Autism and Brain Zaps

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Leading on from my previous post about autism and anxiety, this week I’d like to talk about the phenomenon of brain zaps which autists may experience.

So what exactly are brain zaps?

Brain zaps (also know as brain shakes/shocks/shivers/flips) are a poorly understood phenomenon where it feels as though the brain is undergoing an electrical shock or a shaking/shivering/vibrating sensation. I personally have experienced these from time to time as a vibrating sensation in my brain, where it feels like your brain is literally shaking in your skull. Others report that it feels like a zap has gone off in their head and they can hear a hissing or a ringing sound in their ears. In some cases people experience bursts of light and can feel faint and disorientated afterwards. They are not harmful to the brain but they can be distracting and uncomfortable, especially for autists who are already sensitive to sensory stimuli.

So what causes them?

Like many neurological sensations, they are somewhat of a mystery, but they generally tend to occur in response to withdrawal or missed doses of certain drugs such as anti-depressants, ecstasy and MDMA, and medications for anxiety and ADHD – many of which are prescribed for co-morbid mental health conditions in autists. As these drugs alter levels of key calming inhibitory neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA (levels which are naturally dysregulated in the autistic brain), it is thought that low levels of these neurotransmitters may cause over-excitement in the brain, leading to abnormal firing between the neurons causing localized minor seizures i.e. brain zaps.

Don’t be alarmed by the term seizure here- this theory has not yet been confirmed and there is no evidence that brain zaps have a negative impact on our health.

On the other hand, brain zaps can also occur in response to high stress and anxiety. When you experience chronic stress, the brain is hyperstimulated as your worries swirl round and around in your restless mind. Completely overworked and overexcited from stress, your neurotransmitter levels fluctuate causing lower levels of calming GABA and higher levels of glutamate- the primary excitatory neurotransmitter. Such changes may over-excite the brain resulting in a localised seizure/brain zap as described above. Autists may be particularly susceptible to brain zaps in this manner as we experience higher levels of biological stress than our neurotypical peers, not to mention that our neurons are naturally hyper-connected, our neurotransmitters dysregulated and our brains hyperstimulated as a result.

Interestingly, a recent study has suggested that lateral eye movement may be a triggering factor for brain zaps. This is particularly intriguing for autists as evidence suggests that we process most visual information in our periphery, so our natural inclination to avoid direct eye contact could trigger brain zaps.

There are no treatments for brain zaps, but while they may not be the most pleasant sensation, they are generally nothing to be worried about and can be mitigated with proper management of stress and your prescribed medications.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘Convenience Store Woman’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about another autistic female character in the book ‘Convenience Store Woman‘ by Japanese author Sayaka Murata.

So what’s the book about?

The book tells the story of convenience store (or konbini) worker Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old woman who has worked part time in her local store for the last 18 years. She is content with her life in the store, happily set in routine as a functional cog in the “machine of society”. But as content as Keiko may be, the world is not content with her life. Keiko is considered somewhat of an anomaly in Japanese society, as convenience store jobs are considered stop gaps for students, job seekers, housewives etc. As she approaches her late thirties, her family and friends become increasingly invasive in their questioning of her lifestyle- why has she never moved on from the store? Why hasn’t she married? Why won’t she try to be like everyone else? Everyone wants to “fix” Keiko so that she will become a “normal”, functioning member of society. Things become so bad that Keiko goes so far as to adopt an obnoxious former employee at the store as a room mate/ “pet” to get the world off of her back and to let them assume that she is in a relationship and finally acting “normal”.

Author Sayaka Murata

So is Keiko autistic?

While autism is never mentioned in the book, many autistic women have felt a real connection with Keiko and her struggles. Keiko is socially awkward, and a constant worry to her family. She regularly says and does the wrong thing- like hitting a boy over the head with a shovel in school to break up a fight, or asking to eat a dead budgie in the park, struggling completely to understand why these things were unacceptable.

The book I felt contains one of the best descriptions of autistic masking that I have come across. When Keiko first joined the convenience store, it was like she finally felt like a real person, as the detailed employee trainee videos trained her on how to act in the store, how to speak, to smile, phrases to use- she remarked that it was the first time that anyone had ever shown her what normal speech and facial expressions looked like. She took to the organized monotony of store life like a duck to water, finally feeling like she had a purpose. Based on her experiences in the store, Keiko learned to mask the behaviours of others around her, studying them, taking on their facial expressions, turns of phrases, speech patterns, even looking up their clothes and buying them online so that she could pass for what she felt the world considered “normal.” Reading this I saw myself reflected in her actions- how often I mimic my friends speech patterns and phrases, discerned standard responses to common questions, to picking up their bad behaviours (I deliberately developed a bad habit of chewing pens when I started secondary school as I had gotten it into my head from watching those around me that I needed to exhibit a habit like this to fit in and be “normal”!)

