and poems. The Federation Press.
[Murray claims to be “very mildly autistic” on page 17]

Neill, Rosemary (2006) Songs of experience. The Australian. April 8 2006.,20876,18710059-16947,00.html

Phillips, Juanita (2007) Lunch with Les Murray. The Bulletin. March 20 2007.

Potts, Robert (2004) The voice of the outback. The Guardian. May 15, 2004.,12084,1216273,00.html

Wootten, William (2006) Salt, land and tears. The Guardian. October 21, 2006.,,1927616,00.html

About Moe Norman
Selcraig, Bruce (2004) Golf’s purest striker rarely missed a fairway. USA Today. September 28 2004.

About Robert Walser
Lyons V., Fitzgerald M. (2004). The case of Robert Walser. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. 21, 4, 138-142.

About Ludwig Wittgenstein
Fitzgerald M. (2000) Did Ludwig Wittgenstein have Asperger’s syndrome? European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2000 March 9(1) 61 – 65.

Fitzgerald M. (2000) Ludwig Wittgenstein: Autism and Philosophy. (letter) Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. vol. 30, no. 6, December 2000, p.621 – 622.

Fitzgerald M., Berman D. (1994) Correspondence: Of sound mind. Nature. vol. 368, p. 92

Wolff, Sula (1995) Loners: the life path of unusual children. Routledge.
[Wittgenstein and Opal Whitely are both described as schizoid and profiled in Chapter 12 of this book]

Copyright Lili Marlene 2008.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Melodia Synaesthesia

Melodia Synaesthesia

We’ve been listening to The Vines’ latest CD for a few weeks now. On my first listening of Melodia I thought it sounded a lot like previous Vines releases. Those clever musical effects that The Vines seem to have a copyright on have been put to work again. The track Orange Amber sounded very familiar, and that heavy as a ton of bricks falling on your head guitar sound in the chorus of Hey is certainly something that I’ve heard before on a Vines album. I wondered whether I would soon become bored with Melodia, as it has so much in common with previous Vines releases, and the kids have really played them to death over the years, but I found that there are plenty of new tricks in Melodia to make it interesting, and every track is worthwhile.

Let me describe what I saw in my “mind’s eye” the first time that I listened to track number 14; She is Gone. Visualize your entire field of sight taken up with one pretty colour that looks soft and kind of transparent but also pure, like stage lighting with a coloured filter over the light, or a watercolour painting that is all one colour. Then with every change in musical note of the music (vocals and instruments) the colour on this “mind screen” changes to a completely different colour, and it looks as though the blocks of colour are travelling from left to right on a screen, and the border between different colour blocks is a straight vertical line, with no blurring or overlap between these moving blocks of different colours. The colours are pretty and varied; imagine green, soft orange, pink, yellow, soft violet. The colours come onto the screen in an order that is not like a rainbow effect; for example, one might see a yellow follow after a violet, or a green following after an orange. This whole visual effect appears to be culturally influenced by the experiences, throughout my lifetime, of being a viewer of theatrical, cinematic and educational presentations (concert lighting, Power Point presentations, video clips on TV, overheads, cinema projections, manual and automated amateur slide shows, manual and automated cinema advertising slide shows exhibited before the main feature).

This unexpected vision evoked by She is Gone has not been quite as striking while listening to the track since the first time I heard it, but I still do experience it visually in the same way as described above. I think the vision may have been most striking on first listening because there is a particular type of wonder and pleasure in listening to a piece of music for the first time, not knowing what note might come next. I found the melody of this track to be unpredictable. Is this synaesthesia? I believe it is. If this was just an example of me thinking in a metaphorical or imaginative way while listening to this music track, surely I would have imagined drab colours or blue colours in my vision, to match the established and understood cultural colour representations of the emotions of sadness and regret, which are definitely and unmistakeably the emotional tone of the song’s lyrics. Instead, for reasons that aren’t obvious, my mind spontaneously (?) and instantly created a carnival of pretty, clear colours as a mind-screen video clip to this music track. I think my mind was influenced by the essential musical character of the music rather than the meaning of the language of lyrics. The vocal and instrumental sounds are pretty and soft. Craig Nicholls has a wonderful voice that can make the prettiest sounds and also the scariest sounds.

My favourite track on Melodia is Braindead, which has some first-class screaming in it. I think of it as a brown-coloured song, possibly because it is track number 8 and the number 8 is brown-coloured in my mind. Is the track with the title Orange Amber orange coloured? Actually, I don’t find it that colour, no matter how often those colour-words are repeated in the lyrics. The only kind of music that I could ever imagine being orange-coloured might be some frenetically happy Bollywood soundtrack piece. That’s not to say that I couldn’t imagine amber-coloured images while listening to the lyrics, I could and I sometimes do, but the music itself doesn’t sound amber or orange coloured to me. Another favourite track of mine from Melodia, which sticks in the mind like a “mind-worm”, is She is Gone. I also enjoy the bad grammar in the lyrics of Get Out and He’s a Rocker. This does add to the delightfully brutish tone of full-on rock and roll. Child number 2’s favourite track; Merrygoround. Another child’s fave; He’s a Rocker.

In conclusion, I’d say this is a good CD, not as wild and fury-powered as previous Vines CDs, (I could only find one usage of the F-word in the lyrics), but still offering many and varied pleasures. There’s a track that sounds like a barely-controllable machine, one that sounds like a primal scream therapy session, others that sound like a riot, and a couple of tracks that sound like watercolours. All genuine Vines fans will find it is in their destiny to buy a copy. Resistance is ultimately futile.

