Talking to your Child about Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Continuing on from my post discussing if you should tell your child that they have autism, this week I’m going to discuss how to talk to your child about their diagnosis.

When should I tell my child they are autistic?

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As with autism, the answer to this question is entirely individual. Some higher functioning autists may be ready for this information at a younger age than others, or may even be so high functioning as to not need this information during their formative years (as in my case- though in hindsight it would have helped a lot!). Timing can also vary with the age of diagnosis. Girls for example are often diagnosed much later in life than boys with autism.

In general, many experts recommend telling your child around the time they start to become self aware of their differences to their peers- roughly around 6 years old, but this awareness will vary among autists. I, for example, always felt that I was different to my peers, but I never openly questioned it until after I had received my diagnosis in my 20’s.

How do I tell my child they are autistic?

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As with when, there is no right or wrong way as to how you talk to your child about autism (just maybe don’t spring it on them out of nowhere the way my parents did 😛 ), but here are some tips and tricks that may help you:

  • Pick your moment– be very careful with you timing. Make sure that your child is content and calm in a familiar place, things will be much harder if they are anxious
  • Don’t rush– Ensure that there is plenty of time to talk things through with your child. They will have questions and may need extra time to process what you are saying
  • Keep it simple– There will be plenty of time to introduce them to the world of neurodiversity as they grow. Just introduce them to autism one toe in the water at a time. Top Tip– There are a lot of useful kids TV shows (such as Sesame street and Arthur)  and books explaining autism in an age appropriate way which could help this conversation 🙂
  • Emphasize that this is a good thing– Whilst an autism diagnosis can be difficult to process initially, ultimately it is a good thing. Your child will get the help and supports they need to thrive, they will better understand themselves and be understood. However, the black and white autistic mind deals in good and bad. Sometimes an autist cannot perceive the difference between a little bit bad and plain bad which can cause great distress (à la 6 year old Aoife who thought she had to leave home as she could not be good! 😛 ). Highlight the importance of difference and make it clear that this is not a bad thing for them- different, but not bad 🙂

How do I explain autism to my child’s siblings?

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In much the same way as you would tell a child they are autistic, sit them down and have a casual chat about their sibling (or even friend- awareness in the community is crucial to changing societies attitudes for future generations of autists 🙂 ). Depending on the age of the child, what you tell them can vary to suit. Show them videos, give them a book, tell them a helpful analogy (I do love my Supergirl one!) etc to help them understand. Explain that their friend/sibling works a little bit differently and that they don’t always mean to say or do certain things, but we must love and accept them as they are 🙂

Hope you found this post useful Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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! 😛

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 🙂

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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–  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 🙂

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! 😛 😉

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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 🙂

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, so 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 🙂

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Aoife

Autism and Pensivity

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’m going to talk a little bit about pensivity and autism, or as my sister describes it in my interview with her, “staring into the abyss.” 😛

We all have those moments where we retreat into ourselves. Our eyes glaze over, we tune out from our surroundings and make weird, subconscious facial expressions as we dreamily ride the thought train round and round.

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For an autist, these spells of introspection tend to happen a little more frequently. Our minds move so fast that we often find it hard to concentrate, and somehow we slip into this abyss of swirling thoughts:

‘What do I want for dinner tomorrow?’

‘Is evolution real?’

‘What would I look like as a blonde?’

‘What would it be like to have an Alpaca farm!?’ (genuinely spent a weekend considering the practicalities once!)

These are just a few of the millions of questions that I spend my time pondering in the abyss, proceeding to explore these thoughts in minute detail! 😛

I’ve been known to spend almost an hour lying on my bed, staring into space without saying a single word to anyone!

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Once I’ve fallen in, my mind could literally go anywhere-I’ve even conjured up a musical based on the music of My Chemical Romance during one of these particular spells!

It’s not a bad thing in my experience, I get some of best ideas wandering the abyss, but people just don’t know what to make of me in this state in social situations. As my sister says, it really creeps her out watching me! 😛

I suppose I can’t blame her when I often sit around staring like this for 40 minutes:

 

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Half the time, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it, which can be awkward on a night out.  If it get’s very loud or the conversation goes stale, I just slip down into the depths, awoken from my reverie several minutes later by bemused friends and colleagues! 😬

What people fail to understand however, is that I am perfectly content in my little bubble. Yes I look strange, and my face may not show it, but I’m perfectly fine 🙂 In fact I sort of enjoy thinking, just floating around exploring the darkness of the abyss. It’s actually a little bit soothing in an odd way.

