Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Friday, January 20, 2017


In dishonor (on you, on your family, on your cow) of the Trumpster fire and his fanfare today, here is something I wrote in the wee hours of the morning on November 9. And remember it's easier to disobey an order that's coming from someone you hold in contempt than someone you respect.


In a country that just chose the open fascist,
Against immigrants, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, disabled people, Muslims, Jews, women,
Many of the above all at once,
(You know, the ones who built whatever greatness America could have laid claim to before)
A Queer Disabled Jew weaves steel rings together,
Preparing their literal armor,
Or their nerdy, LARP-friendly build of the weighted vest.
Take your pick. (It's both.)

Read the rhetoric of action, of movement.
This is a metaphor for protection,
Even more than it's literal.
They (I, this is me, I am the one weaving steel rings while I can't sleep at 3am)
I know full well today's threat is
not a sword or an axe, but guns,
or (tear) gas(lighting) as policies change,
killing slowly with the knowledge that help isn't coming.
Steel rings turn slices into bruises and breaks,
won't stop projectiles,
have no effect on deceptions or laws.
But armor is still armor and it's weight means something.
Yes, this is a metaphor.
It's also something that's happening.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Party Giraffe, Hot Spicy Autism, and Small Acts of NO.

By inclination, I'm a bit of an imp. I will say a true thing (I'm nonbinary) in a slightly silly way, messing with people using truth. ("Good man. Wait. Woman." gets responded to with "still no" followed by "nonbinary, good luck".) This is a character trait, not an isolated incident. On National Coming Out Day, I wrote "I draw cool stuff using straight lines, which is funny because I'm not straight." One day when I was pointing out "typos" on the white board while non-speaking, I was told to "be quiet." So I wrote on the side board, "I didn't say anything!" It was technically true. 

I like puns. (Nonbunnary!) I like satire. (Turn it Down Taupe!) And while I wear many metaphorical hats (mathematician, engineer, graduate student, teacher, Autistic person, "person in the lab who can sew", writer, AAC user, Queer person, culturally Jewish person, "that weird person who doesn't get cold", and on and on), I don't necessarily choose to emphasize the set of hats I have in common with the other people in the room. I tend to emphasize the ones that are most effective for messing with my colleagues, even. See again: bit of an imp.

So of course it makes sense that I would have shirts that say things like "Autistic Party Giraffe" (explanation), "Hot Spicy Autism", "We Are Like Your Child", and "I Love Someone Lacking Autism." Recently, I've started wearing those shirts more frequently. And yes, I can trace this back to the election. 

No, I don't think that wearing my identities on my shirt (or my bag, as I've been known to do) will magically make everything OK. That's not the point. Reading Trump Presidency to be Large-Scale Replication Experiments in Destructive Obedience: Here is How to Resist will help the actual points make sense, though. Even though Milgram's experiments were based on a pretty unrepresentative sample in terms of people generally, it's 1) a decent sample in terms of who tends to have power in the USA, and 2) not the only study that's been conducted, though Dr. Alfano's link on the subject loops back to his own post, presumably accidentally. In any case, I'm not after the "most people obey" information. I'm after the "what did the disobedient do?" information.

Point the first: If you want to be able to refuse immoral expectations later, starting earlier helps. There's not been any orders about wearing snarky autism T-shirts, and I don't expect there to be. Why would there be? But I said expectations, not orders, and there's a reason for that. Preemptive obedience (doing what you expect the authority figure would want before there is an order, or on things too small to ever deserve an order" is a thing, and not doing that would logically fall under refusing/resisting early. So instead of hiding or closeting the identities that an incoming administration wouldn't like, I get more open about them. I get (visually) louder. T-shirts. Flapping and rocking in public. Using AAC as a teacher. Throwing myself conspicuously into a wall at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. There can be no compliance ahead of time, because there should be none later. (As opposed to because I think the ahead of time bits are going to fix things on their own. I don't. They just keep me in a "no, you move" sort of mindset for when I'll need it.)

Point the second: Resist noticeably, and you increase the likelihood that those around you who notice will also resist. I don't want to be alone here. 

Point the third: I'm a Queer Disabled Jew. I may not be near the head of the line of people who'll be victimized, because I am also educated, also have class privilege, and am not Muslim. But I've heard the rhetoric about queer people (including trans people, remember that I'm nonbinary?) and about disabled people. I've seen the antisemitism getting more obvious. Let's not pretend I'm not in that line, even if people sometimes forget. (Read: prefer not to think about it?) So when paying attention to the individuality, to the personhood, of (potential) victims is part of how you make it easier to resist, reminding people I'm on that list seems like a good idea. 

