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Do People With Autism Experience Emotions?
Autism sufferers unquestionably have feelings. It’s processing them—and reading others’—that they struggle with.
Of the many stereotypes surrounding autism, one of the most persistent has been the notion of autistic people as emotionless, even slightly robotic. Partly to blame may be the enduring cultural influence of "Rain Man," in which the Dustin Hoffman character, a walking collection of impenetrable tics, shows the first hint of an emotional breakthrough only at the end of the film. Real-life autism is more varied and complex, but is there any truth behind the popular image? What is the relationship, if any, between autism-spectrum disorders and emotional impairment?
In Part 4 of our Breakthroughs: Autism series, Dr. Susan Bookheimer, professor of cognitive neuroscience at UCLA, explains that there are no major superficial differences between the autistic and the non-autistic brain. Moreover, “individuals with autism certainly have emotions”—as “anyone who has a child with autism knows.” However, studies suggest that autistic children may have greater difficulty with “subtle emotions like shame, pride, things that are much more socially oriented”—and greater difficulty reading emotions in other people. The latter tendency may be related to neurological problems with facial processing; says Bookheimer, “We have an area of the brain that is pretty well devoted to face processing that becomes stronger and very, very well entrenched in the brain rather early in life; and individuals with autism, many of them, did not seem to show that same kind of specialization.”
Bookheimer is careful to note that the cause-and-effect relationship here is tricky to untangle. “There is a model that individuals with autism don’t seem to have the same almost innate motivation to socialize, and if you don’t socialize, then you won’t learn a lot of these social behaviors, including how to read other people.” But which comes first, the difficulty in socializing or the lack of motivation for it? The starting point of this apparent vicious cycle will require considerable further study to pin down.
In addition to identifying and understanding the emotions of others, autistic people may have a harder time processing and understanding their own. According to Bookheimer, “the amygdala, an area of the brain that is involved in the experiencing of strong and salient emotions, doesn’t always react in the same way, and isn’t as well regulated or modulated as it is in typically developing individuals.” Rather than lacking emotion, it’s likely that autistic people struggle to “think through and work through” the emotions they experience.
As with so much about autism, the precise relationships among these difficulties—in relating to others’ emotions, in processing one’s own emotions, and in understanding socially oriented emotions specifically—is not fully understood. Bookheimer speculates that, through a “cascading effect,” slow initial development in social abilities may “evolve” into more severe problems in later childhood. But until the science itself evolves, we will have few definitive answers.
—Child Psychology Research Blog article on high-functioning autistic children’s ability to understand emotions, particularly spoken emotions.
—Nature Neuroscience paper on mirror neuron dysfunction and problems with emotional understanding in autistic children.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.