The book is a nice short read (160 pages in the English translation) and whether intentional or not, paints a quirky portrait of an autistic woman at odds with the world, which so many of us can relate to, and I highly recommend it’s portrayal of masking 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism in the Eurovision Song Contest

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk to you about one of my specialist interests- the Eurovision Song Contest, as this year one of the entrants is on the autistic spectrum! 😀

So, first things first, what exactly is the Eurovision Song Contest?

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual international songwriting contest organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that was first established in 1956 as a means of bringing divided European nations together through music in the wake of World War II. Originally, only 7 countries participated, but over the years musicians representing 52 countries have competed across Europe, Israel and Australia (don’t get me started on the logic for that one…)

Each participating country submits one original song under 3 minutes in length, and performs the song live on stage to the world, competing to win a trophy and the chance for their nation to host the contest the following year. There are two semi finals and one grand final, all held over one week, usually in May. The voting is a 50/50 split from audience televotes and panels of industry experts from each participating country.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Eurovision is very popular in Europe with an average annual audience of just under 200 million viewers. Over the years it has grown from a simple song contest to a huge spectacle with elaborate staging and often crazy performances from bread baking Russian grannies, to metal monsters, dancing drag queens, to flapping puppets (sorry again for that one Europe!), to powerful songs that unite us and capture the hearts of an entire continent.

Eurovision has also brought many acts to worldwide fame such as ABBA (Sweden 1974), Daði Freyr (Iceland 2020/2021), Riverdance (Eurovision 1994’s interval act), Céline Dion (Switzerland 1988) and most recently Måneskin representing Italy in 2021. A host of other established acts have represented their countries (or failed to do so) over the years, including Cliff Richard (UK 1968/1973), Julio Iglesias (Spain 1970), Enya (Irish song selection 1973), Olivia Newton John (UK 1974), Katrina & the Waves (UK 1997), Bonnie Tyler (UK 2013), Cascada (Germany 2013), Darude (Finland 2019), The Rasmus (Finland 2022) and even Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a failed song for Lulu in 1969 (who won with a different song that year) for the UK national selection! My native Ireland retains the title of most all time Eurovision wins (7 in total, including 3 years undefeated between 1991-1994), so naturally Eurovision was a big deal when I was growing up 🙂

We get it, you love Eurovision Aoife, so where’s the autism link?

This year, the Australian delegation (we’ll let the geographical issues slide for a few paragraphs) are sending autistic singer Sheldon Riley to the contest in Turin, Italy with his song ‘Not The Same‘ where he talks about his struggles in life, and particularly his struggles growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can check out the song here:

Diagnosed at 6 years old, Sheldon was told that he would never be “normal”, that he would never achieve his dreams, never have a job, friends or a romantic partner. Instead, he has defied the odds and went on to compete in several song competitions in Australia in addition to America’s Got Talent. As part of his stage persona, Sheldon incorporates elaborate crystal masks into his performances to hide his face to allow him to focus on his singing as he often feels judged for his appearance, a shield to allow him to perform, taking autistic masking to a new level. With his participation in Eurovision however, Sheldon finally feels confident to start ditching his mask to embrace who he really is. You can also hear Sheldon talking about his experiences of autism to BBC in the video below:

Sheldon isn’t however the first autist to take to the Eurovision stage. In 2015, Finland sent the rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät comprised of disabled musicians with Down Syndrome and Autism. To this day it holds the record for the shortest ever song performed at Eurovision:

On another level, Greta Thunberg’s mother, Malena Ernman, who is an outspoken advocate for autism awareness, represented her native Sweden in the Eurovision in 2009!

Whilst these are the only confirmed examples of autists competing in the Eurovision, it’s quite possible that other past artists may also have been on the spectrum (knowingly or otherwise) but they have not revealed their diagnosis.

Fun Fact– yours truly contributed to last years 4th place Icelandic entry as part of an online virtual choir of 1000 fans, so you could say that one other autist has appeared on the Eurovision stage (in a roundabout way 😛 )

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the competition tomorrow night if you’re watching!

Aoife

Autism and the Internet

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to have a discussion about a somewhat polarizing topic- the internet and autism.

