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An Experimental Autism Treatment Cost Me My Marriage (well.blogs.nytimes.com)
560 points by salgernon on Mar 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments

I work with John's son, Jack, on LBRY (http://lbry.io). The whole Robison family is full of people with interesting stories:

- Jack went to trial as a teenager, facing 60 years (!) in prison for chemistry experiments (http://www.masslive.com/localbuzz/index.ssf/2009/06/actionre...)

- John showcasing a guitar that Jack's mother and Jack built for KISS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXZi4UZjiiI&t=10)

- John's brother is Augusten Burroughs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusten_Burroughs)

I pointed Jack to this thread. I believe he went through same treatment as John at one point if people have questions.

I didn't know HN was interested in the subject, very neat!

I'll keep up on this thread, and if anyone wants to ask me a question via email you can reach me at jack@lbry.io

tremendously interested, for many reasons - general knowledge, personal empathy, and for many friends and family.

Is there any good, reliable source of information on the treatment described? If it started in 2008, I'm surprised I have not seen it mentioned more recently. Are results as reliably dramatic as described?

Many thanks for joining the discussion - much appreciated :-)

My fathers newest book - Switched On - is all about TMS and his experience. The research is being led by Alvero Pascual-Leone at Harvard medical, he's got a lot of material published.

How it pertains to autism is very new, I'm not sure what the team has published yet. The finding that I thought was most significant is that TMS provides an instrumental test for autism - although there's a ways to go before it becomes the means of diagnosis. An autistic person has measurably different neuroplasticity than a non autistic person, this low level biological distinction has the potential to take subjectivity out of diagnosis. And it is a big step towards a low level understanding of what autism is, how it can pan out to be a gift or a disability (not mutually exclusive), and how the challenges many autistic people face work on a fundamental level.

"And it is a big step towards a low level understanding of what autism is, how it can pan out to be a gift or a disability (not mutually exclusive), and how the challenges many autistic people face work on a fundamental level."

Overall, that's a great comment. I really like most autistic people (my wife and son included). I would never consider this procedure for my son because I don't believe it would make him a better person (but the choice is ultimately his).

One minor point, I would like you tocondider the way you talk about the challenges faced by autistic people. Yes, I live with it frequently. However, it is much better to talk about the challenge in the "interface" between autistic and non autistic people. Why? Because the language you choose can create a victim mentality as it implies the challenge isn't a 2 way street. Let me put it another way, I have been the victim of an autistic boss who was a sociopath - until I recognised (and had it confirmed that he was autistic). Then, I understood that he had almost no empathy. The point is that there is a challenge from both sides.

That they found such a difference in neuroplasticity is fascinating. I wonder how this applies to the higher functioning end of the Autism spectrum. I have spent a lot of time with many different people diagnosed with Aspergers or falling somewhere on the spectrum. Some seemed to have full on autistic traits while others seemed just like your average person, other than their crazy intelligence. There were many shades of gray. I guess that just shows the lack of understanding we still have on what actually is going on in the brain. It's great to hear about this kind of progress.

In the article your father only talks about the sensing other peoples emotions part of autism. Is TMS something that interacts with autism on some lowest level (neuroplasticity perhaps) or does it specifically target empathy?

I ask because many other aspects of autism can be much more inhibitive such as hypersensitivity (sensitivity to loud sounds, bright lights, crowded places) and learning disabilities (sometimes seemingly taken by other parts of the brain in the savant cases).

I get that an article about emotions does well in the NYT, but I think that if TMS would 'cure' autism on a lower level, that could really be world changing.

That's fascinating, thanks for sharing.

Where would one go to try out TMS? I would be quite interested in finding out what my brain is like so long as it was done in a safe manner.

Any good research Uni's psych department will have some TMS studies going on over the course of a year. You'll probably have to do a repetitive task and they probably won't be doing any diagnostics (for that you're way better off with a FMRI or EEG study, where they're often happy to share the data with you), but if you're just curious about the experience you can probably get paid a pittance to try it out.

Interesting! I will ask my friend in the neurology department if she knows anything :)

hi - do you have a link for this?

i want to read more.

i had an experience in 2012 that was very similar to what you describe - it was like something was switched on and suddenly i was sensing other people's emotions.

Does the TMS treatment affect autistic symptoms other than emotional blindness? I've taught myself to read people pretty well, but things like hypersensitivity and hyperfocus are still significant issues for me.

For me, the strongest effect was after one particular region (they tested many), in this TMS study they were targeting 1cm^3 of the brain at a time. The effect that was most pronounced for me was a greatly enhanced sense of sound after one of the regions was targeted. I'm already an auditory thinker, I can remember dialogs, sounds, etc and re-listen to them in my mind. I don't visualize easily at all. I first noticed the effect while walking around Boston on a break from testing, and being somewhat overwhelmed by the distinctness of all of the sounds around me - the people walking and talking, the engines of the taxis, the birds, etc. Each was like a separate track that I could isolate and focus on. As I said, I already think of myself as being a strongly auditory thinker, but it was like this dial had been turned up to 11. I vividly remember driving back from the TMS lab while listening to a live performance and easily counting how many singers were in the chorus. This wasn't permanent, but very memorable.

The regions they target have fairy specific effects. While the most memorable to me dealt with sound, another memorable one made us measurably faster at responding to an emotional categorization test. In this test you have a picture of part of a face (eyes or mouth) flashed in front of you for a split second, and you have to decide which of several emotions it represents as quickly as you can.

In short, TMS can affect vastly more than just emotional blindness. But the research is still young, and it's going to take time for it to be further developed into its full potential.

What brain region did they stimulate? And what kind of TMS parameters?It must have been repetitive TMS, at what frequency?

>What brain region did they stimulate?

During the experiment the sequence of regions was switched up between us, I'm not sure we even all had the exact same set of regions tested. They tested many regions, from the frontal cortex to the motor cortex.

>And what kind of TMS parameters?It must have been repetitive TMS, at what frequency?

They were targeting a 1cm^3 portion of the brain with something like 2 pulses per second. I'm not sure what the frequency of the magnetic field in the pulses was, I think fairly high.

Incredibly interested here - I'm at the very high end of the functioning spectrum but resources in general and even anecdotes/advice has been very difficult to come by. I suspect that in the past 5 years there has been a lot more research and experiences available that could be looked up - is there a place I could dive deeper? I've felt very alone in having to come up with ways of working, socializing and living that don't cause immense amounts of friction. I've already preordered your father's book for one after seeing this thread!

You should check out the forums on wrongplanet.net

I've been there a few times.. it feels like nearly all of the posts are from people who are having real trouble looking after themselves and keeping a job and being independent. I thankfully don't have those sorts of issues, but it honestly makes me feel very alone. I've been successful in life thus far by most metrics but I have a lot of incongruities that most people simply do not relate to.

The way that case was handled is shocking. Officials were dealing with an obviously skilled and curious kid. He should be slapped on the wrist, lectured on chemical safety, and then referred to a chemistry teacher to steer his curiosity safely.

Instead they wanted to lock him up and connect him to the boogeyman of the decade. And, in doing so, exposing him to the world at large, including the very kind of people who could convince him to do not-so-good-stuff.

Charging him on 3 counts of explosive property damage when it is their own property....Deluded and malicious

When you are a hammer, everything is a nail

The government is a hammer, people are the nails....

Nails don't generally become more dangerous to the hammer when hit.

Wow, the officials involved in charging him with that crime are the worst.

The wife was on who wants to be a millionaire too it looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-L3tW4-5W0

Is the way he describes intensely feeling others emotions normal?

When I was younger, I was awful at reading people. Very shy with others as a result, because I was missing most of the data.

I eventually decided to learn how to read body language. I did some training to recognize expressions, focussed on one skill at a time, and viewed every conversation as practice. I improved to the point that people comment that I'm surprisingly good at reading them.

But the emotions don't hit me the way this author describes. I just....see them.

Granted, I've also practice stoicisim and mindfulness, which explicitly trains you to not worry about things like someone insulting you (or hearing a comment that might be construed as insulting).

But, I've wondered if something is going on. When I was younger, before learning to read people, I read descriptions of Aspergers and it sounded much like me. Now when I read them it sounds not very much like me, because a significant component of those symptom descriptions involve poor social skills.


"When I was younger, before learning to read people, I read descriptions of Aspergers and it sounded much like me. Now when I read them it sounds not very much like me, because a significant component of those symptom descriptions involve poor social skills."

I've met a lot of people who describe themselves in such a way.

I think the problem is that the DSM relies on very arbitrary and subjective behavioural signs to diagnose a lot of what it considers a mental illness. That is something that really annoys me about the psychiatric profession. I would be quite keen to see a more mathematical and objectively grounded theory of mental disorder than the vague, hand waved criteria that we have now.

In your case though, I'll quote a character from the Rosie Effect (an amazing book by the way which you might enjoy reading) who said that the main criteria is... pathology. If you are able to maintain an adequate lifestyle (job, education, family, friends) then you're fine. It's only when those "autistic" traits interfere with your life and preclude you from reaching your potential that they're considered abnormal and a diagnosis is apt.

I have an alternate view is like you to consider.