Further Reading

Sacks, Oliver (2007) Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. Picador, 2007.
[Includes an excellent chapter about synaesthesia and music]

Valentish, Jenny (2008) As long as no one gets hurt … Jmag. Issue 19, July 2008 p. 38-42.
[An interview with The Vines in an Australian teen magazine, with extra material on the web site about Melodia. Valentish found the task of interviewing Craig Nicholls, who has AS, a daunting task.]

UCL Media Relations (2006) Science says Kandinsky was right – paintings can be heard. September 4th 2006.
[A press release from University college London that describes a research study done by Dr Jamie Ward and animation artist Samantha Moore, which seems to suggest that synaesthetes might have some kind of aesthetic gift for creating visual images to go with music]

Copyright Lili Marlene 2008.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Greer still a legend

I was very much impressed by Germaine Greer's appearance on Lateline on the telly last night. She's a force of nature, so confident and full of fire, and so right. You'd never win an argument with Germaine! I have not read Greer's latest publication yet, but what I heard of her ideas about Aboriginal male rage really ring true for me. I think it's interesting that an old curmudgeon like Greer is the intellectual who has been able to recognize the huge importance of this corrosive rage in indigenous people. At the risk of sounding like a racist, I've so often witnessed a very angry and vicious side to indigenous people, even in the most unexpected situations. I've seen a little innocent-looking toddler Aboriginal girl, on the foreshore of a street of a country town infamous for it's race discord, just walk up to white adults and let rip with the C-word. And believe me, she mean't it. And I could tell you many tales about indigenous children's serious school violence (in a suburban primary school). Can anything be done about this problem, now? I've no idea.

As Greer pointed out, rage is not just an emotion, it is a physiological state that can have a lasting effect on the body. Could it also affect the expression of genes? Has some terrible epigenetic switch been turned on, which will last for generations?

Link to story on Lateline:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lists and articles and stuff that have been published on “Incorrect Pleasures

A referenced list of 134 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

A concise referenced list of 135 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Unusual lives, unusual minds: books and articles about Asperger syndrome, autism, introversion, intellectual giftedness, savants, synaesthesia/synesthesia, "cerebral lateralization", an epilepsy-related personality syndrome and people who have these conditions

Empathy and lack of empathy; two of the stupidest and most offensive fads in popular science writing today

Have autism researchers discovered something very interesting about human relationships and autism as a form of human diversity? March 4th 2007 (I discuss the many implications of an aspect of a study by J. Constantino and R. Todd; “When it comes to intimate relationships, humanity may be highly segregated, something like a naturally occurring caste system in marriage.”)

Misdiagnosed, miscategorized, under-investigated, mistreated and misunderstood: diagnostic, administrative, research, historical and informal labels that have been given in the past to people on the autistic spectrum

Autism, neurodiversity and excellence in science writing

What autism epidemic?

Hyperthymesia or Hyperthymestic syndrome

Famous people who have been the subject of speculation or rumours about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Neurotypical Disorder - What would things be like if autistics were the majority and neurotypical people were a small minority?

Rest easy – autists are in control: powerful and political people who may be or may have been on the autistic spectrum

A referenced list of famous or important living people who have made definite and clear statements that they have, or have at some time been diagnosed with, an autism spectrum condition

Was the brilliant New Zealand author Janet Frame autistic?
(A list of journal papers, books, articles and other resources about the life of Janet Frame and the autism controversy, with links)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Another one to add to your list of different types of synaesthesia: visually-induced auditory synesthesia, or in plain language, hearing-motion synesthesia.

You may wish to watch the short video from Newscientistvideo on YouTube to see/hear whether you have this condition.

The research that is reported and discussed in the references listed below is the third study of synaesthesia that I am aware of in which the researchers demonstrated that a particular type of synaesthesia is a genuine difference in neurological functioning by ingeniously designing a test in which the synaesthete subjects out-performed the normal control subjects. The fact that some synaesthetes can be demonstrated to out-perform people who are neurologically normal in some tasks brings us back to the questions of why do at least 1% of the population have synaesthesia, have the genes for synaesthesia been selected by the forces of evolution, and are these genes generally useful things to have?

Researcher Melissa Saenz is quoted in Scientific American as saying “I think of these people as having an enhanced soundtrack in life”. I think I’d agree with that.

List of links about hearing-motion synaesthesia

Carpenter, Siri (2008) Seeing is Hearing: New Type of Synesthesia Discovered. Scientific American Mind. August 2008.

Hubbard, Edward M. (2008) Synaesthesia: The Sounds of Moving Patterns. Current Biology. Volume 18 Issue 15 August 5th 2008 p. R657-R659.

Motluk, Alison (2008) Screensaver reveals new test for synaesthesia. news service. August 4th 2008.

New Scientist (2008) Some synaesthetes "hear" moving dots. New Scientist. August 6th 2008 Issue 2668, p. 17.

Newscientistvideo (2008) Screensaver reveals new test for synaesthesia. YouTube. added August 4th 2008.

Saenz, Melissa & Koch, Christof (2008) The sound of change: visually-induced auditory synesthesia. Current Biology. Volume 18 Issue 15 August 5th 2008 p. R650-R651.
Paper at Scribd:

The home page of Melissa Saenz, Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology
(with pictures of brains and stuff)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Every name a legend!

A referenced list of 134 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum