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Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today we’re going to discuss a type of autism that lies just outside the spectrum- the broad or broader autism phenotype (BAP).

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What on earth is that when it’s at home?!

BAP is a term used to describe a wider range of individuals just beyond the spectrum who have difficulties with language, personality, and exhibit a number of social and behavioural traits at a higher level than the average neurotypical, but not so high as to be diagnosed with autism.

In other words, this means that you have “a touch of autism” or “not quite autism (NQA)”.Β The individual has a high number of mild traits, but not enough to interfere with daily life.

So what do we know about BAP?

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Relatively little- it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!

This intermediate description is most commonly associated with family members (parents, siblings, and other extended family members) of those with ASD diagnoses (14–23%), but it can also be found in the general population as well (5–9%).

Interestingly, evidence of an intermediate autism phenotype has existed since the late 1970’s (the term itself was coined in 1994), but it is only in recent years, with the expansion of the spectrum, that it has become a source of research interest for scientists seeking to understand the range of ASD’s that lie beneath the spectrum rainbow.

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Much of the research in this area involves using the BAP to better understand autism- in particular it’s severity and genetics. By analyzing autism traits in families through the prism of BAP for example, researchers may be better able to identify the specific genes which underpin ASDs, paving the way for better therapies for autists.

Apologies for the shortness of this post dear Earthlings, but there is sadly very little information out there about BAP. Perhaps in the future there may be new research that will shed greater light on this subject πŸ™‚

Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Smell

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I mentioned in last weeks post on taste sensitivity, this week we’re going to discuss sensitivity to smell in autism.

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As with other senses we have discussed, autists can be eitherΒ hyposensitive or hypersensitive to odours. One autist may enter a malodorous environment without noticing anything amiss, another autist may wretch, or worse!

As a child, my nose was particularly sensitive to my environment (although judging by how I could taste the beer my friends were drinking yesterday evening from the fumes alone, this may still be the case on occasion πŸ˜› ). Bad smells were especially trying- the smell of salads, fish, cigarette smoke, incense, even something so simple as a bag of popcorn could easily turn my stomach.

But it wasn’t all bad- this sensitivity comes with a heightened appreciation for pleasant smells too πŸ™‚

Baking, chocolate, nice perfumes, the outdoors, the smell of metal (don’t ask me why I love this one so much- must be something to do with my taste in music! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ )- in fact, such smells are not only a sensory sensation, but can also be used to help calm an autist.

As easily as an unpleasant smell could unsettle me, the right smell could calm me back down again as a child.Β  I always kept a teddy or a blanket near at hand that I could smell to help soothe and calm me and to lull me off to sleep- I couldn’t sleep without one particular teddy until I was 16!

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^^^^My teddy was a lot more raggedy than this…😬

So why does smell affect autists so much?

Interestingly, some studies indicate that there are no differences in sensitivity to smell between autists and their neurotypical peers, however, much research points to the cortex of the brain. This region is heavily involved in smell processing, and yep, you guessed it- the autistic brain shows signs of dysfunction in this region. In fact, the pre-frontal cortex shows signs of overgrowth and excessive linkage in the neurons (just like an overloaded plug), so no wonder sensory perception is altered in autists! This region is also associated with the formation and retrieval of long term memories, whichΒ could also explain why smells are often tied to memory recall in autists (which I will explore in more detail at a later stage πŸ™‚ ).

One study also shows that autists may not inhale smells in the same way to their neurotypical peers. Evidence suggests that autists inhale deeply and intensely for both pleasant and unpleasant smells, whereas neurotypicals will tentatively sniff in the presence of an offending odour, which could further explain differences in scent processing.

In addition to this, research suggests that alterations in smell can influence social behaviours. A recent study in fact suggest that autists cannot smell fear and that there is a reversal in their response to fear. In this study, a group of autists were calm when presented with a sample of sweat from a skydiver, whereas their neurotypical peers exhibited classic signs of fear. In contrast, their fear levels increased when presented with the sweat sample from a calm individual!

In other words, an autists social behaviour may be affected by an inability to interpret social cues carried in odours- the mind boggles!

So there we have it dear Earthlings- hope this post didn’t ‘stink’ too badly πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Taste

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As we have discussed in previous posts (such as sensory issues,Β light sensitivity andΒ sound sensitivity), people with autism are highly sensitive on a sensory level, so naturally, taste is no exception.