The internet is without a doubt one of the most powerful tools in the world- it connects us, shops for us, provides us with data instantly and is a vital tool in both school and the workplace. But as with most tools, it has many sharp and dangerous edges. As such, we need to be quite cognizant of both sides of the coin for vulnerable autists.

The internet often feels like a Godsend to an autist- it educates us about our condition, keeps those of us with ADHD stimulated (so many hours of online content to shut my brain up! 😛 ) and it removes the physical barriers of socializing, allowing us to make friends in a seemingly less threatening environment. Online support groups, vlogs and blogs can be immensely beneficial for autists, giving information, advice and a sense of community, knowing there are people out there dealing with the same struggles as you.

It can also really help mitigate some of the anxiety associated with in person or phone interactions. I’ve always hated shopping, so the rise in online retail during the pandemic has been very convenient for me, allowing me to offset some of the awkwardness and anxiety I would normally feel when dealing with retail workers (not to mention it’s keeping my habit of dropping/knocking things over in shops from poor coordination at bay! 😛 ). Even little things like being able to book appointments and restaurants over the internet can have a huge impact for an autist- the smallest of things can make our lives so much less stressful.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the internet to emerge from the pandemic for autists is how it enables us to work remotely. With just a couple of clicks, we can work away as if we were in a physical office, safe in the comfort of our home, free from many of the stresses of workplace life.

But as useful as the internet is, it can also be a very dangerous place for autists.

The internet provides us with a vast network of information, but a large percentage of it goes un-monitored which could be dangerous in the hands of vulnerable autists. We can be quite innocent and trusting, our struggles with social cues often making it difficult to discern what is truly ingenuous. The internet is filled with harmful pages about “curing” autism which a desperate and struggling autist could take at face value. The threat of cyber bullying is a serious issue for today’s youth (I was blessed this was only taking off as I was leaving school), but autists are especially vulnerable given our social struggles. An even bigger danger may arise from these struggles as online predators may target autists, many of whom may be innocently oblivious to their potential danger.

Furthermore, there are an increasing number of studies which have identified a trend of internet addiction among autists, as we can often be vulnerable to addictive behaviours. Researchers feel that the internet allows us to compensate for our social difficulties in the offline world through online activity. The list of perceived advantages of the internet is endless to an autist, and so it can very quickly become a crutch.

Whilst we can put up filters and blocks to mitigate some of these risks, there is a real need to properly educate growing autists about the internet and the potential threats that are out there. Not just from others, but autists also need to be educated about the danger they pose to themselves with what they post on the internet. With our mimetic and impulsive nature, internet behaviours can often be monkey see-monkey do, and so we may post inappropriate content without properly realizing the potential consequences.

It’s easy to demonize it, but we cannot deny that the internet truly has provided a platform to increase visibility for the autistic community in recent years. It’s given so many of us a voice that we never knew we could have. The internet is on the whole primarily a good thing for autists, but we should always be wary of the dangers and advocate for proper education around internet usage.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Silent Discos

Greetings Earthlings!

This week I’d like to discuss my previous experiences with silent discos during my college days and how this phenomenon can benefit autists.

So what exactly is a silent disco?

A silent disco is pretty much what it sounds like- it’s a disco where no music is played through the speakers, but everyone is however provided with a set of wireless headphones to listen and dance to music. Each set of headphones has it’s own volume controls and allows you to pick from up to 3 different channels from different DJs to choose which music genre you would like to listen to- so while everyone else might be raving to EDM, you can rock out in peace. The idea originated in the UK in the early 2000’s and has since taken the world by storm, proving particularly popular with students and leading to more inclusive club nights.

So how can silent discos benefit autists?

One of the major drawbacks of the club scene for autists is the obscenely loud music blaring from the speakers. Sound sensitivity can be a serious issue for autists and will often deter us from dipping our toes into the night time social scene. Silent discos remove this barrier as there are no speakers, you can control the volume of the music (even turn if off if you wish to dance with no music- no one else will know!), control the channel, and if you want to chat to your friends you can simply slip them off and talk at a normal decibel without the need for shouting (bonus- no morning after voice loss!). Silent discos were highlighted in particular in the first season of Atypical to allow Sam to attend a school dance with his classmates in comfort. Light sensitivity from strobe lights can still be an issue, but I’ve always found that sunglasses in clubs can be quite beneficial (some may think you’re a bit odd, but most will think it’s awesome!).

