Fourier Transform and Autism

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(This section is for technical audience only. It is also mostly related to pro-video children.)

I use Fourier Transform to understand children with autism, particularly in the case of pro-video children...and I am not going to apologize for that.

When I tell people that I use Fourier transform (a mathematical tool) to understand my children, they would invariably look at me, bewildered. Even my scientist friends would first let out some incredulous laugh. With my scientist friends, I would then proceed to explain to them the details, and their laughing would immediately stop.

To be fair, parents and educators don't need to understand Fourier transform to help their children with autism. They may simply follow the steps laid out in the approach of Eikona Bridge. The same is true with operating a smartphone, an internet-connected computer, a TV set, or a radio. All these devices work with electronic signals that are transmitted through the techniques of Fourier transform. The general public does not need to know anything about Fourier transform to operate these devices. However, if you are an engineer responsible for designing the signal communication protocols, you need to know Fourier transform.

From my perspective, I would say that a conceptual understanding of Fourier transform is truly necessary for the understanding of autism. And I would say this to any medical professional, without blinking my eyes. In fact, given all the modern technologies used in the medical field, I believe that most medical doctors already know some basic calculus and modern physics.

Autism is classified as a mental disorder today, but that does not mean that it will stay that way tomorrow. If we interpret pro-video children as speakers of a language that works in the "conjugate space" of neurotypical children, then autism may simply be viewed as a communication problem, instead of a medical issue.

Many psychologists and medical researchers today will affirm that autism is without a doubt a mental disorder. I beg to differ from them. It's not that I want to play prophetic about how autism will be viewed in the future. It's simply because even today, we already have many adults with autism that have explicitly stated that they don't want to be "cured" from autism. These include prominent personalities such as Temple Grandin, and people from the ASAN  (Autism Self-Advocacy Network) organization.

Psychologists and medical specialists may point to the fact that without "intervention," many children with autism may turn into "low-functioning" grown-ups. But to me, there is an alternative interpretation. Neurotypical children will also turn into low-functioning grown-ups, if they are not properly developed. If neurotypical children are raised without communication (e.g., confined to a cellar during their childhood, without interactions), they will become low-functioning, too. Now, if all what we adults do is to bombard our children with autism everyday with noises that they cannot understand, that is no different than raising these children "incommunicado": there is no surprise that these children will turn out to be underdeveloped, just like their neurotypical peers that have been deprived of interactions.

If you do a quoted Google search for sentences such as "autism is not a disorder" or "autism is not a disability", or simply search for "neurodiversity", you will find plenty of adults with autism refusing to consider autism as a mental disorder. I understand this is very hard to accept for some therapists or parents out there, since many of them have to deal with "low-functioning" grown-ups with autism on a daily basis. How can autism not be a disability when you see the suffering of those low-functioning grown-ups, everyday? How can it not be a disorder?

I am well aware of issues that underdeveloped grown-ups with autism face, ranging from inability to get a job, inability to find romantic relationships, coping with phobias, and other troubles for functioning in life. But I ask myself: are these difficulties coming from autism itself, or are they coming from underdevelopment? If children with autism are never fully developed, but instead have had to grow up a in a world that constantly had bombarded them with noises on a 24/7 basis, day after day, month after month, and year after year, what do you expect they would turn out to be? When you subject these children to dehumanizing "treatments," always treating them as second-class citizens that need to be manipulated, what do you expect about their self-esteem? What do you expect when these children have to grow up in an environment where everything they do is considered wrong? What do you expect when they have to be "corrected" in everything they do? To me, autism is not the issue affecting these "low-functioning" grown-ups: underdevelopment is the issue.

Without understanding Fourier transform, medical professionals run the danger of mixing up consequences of underdevelopment with consequences of autism.

Children with autism are speakers of a different language. They communicate through a different channel than typical children. They are trying very hard to speak our language. But how hard have we tried to speak THEIR language?

Without a minimum understanding of Fourier transform, it's easy to become arrogant and view these children as sick, as intellectually disabled. It is only when you understand Fourier transform, that you can realize that these children are fine, equal-rights human beings. It is only then that you will realize that it is just as valid to view the adults as the ones that are sick and intellectually disabled, from the perspective of these children. In Fourier transform, the momentum space is just as valid and as privileged as the coordinate space. In Quantum mechanics, you can solve the harmonic oscillator problem either the in coordinate space or momentum space. Momentum space is on absolute equal footing as the coordinate space, neither one is more privileged than the other. Why are we the adults so arrogant in asking our children to follow our ways, instead of us the adults learning to follow our children's ways, and help them develop?

