Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Personal Shoppers, Disruptive Patterning, and Bad Music at the Mall

I do not like shopping. Well, that's not entirely true. I like grocery shopping, and going to the Apple store. I do not like shopping for clothes. The mall is a terrible place, mostly because all the stores seem locked in competition for the Worst and Loudest Music Award. Almost everything is hideous, and of the stuff that isn't, almost nothing fits. (I am shaped somewhat like a short, tailless Mewtwo.) My brother likes shopping even less, to the point where we have to bribe him with food to get him to cooperate. So on our latest shopping expedition (December 27th, after the crowds are gone) I became his unofficial personal shopper. My mother shops for me sometimes, but she doesn't understand my brother, who won't care if his clothes are microfiber as long as they're soft, and hates anything plaid because it's confusing to look at.* (Mother thinks plaid is cute. I disagree.) So in the interest of avoiding second and third shopping excursions, I made it my job to feel everything for softness, discourage the purchase of ugly plaid things and choose colors (red, orange, gray and navy are good.)
I am not perfect. We're going shopping again today, to return half our purchases for being "too scratchy". But interestingly enough, the things Mother picked out are going back; the shirts with scratchy seams, the shorts with a scratchy waistband she thought would be better than the thick, soft one. I really should have pointed those out and avoided a second shopping trip. Maybe I could be a personal shopper…but only for my brother, and to avoid prolonging our shopping expeditions, because I decided long ago not to work in any industry that involves long discussions with customers.
There's a business idea in here somewhere. Specially trained personal shoppers to buy clothes for the autistic and otherwise mall-averse? Good idea, but it sounds a bit expensive. A store specializing entirely in soft and fluffy things? That might already exist. A quiet mall with soundproofing instead of speakers? Now there's a good idea. If anyone reading this is a mall manager, consider that free business advice.

*Plaid, checks, some stripes and other black-and-white patterns can range from confusing to painful to look at. I consider them disruptive patterns, like the stripes of a zebra which confuse lions trying to pick one zebra out of a herd.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

404 Server Error

404 server error: The file or directory you requested could not be found. It may have been moved or deleted.
    I've been practicing my computer voice, and I must say it's improved a lot. I've learned to slow at the end – de - let - ed…– and to add rANdom pitCH chANgeS in the middle of words. Of course, I'm also practicing my r's…see, it's educational! And useful! And…
"STOP PERSEVERATING!!" My dad does not appreciate this new skill. He's irritated; why, exactly, I have no idea. So I switch to my other favorite error, which may or may not exist:
Error: An error occurred, but the error message could not be retrieved due to another error.
    Cue endless repetitions as I figure out which syllables to incorrectly emphasize; where to change pitch; where to slow down. My mother thinks it's cute – not me, but the actual error, which I found on the Internet. My dad thinks I should stop perseverating. I think it's educational.
    First of all, computers are very precise in their language, so I'm learning to enunciate. I'm adding emphasis to my words – true, it's in the wrong places – but that's easy to fix. I've been told I speak in a monotone, so this might be useful.
Second, I've learned most of the 400 and 500 series of server errors, and what causes some of them. 500– internal server error. 402– payment required 405– method not allowed. Which leads me to methods, and servers, and now I'm distracted…again!
Third, and most importantly, I'm learning to listen. Apparently neurotypicals can pick up on all kinds of things from the way people talk. I don't think I can, but maybe I just need to listen. I listen very carefully to GLaDOS and Siri (who, incidentally, is also a bit evil) and our GPS, not to discern some extra meaning from their words, but to mimic them. Not quite the same, I know, but isn't that the first step? If I don't learn this, I'll never get the rest.
See, Daddy? Now, let's hope he's stopped complaining…
404 sERver errOr: The fiLe or direcTORy yoU requESted couLD not bE FOund. IT may haVe BEen mOved oR de-le - ted…

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Autism Awareness Month–A Week of Thinking Logically