My wife and I had major conflict. My son (at 2) was showing very unusual behaviour. He lacked empathy and my wife felt it was normal. When we got to school, his behaviour exploded into destructiveness. My wife stuck to her guns until someone had the courage to say "he's almost certainly autistic". Then, a few good specialists confirmed it. My wife relented and we helped our son learn to adjust (I focussed heavily on empathy, networking, etc). Now, if we waited until it mattered, he would not be anywhere as capable as he is today. The specialists are amazed at how far he's come. The difference is that people were aware and proactive. They looked for the cues (of which there are many and I see them often - eg. Flapping fingers like a birds wings to release energy/stress).

The DSM isn't perfect, but the industry (well, maybe 1 in 5) does a good job of recognising and managing proactively, not retrospectively.

Much of what we become is hard wired by the time we are 8. The sooner problems are diagnosed and managed, the better.

TL;DR - if you find out when you're going for a job, it's almost certainly too late to influence things.

Hi, thanks for sharing your story.

Yes, you are correct that it is different for children. As adults we can learn to cope and compensate for our weaknesses, but for a child whose mind is very different from the norm it could be nearly impossible to do so without outside intervention. So it's good that you persisted and found him the help that he needed!

I am very critical of the DSM, but that criticism is more due to my tendency towards mathematical purity, and I do agree that there are people helped immensely by it that wouldn't have been otherwise.

However, I also think that if we had better models of the mind, then perhaps we could even help more people. In your case your son was showing some clear signals that allowed several independent specialists to reach the same conclusion. I wonder how many children with less visible signs of autism that nevertheless would have benefited from some form of intervention and assistance in their youth. Perhaps, even, most people have some form of blind spots, be it in social interaction or mathematical aptitude, and a more individualised approach to education would allow all children to grow up maximizing their potential in every area. But I understand that that kind of thinking is utopic.

I suspect that the recurring phenomenon where adults self-identify with autistic traits is due to such a problem - they perhaps struggled with social interaction as children, but were not given the adequate tools to understand that at the time, and have only come to realize it as they grew older.

It sounds to me like you and the parent poster are actually in complete agreement. They wrote:

    "It's only when those "autistic" traits interfere with
     your life and preclude you from reaching your potential 
     that they're considered abnormal and a diagnosis is apt."
Isn't this exactly what happened with your son? Your son reached a situation (school) where his traits began to interfere with his life and his ability to reach his potential. And at that point, the need for diagnosis and treatment became clear. (Or at least as clear as these things ever are. They're certainly never simple, eh?)

Regardless, much respect to you for recognizing the problem and working with your son to get the help he needs. Not an easy thing to do, but you're doing it, and in an ideal world parents would get medals for this sort of thing. Good luck!

His point was it was obvious something was wrong even before school. So, waiting untill someone is forced out of there comfort zone and problems show up is wasteful. But, even if school was almost working ignoring it until people really can't cope may be to late.

Yeah I did not think that me and rustynails really disagree on much either!

Before I made the changes I found friendships to be anxiety inducing, and I was hopeless with women. Now I do very well with both as a result of learning body language. (Of course, I had to take the observations and use them to change my own habits. But body language reading was the necessary element that was missing.)

So it went from pathology to not pathology. Very far from it. My intuition is that I couldn't learn my way out of Aspergers, and so I probably just had a case of poor social skills, in a non-clinical sense.

Hmm, yes, I understand where you're coming from. If I can pick your brain a little bit more, I do find what you say about body language to be quite interesting - particularly because I am largely unconscious of mine most of the time.

In a broad sense, what sort of changes did you make to the way you present your body language, and what sort of cues do you look for in other people?

I wrote about how I improved here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11316187

That's mostly about improving the reading of body language. Send me a message if you want to know more about the other aspects, probably a bit long to write here. Contact info it in my profile.

Yeah that's very interesting, we should defo chat more! I'll send you an e-mail after work.

"Diagnostic labels are like arbitrary geographic borders placed on vast stretches of land"

I.e., everything (including personality traits), exists on a continuum. Diagnoses are descriptively labeled points on that continuum.

I overfeel others emotions. I can be a real pain. I don't know how to observe them without feeling them.

In some ways this makes me very empathic, but it also makes me avoid people expressing strong emotions, so it also makes me very stand-offish.

I believe:

"I can be a real pain" = "It can be a real pain"

If so, I totally relate. In addition, I avoid most people, including family, b/c they overwhelm me. Manipulating/imploring me to do/see/think the way they do, ad infinum. It's a constant barrage.

> Manipulating/imploring me to do/see/think the way they do

Maybe you are too deceptive yourself? ;)

I think I was pretty manipulative as a kid and this led me to suspect that everybody messing with my emotions is trying to "engineer" me to do something for them.

It drove me insane especially when I utterly couldn't comprehend what they could possibly have out of some particular things. For example, religion totally weirded me out - I just felt like somebody is tricking me and I still haven't even figured out of what :)

Anyway, it gets better once you start to see the reasons why people play with you. Most of the time they have no goals besides self-protection and no real intent to influence you as long as you aren't making them feel uncomfortable in some of their stupid ways you would have never imagine possible.

Very good point. I do realize most(friends & family) want only the best for me. However, none are introverted and nary a one's track record suggests they could cope outside of an intimate relationship for any length of time. We have differing needs and wants. Only recently has my mother has realized I am being genuine when I say, "alone does not necessarily mean lonely". I am generous and trusting to a fault, I empathize deeply and I abbhor asserting my will upon others(and detest others' will forced upon me). Yes, my professional and social life have suffered(sic)for it, according to their standards... which are pretty mainstream. However, I AM happy alone, I am better alone & while I do enjoy contact(and am quite charismatic), it is work for me. I don't 'network', I don't participate in group activities & I avoid crowds... not b/c I'm scared or unable, it is work, and it is not enjoyable. I am solo, I am celibate by choice and I make just enough to not be a burden on others. Just because I could make several factors more income, I could get laid any day of the week(not bragging, I used to... a lot) and I could manipulate those who are drawn to my odd persona, it doesn't mean I should do those things. I ENJOY less in almost every facet of my life, it is how I cope with being overwhelmed or stressed out(both come quite easily for me).

I have this trouble too.

For me, performance arts, music and theater "activated" that emotional sense. At first, I could not process it all, and I raged. Then, being used to it, I find each emotion clear.

But, others often confuse them! Disregard, or anger being classified with hate, for example. I feel their anger or loathing, but they express hate to me, and it's all frustrating and painful at times. I feel most people aren't emotionally honest, or just not that capable. Maybe it overwhelms them, or they just don't seem to look at it very deeply.

I don't know.

Aside from that disconnect, I have learned to manage empathy. It's a strong thing, and it can drain me as much, sometimes more than the person I'm sharing emotion with.

An upside is doing things like mentoring or coaching kid sports. When the good, powerful emotions happen, they happen big, and I can share that, amplify it...

Those times are very rewarding. People can be so damn beautiful and intoxicating, just as they can be painful and draining.

I think all individuals have to build social skills to bring to towards 'socially normal', and it varies from where on the spectrum they started. Very outgoing and empathetic people have to learn to tone it down and vice versa.

It seems to me like the author became very self-conscious to the point of anxiety, which is not a healthy opposite of autistic.

Possibly because he simply hadn't needed them yet, he hadn't learned to build the emotional defenses that most folks use to navigate the complex social web that is life.

Scott Adams explains this better than I can, but the most balanced people are selfish enough to guard their own emotional well-being while still being available enough to positively influence others.

"I think all individuals have to build social skills to bring to towards 'socially normal', and it varies from where on the spectrum they started".

That's my observation, too. When I was a teen I would completely rebel against any kind of conformity, especially against the idea of "socially expected" behaviour.

However by my 20's I ended up learning that sometimes what is socially expected is expected exactly because it's the smartest thing to do in that situation.

Funny how these things work out.

> However by my 20's I ended up learning that sometimes what is socially expected is expected exactly because it's the smartest thing to do in that situation.

Perhaps you should develop some kind of mathematical model (say, some kind of proof calculus) for computing what is the smartest thing to do, so that teenager in the future can derive mathematical correctness proofs that it really is the best (in a mathematical sense) to do so that they can invest their hate of conformity into things that are much more worth it.

This was literally the funniest thing that I've read on HN so far. Took me a few minutes to stop laughing.

Reminded me of the time Russell tried to reduce all language to logic, only to be thwarted by a rebellious twenty-something Austrian who claimed that all logic was tautology.

So I think if those teens were really that rebellious then they might try something similar with my social-calculus.

But still, it sounds like a fun exercise. "What are the primitive elements of a social interaction?" Hmmm :)

This was not meant to be funny. I was rebellious (in my own kind) in my teenager years and still am (in a different way). What I found out is that because I didn't know lots of things I wasted my enegy in my teenager years on some wrong things (but also on some right things). Why? Because there are lots of things that they won't teach you in school - yes, the school curriculum is some kind of gouvernment brain washing. I wish I had known them before.

Of course I could say: Teach your children this and this. But times will change and knowledge will change, too. But the more abstract and general it is, the longer it stays correct. Thus my idea to formalize it as an abstract proof calculus.

Oh! Sorry, I didn't mean to misunderstand. The reason I found it funny was because it reminded me of something a close friend would say, because that's exactly the sort of thing that I'm into.

I'm totally with you on the whole "wasted a lot of time in my youth pursuing unsuccessful paths" thing. And looking back, yeah, it's the stuff that the adults/authority figures in your youth don't tell you that really throws you off. So many times in the ten years that I've left school I've had those "aha" moments, and then I thought "well, that would've been pretty useful to know a decade ago". And the annoying thing is, is realizing that there were people my age who already knew that thing back then, due to a slightly different upbringing. It would be nice to minimize that sort of unpredictable randomness from the process.

