Monday, September 28, 2015

Putting the Autism Puzzle Pieces Together.

I've just read yet another news story from a research group that have concluded, based on their findings and their findings alone, they don't know how Autism works, they don't know why it's more prevalent in boys than it is in girls, and they don't know why we have more of it today compared to a few years ago.

I am constantly amazed at how many research programs there are that don't actually cross reference data from other research programs. If you put them all together you actually get a good picture as to why Autism works the way it does, why there are more boys diagnosed than girls and why there is a higher proportion of it nowadays.

Let's start with studies of the actual brain structure of people on the Autism Spectrum. Firstly, the grey matter is distributed unevenly. Some areas of the brain end up lacking in grey matter whilst other areas have excessive amounts of it. This explains why a person on the Autism spectrum can take longer to learn skills. The areas that are lacking have less neurological connections to play with in order to sort out which connections work the best. The areas that are excessive, on the other hand, have more neurological connections to play with which means it takes longer to sort through them all before the best connections can be made. For those who have excessive amounts of grey matter in the auditory centres of the brain, what would be a mild level of noise for anyone else can be a mind-numbing explosion of noise as the extra neurotransmitters go into overload trying to figure out what to do with the information that's being thrown at them.

A completely different study showed that for those on the Autism Spectrum, the brain's ability to turn off redundant neurological connections is impaired, meaning that even after a new skill is learnt, the excessive neurological connections are still firing away and the brain will still be in a state of learning for something that others would be able to master easily. Once a skill is learnt, the brain is still experimenting with the remainder of the connections, so the individual still has a hard time putting their new skill into practice.

Other studies have shown that the corpus callosum does not develop properly in those on the Autism spectrum, which impedes the flow of information between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This can cause confusion if information presented needs to be processed by both hemispheres in collaboration with each other, such as something that involves emotions but also requires the logical side of the brain to lend a hand. There are also studies not usually related to Autism which have shown that the corpus callosum is usually larger for girls than for boys, which means a reduction in its size during development will not necessarily make that much of a noticeable difference for the girls, which can go towards explaining why there are more boys diagnosed on the spectrum than girls. It also explains why a lot of girls display different symptoms of Autism compared to boys as they can still have that little bit of extra communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain to help them compensate for the other discrepancies.

So why is Autism more prevalent today? In addition to Autism being more readily accepted as a diagnoses and being more easily identifiable, we're also breeding. People with high functioning Autism might slip under the radar and not even realise they're on the spectrum. They grow up and have babies and pass on their genetic make-up to their offspring. A lot of us grew up in the 70's, for instance, just being socially awkward with Autism not even being thought of as a diagnoses for us. Now we have kids who have been diagnosed as being on the spectrum we can see that we also grew up on the spectrum and just didn't know it. Instead of getting help with it all we were shunned and labelled as the weird quiet kids at school, or the shy ones. As we got older we improved as our neurological connections finally started to sort it all out at our own pace.

Autism is not a static condition. There's always room for improvement given the right environments and nurturing as the individual learns and grows at the speed with which their brains can eventually sort it all out for themselves. It never goes away, but it does get better over time for some. Just remember that each individual on the spectrum is just that, an individual. What might work for some will not necessarily work for others. It all depends on how the grey matter is distributed, how much information can be exchanged between the left and right hemispheres of each individual's brain, and how long it takes for redundant neurological transmitters to finally deactivate themselves, if they are actually capable of eventually being deactivated.

A great deal of the pieces of the Autism puzzle have already been found. It just seems that no one is actually gathering all those pieces together to form a single bigger picture with them all. As shown in this blog, if you take a handful of the pieces and then place them on the board together, the picture starts to reveal itself. If researchers actually start collaborating with each other, instead of simply patting themselves on the back for finding a single piece of the puzzle and then scratching their heads as to what to do with it, we may one day find that last piece and eventually put it in its place with the rest of the pieces. Once we have a full understanding of Autism, we may then understand better how to help those on the spectrum to overcome the obstacles that they have to face.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Autism: Causes and Cures

I'm increasingly finding myself typing the same information, over and over, in various Autism and Special Needs related groups on how I view Autism, what I believe is the cause of Autism, and what I think about the topic of Autism cures. To save a bit of time, I shall put all my thoughts into this blog and update it as I feel the need to elaborate on it all. Please read on to view my perspective on it all.

So, what causes Autism?

In order to answer this particular question you first need to understand the physical structure of the Autistic brain, and there are known differences, when making comparisons to a non-Autistic brain.

Firstly, the brain of a person on the Autism Spectrum has some areas that are lacking in grey-matter and some areas that are excessive with grey-matter. It's as if the synapses have been distributed unevenly. The parts of the brain that are lacking will have less combinations of synapses to experiment with when it comes to learning and hopefully mastering a new skill, while the parts of the brain that are excessive will have extra synapses to experiment with before a new skill can be mastered. This can explain why it takes longer for people on the Autism Spectrum to develop milestones or to just learn how to do some things in general. The areas that are lacking, simply don't have as many options to choose from when it comes time to figure out which combinations of synapses make the best connections for the neurotransmitters to flow through. The areas that are excessive have an extra amount of synapses to play around with before deciding which are the best pathways for the neurotransmitters, so they take longer to learn because they have more options when it comes time to figure out which are the best connections to use.

Secondly, the brain of a person on the Autism Spectrum lacks the ability to deactivate redundant synapses. These are the ones that are no longer in use because they weren't the best options to choose from after a new skill was formed or a milestone was reached. This means that even after a skill has been learnt, the brain is still experimenting to find out which synapses make the best connections for the neurotransmitter to flow through, because it still has multiple options for the neurotransmitters to pass through. It's why some people on the Spectrum can know how to do something but still be unsure of how to go about it properly no matter how many times they've done it before. They've learnt the skill, but the brain is still trying to figure out if any other synapse combinations will work, long after it's been established that the other combinations are actually not the best choices.

