Autism and Thrush

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Thrush- not the most fun topic to talk about, and not one that you would immediately associate with ASDs.

BUT!

This opportunistic infection may have more to do with autism than you might think!

Following a recent brush with thrush in my throat (cheers for that Ventolin! πŸ˜› ), and being a super nerd who likes to understand their afflictions, through my reading I’ve discovered that candida infections in the gut are thought to contribute to the symptoms of autism.

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So first things first, the basics- what is thrush?

For those of you fortunate enough to have not been infected at some point in your life, CandidaΒ is a type of yeast that usually exists in small colonies in the body, kept at bay by the immune system and our friendly neighbourhood symbiotic bacteria. However, when our immune system is run down, or after taking some forms of medication (such as antibiotics and steroid inhalers), this fungus can overgrow and cause a yeast infection (more commonly known as thrush). These infections for the majority of cases are mild and easy to treat, however more severe infections can be life threatening.

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But how does this relate to autism?

In recent years, emerging evidence suggests that autists may have over double the amount of candida in their gut than their neurotypical peers. As we have discussed in my previous post exploring digestive issues in autism, the microbiota of the gut can play an important role in influencing brain development and behaviour. As such, it has been theorized that toxins such as ammonia released by yeast during infection may interfere with mental processing and induce autistic behaviours. Some doctors have reported improvements in autistic symptoms through the use of anti-fungal medication and candida diets (low sugar, anti-inflammatory diet purported to improve gut health); however, the vast majority of physicians remain skeptical about candida’s role in autism due to limited scientific evidence (at present).

So might there be a reason that autists are particularly prone to thrush infections?

Interestingly in my reading about pro-biotics (particular strains of live bacteria which can have beneficial effects for gut health such as in yogurts, supplements, pro-biotic drinks etc.) and their use against thrush, I discovered that the bacteriumΒ L. reuteri is thought to be one of the main gut defenders against a number of candida infections.

Now why does that name sound familiar?

In my post about digestive issues in autismΒ we learned that this strain of lactobacillus is absent in some cases of autism. Moreover, some studies suggest that administering pro-biotics forΒ L. reuteri to autists can improve behavioural symptoms, which would suggest that perhaps this bacterium, or lack there of, may predispose autists to thrush infections!

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See? Far more interesting than you may have thought! πŸ˜‰

Have a good weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Robots

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’d like to briefly discuss a somewhat unusual topic- robots and autism.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, Aoife has finally lost it- but just before you call in the men in the white coats, let me tell you about the clinical benefits of using robots for children with autism! πŸ™‚

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Recent technological advances in the field of robotics offer great possibilities in the treatment of autism. As interactive robots are increasingly becoming more human like, this technology can be used clinically to help teach social skills to children with autism.

Whilst the research into the therapeutic benefits of robots is in it’s infancy, several schools across the globe have begun to use social robots reporting very positive results πŸ™‚

So how do these robots work?

The robots engage autists with a specially tailored curriculum. For example, the robot makes a sad face or starts laughing and the child has to say what the robot is feeling, or when interacting with the robot if they do something that could hurt a real person, the robot will cry out so that the child can learn that thisΒ  behaviour is not appropriate.

It’s really cool! πŸ˜€

You can check out Milo below- one of the many models of social robots helping kids with autism worldwide (try not to letΒ  him creep you out though, Kaspar the robot is way freakier….might have further to go in making these robots more approachable in my opinion 😬).

The benefits of using this technology currently include improved:

  • Engagement
  • Eye contact
  • Vocabulary
  • Attention
  • Self-motivation and regulation
  • Emotional recognition and understanding, and
  • Improvements in appropriate social behaviour

And all of this within just 1-4 months of using a robot like Milo! 😲

All in all the technology looks really promising in the treatment of autism, even if a few tweaks may be needed to improve the appearance of these robots πŸ™‚ πŸ˜›

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Aoife

 

Autism Management- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’d like to briefly examine one of the most commonly recommended therapies for autism management- cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

So let’s all lean back in our chez long as we dive in! πŸ™‚

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First off, what exactly is CBT?