I tried out silent discos in Dublin while I was studying for my masters several years back and found the experience quite refreshing. Over the years I have conditioned myself to the cacophony of club nights (I’ve always had more issues with sudden volume increases rather than general high volume levels- I am quite partial to rock concerts!), but being able to attend a silent disco where I could slip my headphones down and have an actual conversation with my friends between dances was a dream! I was in total control of my headphones and we could all dance together just like any other club night with our eardrums still intact!

Silent discos are a great way for autists to get out and experience college nightlife with a fraction of the stress, so I would highly recommend them for young adult autists trying to settle into the college social scene. Many colleges run silent discos so just watch out for an event near you and give it a try! 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism in Harry Potter?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

After recently seeing the new Fantastic Beasts film in the cinema, it’s got me thinking about whether or not some of my favourite characters in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are on the autistic spectrum.

As I stared up at the big screen at Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, I was really struck by how many autistic traits that his character possessed. Newt is quirky and socially awkward, he rarely makes eye contact, he has an unusual gait and is obsessed to distraction with magical creatures, often mimicking their behaviours to communicate with them. Perhaps most telling of all in the latest film, Dumbledore tells him that his honesty is one of his greatest attributes. Eddie Redmayne himself has said in interviews that he feels that Newt probably has Asperger’s syndrome based on how JK Rowling described Newt’s mannerisms to him, but would have unlikely been diagnosed as the films take place in the 1920’s long before Kanner and Asperger first published their work on autism.

Here’s a video that someone spliced together showing Newt and some of his autistic moments in the films:

Driving home after the film, I started thinking back over the books and wondering how I had never wondered if some of the characters were autistic.

Perhaps the most obvious potential autist would be Luna “Looney” Lovegood- a quirky and eccentric girl who is often shunned by her peers for being different (famed in particular for her radish earrings). She floats around the castle a social outcast, her mind often miles away in a dreamland. Highly intelligent, fiercely loyal and brutally honest, Luna is quite gullible and often the victim of bullying, as many of us on the spectrum often are. Irish actress Evanna Lynch who played Luna in the films has said in interviews that she regularly receives letters from autistic fans about Luna and how they connect with her. I didn’t quite connect with Luna in the same way that I identified with Hermione Granger (as I’ve mentioned previously), but she was the one character I would have loved to have played in the films.

Many have also questioned whether Hermione Granger is on the spectrum due to her obsession with good grades and initial struggles to make friends after arriving at Hogwarts. While I certainly connected very strongly with Hermione, I doubt that she is on the spectrum- her emotional intelligence and understanding of people wouldn’t generally be expected of an aspie. She spent many nights by the common room fire schooling Harry and Ron on how to understand women and their emotions, something that very few on the spectrum would feel knowledgeable enough to comment on.

In addition, there are those who also feel that Snape and Voldemort could have been on the spectrum. I can see how Snape, like Hermione, could in passing seem autistic as he has displays some traits through his anti-social behaviours, obsession with potions and tendency towards eloquent language use, but again feel that this is unlikely. Let’s face it- most of us have no filter, we’d have never successfully hidden that we were working as a double agent from Voldemort!

As for Voldemort himself being an autist…I think that’s really reaching. Most people possess some level of autistic traits, and I think it’s a little insulting to liken one of the most evil literary villains of modern times to autists, and in fact quite damaging to compare his sociopathic lack of empathy to our struggles with this emotion. To attempt to humanize him by linking autism to his origin story really doesn’t do the autistic community a service.

While none of these character’s were ever explicitly written with autism in mind, it’s wonderful to hear that many autists feel they can connect with these character’s and feel seen 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Happy Easter! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Rapid Prompting Method (RPM)

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Leading on from a previous post about non-verbal autism, this week I’d like to discuss a popular communication method for non-verbal autists- the rapid prompting method or RPM for short.

So what exactly is RPM?

RPM, also known as ‘spelling to communicate’ is a communication technique that allows non-verbal autists to communicate through a system of writing, typing, or pointing at a letter board.

You can see a video of RPM in practice here:

But is it effective?

Now this is where things get interesting. As far as the scientific community is concerned, RPM is pseudoscience- they can’t generate evidence to prove that it really works. There are concerns that the facilitator of the method may unconsciously prompt and influence an autists answers in the way they move the communication device, and as such, many in the community discourage the practice of RPM until the efficacy and safety can be established.

That being said however, there are so many positive stories out there about how life changing RPM has been for non-verbal autists.

