Monday, May 02, 2016

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - Memoir "Switched On"

"The shocking experience of finally seeing the full spectrum of emotion" PBS NewsHour 4/27/2016


SUMMARY:  A medical procedure used to diagnose damage from brain injuries may also help some autistic patients make connections and understand emotions they’ve never experienced.  Author John Robison underwent that experimental therapy, detailed in a new memoir, “Switched On.” Hari Sreenivasan talks with Robison about his experience.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  In the latest NewsHour Bookshelf conversation, a look into a potential new treatment for autism.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, can be used to diagnose damage from brain injuries and disorders.  But a new study investigates whether the therapy can help some autistic patients make connections and understand emotions they have never experienced.

I recently spoke with one such patient.

John Robison, thanks so much for joining us.

So, first, let’s start with, what is transcranial magnetic stimulation, and why did you decide to participate in this research?

JOHN ELDER ROBISON, Author, “Switched On”:  It’s a therapy where they use focused bursts of electromagnetic energy to transmit tiny amounts of electricity through the scalp and through the skull, and into your brain.

Your brain’s an electrical organ, so if you want to change how it functions, you can change it most directly with targeted electricity.  When I heard that there was a study that might help autistic people like me see emotional cues in other people, the idea of it just spoke to the heart of something that I felt had been a disability in me all my life, being unable to read body language and expressions and cues in other people.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, you describe this.  I want to quote a paragraph.

It says: “Imagine that, all your life, you have seen the world in black and white.  Meanwhile, everyone around you describes the beauty and richness of color.  After a while, their talk of color frustrates you.  Which do you believe, their words or the evidence before your eyes?”

So did you get a glimpse of color?


That’s really the transformative thing about this.  You can be an intelligent adult, and all your life, you hear about color, and yet eventually you start getting angry because the evidence in your eyes is gray.

And then imagine the doctor does something and they turn on color for half-an-hour.  And even if color goes away, for the rest of your life, you’re going to know it’s real.  And that’s kind of how it is for me.  They stimulated me, and it was a temporary thing.

The effects lasted for some months, I would say.  Some of them faded away quickly, some longer.  And that built an ability that’s in me today based on that real experience.  And it’s something words and teaching and talk could never have achieved.

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