Originally designed as a treatment for depression, CBT is a form of psycho-social intervention (i.e. counselling/psychotherapy) that is widely used to help improve mental health. Unlike other forms of therapy, CBT focuses on developing coping strategies to target our problems and to change unhelpful patterns in emotions, attitudes, negative behaviours,Β  and thought patterns.

In other words- CBT aims to change negative ways of thinking or cognitions in order to improve behaviour.

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As a result, CBT is widely used to treat anxiety, depression, eating disorders,Β OCD and a range of other psychological issues- many of which are co-morbid with an ASD diagnosis. It’s thought that CBT can be a particularly useful tool to treat anxiety and to help develop emotional recognition in autists.

CBT was personally recommended to me following my initial diagnosis in order help me to better understand autism and to conquer my social anxiety.

So what did I make of it?

Well, being honest (as we aspies must be πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ ), my opinions are slightly mixed regarding CBT. Whilst initially I found it helpful as it taught me a lot about autism and the reasons behind my behaviours, after a time, I felt that I didn’t really need it- especially given that I was in my twenties and had already overcome many of the challenges associated with ASD’s. In many ways, simply knowing and understanding Asperger’s Syndrome was enough to assuage much of the mental anguish I had inflicted on myself for being different πŸ™‚

Nevertheless, I did find it beneficial to have a neutral party to talk to in those first initial months post diagnosis. It’s quite a lot to take on board, so it was nice to have that outlet to help guide me through the fog.

All in all, I felt that perhaps CBT may be better suited for a younger person with autism in helping them to develop lifelong coping mechanisms that will enable them to thrive. Had I better understood myself earlier in life through CBT intervention, many things could have been so much simpler πŸ™‚

So if you think CBT may help you or your child, why not give it a try- get out your phone, book an appointment and take a seat on that couch (it’s surprisingly comfy πŸ˜‰ )

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Anxiety

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Did you know: People with autism are five times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder?

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Autists are highly strung individuals. Our brains move faster than 10 speeding trains as we process the world around us; so naturally, we have a greater capacity for worrying. Imagine you are in the car approaching a straight road- you would just drive straight on without much further thought right?

In the autistic mind, you’re thinking about future bends that may (or may never) pop up, the condition of the road, idiot drivers you may encounter, stray animals or pedestrians, road works and diversions. What if I get lost? What will I do about parking? What if I get caught behind a tractor (a legitimate reason for being late for anything in Ireland! πŸ˜› )?

What if this, what if that!

We over-analyse every single aspect of the most routine of ventures, twisting ourselves into anxious knots about an array of ‘what ifs‘ that may never come to pass.

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In my experience, social anxiety can be quite an issue. Most of the time, everything is hunky dory when I’m socializing- I listen, I engage, I laugh, no problem at all.

Buuuttt sometimes, if I’m in a particular group or struggling to get to grips with the topic of conversation, I feel so awkward that I start to get anxious.

“Am I talking enough? Am I saying the right things? Oh no that came out wrong! Aggggghhh!!!”

Annnnnd then I sort of slip back into my shell… πŸ˜›

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Most of the time, it won’t get much worse than this, but other times…I start to burn up, I can feel the sweats, my mind starts going into overdrive “Oh God everyone is staring!! They think I’m a saddo! What is wrong with me?”

My chest tightens up and it can be difficult to breathe.

Taking deep breaths usually helps to calm me down long enough to snap out of it…but sometimes it all starts to crumble in on top of you an then….

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MELTDOWN!!!! (^^^usually the flight instinct kicks in for me!)

Other times, anxiety has been known to wreak havoc with my digestive system. I once threw up on my own shoes from the stress of minding a drunken friend (who ironically did not get sick! πŸ˜› )

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But I did get some new shoes following my gastric excursions, and some entertaining stories out of it! πŸ˜› Oftentimes my anxiety incubates into productivity to force me to get things done so every anxious cloud has a silver lining! πŸ˜‰

So what does the scientific community make of our anxious antics?

Remember how I’ve discussed Alexithymia in previous posts (Discussion-Emotions and Empathy;Β Autism and Music)? Researchers believe that our struggles to correctly identify and understand our emotions (and those of others) to be one of the driving forces behind anxiety disorders in the autistic community. A desire for emotional acceptance and an intolerance for uncertainty are also considered key players in the anxiety debate.