Here in Ireland there was a recent documentary on RTÉ called ‘Speechless‘ about how RPM has completely changed life for non-verbal autist Fiacre Ryan. The documentary followed Fiacre and his family over an eight year period, showing his journey with RPM and how it has enabled him to communicate with his family and give them an insight into his world- as his sister described it, it was like getting to know a completely new person. After discovering RPM, Fiacre went from having only basic playschool level knowledge to a wealth of vocabulary and an aptitude for calculus. With the help of an aide to facilitate RPM, he was able to attend mainstream school. Fiacre went on to be the first non-verbal student to sit the Leaving Certificate exam using RPM (passing with flying colours!), and is currently working with a publisher to create a book of his poetry! 😀 Before RPM, Fiacre says that his mind was very cloudy and dark, but communication has given him a new lease of life.

If you’re in Ireland (or have a really good VPN blocker) you can check out the documentary here: https://www.rte.ie/player/movie/speechless/264381992324

So while RPM may officially be considered pseudoscience, the stories speak for themselves. As with most autism interventions, take it with a pinch of salt.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism 101- Dyspraxia

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In continuation from a previous post exploring coordination issues and autism, I’d like to dedicate a specific post to the often co-morbid issue of dyspraxia.

So what exactly is dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia, like autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts a person’s ability to plan and process motor movements. It may also be known as motor learning difficulties, perceptuo-motor dysfunction, developmental coordination disorder (DCD).

Some of the general symptoms of dyspraxia include issues with balance and hand-eye coordination, poor posture, problems with fine motor skills (like picking up and holding items like a pencil or tying shoelaces), clumsiness and issues with spatial awareness and perception. It can also cause learning difficulties, but it generally does not impact intelligence.

So how are autism and dyspraxia linked?

Dyspraxia is caused by errors in the transmission of motor messages from the brain to the body. The neurological basis for the coordination issues associated with autism is poorly understood, however, it’s believed that they occur through a similar pathway to dyspraxia. The synapse (or connecting junction point between two neurons) is thought to play a major role in motor coordination. Autist’s have an overabundance of synapses compared to their normally developing peers, so with a greater number of brain connections comes the greater potential for signals to get lost en route to their destination.

Motor learning and control is influenced by a specific group of neurons known as purkinje cells. Purkinje cells, (located in the cerebellum- an area heavily involved in motor control), receive signals from climbing fibers- a type of neuron which carries information from the body to the brain. These climbing fibers detect changes or disturbances in our environment, such as changes in space or the position of nearby objects, and relay this information to the purkinje cells. Purkinje cells then emit inhibitory signals at synapses so to modify motor movements accordingly. In autism however, the efficacy of purkinje cells to influence motor change is greatly reduced.

Normally, each purkinje cell receives input from a single climbing fiber. As autists have too many synapses connecting the brain, the purkinje cell receives signals from multiple climbing fibers. This confuses the purkinje cell, which in turn alters the efficacy of corrective signals and motor movements veer off course.

In addition to this, dopamine deficiency is thought to disrupt motor learning at the synapses, which as I’ve discussed in many previous posts, is dysregulated in the autistic brain.

Roughly 80% of autists have issues with motor coordination, but not all will also have dyspraxia. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two conditions due to the high level of overlap in symptoms.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Hormones

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about the role that hormones (or horror-mones as my younger cousin used to call them) and fluctuations in hormone levels may play in autism.

So first off the basics, what exactly is a hormone?

We’ve all heard of them, but not all of us are aware of how they work.

Hormones are powerful biochemical messengers that travel through the blood in the body influencing a number of bodily changes and functions such as growth, mood, metabolism, puberty and reproduction to name but a few. Secreted by the endocrine glands of the body (e.g. adrenal glands, thyroid, pancreas etc.), it only takes a small amount of hormone to trigger large changes in the body, so fluctuations in normal hormone levels can have serious consequences for bodily functions.

So what impact do hormone changes have for autists?

Research suggests that a number of hormonal imbalances can contribute to autistic behaviours. The primary hormones thought to contribute to autism are oxytocin and vasopressin- also referred to as the “love” or “social” hormones. These hormones are involved in social bonding, trust, sexual behaviours and processing of sensory information. Studies have revealed that autists have lower levels of both of these hormones, and that treatments designed to increase these hormones may help improve social behaviours.