Do you want to chat more about this off-site? I think we could come up with some interesting ideas between the two of us!

  >> This was literally the funniest thing that
  >> I've read on HN so far.
  > This was not meant to be funny.
As an outsider reading the comments as they arrived, it felt like a slow motion train wreck. Initially I read wolfgke's proposal as straight forward, although after tangled_zan's response I was less sure. It seemed like a delicious irony in the context of a thread about overcoming the difficulty of reading other's intents.

In the spirit of Teen Talk Barbie (http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/21/business/company-news-matt...) allow me to say "Communication is hard!". Your polite recovery on both sides, though, is something all should aspire to.

Thanks for the compliment!

Yeah, I did not intend for my "this was funny" comment in a negative light, it was a genuinely fun thing to read.

I often wish that more people came up to me with proposal of developing domain specific formal systems, so when it actually happened in reality, I was a bit taken offguard by the unexpectedness of it :P

For some people, it is just as important to know why something is true as it is to know something is true.

> Perhaps you should develop some kind of mathematical model (say, some kind of proof calculus) for computing what is the smartest thing to do

Quick sanity check: should this logic be powerful enough to prove every true fact about natural number arithmetic? ;)

> Quick sanity check: should this logic be powerful enough to prove every true fact about natural number arithmetic? ;)

I'm very pragmatic: If such a proof calculus is able to prove useful things, it serves its purpose. If someone found out that there is a deep connection to, say, natural number arithmetic, I would, of course, be very delighted. I personally think it's much more realistic to expect that connections to rather different mathematical topics will be found first: For example many people have contradictory opinions at the same time. If by such a calculus we had a model with strong predictive power how humans resolve such ambiguities by emotions, this could lead to a leap in developing artificial agents that work in an environment with contradictory data. Or to a development of a theory of error-correcting codes for data that is much more highly structured than words over some alphabet.

But one never knows...

Heh heh, I see what you did there ;)

Sounds suspiciously like you grew up.



I think the concept is healthy narcissism. [0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthy_narcissism

It's possible that it's more acute for him because he's not used to it, the same way someone who's lived at high altitude for years doesn't feel out of breath. Most people, I think, are affected by the presence of sad people in some way - we can control or get used to it but the raw material is still there.

This would be my expectation as well. If we likened this emotional sensitivity to one of the senses, almost every sense has a diminished response, over time, to persistent levels of the stimuli. Our eyes adjust to bright or dim light, our sense of smell can quickly adapt to filter out smells that first seem quite awful, we quickly climate to a range of hot or cold water, etc. etc.

So, it seems plausible that neurologically the same sort of sensitivity and then regulation could be at work for someone who had been essentially blind to emotions and then had their visibility switched on suddenly.

How did you learn to read body language? Can you point us to books, websites or courses?

I also would like to know if you notice different body language based on culture, race, gender or not. If so, can you describe how?

I am also quite bad at reading body language, and learning some basic acting skills helped me to read body language a bit better, but I would love to have more information about this subject.


You'll see a few tips and tricks that are useful. Like when a person crosses their arms, they generally disagree with what you are saying, etc.

The most important thing is to pay less attention to the content and more attention to the tone, stance, demeanor, circumstances, likely self-interest in the situation, notice the little things everywhere and that will give you a clearer picture of what you're dealing with. Do this often enough, over and over again, and it'll become second habit.

Content is rarely useful unless you're engaging in a very data heavy conversation, like for example you would when describing requirements for a project at work. During regular conversation, everything is generally geared toward communicating emotional state, so focusing too much on content dulls your senses and you don't pick up what you need to pick up.

I want to add to this that you want to be careful about deriving meaning from one's physical actions alone.

I may have just crossed my arms, but if you'll look closely you'll notice I wasn't looking at you when I did so. It's not that you said something that I'm closing myself off from, it's that it sent my mind on a tangent that made me feel insecure. There's a number of reasons to cross one's arms other than shunning away from people around you.

Let me add a bit more then.

It doesn't matter why you're closing yourself off.

You start wondering about the why, you'll set out on the path of trying to figure out what people are thinking ... and let me skip to to the end, that path is a dead end. People feel and think things that are based on their experience, but you have no idea what the totality of that experience is.

You mention you like jazz. The other person crosses their arms because they stubbed their toe in the morning and jazz was playing in the background, now they remember their toe hurts and they're feeling shitty. How can you possibly foresee that? That sort of random stuff comes up in conversation all the time. The proper response isn't to try to mind read or to convince them that jazz is wonderful.

It's to talk about something else.

Sometimes people cross their arms because it's a comfortable resting position. It's common in overweight men, the arms rest on the belly quite naturally. Often people will lean back against the chair or wall at the same time.

>Like when a person crosses their arms, they generally disagree with what you are saying, etc.

That is pseudoscientific BS

Whether it's BS or not, crossing your arms (particularly while standing) conveys disagreement or frustration, even if that's not what you're actually feeling.

So it's highly worthwhile to, at least, be cognizant of your own body language and what you may be subconsciously telling others. It is an enormously powerful skill.

It only conveys disagreement to people who read that chapter in a pop science book.

What's your take on this - that body language is meaningless?

Paying attention mostly to content is the single most selected-for attribute of autistic people, IMO. It might literally be why they exist, and why they are prevalent in the bay, and why they earn so much.

Don't know about how the grandparent commenter learned it, but I had a similar experience when I went through Meisner acting technique classes.

Meisner emphasizes reacting to the scene partners, and its basic training includes perceiving extremely subtle nonverbal messages from other people---"reading behind eyes". After several classes, I remember walking streets and I saw every people's eyes were illuminated as if shone by spotlight, sending out messages. (I don't say I could truly read what they were thinking like telepathy---what I perceived might be completely off from what they actually thought. But for the purpose of acting, perceiving something and reacting to it is what matters.)

The book to read is "Sanford Meisner on Acting", but I believe you need to actually do it (with a partner, under proper trainer) to see.

"What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People", written by a former FBI counterintelligence officer, is pretty interesting, though not scientific:


Ah I remember after I read that in high school I would overanalyze social interactions. Overtime they started becoming more subconscious and automatic so it doesn't get in the way. Today I can point out the reason why I find someone standoffish or sad based on body language, where my extraverted friends who never formalized their knowledge can know what they're feeling but not necessarily formulate why it is.

    where my extraverted friends who never formalized their
    knowledge can know what they're feeling but not    
    necessarily formulate why it is.
Haha yeah. It reminds me of the way that non-native English speakers often have an understanding of English that is deeper and more formal than native English speakers.

(I am sure that this happens with all languages; English is simply the one I have experience with)

That's on my bookshelf next to "Polygraph Interpretation for Dummies"

I wrote about it here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11316187

Also, as for different culture, race, gender: not really. I learned expressions that are universal. The cataloguing system they were based on did extensive cross cultural studies.

Obviously there are certain tendencies (Italians often do talk with their hands! Even they say so), but nothing you'd want to take as a hard rule.

You'll certainly notice body language based on social status though.

I've found this site super useful: http://www.bodylanguagesuccess.com

He goes through video examples from news clips, interview, late night show, etc and points out the body language of the people.

"Body language shared by terrorists"?

Wow, that's... Wow.

Reminds me of the early 1900's eugenicists posters about "facial features shared by criminals".

Or when Barack and Michelle Obama shared what was described by Fox News as a "terrorist fist-jab" a few years ago...


No need for a website to interpret that bit of body language!

Soon, coming to anthropology journals near you: "Facepalm: A universal gesture?"

The one time Betteridge's Law of Headlines fails!

haha! history has been made today :D

"Two almost always over-looked characteristics of terrorists, mass shooters and perpetrators of other violent acts are the chronic displays of either contempt and/or disgust."

Craniometry and phrenology were based on the physical shape of parts of ones noggin and their supposed links to behavior; this is based on habitual behaviors.

Both contempt and disgust are natural emotions that are displayed by most people.

That's because autism isn't deeply understood yet and so it's diagnosed based on symptoms. But having effective workarounds doesn't mean you don't have the underlying condition - imagine a diagnostic for blindness that said 'cannot safely navigate an unknown area' and then diagnosed a guy with a seeing-eye dog as 'not blind'.

I keep hearing that autistic people have no empathy but I find ones that do have it. They can't read people but they care about people when they are hurt or sad.

Sometimes they get upset when someone tries to belitte them for being autistic. Working with the public is hard for them.

You might be interested in skimming through Part III and Part IV of Ethics, written by Spinoza in 1677[1]. He is a very sharp observer of how states of mind occur, react and develop. His attempt to apply mathematical rigor to his observations is interesting in itself, but might provide for a perspective that is useful. It has been for me ;)

[1] http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3800

Sounds like my kind of guy, thanks for sharing!

"I eventually decided to learn how to read body language. I did some training to recognize expressions, focussed on one skill at a time, and viewed every conversation as practice. I improved to the point that people comment that I'm surprisingly good at reading them."

Wow! I thought I was the only one who did this. As a kid, I too felt like I was missing out on something everybody else understood. Similarly to you, I just kind of naturally viewed it as something I could learn and get better at. Over the years, I did, and now I'd consider myself better than average at it.

Unlike you said, though, I do feel others' emotions. Sometimes too strongly, I think.