I know myself. I know that, impish nature and all, it took me until I was eleven to figure out, even in theory, that intentional defiance was an option. A special education teacher had to tell me, so I'm not sure how much I can claim to have figured it out. There's a heck of a lot planned that I'm going to need to resist. So I'm going to need all the help I can get. (All the help I can give myself.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

I'm moderating #USSAAChat: AAC and the workplace!

The US Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC) runs a twitter chat on the second Thursday of each month, at 7pm EST. I'm moderating the next one, on January 12. The topic is going to be AAC and the workplace. This is important to me because I'm a teacher (sometimes TA) and I use AAC part time. I know many adults who use AAC, including at work.

I do plan to make a Storify of the chat afterwards. If you would like to participate but do not want to have your tweets included in the Storify, feel free to let me know. You can reach me on Twitter, or you can email me: alyhillary (@) gmail (.) com.

Here are the planned questions:

Q1: Let's start with introductions. Who are you? What is your relationship to #AAC (and the workplace)? #USSAAChat

Q2: What #AAC systems and supports are used in your workplace? (Including by the folks we don't usually think of as AAC users!) #USSAAChat

Q3: What do you consider when choosing #AAC systems to use at work? (vocabulary, grammar support, output methods, other things?) #USSAAChat

Q4: We all communicate in many ways. How do you combine communication methods (including speech) and supports in the workplace? #USSAAChat

Q5: If you could design #AAC systems to use at work, what would you want? (visuals, grammar options, customizability, others?) #USSAAChat

Q6: How could your workplace better support #AAC use? And what is already being done that supports AAC use? #USSAAChat

Q7: I know I missed things. What do you want to say or ask about #AAC in the workplace that I haven't asked about? #USSAAChat

Friday, December 30, 2016

"Blind imagination" neuroscience press release

For anyone new to the aphantasia discussions: It's a fancy word for not visualizing, or as I've tended to describe it, not having a mind's eye. I don't picture characters or scenes when I read books, for example.

As a rhetoric person and disability studies person, I looked at how we talk about aphantasia, in three parts. (Part one, part two, part three). As a neuroscience student, I wrote about one of the articles (Zeman et al, 2010, the case study) in terms of significance. And yes, some of the results are things I could totally have told you myself. Like the fact that "mental imagery" tests such as rotation (check if two block structures with angles are the same or not) can be done in ways other than rotating an image of the object. I know that because I don't view such images in my head and I'm good at the task. Testing everything is how science works, and trying to figure out what someone is doing rather than just what they aren't doing is still handy. So here it is!

A research team in the UK has shown the potential for dissociation between the experience of visual imagery and performance in tasks typically associated with visual imagery and visual memory in a case study. The patient, a 65 year old retired surveyor referred to as MX, reported the sudden loss of his ability to visualize. However, he retained the ability to complete tasks typically associated with visual imagery and visual memory, including mental rotation tasks.

The authors did a series of tests both on MX and on a group of controls of similar age, IQ, and professional backgrounds. These tests included assessments of general intelligence, memory, executive function, visual perception, subjective vividness of visual imagery, and imagery abilities. MX scored significantly lower than controls on subjective assessments of visual imagery. However, his scores in the other tests were not significantly different from that of controls. In the fMRI experiments, MX showed similar areas of activation to the control participants while viewing images. However, MX showed significantly different activation patterns when asked to generate faces. Rather than activating the posterior visual network, MX showed prefrontal activation in areas associated with many executive tasks.

Further behavioral testing was conducted to test if MX was using alternative cognitive strategies. The researchers gave MX variants of Brook's matrix and verbal tasks, along with mental rotation tasks. Here, MX's performance differed from typical patterns. While typical controls consistently perform better on the spatial Brooks task than on the verbal one, MX performed better on the verbal task. When asked to perform the typically visuo-spatial version of the task with verbal or visuo-spatial interference, MX showed no significant difference in performance between no distractor and visuo-spatial interference. However, his performance was significantly lower with the verbal distractor, again in reverse of the typical performance pattern. On mental rotation tasks, MX showed no impairment in correct performance. However, he consistently required more time than controls and showed a different relationship between angle of rotation and time required from the controls.