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Many autists have highly sensitive taste buds wherein we find a number of flavours and foods too strong and overpowering to tolerate. This sensitivity to tastes can make life very difficult when it comes to taking medicines, food selection (which we will discuss in greater detail at a later stage) and maintaining a somewhat neutral expression when put in awkward public tasting scenarios (perhaps one of my biggest personal challenges πŸ˜› ).

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On the other hand, some autists can in fact be hyposensitive to taste, often preferring foods with stronger flavours

So what’s causing these alterations in tongue sensitivity?

The research into this aspect of autism is currently quite limited, however, some neurological studies indirectly suggest that there is evidence of taste dysfunction in autism.

Many studies have shown evidence of brainstem dysfunction in the neurodiverse brain such as hypoplasia, or under development of the facial nerve nucleus (a collection of neurons in the brainstem that innervate the face). This nerve network carries taste information from the tongue and relays it to the brain. Any dysfunction or damage to this pathway can affect a persons ability to detect tastes.

Furthermore, the ability to identify tastes and flavour perception is controlled by a complex nerve network involving several different brain regions such as the thalamus, insula/operculum, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and our old friend the amygdala. Many of these regions have been implicated in autism, suggesting that dysfunctions in these regions may influence an autists taste buds.

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Recent evidence also suggests that autists may be more sensitive to bitter tastes due to genetic mutations in the TAS2R38Β tasteΒ receptor. Alterations in theΒ TAS2R38 gene can cause autists to perceive bitter tastes differently to their neurotypical peers which could explain why our taste buds are so sensitive (and why alcohol makes me gag πŸ˜› )

Finally, an increased sensitivity to smell also feeds into these alterations in tasteΒ which I will examine next week πŸ™‚

Until next time Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

 

Autism and Pain

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I am currently recovering from the removal of my wisdom teeth (contrary to popular belief- my mouth is too small πŸ˜› ), I’ve decided to write about pain and autism this week.

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One might imagine that autists have a higher response to physical pain owing to our sensory sensitivities, however, pain perception, as with all aspects of the spectrum, is entirely individual to the autist.

Some are hypersensitive (touching the skin or simply brushing your hair can cause pain), whereas others may in fact have very high pain thresholds. Yours truly unknowingly lived with a permanent ulcer in their mouth from an impacted wisdom tooth for a couple of years due this without batting an eyelid! I thought that was how it was supposed to look…πŸ˜‚πŸ˜¬!

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So why the polar responses to pain?

The evidence as to why this is is unclear. For many years, researchers believed that people with autism were insensitive to pain as they did not always respond to pain in the usual manner (crying, seeking comfort etc), in addition to the display of self injurious behaviours. However, more recent studies have challenged this notion indicating that people with autism show signs of hypersensitivity to pain in the brain, experiencing greater physiological responses to pain than neurotypical peers.

The autistic brain clearly demonstrates alterations in “normal” pain pathways, but is there a root explanation?

Some evidence points to genetic mutations in such genes as the Shank genes (which haveΒ  recently been implicated in a number of autistic behaviours), however, the explanation could be much simpler. As discussed in previous posts, numerous neurotransmitters are dysregulated in autism- neurotransmitters which play an important role in our perception of pain.

Evidence suggests that Dopamine in particular plays an important role in the modulation of pain perception and analgesia in the body. Many studies have linked dopamine dysregulation to autism, which could explain why pain responses vary among autists πŸ™‚

There we have it now Earthlings! πŸ™‚ Hope this post wasn’t too “painful” for you! πŸ˜‰

Okaaaay, that was a bad one! Sorry πŸ˜›

We’ll blame that pun on my wisdom teeth! πŸ˜‰

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

For a change today, I’d just like to write a quick post for all of the autism parents out there.

I recently received an email about special needs parenting and it got me thinking about ‘autism parents’. How they must be feeling, the difficulties they face, the struggle to understand, teach and support their child. They really should be called ‘awesome parents’- I certainly didn’t make life easy for mine! πŸ˜›

Autism is not the easiest of diagnoses for a parent to hear, but there are many simple ways that you can support your child. Granted, I’m not an autism parent, but as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, I’ll do my best to give you my top tips to support and encourage your child πŸ™‚

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Educate yourself– Read, read read! Understanding is key to helping your child. A mechanic can’t help your engine if he doesn’t know how it works first.