"I read descriptions of Aspergers and it sounded much like me. Now when I read them it sounds not very much like me, because a significant component of those symptom descriptions involve poor social skills."

Poor social skills are a common symptom, but I do strongly believe that for somebody with high intelligence these skills can be learned to an extent, like you and I feel we did. In my by-no-means-professional opinion I would not say that "learned" social skills rule out the presence of autistic symptoms.

That said, the lack of ability to share and care about others' feelings does not sound like the mild end of the autism spectrum as I know it. Anecdotally a lot of people with these diagnoses feel others' emotions strongly, they just struggle to understand others' emotions more than the average person does, ie: "Colleen is really sad today, and it's making me sad, and everybody else seems to intuitively understand why she's sad but I don't. And this kind of thing happens a lot."

Interesting. The last paragraph sounds nothing at all like me.

And for the other comment below, I'd say my learning processes were both conscious and unconscious. I used conscious thinking to note what needed practice and assess progress, but used intuition and practice to actually improve them. From what I've read of skill development this is pretty typical.

It's totally two layers of neural networks: The conscious and the unconscious. All of these descriptions fall into those categories. "normal" people learn things intuitively, whereas autistic people have to learn them consciously.

I have excellent social skills, I'm comfortable talking to a room full of people (as long as the material is something I understand well).

I read people well but I don't really emphasise with them on an emotional level, I'm told I'm good at reading people and have worked in sales in the past but its purely for a rational, if I was in this persons position what would I do, likely to be feeling analysis.

I don't really have strong emotions either or more correctly I have them but they are transient and then I return to a ground state, neither happy nor sad just a strange sort of equilibrium, I don't understand people who carry hate or anger, I've experienced both (for sound reasons) but think they are a poison you take til the other person dies (read that somewhere).

This sounds exactly like me (I'm the OP). I have a very contented baseline. Momentary divergences to transient emotions, and then I easily return to the baseline.

I also practice mindfulness. In my case, I have had and still have intense emotions. But you know, letting things arise and pass. I can tell you that just because I can naturally feel a lot doesn't mean that I was socially adept.

I've had a lot of experience with consciousness shifts and exploring different states. If there is one thing I learned, it would be there is no such thing as "normal". Social norms are largely an illusion, and what lurks in the psyche can wildly vary.

Some people don't have intense emotions. Others do. Some have greater empathy than others, in some case edging into parapsychology.

This was something my wife and I were talking about today too. For me, the idea of being "socially well-adjusted" is founded on deep flaws. We have this bias that somehow conflates the inability to speak well with being unintelligent.

We all have different communication channels in which we can connect to people. An emotional connection is one part of it. The emotions lead to some important things related to the human and spiritual experiences, but just because you can feel emotions doesn't mean you got a handle on them, or yourself.

Curious: did you train yourself to recognize expressions, or did you do some course?

I'm guessing it was on his own as there's not many any courses on emotions worth a damn.

That said, coursera did an amazing course on emotions recently by an Italian AI researcher, Jordi Vallverdú. I think it's been taken offline now, unfortunately.

> Is the way he describes intensely feeling others emotions normal?

I would say that to go from not feeling them to feeling them full force isn't at all normal. I think the emotions themselves are normal, it's just the neural pathways that process them aren't used to it. So they're experienced far differently than those of other people.

Our brains are plastic. You took yours in one direction. Good on you.

> I've also practice stoicism and mindfulness, which explicitly trains you to not worry about things like someone insulting you

Can you recommend any resources?

Do you think it could help one become (or adopt a mindset of) apathetic, so office politics and various other nonsense wouldn't be so agitating?

I liked Seneca's letters from a Stoic, and the miracle of mindfulness. There's also some helpful exercises in the four hour workweek (writing down worst case scenarios), and bits of the Black Swan were formative.

Of course, a big part of the latter two books was also structuring my life so I don't have situations where I need to deal with office politics as part of my livelihood. But I can confirm that the techniques do work for very real stresses I've had that can't be avoided.

>I eventually decided to learn how to read body language.

Mind elaborating on this? I'm looking for something like this but can't find any good step by step resources suitable for someone who is primarily logic driven. (Don't think I'm on the spectrum, or if I am its too mild to matter)

Look up Alan Pease for body language.

It is a difficult path to walk. I learned most of it intuitively as a young child. When I saw a gesture, it would trigger panic, almost certainly creating a self fulfilling prophecy. I also faked my body language to hide it from others, making me near impossible to read. As a young person (under 10), it was a social disaster.

Just so you know, everyone is on the spectrum. There is a threshold that makes it clear if you are autistic or not and often relates to under/over sensitivity of senses. My son is sensitive to sound and light (as an example). He also struggles to string tasks together and can't organise anything. They're all common traits.

>Look up Alan Pease for body language.

Thanks I'll do so.

>Just so you know, everyone is on the spectrum.

Yeah half knew that but couldn't think of a better way to convey what I needed. After reading the thread a bit more I guess I could have said neuro-typical.

I remember using two resources:

* Paul Ekman's course on microexpressons * Whatever came up when I googled resources on body language for shy people, people with anti social disorder or people with aspergers

This was in the mid 2000s, so I may have had more academic/professional results than you'd get now. I imagine results now would be cluttered with blogspam.

Also, a caveat is that I've seen some doubts expressed against Ekman's microexpressions theory. However, I was just using the course to get feedback on the expressions themselves and develop an intuition for them. The microexpressions in the course are the same as macroexpressions you'd see people make over a prolonged period. I haven't seen anyone say his facial categorizations are wrong.

So I did the course, and got feedback identifying expressions. That was one element. Then I'd also go through the other resources and practice things I was bad at individually.

For instance, eye contact. I'd have weeks where I just paid attention to eye contact during conversations. I used to not do any, so I focussed on making more. Then I'd pay attention to how people reacted. Too much or too little eye contact will weird people out, in different ways. So you can use reactions to calibrate. Then after doing it long enough, it becomes intuitive and you don't need to work on it consciously. Move on to the next item.

Another I remember was smile lines around the eyes. Genuine pleasure will make people smile with their eyes. Fake smiles are mouth only. So I'd pay attention to when people laughed, and check the eyes. Do this long enough and you get an intuition for real smiles vs. fake. Then you don't have to think about it anymore.

And so on.

1. Identify weakness 2. Devise way to get feedback 3. Focus on it for a bit 4. Once it becomes intuitive, move on to something else

If done correctly, you can learn to do everything at an automatic rather than an intellectual level.

I didn't find body language books that helpful, because they don't have focussed practice. I think something that categorizes expressions + asks you to correctly identify expressions is essential. Then something which just lists things involved in social skills, and practice them to mastery.

As a result I went from being far worse than average to better than average.

Thanks for the write-up. I've only recently decided to consciously focus on this so it'll definitely help me on my path. :)

> Is the way he describes intensely feeling others emotions normal?

This question reminded me of a podcast I heard a couple of weeks ago [1] where they talked about people that just couldn't bear to be with others, because of some sort of over amplified sense of empathy [2].

1: See "Entanglement" at: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia 2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror-touch_synesthesia#Link_...

> Is the way he describes intensely feeling others emotions normal?

I would also like to know. I feel for people, but I don't usually feel with people. I sympathize often, but rarely to I empathize with anything but the more mundane. It's worse the more extreme the emotion. I'll "feel" more for someone describing an annoyance I share than for someone that explains their parent just passed. I'll feel bad for the person, but in a very detached way. This may be a defense mechanism.

The signals I now picked up about what my fellow humans were feeling overwhelmed me. They seemed scared, alarmed, worried and even greedy. ... As exciting as my new sensory ability was, it cost me customers at work, when I felt them looking at me with contempt. It spoiled friendships when I saw teasing in a different and nastier light. It even ruined memories when I realized that people I remembered as funny were really making fun of me.

To me, the article reads as if his newfound ability to sense emotion was very poorly calibrated, at least initially. Or I'm just not seeing signals other people see. I don't find it likely that a customer would stare at you with contempt, that your friends teasing would be nasty, that people are making fun of you. Then again, if I'm mostly blind to these things, then my perception of how often they happen could be way off.

> Granted, I've also practice stoicisim and mindfulness, which explicitly trains you to not worry about things like someone insulting you (or hearing a comment that might be construed as insulting).

So have I, but not under any specific plan. It's more are trying to have a detached view of the best outcome of my actions. For example, I usually forego the idea of justice for the sake of punishment, when it may also negatively impacts me, and isn't likely to reduce the problem behavior later. Such as responding to bad or annoying drivers. Letting them know their mistake is fine, but making sure they are aware how much they pissed me off (even if it's a lot) is something I strive to avoid in most cases. I figure if they know they screwed up, they'll either feel bad or not, and me pressing the issue won't change that for the better (indignation at perceived overreaction seems to override shame).

> But, I've wondered if something is going on. When I was younger, before learning to read people, I read descriptions of Aspergers and it sounded much like me. Now when I read them it sounds not very much like me, because a significant component of those symptom descriptions involve poor social skills.

I feel the same way. I also had a hard time reading situation when younger, and Aspergers has always seemed like it might fit, at least somewhat. For me, social interactions are almost never frictionless, and take non-trivial effort. I feel I get by well, sometimes better than those around me, but mainly because I had to train myself to that point. I find myself not wanting to be around people as much because I don't want to waste the brainpower in layering the correct context over their words (even if it's automatic now, it's still taxing).

