Sunday, August 17, 2014

Delusional aversion in special needs: maladaptive learning?

As #1 moves to adulthood he shows many cognitive improvements — including better planning abilities. Improvements in some areas inevitably expose disabilities in other areas; we must then choose which to work on and which to wait on.

One of those newly defined disabilities is something we have started to call “delusional aversion”. For example - a sudden, inexplicable and emotionally intense aversion to a mountain biking site. If you didn’t know him better you’d think some terrible and unspeakable secret trauma had occurred there. That does not seem to be the case — though we can’t rule out some minor issue like someone speaking sharply to him, or some brushing grass creating an unpleasant sensation.

Once these aversions develop they are strong and persistent. You could not, for example, pay him enough to put a big bag under his bike seat. He will often produce “explanations” for the aversion, but they are illogical. If pressed he will respond with angry speech. They are classic “fixed beliefs without rational explanation” — delusions in other words. I suspect they are structurally not all that different from the well studied delusions of schizophrenia and they, of course, are very much like phobias.

We think of these delusional aversions as a form of dysfunctional associative learning. He associates something unpleasant with a location (human memories are strongly bound to place), and his disability rapidly amplifies a “single-exposure” learning circuit. I suspect this is a fairly common issue with dogs and other learning animals, but most humans are better able to control these associations. He cannot.

The accumulation of aversions is disabling across a wide range of activities of daily life. So this is a problem we’d like to address.

Naming and framing a cognitive disability is a first step to mitigating it — but we don’t yet know the next step. Presumably we can borrow from techniques used to treat phobias, particularly desensitization and association-subsitution. That’s hard and slow work though, and he’s very difficult to motivate. He does not see these accumulating aversions as a problem, and it’s hard to treat a problem a person doesn’t have.

We may try a bit more of a cognitive tack. This is definitely a reach — introspective cognition is very hard for him. It is not, however, impossible. If he can begin to label his aversions as non-rational learning…

(Incidentally, as one approaches guardianship age these are things to note down for the benefit of court hearings.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

You never know ...

One of our family's big achievements in our early years with special needs and autism was teaching both boys, #2 with classic autism (now "Aspergers") and #1 with more complex disabilities, to swim.

This took years of persistence and patience, fueled by Emily's hatred of preventable drowning. Try and fail. Try and fail. Pool one and two. Teacher five and six. Again and again. Money spent and lost - more than many could afford. Private and group. Family practice.

After years of this they could swim enough. After that it was improvement. #1, if he were motivated, could be competitive in butterfly -- a stroke I can't do. (I'm a strong swimmer.)

#2 just passed his "pre-lifeguard" course.

You never know.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Configuring location sharing on an iPhone at minimal cost

For some special needs children location sharing is critical — but the last time I surveyed options they were all costly and troublesome.

For us location tracking hasn’t been that critical, but #1 is now bicycling around the Twin Cities. He’s a good cyclist (so far), but location sharing is becoming more important.

He carries an iPhone 4s (inherited from me) so we went with that option. We switched from H2O wireless ($40/year, but no data) to a SIM from ptel - America’s cheapest iPhone data solution for low data use. We did the tedious configuration needed to restrict cellular data use to only low bandwidth high value apps including restricting access to cellular data controls so he couldn’t simply reenable them.

This gave us “Find My Phone” location tracking - which is pretty good. (Always check that this is working after configuration). We locked his iCloud settings in Restrictions so this can’t be changed.

Find My (Apple download) is more convenient though. You can disable app deletion to keep it on the phone, enable shared items, then lock the settings in Restrictions. (He can track us too - least we can do.)

This setup is NOT for novices, but if you’d like a cheap iPhone tracking solution seek out a friendly geek and they can figure it out from this short post.

See also:

Update 10/26/2014: This has worked very well. He gets reward tokens for carrying his phone and leaving it on, and he’s happy with that. Being able to track his rides has been a huge anxiety reducer. There are points where we lose his location for a few minutes, but in general it’s reliable.