Happy Autism Awareness Month, everyone! By the end of April, I hope you will be more aware of the mentally different people you may encounter in life. (And yes, I know it's now almost the middle of April, but I had a permissions problem and couldn't log in to post for a while.)
First, let's think about logic. The first thing that comes to my mind is a computer. Computers seem very smart, but are actually very stupid. They can add a thousand numbers in a second, remember a terabyte of data (provided a large enough hard drive), and calculate the fastest route between your house and the grocery store. However, a computer cannot infer meaning from context, compose a well-written sentence or understand an idiom. If a programmer leaves out a comma, the compiler will probably throw a fit over "invalid syntax". But if I wrte lik dis, u stll undrstand!
Now, some autistic people can remember thousands of bits of meaningless data, or square any number in their head. I am not one of them; those people are called savants and are extremely rare. I do, however, think somewhat like a computer. To me, the sentence "Go do your work" is very different from "Go do your schoolwork", though my mother insists they both mean the latter. Upon hearing the former, I started tidying my room, and was scolded for not doing my math.
I don't say "Stay there," I say "Stay within a 5-foot radius of your current location" (this is particularly useful for brothers, who tend to wander off to the video game aisle at Target).
When people ask how my day was, I have to stop and remember; they don't actually want to hear all about it. I prefer concrete language, and well-defined terms; say what you mean. A good test is to ask yourself: "If I ran this through Google Translate, would it still mean what I want it to?"
Neurotypicals, your assignment this week is to think logically. Don't assume anything. You will find a lot of unknowns, but that's to be expected. And remember, you can pretend to be a computer, but a computer can't pretend to be you! (at least, not yet…)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Coming Out of the Closet with Prosopagnosia

Happy 2013!

And, as per my New Year's resolution…I am "coming out of the closet". No, not that way…
I have prosopagnosia.

More colloquially known as 'face blindness' (but I prefer the scientific term), this odd neurological problem can be acquired or congenital. It's exactly what it sounds like; a difficulty in recognizing faces–the "usual way". (I'll get into the "unusual way" later.) I won't go into much detail (because other people can explain it much better, and I don't know that much detail), but this is a problem with a specific area of the brain–yes, there is a dedicated face-recognition part of your brain–and in prosopagnosia, it doesn't work so well. Like autism, this can be thought of as a spectrum disorder. At the top are the "superrecognizers", who are far better than average at remembering and recognizing faces. At the bottom are the most severe prosopagnosics, who may not be able to recognize themselves in the mirror. I am somewhere in the lower middle, closer to the bottom than the top.

Now, I said that about the "unusual way"…because I can recognize people, just with different methods. I remember voices (an almost foolproof method, unless they're not talking), and I find patterns. For example, my speech therapist wears large, ornate necklaces. This is especially good to know because she sometimes switches between curly and straight hair, and seems to have a near-infinite variety of clothing. One of my friends always has her hair in a ponytail. My brother is usually wearing something red (and even if he isn't, I know what all his clothes look like).

The other method is context. At Japanese class, I expect to see the Japanese teacher, and the other college students. I wouldn't expect to see someone from class at the library, and would most likely be perplexed if they greeted me there. It's when things fall out of context that I have problems…who's in this photo? Who is this random lady talking to me at the grocery store? Is that person at our door a solicitor? Or our neighbor?
(My mother, on the other hand, seems to always be encountering friends in the most unexpected places–at the library, while grocery shopping…I don't understand how she does it. Of course, she doesn't understand how I conclude that a couple boys I know look like Justin Bieber…apparently they don't, "and they don't look like twins, either!" Well, that's what she says; I've been using a combination of their names to address them both, since I can't tell them apart.)

Well, you'd think this is a serious problem (and it is, I believe, far worse for those with acquired prosopagnosia), but I have found one advantage to this "disorder". My mother notices faces, emotion and tone of voice. I notice other things, and quite possibly more things, more patterns, because I have to compensate. Like the blind man who can echolocate*, (though I'm far less impressive than him), one thing doesn't work; other things work better.

*I'm not making this up, Google it!