> I eventually decided to learn how to read body language. I did some training to recognize expressions, focused on one skill at a time, and viewed every conversation as practice.

That's doing with intellect, what most people do naturally and subconsciously. This is how an Aspie learns social skills, using intellect to cover up a natural deficiency.

> When I was younger, before learning to read people, I read descriptions of Aspergers and it sounded much like me.

It likely is you; neuro-typical people don't have to "learn" how to read people, it's innate.

No offence, but you really should avoid "diagnosing" people on the internet. It's incredibly stupid and disrespectful at best, and can lead to actual harm at worst.

That goes for anyone who isn't a trained professional. But it goes triple for you, given your rudimentary understanding of aspergers, intellect, or how people learn to recognize emotions.

Excuse me, but I didn't diagnose anyone, nor do you know anything about me or my understanding of anything, so take your incredibly inaccurate and rude advice and go shove it somewhere it's wanted. Saying "no offence" isn't an excuse to be offensive, which you intentionally were, so perhaps try learning how to be social as well, you're bad at it.

"It is you; neuro-typical people don't have to "learn" how to read people, it's innate."

"I didn't diagnose anyone"

Wow, do you even LISTEN to yourself when you say things?

"nor do you know anything about me or my understanding of anything"

Yes I do. I can infer sufficient from what you've just wrote.

All I see is you need a dictionary or you don't know what diagnose means. Your inference abilities are terrible then.

Hmm, lets see.

1 - I asked you not to tell random people that they're autistic because it's bad form (fact) and questioned your knowledge of the matter (my opinion). No personal attack on you has been made.

2 - You retaliated by contradicting yourself and sending two ad hominem attacks at me. No attempt to disprove my claim of your lack of knowledge besides another deflection .

3 - I point out that you've contradicted yourself.

4 - You reply with another two ad hominem attacks on me.

Yeah, I rest my case. You enjoy your day.

> I asked you not to tell random people that they're autistic because it's bad form

False, you said I diagnosed them, I didn't, he diagnosed himself and I simply agreed he was probably right.

> No personal attack on you has been made.

False again, and I quote "But it goes triple for you, given your rudimentary understanding of aspergers, intellect, or how people learn to recognize emotions."

As you don't know me, that's absolutey a personal attack based on nothing.

> You retaliated by contradicting yourself

False, I contradicted nothing; I didn't diagnose anyone with anything and your repeating the lie doesn't make it true.

> and sending two ad hominem attacks at me

False, perhaps you need to look up ad hominem as well; insulting someone is not an ad hominem, it's only ad hominem if I claim your argument is wrong because of the insult.

> No attempt to disprove my claim of your lack of knowledge

Burden of proof. It's not my job to disprove your claims.

> Yeah, I rest my case. You enjoy your day.

I hope you're not a lawyer, because if that's your idea of a laying out a case, you'd be terrible at it.

> It is you; neuro-typical people don't have to "learn" how to read people, it's innate.

I'm pretty sure I'm neuro-typical. At least I'm not atypical to the point that it was ever a problem.

And I too had to learn how to read people. I could always read them innately, but after some conscious effort, it became like a superpower. People always say how great I am at knowing how they feel.

The real hard part, though, is learning how to emote back. Especially after moving to a different continent. It's really really hard to display appropriate emotions because, for the most part, knowing and understanding other people's emotions, just doesn't really trigger an emotional response. It's all on an intellectual level.

I've always wondered whether that was normal or not.

> And I too had to learn how to read people. I could always read them innately,

Then you didn't "have" to learn, you learned to be better than typical, completely different thing.

>you learned to be better than typical,

Oh, so also atypical. It's almost like there isn't a typical for us to measure against. Who knew.

As I was reading graeme's post I was thinking the same thing. My only suggestion, in line with tangled_zan's response, would be to keep away from informal terminology for such things so as to avoid any chance of your tone being construed as disparaging.

It's certainly possible. But how would I tell? I learned the social skill stuff to such an extent that it's now intuitive, rather than something I have to think about intellectually.

A functionally autistic woman, Temple Grandin, wrote a fascinating book on autism. She offered a simple test for autism. Think of a church steeple (stop and do that).

If you thought of a real steeple you had actually seen then you probably tend towards autism. If you thought of an abstract non-existing steeple then you don't tend towards it.

I was at a gathering of employees in my company. There were about a dozen random people sitting around a table. I tested the whole group at once. Every single programmer answered with a real steeple and every non-programmer thought abstract.

I know this doesn't represent a real study and chance was involved. But it matches something else she said. Functional autistics with jobs are predominantly programmers. She quoted a number, like 70%, but I don't remember for sure.

I, a programmer, personally prefer human interaction on the web. Meeting in real-life, not so much.

Simple tests like this are fun, catchy, spread like wildfire and almost always completely bogus.

Hey I hear if your hand is bigger than your face you are autistic.

*Smacks your hand and gives you a bloody nose

This (s/autistic/stupid/) is how I met one of my best lifelong friends in my first week of junior high.

This was my first thought. I imagined a steeple but how would that mean any sort of diagnosis? Simply: it wouldn't.

Besides the latest research on autism defines it as a hugely vast spectrum. So vast that I thought many were thinking everyone is technically on the spectrum.

> everyone is technically on the spectrum.

Most spectrums start at zero.

No they don't. The electromagnetic spectrum doesn't even have a zero (a wave with zero frequency isn't a wave).

I'd say it still starts at zero, even if the zero itself doesn't correspond to anything physical. Everything not quite zero still corresponds to something that may actually exist. mHz (small m) radio waves are real things.

> even if the zero itself doesn't correspond to anything physical.

Good point. Zero stones don't physically exist. That is why it took so long for cultures to include zero as a number. I read an entire book about zero (and one each about pi, e, infinity, and sqrt(-1)).

Can you link those books?

Hmm. One could define DC to be a wave with zero frequency and most equations would work correctly. You often define a value at a singularity as a fixed value because that fixed value is approached as you get closer and closer. I personally have no problem thinking of a wave with zero amplitude.

Hmm. Maybe. I think you can have a wave whose frequency is effectively zero for practical purposes, but in the most literal sense, a wave is defined by oscillation. In the case of EM in particular, I think the uncertainty principle says that a photon can't have zero energy, and thus can't have zero frequency (though it can be immeasurably low).

Hmm, I am not convinced. Photons are quantized, and there is a significant difference between a photon existing and not existing.

Yes, frequency 0 is direct current.

We're not talking about AC frequencies here. Electromagnetic waves are different. The only 0-frequency EM wave is literally "no wave". Nothing happening.

Spectra like size? Are there zero meter tall buildings, Prof. Smartypants?

There are even negatively tall buildings... :)

That's just shifting the ground-floor.

I mean, how negatively tall could a building get before turning positive again?

7,917.5 miles?

For one, it only tests what people say and they answer only what they think they were thought. Secondly, imagining an image doesn't preclude parallel abstract thought.

What if you imagine a steeple that you've never seen?

Over-analyzing myself. I think Kant stared out at a church steeple for a lot of his life. And that was memorable to me in college. I've hardly ever gone to church. So I don't have many images. I imagined some sort of steeple as seen from across the street like Kant might've seen. But with a clear blue sky background.

My steeple was steep too in case that helps. Kidding aside I think how we visualize things hardly has binary correspondence with anything, let alone autism. But probably it has some correlation.

How we visualize things and process memory is right in the heart of what's different about an autistic mind. She wrote an entire book about it, "Thinking in Pictures".

Here is one of her papers where she mentions the steeple question and processing memory in the visual centers of the brain if you want to read more: http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.mind.autistic.per...

> If you thought of a real steeple you had actually seen then you probably tend towards autism. If you thought of an abstract non-existing steeple then you don't tend towards it.

What's the rationale for that?

Autistics tend to be very literal, concrete thinkers who like precision and aren't great at generalizing between different situations. I'm not sure if that answers your question, but as an autistic person the steeple thing makes sense to me.

Does this mean that there are no autistic people in fields of study that require heavy use of analogy and isomorphism, like topology?

Interesting question. I don't know enough about topology to say for sure, but I would think it's the kind of abstract thinking that autistics are good at, rather than the kind we're bad at. (See my reply to mchahn for details on that.) We tend to perceive individual properties rather then gestalts, which makes us good at picking out details but bad at synthesizing those details; my brain readily puts, say, a donut and a pipe into the category of "things with one hole through them," so it's an easy step for me to understand them as being topologically identical.

I have no idea. One would think the opposite, that programmers think in abstract concepts. I heard an interview with her on public radio (it was called in since she couldn't appear in person) and she seemed very intelligent and believable.

Hmm. "Abstract thought" encompasses a few very different things. This Quora answer explains it better than I could manage, so I'll paste it here:


"Abstract thinking" is a huge category and a lot of Aspies and people in the autism ballpark have trouble with some parts and are good at other parts.

In particular, I think many of us are good at abstract thought that is formal. Not formal in the sense of wearing a tie or whatnot, but formal in the sense of being based on precisely described relationships. Take math. Math is a creative activity, just as much as painting or any other art. But math is a formal creative act. Like a painting, a mathematical proof can be beautiful, elegant, inspiring. Unlike a painting, a mathematical proof can be wrong.

Or take computer programming. Again, writing a program is creative and a program can be beautiful. But a program is written in a very formal language: Any computer language has strict rules.