Don’t believe everything you read–Β  You’ll quickly learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to autism. Each case of autism is different, every autist will have different needs and experiences to the next. The advice and experience of others can be useful, but remember to take everything with a pinch of salt.

Try to put yourself in their shoes– The world is often alien to us, we don’t always fit in or understand it’s ways. We don’t mean to act weird or meltdown and cause trouble, but oftentimes our brain has other ideas. Try to understand how we see the world before you judge us too harshly πŸ™‚

Know their limits, but don’t limit them– This can be a challenging balance to strike. As I have discussed previously, we should endeavour to understand the capabilities of autistic children, but we must not use autism as an excuse– explanation yes, but never excuse. When we repeatedly excuse an autists behaviour, or tell them they “can’t” do something, we keep them from reaching their potential. For example, as a child, I could not seem to master the humble skip. Had my parents told me to give up due to my coordination difficulties, I would never have overcome this struggle- and would have looked pretty stupid in school shows where such simple choreography was the cornerstone of many a dance number! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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Never underestimate the power of small victories– whether it’s getting your child to wear a bra, tie their shoelaces or a mastered skip, sometimes it’s the little steps that can have the greatest impact. Had I not overcome my seemingly left feet, I would not have discovered a love of dance, never danced on stage or gone out to clubs. Without this small victory I would never have gone on to help choreograph my school play or even teach dancing to kids as a teenager! The victories seem small, but they just may be the tip of the majestic iceberg lurking underneath πŸ™‚

Accept the A-word– Acceptance is at the heart of supporting a child with autism. Without this, they can never truly fulfill their potential. There’s no use in burying your head in the sand. We won’t grow out of autism, we need to accept and grow around it.

Always remember:

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So there you have it Earthlings- my top tips for supporting a child with autism. However, like I said, I can only speak from my experiences of autism, soΒ here are some other helpful advice links on more specifc ways to support autistic children:

At the end of the day Earthlings, armed with a little bit of knowledge, understanding and most importantly love- there’s no better way to support your child πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Autism on Screen- Mercury Rising

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so today I would like to take a quick look at the 1998 political action film (not a genre one would immediately associate with autism)- ‘Mercury Rising‘.

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So how does this action film relate to autism?

In this film, the NSA has created a cryptographic super-code (Mercury) that was thought to be unbreakable by any computer in the world. However, following the release of the code in a childrens puzzle book in order to test it, autistic savantΒ (not again!!! πŸ˜› ) Simon easily cracks it. This simple act puts his life in danger as contract killers are sent to silence him as the NSA believe him to be a liability. FBI agent Art Jeffries, played by Bruce Willis, is assigned the difficult task of protecting Simon from these killers whilst also navigating the social and behavioural challenges associated with his autism.

You can check out a trailer for the film below:

Honestly, I found the film to be particularly tedious (not a desirable quality for an action film), and really struggled to make it through to the end. 2 hours is a loooong time for a boring film! πŸ˜›

As to the film’s portrayal of autism, you know what I’m going to say- we NEED to stop perpetuating the stereotype of the autistic savant! As I have discussed many times, this is a RARE characteristic (1-10% of the autistic community), and yet almost every film I’ve seen that features autism depicts this rare trait in some form or another! πŸ˜›

Give me strength!

Aside from this, whilst the film did touch on such important topics as ‘wandering’ and issues of trust (which are not always depicted where autism is considered), I just felt that this character was highly stereotyped and that autism was poorly portrayed overall and at times was a little insulting. In fact the original book that this film is based on was titled ‘Simple Simon!’πŸ˜²πŸ˜’

This may even perhaps be one of the worst depictions of autism on screen in my opinion.

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So all in all, if you need a good sedative, or are a huge Bruce Willis fan, this film’s for you! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Accepting your Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

To kick off the new year I’m going to expand a little bit on something I’ve touched on briefly in the past- coming to terms with your autism diagnosis.

As I’ve stated many times, getting my Asperger’s diagnosis was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Two little words clarified a lifetime of questioning, confusion and misunderstanding.

