Autistry Studios Scientists and Artists Party


2 Time Academy Award Nominee for Sound Editing, Gwen Whittle, Animator Ken Pontac

On April 8, 2017, Autistry Studios, held its annual  Scientists and Artists Party. This is my account of it.

I am hesitant to attend because of the potential for overstimulation with people and their noises and crowding, but am so excited by the speakers and exhibits by students I put the reservation aside and make my appearance.

There is a line out the door when I arrived = bad sign, and I almost bolt, with my support guy by my side and squishy in hand, I brave it and stand not quite in the line- more off to the side.  Cling to my squishy and wait. When my turn comes, I print my name on a nametag – being painstaking to print legibly as opposed to my usual scrawl – could this be the reason the kids used to call me “Doctor”? That was a joke; they did call me “Doctor”, but it wasn’t because of my handwriting – it was the Merck Manual I was often reading!  Identifying myself as “Student”, I proceed into the  familiar building which has been transformed into a party space, complete with an excellent spread of appetizers,  bar and chairs for watching the speakers who present with the aid of the AV setup Autistry’s pater familias, Dan manned –“ Dan the man” –  I couldn’t resist.

The computer room, where we work on computing projects has been designated the “quiet room”, not to be confused with the seclusion and restraint room in institutions. I immediately seek refuge here – there is quite a turnout! Student exhibits are on display and I get some good pictures.


Autistry Studio’s Student Art, Ken Pontac, photographed and Collaged by Christian Damian. Notice my Orange Sqiushy, who Made a Guest Appearance.

Not at first, though. I am so frazzled by the people, I actually start to panic and whimper like a little animal while attempting to get a plate of food. I get clumsy when stressed and nearly spilled the contents of my –admittedly fragile – paper plate. Fortunately, a girl I know who works at Autistry, was right next to me, and she helps out, gently guiding me through the crush to sit in the computer room. Seems I spend a lot of time there… She then brings me a plate. If I could remember her name, I would thank her – I forget people as soon as they are out of my orbit – faces. Names, they all fade away quickly. One of my favorite students, who attended Autistry with me for months, was absent for 2 weeks before I noticed, and then I couldn’t remember his name. Oops.

There are some other people in the media room with me – I see one is Cliff Saron, a neuroscientist at the MIND Institute, U.C. Davis. I have heard of the MIND Institute online, but cannot recall details – I see so much online and read so much, sometimes it all blends together.

I ask if he is presenting tonight, knowing full well he is –me and those nametags… He says, “Yes” (of course, I knew that, having read his nametag) , and remarks on the jet lag he is still suffering after having been to Africa to meet with the Dalai Lama, as part of his ongoing research of meditation and perception:

 Dalai Lama.: At the Center for Mind and Brain,

 Dr. Clifford Saron’s work centers on two broad areas. The first is the training of attention and emotion regulation through contemplative practice, and the second concerns sensory processing, multisensory integration, and interhemispheric communication in children with autism spectrum disorders.

The Center’s “Shamatha Project” is a large-scale collaborative and multimethod longitudinal study of the effects of intensive meditation training. They use qualitative, self-report, behavioral, electrophysiological, and biochemical measures to begin to elucidate the many levels of personal and physiological change that accompany such training.

Dr. Saron later presents a version of this TedX Talk. It is very well done; I suggest viewing it.

He mentions the movie, “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, and even uses it in the example of attention difference in autistic people. Well, kids, actually, but he suggests these differences in sensory processing persist into adulthood. I am so excited, I burst out with, “I love that movie!” which elicits some nods of agreement from a few people – presenters all. I wish I could find the “Stinkeye” scene online, but I am under a deadline here, and couldn’t get it right now. Great movie! The link above goes to the full movie, at least until YouTube yanks it. You can watch it yourself, and look for where someone makes a really funny expression, about halfway through, I think, and another asks, “Did she just give you the stink eye?”

I laughed for hours about that, and am laughing now, remembering. Now, I really want to find that scene! I have the movie playing in the background as I write this so I can listen for the scene,

  1. I’m back after going to my gardening job, where I freaked out because I encountered dog shit and had to come home early. Flapping and dancing, grunting and squirming- I just had to go. Stinky, dirty things have always got to me. One reason I could never have a baby – I knew I couldn’t handle the diaper duty.

So –where was I? Oh; the first speaker I cannot write about because it was too crowded in there, and what little I heard does not constitute enough material for a review. All I know is it is neurosurgeon Mark Eastham and he showed rather graphic details of various brain injuries with a humourous Q and A. I, of the Merck Manual, did not find that quite my style.

Next is Ken Pontac, and I will be lazy and just refer you to the Wiki, as he is very prolific and I do not have time to sort it out right now. His “Danger Productions” sounds intriguing as it is “dark humor”, a genre I love.

I really like this guy, and ask his permission to include him in this piece , which he readily grants; thanks Mr. Pontac, Ken – whatever you want me to call you…

Just got a text from my landscape job, the one I freaked out on earlier today because I got dogshit on me weeding. My employer saw me doing the autism dance, squealing and flapping, so I had to explain:

“I’m autistic!”

He seemed unfazed, helped me clean up, and wished me a “calm” evening.

I text him later with a little more explanation, about how I over react to messy, stinky, and noisy situations. How I could never handle diaper duty, hence have never had kids. Perhaps TMI, but he texts me back:


Can you believe it? – autism awareness is real!

I have to take a break and tug my lock of hair –what’s to become of me if it no longer exists?  My hair, I mean. I used to pull the hair out as a baby, now I just abuse it- twisting, petting, tugging, stroking. It is an all purpose stim – I do it to calm, to maintain alertness, when pondering deeply, when upset, bored – you name it. If I don’t want to do it (to keep my hair neat or to impress somebody  – rare) I just wear a hat.

Listening to Erasure, nineties goofy pop…

So, I just returned from a Safeway run, where I gave a fist bump to an obviously disabled guy where he said “ have a good evening”, and to which I fist bumped in kind and replied,

“And you, too.”

No other patrons seemed to give us any mind which is great as it seques into our next=

I buy a dog toy for myself.

Oh, yes- a dog toy. I am going to bring it to Autistry today to bite on while computing. Maybe it will help stifle the noises and self talk which often earn me a “time out”, interrupting my “flow”. My other squishies are too delicate to bite.

The girl at the counter remarked about how the dogs love the vanilla taste/smell –well that is also one of the main draws for me – boy I love that (chemical) smell!!!

My Spotify playlist has now inched over 100 – 114 to be exact.

Erasure’s version of Peter Gabriel’s  “Salisbury Hill” currently playing.

So, I bought myself a $10.00 dog toy –pink and featuring crackly plastic sounds, which I don’t  object to on theory,, but am actively taking scissors to excise. See, I hate the noise…

Be right back…

Gwen is next, and is she good! She demonstrates how sound files are mixed.

As a two time academy award nominee with Avatar and others – hope I did not embarrass you, Gwen.

I tried to get a sound clip of your sample of how the dinosaur sound is a composite of a tree falling, a lion’s roar, an alligator, a baby elephant, a real lion’s roar , but it didn’t come through.

Here is a facsimile:


 What a great party.

I will end with my photo and edit of Corey Semple’s wonderful piece of a doll in a shoe:






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