Autists are not good with the unknown. We like structure, things we can predict and prepare for. By questioning, or pondering the unknown in our minds, this can help to make the world seem a little less scary. Knowledge is power after all!

So don’t panic if you see me stumbling into the abyss- I’m probably just wondering where I can buy an alpaca! 😛 😉

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

Inside the Autistic Brain

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today I’m going to dive into the physiology of the autistic brain to explain what’s actually going on at the neurological level. I’ve touched on aspects of the science in previous posts, but I wanted to give you a quick overview post where the main points in the one place 🙂

So let’s get down to some science! 🙂

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Hyper-connected Neurons:

Scientific evidence suggests that neurons in the autistic brain are hyper-connected. Specifically, studies indicate that autists have too many synapses in the brain. The synapse is basically a gap or a junction between two neurons where chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) carry information like a ferry from one neuron to the next. It looks a little bit like this:

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During normal brain development, about half of the synapses we are born with are “pruned” off. In autism, this process is slowed down, and so autistic children have an excessive amount of synapses compared with their neurotypical peers. As these connections are essential to communication between neurons, this can greatly effect how the brain works and processes information.

Dysfunction at the Junction:

In addition to possessing an excessive number of synapses, communication at these neuronal junctions is also impaired in the autistic brain.

Animal studies have indicated that synapses function differently in the autistic brain as a result of genetic mutation. Mutations cause certain proteins to be absent in autism- proteins that are essential to the normal functioning of the synapse. As a consequence of this, the transmission of information between neurons is affected, resulting in a number of social and behavioral issues.

Think of physical junctions on a busy road- if something goes wrong at the junction, a chain of chaos will ensue!

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Hyper-excitable Neurons:

Research shows that in many cases of autism, neurons in certain regions of the brain are more excitable than others. This means that these neurons are more sensitive to stimulation. For example, the neurons located in the sensory cortex of the brain (which processes sensory information such as smell), are more sensitive and excitable than other neurons. This is kind of like how a person can be more ticklish in some parts of the body than another- the nerves in the underarm are more excitable than those of the arm.

This sensitizes the autistic brain to all kinds of stimuli as discussed here.

Dysregulated Neurotransmitter levels:

As previously mentioned, information travels across the synapses in the brain via chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. In the autistic brain, the levels of these neurotransmitters are dysregulated- or out of sync. Research indicates that individuals with autism tend to have higher levels of excitatory neurotransmitters (e.g. glutamic acid) and lower levels of calming neurotransmitters (e.g. GABA, serotonin) causing neurons in the autistic brain to fire excessively. In addition to this, levels of the neurohormone (a chemical that acts as both a hormone and neurotransmitter) oxytocin, which plays an influential role in trust and social behaviours, are also out of balance. Moreover, dopamine (a neurotransmitter which can both calm and excite) is also dysregulated in autism. Together, the action of biochemicals like these influences a number of autistic behaviours and issues such as ADHD, mood, appetite, sleep, anxiety, sensory processing, social behaviours, learning, memory and emotional responses.

Male vs Female Brain

Perhaps one of the most fascinating  things that I have discovered about autism are the anatomical differences between the brains of the male and female autist. Brain imaging studies have revealed that autistic women have brains that are anatomically similar to neurotypical male brains, and the brains of male autists share anatomical similarities to those of neurotypical female brains.

In short- this indicates that men with autism have feminine brains, and women with autism have masculine brains!!!

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I know!!!!

It sounds weird, but it makes a world of sense. Oftentimes I’ve felt like I had a male brain growing up- my tomboyish interests, my fashion sense, my preference for male company, my inability to walk in heels; it all fits!

Strange but true! 🙂

There we have it Earthlings- hope you enjoyed this brief insight into the physiology of the autistic brain 🙂 There is no clear mechanism through which autism acts, these are just some of the likely pathways involved. I’ll explore other possible mechanisms in a later post.