Fourier transform teaches us that, whatever signals we consider as obvious and clear to us, our children with autism may simply perceive the same signals as noises. And vice-versa. If we truly want to achieve communication, we need to let go our pride, and start to learn to speak the language of our children.

Fourier Transform: It's a matter of perspective. Rotate 90 degrees, and see it from the eyes of the children.

Here is an on-line discussion I had about "Aspect-Oriented Programming" (AOP). I posted  it in August, 2003, explaining to other Python-language programmers what AOP is about. Reading it today, I still admire how beautiful our world is: how different parts of human knowledge share common principles. (OOP stands for "Object-Oriented Programming" in the discussion below.)

AOP is the latest effort in code factorization. Code factorization started with the goto statement, then loops, then functions, then classes and methods. And now, AOP. If you write programs in OOP long enough, you will realize that there are code spots that are not factorized. For example, you register an event listener at the beginning and de-register at the end of a method. If you find yourself writing very similar codes in various classes or methods all over places, you are not factoring your code efficiently. It's not your fault, it's just that OOP cannot do certain types of code factorization.

Before having loops, a repetitive task may look like
x = x + 1
x = x + 1
x = x + 1

But when you have loops, you can factor the three lines of code into 
for i in range(3):
    x = x + 1

, before object-oriented programming, you have data structures that are very similar, say, A and B, A has (color, shape) and B has (color, shape, weight), with OOP you can use inheritance, and factor out the common code. If we view OOP and inheritance as a vertical dimension in code factorization, AOP would be a new horizontal dimension in code factorization. Hence, people use terms like "aspect weaving". Some people don't like AOP because it violates encapsulation in the vertical dimension. But this way of thinking is kind of, erh, unidimensional. Because conversely, a program that is built from purely AOP is encapsulated in its own aspect dimension, and the usage of OOP in that case would violate the encapsulation in the horizontal dimension. The fact is, both factorizations are needed in the real world. Aspect-oriented coding and object-oriented coding are like the conjugate variables in quantum mechanics, whether you use one picture or the other, at the end of the day they are equivalent, but in some circumstances it's better to use one than the other. (If you know Fourier transform, you know what I mean. A localized wave packet in time necessarily means a spread-out packet in frequency, and vice-versa. You can't have encapsulation both ways.)

Here is the reply from a netter:

Great post. This explains the purpose of AOP better than I have ever seen it expressed. Thank you.

I wrote my posting on AOP in 2003. Notice the mentioning of encapsulation, which is a disguised Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Encapsulation is violated when OOP and AOP interact. In terms of autism, it captures the frustrating situation that parents cannot communicate with their children: parents' signals are noise to their children, and children's signals are noise to their parents. Especially in the case of pro-video children, parents and educators just have never realized that they need to communicate with these children from a very different angle.

"Aspect weaving" corresponds to modulation/convolution in Fourier transforms. By learning to modulate our messages into our children's language, we can achieve communicating with our children, and help them develop and thrive.

To me, it does not matter whether it's musical instrument analogy (the bugle vs. the recorder), grammar analogy (nouns vs. adjectives), mathematical analogy (Fourier transforms), physics analogy (coordinate vs. momentum), or programming analogy (OOP vs. AOP), the underlying structure is the same. It's exactly the same situation with pro-picture children vs. pro-video children. To me, the underlying structure of human brain shares the same principles as Lagrangian Quantum Field Theory of modern physics. They are all the same. They all work on the same principles: from musical instruments, to linguistics, to field theory, to autism.

The Uncertainty Principle is at the heart of our failure to communicate with our children with autism, particular with our pro-video children. Our signals are noise to them, and their signals are noise to us. Our children are speakers of a different language: the visual language. The pro-video children will have hard time to develop and thrive, until the day that parents and educators learn to speak these children's language.

As I have found out, there are two dimensions to our brain's activities: concepts, and processes. We keep thinking in the dimension of "concepts," while our pro-video children operate in the dimension of "processes." That's the source of our mismatch with our pro-video children. For instance, some pro-video people can memorize other people's telephone numbers being told only once. Whereas you and I need to memorize each digit of a phone number separately, these pro-video people simply store the entire process of the numeric sequence, as one single event. You and I may have hard time remembering everybody's telephone numbers, because to us, each digit has a meaning and is connected to other events inside our brains. That's how we get distracted. However, to many of these pro-video people, it's all just one single event, where it makes no sense to separate the individual digits out of the sequence. Once you understand the pro-video brain, you will learn to admire these people, and cease to view them as intellectually disabled.