Both the behavioral and fMRI testing indicate the use of alternative cognitive strategies in order to perform tasks typically associated with visual imagery. On most tasks, these alternative strategies yield similar levels of accuracy to controls with typical visual imagery abilities. The case of MX provides insight into alternative ways of completing typically visual tasks. His performance indicates that mental imagery is not essential to tasks typically associated with it, making it less clear that mental imagery is the subject of mental imagery tests. It also indicates that reliance on the mind's eye in decision-making as suggested by Kosslyn is not universal. In addition, this case study may provide insight into the cognitive functioning of a small but significant subset of the population who report no mental imagery. Surveys dating back to 18801 show a group that report never having experienced mental imagery, alongside documentation of prior cases where imagery is lost. Further study could determine if similar strategies are used by this population, and what cognitive differences, if any, this is associated with.2

1  Galton, Francis. "I.—Statistics of mental imagery." Mind 19 (1880): 301-318.
Also relevant is: Faw, Bill. "Conflicting intuitions may be based on differing abilities: Evidence from mental imaging research." Journal of Consciousness Studies 16.4 (2009): 45-68.

2 Spoiler alert! This happened to some extent in Zeman, Adam, Michaela Dewar, and Sergio Della Sala. "Lives without imagery–Congenital aphantasia." Cortex 3 (2015). This case study got written up in Discover, then some people who have never had subjective mental imagery [like me!]  contacted the authors. Then people saw the follow up, some of whom also contacted the authors. The 2015 letter was actually the first one I found, followed by the two commentaries on it. [They wonder if there may be a connection with faceblindness, or prosopagnosia, which I also have. My brain. It is multiply interesting.]

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

No Boundary Thinking Seminar Reflection 1

This semester, I'm took a seminar on no-boundary thinking. Which sounds like a fancy word for what I often try to do as a vaguely disability studies like person: focusing on defining an issue and addressing it from any methods that work and not worrying about (often not knowing) what fields those definitions or methods come from. (To my professor from the seminar: Congratulations, you found my blog.)

So here's my first reflection post. Bracketed things were not in the original reflection that I turned in, and have been added since.

[So, at the start, we need to know what no-boundary thinking is. It's kind of what it sounds like: we're going to ignore the lines between disciplines as much as possible.] Huang et. al. (2013) discusses no-boundary thinking as thinking where problems are defined without being limited to a single discipline or group of disciplines, while the knowledge used to define and solve the problem can come from a variety of disciplines. Dr. Brian Dewsbury mentions that no-boundary thinking doesn't necessarily mean bringing more people on to a team just to have them – just because a given discipline has some bearing on a problem, that does not mean we must have a person who specializes in the discipline on the core team. If we did, teams could become overly large and difficult to coordinate, because many disciplines will have information that relates to any given problem. Stakeholders are brought up, and a fellow student says she is reminded of participatory research.

There are connections here: in participatory research, the idea is that affected communities 1) deserve a voice in discussions of problems that affect them, and 2) have useful information related to solving those problems. However, there is a risk of having people just to have them in participatory research – depending on when community members are included the research process, they may have little input in defining research questions, may be left out of data analysis and interpretation, and may generally find themselves used as a sign of community input rather than an actual source of expertise or information. [As opposed to how we should be defining and leading this thing. If anyone's job is "source of expertise for getting the thing done but not really deciding what needs to be done" it should be the outside academics studying the community.]

This problem in participatory research resembles a similar problem in interdisciplinary research, where the input from any given discipline is limited to where the people running the project think that discipline belongs, rather than appearing everywhere it could be helpful throughout the project time line. In both cases, the problem is with boundaries, whether between identities (academic, policy maker, or community member) or between disciplines. The problem is also with the assumption that people fit into exactly one of these boxes – a scholar on fisheries whose family depends on fishing does not fit into precisely one position. When I do research related to disability, I don't either. [I'm Disabled. I'm Autistic. I'm also legitimately a Disability Studies scholar, and I'm starting to be a researcher in assistive technology.] In both participatory and interdisciplinary research, the no boundary idea that we should be defining and approaching problems in ways that are “not limited by disciplines, traditions, vocabularies, or even technologies” (Huang et. al. 2013, p. 2) would be helpful.

Work Cited
Huang, X., Bruce, B., Buchan, A., Congdon, C. B., Cramer, C. L., Jennings, S. F., ... & Moore, J. H. (2013). No-boundary thinking inbioinformatics research. BioData mining, 6(1), 1.

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