On the other hand, many of us are bad at abstract thinking that is informal or, perhaps, a good word is mushy. How do we read a person's facial expression, body language etc? The same thing means different things at different times; there rules, but there are (usually) exceptions; and the rules aren't written.

The very, very first image that flashed into my mind was not a real steeple or an abstract one, but the gesture for a steeple that you can make with your hands (https://janellrardon.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/facebook-st...). I think the reason is that I hadn't read the entirety of your first line (three sentences), but rather had just seen a few keywords and was "filling in the blanks" as I read the line in detail again. I think my mind just conjured up a random memory involving a steeple of some sort (someone showed me that gesture as a kid).

Unfortunately, I already saw your spoiler in the next paragraph before I re-did the exercise.

How appropriate that a person named Temple would use the steeple test to determine if you lean toward autism.

I'm skeptical, however.

People who don't see steeples often will probably think abstractly and people who do probably won't as much.

> People who don't see steeples often will probably think abstractly and people who do probably won't as much.

I live about a mile from a church [0], so thought of that first. I've also seen the Crooked Spire in Chesterfield [1] a few times, so thought of that as well.

On the other hand, ask me to think of, say, a skyscraper, and I'll picture a abstract building. There may be some merit to the test, but I share your thoughts that it'll be changed by people's experiences.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_All_Saints,_Aston_cu... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Mary_and_All_Sain...

Plot twist: she's actually discovered a correlation between people who grew up near a church and autism.

Most of the churches around here, such as they are, don't have steeples.

I thought of (visualised quick 1-2 second videos) a church steeple people make with their fingers and wiggle the digits as if people are inside...

It's a real-life instance of our cultures abstraction of the steeple into something concrete using our hands. I'm unsure what category that would really fall into (I'm guessing that is a 70% 'real steeple' category instance?)

So I thought of a specific steeple but I couldn't picture it. In fact I can't picture a steeple in detail in my head at all. Is the visual detail an aspect? I now realize I have no idea how other people think.

Spoiler: I am almost certainly not very autistic if I am at all. Or so I come off to others.

Most people can picture things in our head. The name for the inability to do that is aphantasia: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054

Interesting. This is the first I've heard of this. I think I have a mild case of this condition to be honest. I can imagine away like the rest of people I guess, but when I actually try and visualize something, I don't see it, not like in a dream or anything close to real life. If I close my eyes and imagine a candle with flame, with great effort I can start to see it, but it's faded on the sides (surrounded by darkness) and I can't ever get it to flicker like a real flame. I can "imagine" a candle though, and the flame is flickering, but I don't actually see anything.

Dreams are vivid and nearly real, at least that's my impression of them when I wake up, my imaginings or "Day dreams" are nowhere near as vivid, and I certainly can't see the details of my wife, kid or anything or anybody else on the level of "seeing an image of them."

When I am making a grocery list, I often walked around the store in my head, and check the various sections against the stuff in the fridge and pantry.

You are saying you don't visualize locations you are not at when navigating, organizing things, or trying to remember where you last left something?

That almost sounds like you have photographic memory. I do have a good spatial sense, and combined with a fairly decent memory, I can remember where certain things are, but if it's items I've never bought or looked at, I can't just bring it into memory like looking at a picture of it. I don't even really see the shelf, I just go to that spot on the shelf in my memory and think what was there. It's location only, I don't see anything.

When I draw something, I call up a shape from memory (more like a series of explanations of a shape rather than seeing the shape). Probably why I can draw simple things, and not always 100% the same way - I'm not drawing it from a mental image, I'm just thinking about the shape of something.

After reading this though, I'm amazed that people can visualize things so well and am kind of jealous. I've gotten by and other than not having a great drawing ability, it doesn't impact my enjoyment of books or anything like that.

Why would you need to? If you navigate and you don't see the object yet, it's of no help. And when you see it, there's no need in visualizing it.

I use it to make sure I haven't missed anything that I would want to buy in the grocery store, or in order to orient myself in space, or to determine where I may have left something by replaying my actions in that space.

I can picture things, just not in much detail. If I focus on any one the others fade.

For me, the visualisation happened so fast I am not sure of whether I thought of a real steeple, then an abstract steeple, or vice versa.

Then it was abstract.

Not neccessarily. I know I pictured a real steeple (One that exists, and I have seen), and I know I pictured an abstract steeple (A rather quaint generalisation); it is simply that I am unable to discern the order that they were imaged in.

I thought of the hand game "Here is the church, here is the steeple..."

What does that mean about me?

I had the same thought, combined with a mental visualization of the hands in that position. I think it might be something in the wording of the sentence...

Yeah, I was kinda expecting the line of reasoning to be "If you imagined the part where you go 'where are all the people?' then you are autistic, but if you imagined the part where 'there are all the people!' then you are not autistic."

I did the exact same thing. I guess I only usually hear the word steeple associated with that game.

Do you have abstract hands or real ones?

Edit: more seriously though, hands are real things you've seen

I thought of steepling hands also.

I think, of myself steepling my hands?

What if you're left wondering what a church steeple is? :)

I literally highlighted the term, right click, "Search Google For..." and hit image search just to make sure they were talking about a spire. So then I had the images I had seen on Google Image Search in my head.

You can infer what the steeple is, but it isn't an often used term for a spire around here.

Dig a little deeper - a steeple is different to a spire (and often has a spire on top).

In everyday conversation you can get away with using them largely interchangeably though, so don't worry too much about it.

I imagined a real steeple, but not a specific one that I have seen before. What does that make me?

> I imagined a real steeple, but not a specific one that I have seen before. What does that make me?

I have no idea why you're being downvoted. The notion of 'abstract' here is vague.

I thought of a red-brick steeple attached to a church surrounded by trees and a gravel parking lot (yes, this was all split second). This steeple wasn't a specific one I've seen, but it wasn't as abstract as thinking of the metaphor or a sparse geometric object.

> I imagined a real steeple, but not a specific one that I have seen before.

I think that is the meaning of abstract for this question.

Me too lol. Are we just visual thinkers? Lol

This is similar to something I heard a psychologist say about mental illness. His test was to ask subjects "How did you come to be here today?" (with "here" being the treatment facility) and they would usually answer "In a car".

I don't remember what type of mental illness he was referring to, but it was probably autism.

My thought process on seeing that question was roughly "you are asking how, not why -> could be a relevant question [for example, public transport -> probably no issues in crowds] -> answer with 'by car'". I doubt I'd've gone straight to the "why am I here?" answer.

Then again, I do suffer with some degree of mental illness (OCD/anxiety), so maybe it is working as intended...

It might have been something like schizophrenia.

The obvious issue is that the person is taking the question very literally instead of answering the intended question. I could see how you could think that was a form of Autism, but for some reason the schizophrenia idea is stuck in my head.

Now that I've thought about it more I think you're right, it probably was schizophrenia

Autism isn't a mental illness.

I know this was probably an unintentional statement but it's important, especially as humanity grapples with the issue of better integrating neuro-atypicals into our societies.

At the low end of functioning, autism is most certainly an illness. There are ASD people with no ability to speak, repetitive behaviors, and comorbidity with other illnesses (such as gastrointestinal issues).

While I respect the desire to not stigmatize those who can function with some adjustments (on both their part and those of society's), it is imprecise to suggest that no ASD person has mental illness. To do so seems counter-productive, since it makes many people dismiss your legitimate concerns.

What is it then? I would have used the same description (I don't mean to be insensitive, but I don't really see why autism doesn't fall in that category).

They might want you to call it a "developmental disorder", which is fair, but nerdy. Or a "physical illness affecting the brain".

The idea that there's a difference is sort of problematic since the mind and the body are the same thing, and it's not falsifiable either unless you can test someone's brain for autism without going through their mind.

There's also a popular claim among tumblr-type people that autism is good and that charities looking for "cures for autism" are evil. Probably not what they meant though.


Can you explain what someone neuro-typical looks like?

Sure, full description at the Institute for the Study of the Neuro-Typical : http://isnt.autistics.org/

If that is true, I wonder what the life expectancy is for programmers :)

Just today a study revealed that high functioning autistics have 12 years lower life expectancy → https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11312039

This test seems incorrect to me. Do you have any sources or was there any research that was done that could back up something like this? Are there actual tests for testing people that are functional autistics? Seems like it should be possible, but I'm not sure how you'd go about it.

> Do you have any sources

Just the author of the book. She didn't claim it was scientifically studied. Neither did I.

Edit: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=autism+abstract+thinkin...

What would an abstract non-existing steeple look like?

I mean I see steeples all the time living in Vermont and New York. So it was pretty easy to imagine one of these pretty white steeples when you asked this question.

Now I'm trying to picture the opposite. Just can't think of one.

Her TED talk on autism was freaking amazing. Go to about 2 minutes in, and she has a great explanation.


If you'd prefer not to watch it, let me try to explain. For this test, I think of an abstract church-y building (I dunno .. maybe like the size of an old schoolhouse), and then think of a small tower with something pointy on top.

When Temple describes it (see her TED talk(s), seriously!), she talks about how, in contrast, she (and frequently other autistic people) imagine a VERY concrete steeple. Concrete as in, you an describe that it's iron on top of brick, with a wooden border along the bottom. You can describe the pattern of ironwork, the guy holding a wheelbarrow on its weathervane, the color of the paint, and the fact that it's been bent from when some local teens

NONE of those things are in my first imagined visual image of "steeple". Sure, I can make that kind of thing up, but my natural inclination is not to do so, and I don't remember any specific images of steeples. In contrast, Temple first imagines that complex image of a Specific Thing (often a memory of a specific one she has seen) instead of the abstracted image.