In addition to this, a number of biological factors have been identified in the development of anxiety. Some people are thought to have a higher biological response to stress for example- something that is quite likely in the case of autism, as we are known to have higher levels of stress hormones.

Dysregulation of levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain are also thought to contribute to anxiety such as GABA, dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline. As I’ve discussed in numerous posts- many of these bad boys are indeed dysregulated in the autistic brain. Changes inΒ activity levels within the amygdala or “fear centre” of the brain may also contribute to anxiety- and yes, you’ve guessed it! Similar changes in the amygdala have been linked to a number of autistic issues (skin sensitivity, sound sensitivity).Β 

So it all links back to a few simple physiological changes in our brain! πŸ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this weeks post Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a wonderful weekend! πŸ˜€

Aoife

 

Autism and Making Friends

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today we’re going to talk about something that many autists find difficult-making friends.

When it comes to making friends there is no exact science, something which can trip up many a logically thinking autist.

It’s not that we don’t want to make friends, but we often struggle to navigate the social playing field, sometimes choosing our own company to avoid the various trials and tribulations of social interaction.

There are no set rules when it comes to friendship, and we just can’t seem to wrap our brains around it.

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In my own experience, I found that connecting with my peers was a real barrier to formulating friendships in school. We had different tastes in music and film, were interested in different hobbies, wanted different things, held opposing beliefs etc. I found it really challenging to find common ground to converse on.

Making friends isn’t the easiest of tasks, but there are some things that I’ve learned over the years to make the process a little less challenging :

  • Take classes- I found that dance classes were a great social outlet as a child. I partnered up with different children, got invited to a lot of birthday parties (although I have many memories of wandering off to be by myself! πŸ˜› ) and it helped with my coordination. Speech and drama classes can also be very useful in helping to build your confidence and social skills.
  • Try to find common ground with your peers. When in conversation, ask the other person about TV shows, bands, films, sports etc. you may be surprised at what you have in common.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re struggling to connect with your peers- I was 11 before I truly made a lasting friendship, and it wasn’t until college that I finally felt that I belonged socially. The average school-goer can often be small minded when it comes to befriending people who dare to be different. While some amazing efforts are being made to de-stigmatize and embrace autism in the younger generation, there will always be some who rebel against difference. Forget the haters- there are so much better people out there who are worthy of your friendship πŸ™‚

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  • Try not to compare yourself to your neurotypical peers- We all make friends in different ways, prefer different types and sizes of social groups. What seems to work for others may not work for you. Social mimicry may seem logical, buuuutt, it doesn’t always work.
  • Be yourself- As cheesy as it sounds, it’s true! πŸ˜› I have spent many a year feigning interest in matters that I thought my peers would respond to, but when I stayed true to myself, that’s when I discovered true friendship. True friends love you for you πŸ™‚

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  • And if that all fails, you can always do what I do- bake to make friends! Nothing like a plate of home made sugary goodness to create a lasting impression πŸ˜‰ Even if you burn it, you’ll still get a funny story out of it! As I’ve grown into adulthood, the stories of my many mishaps have become quite the conversation starter πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

If things don’t work out, don’t be so hard on yourself about it. Not all friendships are built to last. One of the biggest mistakes that I make is to hyper-analyse why a friendship breaks down in my efforts to understand where I went wrong to avoid future problems. Whilst yes, social lessons can be taken from past experiences, there’s no use in torturing yourself about it- you may not even have made a misstep.

Sometimes, these things just happen.

But that does not mean that you should not try again. The social complexities of formulating friendship can be overwhelming, but the reward is great πŸ™‚

I have been so blessed in the friends that I have made in my lifetime, people who love and accept me as I am- even embracing my quirks.

Sometimes people are not always the most accepting of those who dare to be themselves, but that doesn’t mean that you do not belong socially. It took me years to find my pack, but in the end, I found my place πŸ™‚

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Have a great week everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Eye Contact and Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to discuss one of the most common autistic traits- difficulty with eye contact. This can be particularly troublesome when it comes to situations such as job interviews where good eye contact is important to success.