Have a good week everyone! 🙂

Aoife

 

Social Awkwardness & Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Soooo today we’re going to talk about perhaps one of the biggest banes of my life- social awkwardness! 😛

I’m not going to lie- social awkwardness is not fun. The constant fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say, the burning sensation in your face that’s never far away (huzzah for unintentional rhyming! 😀 ).

This article sums up the feeling pretty nicely through gifs’ s:

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Sitting awkwardly by yourself waiting for friends to arrive in a pub, tapping your glass and constantly sipping just to look like you belong, the pitying glances of bar staff when they see you at a table alone-the awkwardness can be all consuming.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to run from/avoid social encounters because of this awkward feeling.

Awkwardness is worse still when you’re hit by memories of previous awkward encounters! It’s a real domino effect- one awkward memory brings dozens more to the surface until you’re drowning in the red hot embarrassment of a cringe attack! 😛

I am constantly haunted by memories of my social awkwardness, buuuut as time goes on, you eventually learn not to dwell on your social failings 🙂

It’s a struggle yes, but you can push through the awkwardness. Over the years I’ve devised ways to navigate the rapids- making self deprecating jokes, keeping a mental list of backup topics for awkward silences, chugging a drink you’ve been bought (but don’t like) while your friend is in the bathroom so they don’t see your disgusted facial expressions 😛 😉

Social awkwardness may be a pain, but ultimately you can’t let the fear of getting wet keep you from swimming the social seas 🙂

Who knows-you might even put your awkward stories to good use in a blog some day! Comedy is tragedy plus time after all! 😛 😉

But is there any scientific reason for our social awkwardness?

Remember oxytocin?

Scientists have linked gene variations in the oxytocin receptor (which allows oxytocin to bind and interact with the body) to autism. Evidence indicates that people with autism have a specific variation in the oxytocin receptor (rs53576) which makes it more difficult for them to empathize, read facial expressions and social situations- predisposing us to social awkwardness.

In addition to this, psychologists have suggested that social awkwardness is all about perception. Awkwardness is thought to be influenced by the individuals perception of how a social situation should play out versus reality. If a social interaction does not go as planned…then the awkward turtle swims into view!

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This is a particularly interesting hypothesis. Oftentimes I find myself feeling awkward when silence falls in social settings as I perceive conversational silence to be awkward….aaaand then I tend to ramble on nonsensically to fill that silence! 😛

In reality, the silence may not in actual fact be awkward. Companionable silence is perfectly natural; the awkwardness I feel may inadvertently be of my own creation!

So it seems that perhaps social awkwardness in autism comes from the disparity between perception and reality in social interaction.

Social awkwardness is also thought to ironically help people improve their social skills! It has been theorized that social awkwardness acts as a warning system to help us to recognize that we have made social mistakes so that we will not repeat them in the future.

Seeing as autists struggle with social communication and interaction, it stands to reason that we often feel awkward so that we might improve our social skills in the future.

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So social awkwardness may in fact serve a purpose in autism! 😉

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Textures

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today I’m going to talk about something that you may not be aware of in relation to autism- the issue of texture sensitivity.

During my assessment, I was asked by the psychologist if I had any issues with textures. Caught off guard (as I was unwittingly hoodwinked into attending the assessment 😛 ), I quickly answered no, only to realize hours later that in actual fact, textures influence my life hugely!

In all previous conversations about autism, I had never heard anything about textures, but these are in actual fact a common source of sensitivity for autists.

Rough seat belts, itchy labels and materials, even bras can be extremely irritating to the hypersensitive autist.

There was absolute war between my mother and I when I would refuse to wear a bra as a child! The sensation of the garment against my skin weirded me out and I found it extremely uncomfortable. I would even try wearing it over my thermal vest to place a barrier between me and it, buuuut it didn’t very work well…I was constantly fidgeting! 😛

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Weird textures completely freak me out- cornflour (a particular pet peeve), some fruits and veg, yogurts (or most foods) with lumps in them and nail files to name but a few.