Most recently, new evidence suggests that growth hormone and the digestive hormone ghrelin may contribute to autism. A recent study showed that children with autism have lower levels of these hormones compared with their neurotypical peers. Ghrelin has a wide range of physiological functions such as stimulating the release of growth hormone, memory and learning, the formation of new brain synapses between neurons (i.e biochemical junctions joining one brain cell to the next) and it is involved in triggering satiety after meals (guess that explains why I’m always hungry 😛 ).

As many of these functions are disrupted in autism, low levels of these hormones likely contribute to their pathology. Moreover, ghrelin is thought to have a protective effect against reactive oxygen species in the brain which are also thought to contribute to autism (as I’ve discussed in previous posts) so reduced ghrelin levels could reduce the brains protection against these chemicals.

Hormone fluctuations are also thought to cause sleep issues for autists. The amino acid tryptophan is needed for the body to produce melatonin (aka the hormone that controls sleep and wakefulness), an amino acid which research has shown can be either higher or lower than normal in people with autism. Ordinarily melatonin is released in response to darkness (to induce sleep) with levels dropping during daylight hours (to keep us awake). However, studies have shown the opposite in some autists, where higher levels of melatonin are released during the daytime and lower levels at night- which certainly explains why I often have the urge to nap throughout the day 😛

In addition to these, higher stress hormone levels are thought to be the driving force behind a number of autistic behaviours such as meltdowns, shutdowns and issues with anxiety. As I’ve discussed in a number of previous posts, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in response to stressful situations from the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis or HPA axisThis is a complex interconnecting network that comprises the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland (i.e. HPA) to control our response to stress- a network that is hyperactive in autists. Following exposure to a stressful situation, stress hormone levels should return to normal, however, research has shown that stress hormone levels tend to persist in autists, which can make us more susceptible to stress related outbursts and meltdowns. In other words, we’re constantly living in a state of fight or flight. Long term activation of the stress system can lead to a number of health problems such as poor mental health, weight gain, sleep issues, digestive and cardiovascular problems to name but a few- many of which are regularly comorbid with autism.

Sex hormones are also thought to contribute to the development of autism. Research in recent years has indicated that exposure to higher levels of testosterone and/or oestrogen in the womb may predispose developing babies to autism- this is known as the sex-steroid theory of autism. It’s thought that these elevated hormone levels likely interact with genetic factors that may affect the developing brain. There is a particular trend among women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as the ovaries produce abnormal amounts of testosterone.

Moreover as I’ve discussed in previous posts, hormone imbalances are also thought to contribute to changes in behaviour in autistic women due to fluctuating hormone levels at different points in their menstrual cycle. In addition, behavioural changes are also associated with autistic women going through the menopause.

With the interplay of all these different hormone fluctuations, it’s no wonder our brains are a little muddled trying to cope with the constant change (as if we don’t find change hard enough! 😛 )

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Autism in Holby City

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about an autistic character in the British medical TV drama ‘Holby City‘ that I have been following for a few years now- Jason Haynes.

Jules Robertson - IMDb

One of the really special things about this character is that Jason is portrayed by actor Jules Robertson who has Asperger’s syndrome – the first autistic actor to have a recurring acting role in a BBC TV show! Jules has been playing Jason on and off again since 2015 and has proven very popular with both his co-stars and the audience. His portrayal has been praised by several autism charities in the UK and Jules has even been nominated for a BAFTA for his acting work.

You can see Jules in action as Jason in this behind the scenes video:

Over the years the writers have really developed Jason’s character to highlight how much can be achieved when autists are properly supported. When he first appeared in the show, Jason was very literal, and needed full time care. Over time, he get’s a job as a hospital porter, get’s a girlfriend (who also has Asperger’s) and they have a baby and get married living completely independent lives, really challenging the stigma surrounding what autists can and can’t do.

I always get great enjoyment out of any episode that Jason appears in (he get’s some great one liners!). It’s a pleasure to see such a truthful portrayal of autism. Whilst Jules may not have some of the same issues in real life as Jason does, nevertheless he lights up the screen, fully able to be his true autistic self.

Jules Robertson in Holby City

None of this would have happened were it not for producer Simon Harper who fought hard to have an autistic actor play Jason to avoid another cliched Rainman-esque portrayal of an autist. Minor accommodations are made when Jules is filming such as encouraging a calm set and preparing the scripts further in advance than would be the norm for him, enabling Jules to work and inspire the next generation of autists to realize their dreams.

You can read an interview where Jules talks about life with autism here:

https://disabilityhorizons.com/2019/05/actor-jules-robertson-on-living-with-aspergers-and-rising-to-fame-in-holby-city/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