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Growing up, I was often told by my family that I had trouble with eye contact, but I never really noticed much myself until I was older. On some level I knew that making eye contact made me feel uncomfortable, but I never really gave much thought as to the reason. We just sort of assumed that I cast my eyes away for lack of self confidence.

In my experience, making eye contact just feels awkward and weird to me. I’ve never really been able to explain why, it just does.

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Over the years, at my family’s insistence, I gradually learned to force myself to make eye contact. There are still times when I find eye contact uncomfortable (if I’m mid or teetering on the edge of a meltdown, any attempt to lock eyes goes out the window!), but I’ve found ways to get through it.

Since receiving my diagnosis, I’ve noticed that I seem to have automatically adopted a coping system for making eye contact in close quarters. I make the contact, hold the gaze for an appropriate amount of time, then look away briefly before returning to centre. Other times, I move my gaze around to focus on different group members, breaking the contact just enough to remain comfortable without coming across as weird (I hope πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ )!

It kind of looks something like this:

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Top Tip: If you feel uncomfortable making eye contact as you’re walking along the street, I find that wearing sunglasses (provided the weather is somewhat appropriate πŸ˜‰ ) can be a great help πŸ™‚

So what does the scientific community make of our struggles with eye contact?

One study suggests that the reason we avoid eye contact is actually related to how we process visual information. In this study, children with autism were shown images in both the centre and periphery of their vision. In a neurotypical brain, a large portion of the brain’s cortex is dedicated to processing information in the centre of your visual field. In the autistic brain, a larger portion of the cortex was engaged when the image was shown in the child’s peripheral vision.

In other words, we have more neurons dedicated to processing peripheral visual information, hence why direct, central eye contact is often avoided.

We’ve known for a while that autists perceive the world in a unique way, now we know that we actuallyΒ see the world differently too! πŸ˜‰

Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Music

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to be exploring the benefits of music for people with autism.

We all know that feeling we get when we listen to our favourite songs- the rush, the rippling chills, the feeling that the music is physically running up and down your spine.

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But what if I told you that music can do so much more than just entertain us?

Research has shown that music therapy can greatly benefit people with autism by helping to improve social behaviours and interactions, focus and attention, coordination and spatial awareness in addition to reducing stress and anxiety. Music therapists aim to improve the wellbeing of their patients through music by encouraging singing, listening to, moving to and discussing music among other actions.

So how does music benefit the brain in this way?

The simple act of learning to play an instrument can greatly improve brain processing, fine motor skills and non-verbal reasoning skills. Interestingly, physical changes are taking place in your brain when you learn to play an instrument. As children grow up, the outer layer of the brain (the cortex) can grow thinner in certain regions which can lead to such issues as anxiety, depression and attention difficulties. Evidence suggests that learning to play an instrument however thickens the cortex in areas associated with emotional processing, executive functioning, and impulse control– functions that are affected in many people on the spectrum.

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Studies have also shown that the vibration of music can help to stimulate and improve brain and muscle function in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s!

Recent evidence suggests that dopamine plays a role in the brains response to music. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, dopamine regulates emotions and mood. Researchers have found that music encourages dopamine release and positive mood changes, whereas noise exposure negatively impacts mood. As dopamine levels are out of sync in people with autism, music could really help our brains to better control mood swings and improve emotional processing.

In my own life, music has been highly beneficial to help process my emotions.

I have had a lifelong passion for music. The riffs, the vocals, the lyrics- there’s nothing quite like it! Music has always held a special place in my heart, but especially the lyrics from my favourite songs.

As I’ve discussed previously, many autists struggle to identify and/or describe what they are feeling, a condition known as alexithymiaΒ (from the Greek meaning “no words for mood“). Many years ago, long before my diagnosis, in times of strife I found myself intensely drawn to music. The lyrics soothed my soul and calmed my mind allowing me to process the storm of emotion passing through. Whenever I could not make sense of my emotions, I could always find a song that would verbalize my struggles, and after a time, everything became a little clearer πŸ™‚

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There we have it Earthlings! We’ve all felt the power of music, and the science shows it’s potential.

So grab your ipod and dust off your guitar this bank holiday weekend- your brain will thank you! πŸ˜‰

Aoife

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