Encounters with such textures can lead to reactions like these…:

(Fun fact about me- I genuinely shake my head like a dog when I shudder! 😛 )

It’s not all negative though- you can learn to adapt and condition yourself to stimuli 🙂 I never drank a glass of water until I was 11 years old as it felt really weird to me compared with other more flavorful drinks. I gradually conditioned myself to it by taking one gulp water followed by one gulp juice (my family found this hilarious 😛 ) until the glass was empty- I now drink pints of water daily without issue! 🙂

Pleasant textures on the other hand pose an entirely different sensory experience, lighting up my brain like a Christmas tree! 🙂

The creamy texture of ice cream or chocolate melting in my mouth, the strangely irresistible and soothing feel of metal against my skin or the drug-like euphoria that comes from stroking a fluffy puppy-sheer bliss! 🙂

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As my sister remarked as I was writing this piece, it’s easier to list the textures that I do like than those I don’t! 🙂 😉

So what’s the scientific reason for this sensitivity?

As we have discussed in previous posts (Autism 101-Sensory Processing;Discussion-Trust, Intimacy and Sexuality), people with autism are hypersensitive to the sensation of touch. Dysfunctions in brain areas involved in sensory integration, in addition to hyper-connected and hyper-excitable neurons within the autistic brain, can greatly influence our responses to texture.

MRI studies of autistic brains also suggest that there is an exaggerated response to unpleasant stimuli in particular within the limbic system- a set of structures involved in such processes as emotions, behaviours and motivation.

It may seem like we’re consciously overreacting to certain textures, but our response is entirely neurological- so try to keep that in mind next time you see us pull a weird face after encountering an unpleasant texture! 😛 😉

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Have a good week everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Snow Cake

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In continuation from the previous post, today I’m going to have a look at a female character with autism in the 2006 indie romantic-comedy drama (that’s a LOT of genres! 😛 )  ‘Snow Cake‘.

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As discussed in my last post, gender bias is often an issue when it comes to women on the spectrum. Autism is viewed as a predominantly male condition, and as such this is reflected in Hollywood portrayals of autism.

We’ve all heard of ‘Rain Man’, but “Rain Woman” is rarely seen.

Snow Cake‘ is a really interesting example of this seemingly rare portrayal of autistic women on screen.

Starring Sigourney Weaver and the late Alan Rickman, ‘Snow Cake‘ explores the unusual relationship between Linda (a woman with high functioning autism) and Alex- a man who comes to visit Linda after her daughter Vivienne is killed in a car accident in which he was involved. Feeling guilty that he survived the accident, Alex set’s out to meet Linda and bring her some gifts that Vivienne had bought prior to her death, finding himself reluctantly drawn into her world.

You can view a trailer for this film below:

Before I get into the discussion of this, there is one line in the film (that can be seen in this trailer) that stands out for me:

I know all about autism- I’ve seen that film!”

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Granted, this line was likely included as a slight from the screenwriter, (a parent to an autistic child), towards public perceptions of autism, buuuutttt it does reinforce the importance of not believing everything Hollywood tells you of autism- something that one need bear in mind as to the portrayal of autistic women in this film in particular.

In terms of scientific portrayal of autism, the film gives a fairly accurate depiction of the symptoms.

BUT!

There is one major flaw…

Linda displays mostly male characteristics of autism!!

This is a common problem in on screen portrayals of autistic women as much of the information available to actors refers to male experiences of autism. For example, Diane Kruger was advised by a man with autism for her portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in the series ‘The Bridge‘. When AS was featured in an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy‘ many years ago, a behind the scenes featurette revealed that the actress based her performance on a boy she knew with autism!

For her role in ‘Snow Cake‘, Sigourney Weaver conducted a lot of research into the role and was actually coached by a woman with autism- Ros Blackburn. Aside from her endearing eccentricities however, the character of Linda does not differ greatly from other films featuring male characters.

The problem here may lie in the script for the film, as screenwriter Angela Pell is mother to a boy with autism, and her writing would have been heavily influenced by her experiences.

However, the film does provide a good reflection of the reality of autism in that Linda is not a savant or overtly intelligent as is often over-represented.

In addition to this, Alan Rickman interestingly chose not to research autism ahead of filming in order to accurately reflect the reactions and frustrations that an outsider would experience in an encounter with an autistic individual, adding a further dimension of realism to the film.