> What would an abstract non-existing steeple look like?

I think this answer places you squarely in the non-abstract group. Not that it means anything.

The first image that came to mind was the "here is the church, here is the steeple..."[0] hand game that I had otherwise forgotten about for the last 30 years. I wonder what that implies (assuming there's validity to the exercise). On one hand, it's a doubly abstract, non-existing steeple. On the other hand, I was recalling actual hands making the gesture.

[0] In case you hadn't heard of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H3E33o4URc

Or they simply answered that they had thought of a real steeple and not an abstract one for whatever reason. Perhaps programmers prefer to be seen as thinking of concrete concepts, and so will likely respond that they thought of a 'real' steeple.

Or the programmers might live close to a church.

Combine this with the test not being very good and you've got a recipe for wasting time.

What if you've only very rarely seen a real steeple? I thought of a hand drawn one but almost every steeple I've ever seen was a hand drawn picture in a book.

I'm so glad that this test shows me to not be autistic. Of course my wife will point out how bogus is this test since clearly I am autistic.

I don't know what a steeple is.

>Every single programmer answered with a real steeple

But of course. If HN has taught me anything, it's that everyone here is autistic. But never in a particularly negative way, always in a way that makes the people slightly awkward socially, but highly-intelligent. Like a movie.

> Later, people at work told me they’d liked me better the way I was before.

Whenever you make a large change in yourself, you are going to alienate people in your life. This doesn't say anything about whether the change is good or bad.

The set of people currently in your life is highly biased towards people who like you the way you are. If they didn't, they wouldn't be in your life.

The more interesting question is after you make a change and get a new set of people, how do those people compare to your old set?

Agreed. The change doesn't have to be quite as profound - and it's up to other people to choose how to react and proceed.

Different quantitatively but I think similar qualitatively, my best friend (despite my warning) attended a high-intensity motivational/NLP weekend seminar a few years back. It is no exaggeration that he came out a completely different person, in the sense that the stimuli/response has radically changed. He was more emotional, open, intense, etc. My reaction initially was confused and highly negative; and eventually settled down on "The person I knew is in some ways gone; but let's give this new person a chance and see how we get along".

Others, erm... did not react as positively :P

That's quite interesting. I have a former friend who joined some sort of super happy cult a year or so back, and undergone a similar change literally over a course of a single week. It was quite... disconcerting to watch.

Sure. Plus, we have to live our lives the way that fits best for us, not the way that fits best for other people. Consider a person who is overly obsequious their whole life, goes to therapy, and learns to start looking out for themself instead of others. Well, anyone who was exploiting the person isn't going to like that change. And will probably say so.

The extreme sense of feeling the emotions of others that is described in the article seems like something stronger than normal for typical people, but perhaps it's just relative to previous baseline of little insight into the emotions of others.

Some research opposes the deficits of autism to the excesses of schizophrenia. Not sure it's totally relevant to this item, but seeing emotional meanings where they don't exist is a very schizotypal (positive schizotypy) phenomenon:


Take someone used to wearing stiff-bottomed shoes, and tell them to walk around barefoot on the street or on a forest trail. They’ll suddenly be intensely aware of the temperature and texture of the ground. Stepping on a little pebble will cause pain from sensory overload of nerves which have been carefully shielded for years. (Most people in developed countries can try this experiment out first-hand.)

For someone who is habitually barefoot, by contrast, walking around on very rough surfaces is no problem.

Same kind of thing here.

As some who used to walk around barefoot all the time as a kid, this effect is not due to habituation, but due to the skin on you feet becoming thick to the point that you are effectively wearing shoes. The more you wear shoes the thinner the skin gets. They other factor is you learn to walk differently such that you are more careful placing your feet on the ground to avoid sharp objects.

A big part of it is nerve/brain response, in my own personal experience, though sure, a different walking technique makes a difference too.

I started wearing mostly thin soled shoes a few years ago: simple leather moccasins, $5 Chinese canvas shoes, Vibram Five Fingers. (I don’t typically walk around outside barefoot.)

When I first started, if I walked barefoot, stepping on a tiny pebble was painful. Wearing thin-soled shoes itself let me very dramatically feel the ground in a way I didn’t when wearing stiff-bottomoed shoes. Now, a few years later, the effect is much reduced, even though the skin on the bottom of my foot is not noticeably more callused than before. I can notice how the ground feels if I pay careful conscious attention to it, but it’s not constantly in my mind as I walk around.

I think the walking barefoot -> calluses idea is exaggerated in popular imagination. I have a friend who does significant amounts of barefoot trail running, and frequently run barefoot on pavement. His feet are also not obviously more callused than anyone else’s.

I can say that to get thick skin on your feet you need to not wear shoes at all for long periods of time and walk/run lots over harsh ground. I would go the entire summer without wearing shoes and running around all day and it would take a month to get thick skin on my feet and it would still be getting thicker by the end of summer. I would start wearing shoes and within a month my feet were back to a more standard thinness.

You do retain the careful walking/running skill, but without the thick skin you can't really run effectively on gravel, etc.

That is a very good analogy! Thank you!

Using person experience with light, I know there are times when I have to turn down the brightness of my laptop because it hurts to look at it, and their are times when I wish it could be made brighter because even at max it is hard to see. The former times happen at night when I have other lights off (and I hear the doctor telling me I shouldn't use my laptop like that) and the latter times happen in the day when the sunlight is very bright.

So to hear that someone who was in the dark is blinded by the light is not surprising.

But, it does sound like there was a second factor, which is that he also saw a greater ugliness in people that he hadn't seen before. It sounds like he had a sense of naivety that hadn't been seen before.

So really, this is less like walking out of a dark room into bright sunlight and more like walking out of a dark room into sunlight illuminating a tragic accident.

OT, but I recommend Flux when using your laptop at night. It automatically color shifts your screen based on the time of day.


> The extreme sense of feeling the emotions of others that is described in the article seems like something stronger than normal for typical people, but perhaps it's just relative to previous baseline of little insight into the emotions of others.

A serial I'm following[0] has a character going through something like that, for various reasons one of the main characters initially experiences almost no emotions, as the story progresses things change and these emotions are overwhelming to them even though they're objectively nothing special, but the character never developed an "immunity" or a coping mechanism to emotion so any deviation from the emotionless baseline is subjectively enormous.

[0] Citadel

Remember anytime your see a study that treats autism as a disease rather than a round file of conditions it's bogus.

It's hard to imagine what it must be like to go from feeling no emotions to feeling them all, like the colourblind glasses.

It's relatively easy to imagine seeing the world in black and white and then having the colour switch flipped. I can't imagine the same for emotion... what a wild ride it must have been. It must have been so painful at first, especially when he realized that some of his "funny friends" had really been making fun of him...

The metaphor is an apt one. Although, it may be less a case of going from color-blindness to sight but from blindness itself to sight.

The article reminded me of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where she meditates on Marius von Senden's book Space and Sight. Von Senden recounts the effects of the first widespread successful cataract operations and the overwhelming effect the restoration of sight had on people who had lived there whole life blind and whose brains had not developed the ability to naturally process visual sensation.

A passage from Dillard's book that resonates with the author's account here:

The mental effort involved in these reasonings proves overwhelming for many patients. It oppresses them to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable. It oppresses them to realize that they have been visible to people all along, perhaps unattractively so, without their knowledge or consent. A disheartening number of them refuse to use their new vision, continuing to go over objects with their tongues, and lapsing into apathy and despair.

It was comforting to read that the author here, John Elder Robison, adapted over time. But I agree that it must be something very hard for those who haven't experienced it to imagine.

Ask someone who is an experienced psychonaut or meditator. These kinds of experiential shifts can, and does happen to people. In this guy's case, it was an awakening of empathy -- however, there are other kinds of awakening, other kinds of consciousness shifts that people are not normally aware of.

I have gone through some of these shifts and they made a profound impact on me. I'm still learning to integrate many of the things I learned into my life in such a way that I can function in a modern society and remain authentic. It's very, very hard.

Can you give examples of the other shifts you're referring to? I realize many of them may not have names (or may not have names in the western culture), but it would be very meaningful to me if you gave it a shot.

Awakening of empathy is one of them. There is also tele-empathy which lets you sense people who you could not have possibly read through body language.

Direct experience of "oneness" is another one. This can range from feeling the interconnections of everything, to feeling that all is One (monism), and there ever just the One.

Seeing through your acquired self is another. That sense that the acquired self -- the socialized personality -- has never been real. People often come back from that one thinking "my ego died". (Well, it often resurrects ;-)

Another is direct experience of Nothing (similar to the Oneness experience), where things somehow, mysteriously, spontaneously arises and passes. Also related is spaciousness.

Then there's a host of parapsychological effects which might make you feel crazy. They don't feel as insightful as the examples that I listed, but they do break down the conventional beliefs most people have and think of as "normal". For example, clairvoiyance, clairaudience, etc.

There are actually transpersonal psychologists holding Ph.D.s who specializes in counseling for spiritual emergence. There's a great thread on Quora related to that integration process. I'd find it right now, but my wife is waiting for me to go with her to the grocery store. ("Chop wood, carry water" You never thought you'd understand that koan, eh? :-D)

Feel free to email me at talktohosh at gmail.com if you want to continue this conversation.