Video Communication with Pro-Video Children

I have never met one single child on the spectrum that cannot pay attention to video clips. Some parents would even tell me that their children can watch some video clips for a long time.

At the same time, many of these parents complain that their children cannot pay attention during their learning hours.

What I see is this:
  • We are trying to teach our children at the moment of their minimum attention (regular learning hours)
  • We are not teaching our children at the moment of their maximum attention (when watching video clips repeatedly for a long time)
Doesn't it seem obvious what we are doing wrong?

Is it really true that our pro-video children cannot pay attention? This is of course totally false. These children can watch the SAME video clip repeatedly for a long time. Why aren't we teaching them intellectual skills while they are watching their favorite video clips? Why do we let those golden opportunities of their maximum attention slip away?

As pointed out in my book, stimming time is learning time. If we fail to modulate in skill-teaching moments into their favorite video clips or activities, then there is little wonder that these pro-video children become underdeveloped.

Has any parent or educator taken the time to modulate in teaching frames into their children's favorite video clips? I have. And my son has acquired tons of skills from those video clips. My son can read now, can talk now, is always happy and smiling. I have inserted teaching moments into my son's favorite video clips, taught him to focus on stick figures, taught him to read. My question is: have you? Mind you, my son was hyperactive, could not stay still for 2 seconds, could not focus or look at static pictures (let alone stick figures). He could not read and could not talk. He used to get mad easily, throw tantrums, break objects, slam doors, and had a variety of sensory problems. He used to play with a vacuum cleaner ten hours a day.

There is a reason that many pro-video children become underdeveloped: parents and educators just have never learned to communicate with their children, through their favorite video clips.

There is a reason why I call these children "pro-video," despite knowing that their brains are better described as "process-based." I call them "pro-video," precisely because I would like parents and educators to remember that video clips are the native language of these children. Learn to speak their native language, and you will be able to communicate with these children, teach them vital skills, and help them to develop and thrive.

To me, autism has nothing to do with underdevelopment. The one does not imply the other. To me, children with autism simply have a different development path. By forcing them to develop in a neurotypical way, you may end up destroying the lives of these children.

My mother always shakes her head at how much time I spend in preparing video clips for my son. Some video clips have taken me over 6 hours to make, spread over 3 or more days. However, when I prepare powerpoint presentations at work, for some big clients, I see my co-workers spending dozens and dozens of hours for a presentation that may last only for one hour. Is the CEO from some big company more important than our own children? If we are willing to spend dozens of hours preparing for a talk to a stranger CEO, then we surely can spend a few hours preparing to talk to our own childrenat least that is my opinion. Video clips are not an oxygen tank that our pro-video children need to carry for the rest of their lives. Matter of fact, today, I don't make video clips for my children any more. With my son, I now only need to draw pictures for him from time to time...maybe just once or twice a week. With my daughter, our communication is now exclusively verbal. That's the idea of Eikona Bridge: video clips and picture drawings are simply bridges to help our children to get to our side. These bridges are no longer needed, when our children are on our side. Preparing video clips surely is time consuming, but better days will soon come.

Coming back to Fourier transform. How in the world did I figure out that I needed to communicate with my son through modulated video clips? Believe it or not, it's because of Fourier transform. I can't be more grateful to all my math and physics teachers and professors.

Mr. Joseph Fourier surely did not expect that his work would help the lives of my children, some two hundred years later. But for that, I thank him, too.

The day I entered my Ph.D. program, was also the day when I stopped using the word "believe" as "to believe in an authority figure." When you become a Ph.D. student, you stand on equal footing with everyone else in the world, no matter what their positions or titles may be. In science, there is no such a thing as "believing in authority." You are expected to be your own authority, you are expected to emit opinions like "I think he/she is right" or "I think he/she is wrong." You don't have anybody to fall back to. You are your own last line of defense.

Another thing that comes to my mind is the case of a famous Cuban refugee boy that was returned to his surviving father in Cuba. The attorney general of the U.S.A. stated something that I will never forget: "parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit." Parents have great power. But with great power comes also great responsibility. The decision you make for your children is your responsibility and yours only. Right or wrong, you will live with it for the rest of your life.

Parents and educators don't need to agree with me, or believe my words. But I would urge them to be independent thinkers. Seek out all the facts out there, and judge for yourselves. Listen to the words of adults with autism. Find out the interests of your children and pay attention to how they spend their time during the day. Be independent thinkers, instead of following other people's words. It's your children's lives, and you are the ones responsible for them. All that, is precisely what I did. And today I am proud to say, I did not fail my children. 

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