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All in all, gender issues aside, ‘Snow Cake‘, while not the most riveting of films (wasn’t my cup of tea) does paint quite a realistic picture of life with autism.

Happy Friday everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism 101-Sensory Processing

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

So today I’m going to briefly introduce you to the issue of sensory processing for people on the spectrum. This is a very broad topic, but I’ll expand on the issues in more detail at a later stage 🙂

Many individuals on the autistic spectrum struggle to process every day sensory information. Sounds, textures, smells, lights, even colours (boys in particular struggle to process the colour yellow) can overload the nervous system and greatly upset us, effect our behavior or even trigger a meltdown.

But why?

In autism, our senses can be either hyper or hypo sensitive (sometimes even both) to stimuli at different times. Our senses are heightened- smells are stronger, sounds are louder. As a result of this, stimuli reverberate all the more intensely in our brains.

Think of the brain as a computer server at exam time where everyone is logging in at once. Too much information has been entered into the system, but the server can only cope with so much. The entire system becomes overwhelmed and the server crashes.

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Here’s just a quick video simulation of sensory overload.

Warning for those on the spectrumthis video contains flashing lights, bright colours and loud, sudden noises

For me personally, I have many (mild) issues with sensory processing. Smells, tastes and textures are a daily struggle. For example, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat a salad as the smell alone makes me want to throw up- I’m dreading what pregnancy may one day bring! 😛 😉

Loud or irritating  noises, (especially repetitive ones), too can be a challenge. Don’t get me started on the shock I get when a passing bus makes that giant hiss/woosh sound or a car honks the horn unexpectedly!! 😛

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Most days, you’re lucky and the offending stimulus passes quickly, but other times it can get the better of you. I recently had a near meltdown on holiday from a cocktail of excessive heat, hunger, exhaustion and social frustration.

Top Tip– Keep on top of your hunger/thirst. I’ve discovered this past year that an excess of either will make me act really loopy! 😛

When you’re hit by sensory overload, it feels as though your head is caught in a vice grip. Your mind is screaming, unable to focus on anything else but the source of discomfort.

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The worst part of it I find is coming across as a complete basket case when overloaded. You don’t get the most sympathetic of looks when you complain about a persistent noise- few can understand how it’s making your brain hurt.

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So what does science have to say about sensory processing?

Sensory integration involves three basic sensory systems:

  • The tactile system (touch)- comprises a series of nerves passing information from the skin to the brain
  • The vestibular system (sound)- comprises a series of structures in the inner ear involved in movement detection
  • The proprioceptive system-a series of receptors in the muscle (proprioreceptors) which feed information to the brain about the body’s position

These three systems share a close but complicated relationship which allow us to experience, process and respond to different stimuli. Dysfunction in this network can cause hyper/hypo sensitivity, in addition to problems with coordination, behavior and academic issues.

Evidence from brain imaging studies has also shown that autists experience stronger responses in the brain to sensory stimuli in areas that process sensory information and the amygdala- an area that is involved in attention, emotional reactions and threat response.

But why is this?

Several studies have found evidence of hyper-excitability and hyper-connectivity in the autistic brain.

Evidence shows that in many cases of autism, the neurons located in the sensory cortex of the brain are more sensitive and excitable than others. This is kind of like how a person can be more ticklish in some parts of the body than another- the nerves in the underarm are more excitable than those of the arm.

The autistic brain has also shown signs of hyper-connectivity, where regions of the brain are excessively connected- like an overloaded plug!

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This amplifies memory formation, sensory processing and causes an autist to be hyper-emotional, which can make the world painfully intense. Scientists have theorized that autists prefer safe, controlled and predictable environments as a coping mechanism to actively avoid this pain.

Finally, studies have indicated that sensory issues, in addition to a number of other autistic behaviors, may be linked to neurotransmitter (chemical messengers between body and brain) levels in the body. As previously discussed, some neurotransmitters are dysregulated in autism. Evidence suggests that in cases of autism, there are higher levels of excitatory neurotransmitters, and lower levels of inhibitory (i.e. calming) neurotransmitters. These high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters cause neurons to fire excessively, which can influence sensory perception and processing.

I’ll expand a little bit more on the individual sensory issues at a later stage 🙂

Enjoy your week everyone 🙂

Aoife

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