This is from Bonnie Greenwall's book, The Awakening Guide:A companion for the Inner Journey. Greenwall holds a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology, and did her dissertation on one of the awakening experiences following a Kundalini awakening experience of her own. She has since talked with many more people. This excerpt is more comprehensive than what I wrote.


Maybe a more apt title would be "An experimental autism treatment gave me my son back".

Or: "Sudden drastic change in personality took 5 years to adjust to; some things better, some worse"

You need to make an app that re-names shitty click bait headlines in such way!

Well, there's a certain human component to reading the article and giving a more honest summary of it ...

How about one where you see a list of links to articles with their original title, and then users of the site will read them and then submit better titles that you can read first?

Oh wait, that's HN.

Rather, you need to Make America Great Again and make sure it has a proper European-style social net so that News Editors and Journalists don't need to use click-bait headlines to put dinner on the table.

Yeah, tabloid journalism is unknown in Europe.

"Effective novel treatment has benefits for one patient" is a less interesting story than "Effective novel treatment has unexpected drawbacks for one patient". Benefits are exactly what every reader expects from an effective treatment.

Actually thought that one of the more interesting aspects of this story is the pure amount of opposing forces that the author went through, even to the point that he seemed non-committal on whether going through the therapy was a net benefit or negative. This is one of those articles where the meaning & feeling of it could never be expressed in a one-sentence title :-).

I believe the implication is that the original title is click-bait. I don't think that's the case. The article is a discussion of the unintended consequences of curing autism. The author, and I imagine most readers, assume that curing autism is an all around good thing and would enhance one's life. The author's experiences contradict that, and that's what the article is trying to communicate. So the title is appropriate for the content. "An experimental autism treatment gave me my son back" is heartwarming, for sure, but a completely expected outcome and contradicts the conclusion intended by the author. I was much more satisfied to have my assumptions challenged by the article, than to have my assumptions reinforced.

I agree with you... though it wouldn't be that dramatic and thus less clic-baitish.

Really? Strikes me as equally dramatic: both are equally correct statements without added tone.

I can understand preferring the glass half full, though.

Getting something back is positive, losing something is negative. Negative is obviously more dramatic than positive.

> Negative is obviously more dramatic than positive.

I agree in the general case, but not everywhere. Shit like "Scientist cures cancer!" is equally dramatic and clickbaity in spite of being hugely positive.

I think you mix up dramatic and tabloid-ish

Original headline is quite delicious [soundbite].

Your version is less catchy.

Negative effect of a treatment is more interesting than positive effects.

I'm surprised there was no protocol where he went to regular therapy to help him process the new emotions, and his new ability to read emotional cues in others. I suspect therapy may have helped with his understanding that he gained years later, which is that your perception of someone's emotions is not always correct.

I agree. Depending on how TMS treatment is setup, it could stimulate a particular region of the brain, or a large section (frontal lobe). EEG biofeedback can also be focused on a small section of the brain (eg. prefrontal cortex). Its possible the situation in the article was a result of parts of the brain being "out of balance" and creating different emotions than what the person previously experienced.

Even if TMS 'activated' the emotional areas of the brain (right frontotemporal) correctly, the person still may not be ready to use that brain region effectively. This is where therapy would likely help.

Through research, its believed that Autistic Spectrum Disorders are the result of poor neuronal connectivity between certain regions of the brain. I'm not sure TMS would help with that.

Disclaimer: I'm not a physician and this isn't medical advice.

Former neuroscientist here. Emotions are not confined to the right frontotemporal area. There's multiple regions involved. It appears the TMS here was targeted on dorsolateral PFC, but keep in mind that there will be spreading effects, and presumably post-treatment effects, too, that can be quite widespread.

> Emotions are not confined to the right frontotemporal area. That is true. I should have been more specific.

Just out of interest, do you believe that neuronal connectivity between regions of the brain are involved in ASD?

That's one of the more likely theories yeah. While the defining ASD characteristic is impaired social processing, which seems like it would be specific, scans show it has relatively wide effects throughout the brain. There's a host of differences. Some are possibly connectivity-based. Localized processing seems hyperactive, and longer-distance processing is hypoactive.

But, there are other issues as well. In developing ASD brains, there have been shown to be areas of excess cortical thickening, areas of cortical thinning, underactivation, etc.

Connectivity certainly plays a role, but given that structure and function are so deeply interrelated, it doesn't make much sense to try and separate them.

We think there's a strong genetic component, but nobody's been able to figure it out yet. It appears to be more developmental/structural, but there could also be a neurotransmitter component, given that a large fraction of ASD people have elevated serotonin levels, and report intestinal issues (intestines have huge numbers of ST receptors).

In short, pretend you're debugging an intermittent parallel error in a network 50x greater than the total number of computers on earth, every computer had to coordinate its protocols on the fly, and your only tools are telnet and email. I respect what my former colleagues do, but reality was way too murky.

Sure. He would have had to catch up on years of emotional development.

The author's life was radically changed by a procedure that runs a magnet over his brain. It appears to have induced a severe bout of depression and anxiety that negatively impacted his performance at work and cost him 2 marriages. He seems to believe that this "treatment" worked, though the empirical evidence would hardly suggest that. Does he believe that he was reading emotions instead of descending into anxious paranoia just because the doctors told him the first thing is what would happen? The unfortunate thing here is that doctors have probably recorded his case as a success.

I've found that the emotions we read out of people are often exaggerated from their true thoughts. It's easy to feel like there's some harsh judgment occurring when, in fact, there isn't. Someone should've told the author this, and not to take his new "emotional superpower" too seriously.

Yeah, unfortunately for the author, it sounded a lot like that to me as well. I've cared for people overly anxious and it sounded like he would have improved a lot with some sedative or just knowing when to take a calm down break.

I'm "spectrum" enough to have an opposite reaction to various drugs - Ritalin being the important one, here - and my experience is... similar, in some ways.

I probably didn't notice other people's emotions a lot when I was younger, to the effect that now that I'm older, and do notice them, I frequently don't have any idea what to do with that understanding.

Yeah. Both your comment and this article ring a lot of bells for me. I'm also surely somewhere on the spectrum. Some years back I started anti-anxiety medication, and I have gradually grown in my emotional perception, both internal and external. The last couple of years its has been especially intense after the sudden death of a parent: I had all the feels, and that greatly deepened my empathy for others. As with Robison, the NYT author, it changed everything for me. My old life just doesn't fit, and I have been slowly remaking it.

Mostly what I do with all this is just accept it. My feelings are not their problem. Their feelings are not my problem. If I choose otherwise, that's my choice, and so are the consequences. Mostly, I try to take feelings like I take the weather.

That doesn't come easily, though. I feel like I'm learning things that most people learn at 15. Right now I'm working my way through a workbook on DBT, which teaches people emotional regulation skills. It seems crazy to have to sit down and learn things that come so naturally for other people. But then, I'm not other people, so I try to keep pressing ahead.

From a meditator's perspective, there isn't anything to do other than to witness the underlying suffering, and giving space to the other person to be.

That's overly simplistic and frankly trite. The reality is that in the workplace, in society, etc the emotions of others matter a great deal to your personal wellbeing, that is if you don't want to be broke or in jail.

Navigating the emotional world is very important and should be taught, not dismissed. As someone who only picked up these skills later in life, its incredible how much life makes sense now. People's emotional responses more or less rule the world. Logic and rationality take a backseat to all of that and being able to gauge other people's emotions and knowing how to respond to them is the difference between failure and success in so many parts of life. Especially if you aspire to any kind of leadership or founder role.

What makes you think I was dismissing it?

The method I described is actually quite deep even if on the surface it appears to be simple. It starts with this: http://www.imsb.org/teachings/vipassana-practice/ and might wend it's way through something like: http://www.amazon.com/Feeding-Your-Demons-Resolving-Conflict...

I'm with you. I've encountered the thinking in GP and thought that way for a while, and ultimately reached the same conclusion as you. It's too easy to use it as a way of dismissing the pain and complexity of the world.

What makes you think I was dismissing it?

What I was describing is the opposite of dismissing it, and if anything, much healthier. You do realize I was talking about Vipassana and directly experiencing the suffering of others, right?

I have learned parts of that! But this is way broader than dealing with negative emotions - actually, it's other people's attraction that causes this state the strongest.

I know. :-)

You should check out the practice in Tsultrim Allione's book, "Demon Feeding: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict" some time.

Do you have any reading recommendations for your practice?

Yep. Start with Vipassana. That by itself won't teach the psychology, but it does allow you to clearly experience and see the experiences arising and passing. (But I don't know if people on the autism spectrum needs it, or it would be helpful). Once you can clearly see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, there are a lot of surprising things you can find out just by observing it.

Another practice I did for a while to really start examining intense, often unpleasant emotions within myself and others is this: http://www.amazon.com/Feeding-Your-Demons-Resolving-Conflict...

At the end of the day, someone's suffering is their own. By "suffering" I am really talking about dukkha, the Sanskrit word better translated as existential anguish. This is something every person has. It is only when one can clearly see it that they can allow space for someone to work through it. By "witnessing", I am talking about something like practicing vipassana while in the presence of someone suffering. And believe me, that is not as easy as it sounds, neither for the practitioner, or for the person in deep suffering.

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