My entire life finally began to make sense.

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Whilst this diagnosis was indeed a welcome one (in spite of the way my diagnosis was sprung on me πŸ˜› ), I struggled to come to terms with it for some time afterwards. As an adult, the diagnosis shouldn’t have changed anything- Asperger’s syndrome explains me, but it does not define me.

However, just because the shoe fits does not mean that you will break it in overnight.

Logically, there was no issue in being diagnosed; the emotional aspect on the other hand was much tougher.

Getting my diagnosis was like seeing myself for the first time in a mirror. It felt like I had made a revolutionary discovery, and yetΒ  somehow, I was ill at ease. The more I read about Asperger’s, the more self conscious I became of my mannerisms and behaviours. I was hyper-aware of everything that I did.

I knew and accepted that Asperger’s didn’t define me, however, I felt compelled to define it. I talked about Asperger’s incessantly possessed by the niggling urge to explain every single thing I did for fear of being misunderstood. As a friend recently told me, she barely knew my name before I had filled her in about my diagnosis!Β πŸ˜‚

There were times when I felt as though I were beginning to disappear behind the smokescreen of the diagnosis, constantly questioning what was me and what was just Asperger’s.

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It took me over two years to learn to fully relax and embrace my diagnosis- somewhere along the way it just clicked. I no longer feel this need to go on about it. Indeed, there are times when I want to talk about it (for example in this blog), but I am also perfectly content to keep people guessing πŸ˜‰

Asperger’s is a bigΒ part of my life, but it’s not the whole picture πŸ™‚

Here’s just a couple of things that helped me on my journey towards acceptance:

  • Talk about it– Real original- I know, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
  • Try CBT– Now I know that I’ve said CBT wasn’t particularly useful for me from a management perspective, buuuuuut cognitive behavioural therapy didΒ help to increase my knowledge of autism and better understand who and why I am πŸ™‚
  • Write it out– I know I’ve said it before, but writing can be so cathartic. It really helps to verbalize what you can’t describe, especially if you have alexithymia. My laptop is full of mini essays from deflating my overly full skull at 3am! πŸ˜›
  • Read – Whilst this may have partially fueled my hyper-analysis, it also allowed me to better understand and accept myself. The more I learned, the easier it was to accept and embrace my quirks. Just maybe steer away from some of the novelizations of autism- these don’t always paint the most realistic of pictures πŸ˜›

Learning to accept an autism diagnosis (as cheesy as it sounds) is a journey. There may be twists and turns and many a speed bump along the way, but you will one day reach your destination πŸ™‚

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Aoife

 

One Year Anniversary! :)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! πŸ˜€

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Hope that everyone enjoyed the Christmas break! Nothing like a few days of eating, sleeping and watching TV! 😎 Wow! I can’t believe it’s 2018 already- feels like only yesterday I was wringing in 2017! I’m getting old!

January 2018 marks not just a new year, but alsoΒ marks one whole year of blogging.

A is for Aoife not Autism‘ is officially one year old!

Wuuuuutttttt!!! 😲

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It’s insane to think that in one short year over 500 people have signed up to know what I have to say about autism every week! Who’d have thought that one year on that there would be anyone still interested in listening to my ramblings?! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ Haha! πŸ™‚

But seriously, I would sincerely like to thank each and every one of you for your readership, support and kind words this past year. To know that you’re enjoying my posts means the world to me, and I am very grateful πŸ™‚

Don’t worry- I’ll leave the mushy stuff at home and get back to normal posting next week, I promise πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

But again, thank you all so much! πŸ˜€

Bring on 2018! πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Seasons Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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Wow- I can’t believe Christmas is almost here! πŸ˜€

This time last year I was carefully designing this blog ahead of my January launch, and here we are now- over 70 blog posts later! 😲

How time flies! πŸ™‚

This is just a quick post to take the time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and to thank you all for reading in 2017 πŸ˜€ It’s nice to know that someone out there is enjoying my ramblings πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

I’ll be taking a break from writing for a couple of weeks to enjoy the festive season, but rest assured I will return in January (you can’t get rid of me that easily πŸ˜‰ )

Wishing you and yours all the best for the festive season :*

See you all in 2018! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

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