Autism and Smell

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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 either 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 😛 ). 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 🙂

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! 😛 😉 )- 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.  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, which could also explain why smells are often tied to memory recall in autists (which I will explore in more detail at a later stage 🙂 ).

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 😛 😉

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Illness

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As we head into flu season, I thought I’d explore some of the challenges that face autists when it comes to feeling unwell.

We all know the glorious sensations that accompany common illnesses, the coughing, the vomiting, aches and pains and that delightful swollen head feeling that makes it hard to remember what breathing feels like! 😛

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Now imagine you have autism- you are hypersensitive to stimuli such as temperature changes, struggle with change, and do not cope well with discomfort. On top of this, your struggles to communicate might make it difficult to convey that something is wrong. Most children will tell their mother that their tummy hurts; an autist may struggle to identify or describe a medical problem to a parent or doctor, especially in nonverbal cases.

It might just be a simple cold or bug to a neurotypical, but to an autist, it may be an entirely overwhelming experience.

One of the biggest challenges that I faced growing up was not so much coping with illness, (I have been known to go out clubbing whilst suffering from a bug or the flu!) but treating it.

I HATED taking medication!

Taste aversion was a big issue, mostly because medication came in foul tasting liquid form! Here’s a fairly accurate representation of my face after swallowing medicine:

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Every year my mother and I would go to war to get me to take my cough bottle or antibiotics. I would try it once, discover it tasted rancid, aaaaannnd then do everything my twisted sense of logic would come up with to avoid taking it. I would often pour out the medication when she wasn’t looking, or pretend I was old enough to dose myself so I could get away with not taking it! 😂

Didn’t work out so well though when things got worse… 😛

I know! I should have know better- but don’t  judge me too harshly, seven year olds are not well versed in the concept of antibiotic resistance! 😛 😉

Tablets were a little easier, but tricky to get used to the sensation of swallowing them at first. Once I discovered that antibiotics came in tablet form as an adolescent however, I became far more amenable to knocking them back! As the guys from Pringles say- “Once you pop, you can’t stop!” 😉 Although I may still recoil as the tablet slips down on occasion, especially if it has an unfortunate taste, or even worse, a powdery texture…!😬

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Getting an autist to take medication can indeed be quite a daunting task, but here are some of my top tips for parents struggling with this problem:

  • Mix liquid medications into another drink or yoghurt– Ok, I know this feels a little bit like wrapping tablets in meat to get your pet to take them, but there is method in the madness! My mother used to mix antibiotics or antihistamine in with my juice or flat coke when I would refuse to take them. For the most part this worked, but sometimes I found the combination tasted just as bad- so trial and error! Just make sure that they consume the whole thing to get their full dose.
  • Ask for tablets not liquids– Granted, you can’t get tablets before the age of 12, but if given the choice- take the tablets. There is far less chance of taste related rejection!
  • Bribery- My mother was always particularly fond of this approach. To first encourage me to take propolis tablets, I was promised a fun-size bag of Malteasers if I swallowed them without complaint! Needless to say- it worked! 😉
  • Make a game of it- Why not try and use a specialist interest to encourage them to take their medicine? ‘It’s a magic potion to make you feel better!’, ‘This is what makes the Hulk strong!’ ‘See- it’s pink like Barbie; her favourite drink!’ My mother tried something like this by writing a note on a box of meringues to say that she had cast an engorgement spell on them to keep me from eating them! I was a bit older at the time, so I mostly ignored it, but I got a chuckle out of it at least! 😛 😉 Had I been a stubborn 6 year old however, I definitely would have fallen for it.

Failing all that- try to stay healthy folks! Wear your warm jumpers, take your multivitamins (although the scientific jury is out on whether or not these are actually useful!) and your apple a day and hopefully you will keep the doctor away 😉

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! :)`

Aoife

Autism “Cures”?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Many of you may have come across articles or ads online claiming to have “cured” or found a “cure” for autism.

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Notice my use of air quotes? 😏

According to both the medical and scientific community- there is no cure for autism; fact

Autism can be managed; but it cannot be cured

In truth, these purported “cures” are unproven, and in some cases, quite dangerous. Here are the facts about some of these products/techniques:

  • Raw Camel Milk (whhhhyyyy!!!) & Essential Oils are just some of the many products retailed as a “cure” for autism. Neither have been proven safe or effective by the FDA
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Remember those stories about Michael Jackson sleeping in an oxygen tent? Some have claimed that breathing oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber can “cure” autism, but this is completely unprovenImage result for michael jackson sleeps in chamber
  • Detoxifying clay baths: These are mixed in with bathwater to supposedly draw out toxins, pollutants and heavy metals in order to “dramatically” improve autism; but again, these are entirely false claims
  • Diet Change: Some articles report that following a specific diet can “cure” autism. As  I’ve previously discussed, many people report improvements in autistic symptoms following gluten (a protein found in grains like wheat), casein (a protein found in dairy) and sugar free diets, but there is insufficient scientific evidence to support this. Many doctors have recently spoken out against these fad diets as they can be very bad for your health if you unnecessarily remove these foodstuffs. Gluten free diets for example can increase your risk of cardiac problems through decreased intake of essential wholegrains
  • Chelation therapies: This is a medical procedure where chelating agents are administered to bind and remove heavy metals and toxins from the body, such as in the case of mercury and lead poisoning. These are often marketed as “cures” for autism, coming in the form of suppositories, sprays, drops, capsules, and clay baths. These are NOT approved for the treatment of autism, and should only be used under medical supervision, as they can remove important minerals from the body which can cause serious life-threatening issues such as deadly kidney damage!
  • Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS): This is perhaps one of the most dangerous “cures” for autism. A solution that claims to cure HIV, cancer and malaria in addition to autism, MMS contains 28% sodium chlorite solution- equivalent to industrial strength bleach! People have reported vomiting, diarrhea and symptoms of severe dehydration after taking this, but the labels claim that this means that the product is working!! This can also cause life threatening low blood pressure and death in severe cases. Naturally, this has not been proven to cure autism.

The bottom line, these so called “cures” are nothing but

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For those struggling parents out there, I know it’s difficult. I wreaked havoc as a child and did not make life easy for my family; but seeking a cure is not the answer. Love and acceptance are the best way forward 🙂

This stuff is dangerous and can make your child very sick indeed.

Always be wary of what you read/buy on the internet dear Earthlings!

Aoife

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