Thirdly, the brain of a person on the Autism Spectrum has a smaller corpus callosum than would otherwise be considered normal. The corpus callosum is the section of the brain containing white matter that connects the left and right hemispheres. The exchange of information between the left and right hemispheres can be of some benefit, with the left brain being used mainly for language, logic, and mathematics, and the right brain being used mainly for face recognition, music processing, spatial abilities, and visual imagery. If some information needs to be processed that requires both logic and spatial awareness, for example, then the logical left brain will need to interact with the spatial aware right brain. If you're on the Autism Spectrum, then this interaction may be inhibited due to a lack of connections in the reduced corpus callosum. This also explains why Autism diagnosis is more prevalent in boys than in girls. Girls have larger corpus callosums compared to boys even if they don't have Autism, so a reduced size may not cause such a noticable difference for some girls, as they would have had a larger connection between the brain hemispheres to begin with.

Autism is therefore a result of all these brain differences in combination with each other. The reason that each person on the Autism Spectrum is unique and that Autism is a spectrum, is because the amount of redistribution of the grey matter, the amount of redundant brain cells that remain active, and the amount of reduction in the size of the Corpus Callosum varies from one person to the next.

In order to answer the question of what causes Autism, we have to determine what caused the brain differences to occur. The human brain begins development at around the third gestational week. The design layout for the brain has already been determined at this point by the DNA which was created from the moment of conception using a combination of biological information from both biological parents. If any one of the biological parents has an Autistic like brain, even if just slightly so that no one is even aware that they have Autistic tendencies, then there's a chance that the baby will also develop a brain with Autistic tendencies. If both parents have an Autistic like brain, again even if just slightly, then there is an even greater chance that the baby will develop a brain with Autistic tendencies. Genetics breed true. When we reproduce, we donate a part of our own biological make-up to our children. So using this reasoning, it's pretty safe to say that Autism is caused by genetics, or if neither parent has an Autistic like brain, possibly by genetic mutations at the point of conception. Reproduction is therefore the main culprit. Autism is caused by how the DNA strands are formed at the point of an individual's conception.

So why do some people show signs of Autism from birth, yet others don't seem to show any signs until later, lets say for example, not until the ages of 2 or 3 years? Why do some people seem to develop normally, or even at an advanced pace, yet seem to change overnight? Did a vaccination or other introduced substance cause this sudden change? Repeated studies, including double blind and triple blind studies say no. It's more likely that the child has suddenly come to a phase in brain development where the brain differences are now showing their weaknesses. This just happens to coincide with the recommended ages for certain vaccinations, so the vaccinations get the blame even though there is no scientific evidence to back this theory up. Scientific evidence actually debunks the myth and proves that the vaccinations are not responsible for the changes at all. As mentioned earlier, each person on the Spectrum is unique so each will present differently. While some children seem to talk and sit up or walk and be aware of their surroundings early, others develop normally for the first couple of years of life outside the womb, while other don't show any signs of development at all. It's quite normal for some children on the Spectrum to show advanced intellectual development from an extremely early age, probably due to those extra brain synapses which gives the child a head start over other children. When the child finally reaches a certain age of brain development that is hindered by the physical differences in brain structure, it will begin to cause chaos and confusion and could possibly impede that which has already been learnt, which would lead to what some people call regression. In other cases, the parents may just not be aware of how Autism presents itself, and don't actually realise there is something different with their child until milestones aren't reached that would normally present themselves at around the ages of 2 or 3.

Can Autism be caused by food intolerances and gut issues? No, the brain structure has already been determined from conception. If there are food intolerances and gut issues, then they can cause discomfort and distress for a person on the Autism Spectrum more than they might do for someone who is not on the spectrum, and this can be distracting enough that it actually impedes learning and development. A change of diet will actually benefit those who are affected this way as it will allow the individual to get on with life without having that particular problem to stress over. It can make such a difference that learning will begin where it was previously not happening. This will not benefit anyone who does not have a food intolerance or gut issue though, so don't try and force yucky foods into a child's diet in the belief it will cure his or her Autism if there is no evidence of a food intolerance or gut issue to begin with. You'll just be making the child feel miserable which itself can impede their learning abilities. It's usually hard enough to get them to eat what they like without introducing things they won't like if there's absolutely no need for it. I've tasted gluten free products myself. Some are palatable, others are simply bad for the taste buds. Don't force it if they don't need it. If someone on the spectrum has a limited diet, there is a method that my partner formulated for my youngest son which worked so well, he now eats the same meals as the rest of the family. Click on this link to see what we did and see if it works for them too. Just remember, what works for one does not necessarily work for everyone. I'm constantly telling people that each person on the Spectrum is unique, so don't think you've failed or done something wrong if your child doesn't show the same results for things that worked with others.

Can Autism be cured?

In a nutshell, no. You would have to somehow rearrange the physical brain structure of the individual so that the grey-matter was more evenly distributed amongst the different parts of the brain. You would also have to find a way to force the brain to deactivate redundant synapses once it was determined that they were of no use, and you would have to increase the size of the corpus callosum to increase the amount of information that could be exchanged between the brain's left and right hemispheres.

Autism is not a static condition though. It can become less challenging for some individuals as they learn and grow at their own pace. With time, patience and nurturing, some (not all) on the Spectrum will eventually learn how to overcome some of their hurdles in life to the point where they may be able to gain employment as adults, or learn how to drive, or even raise a family of their own. Others will never learn how to tie their own shoelaces or dress themselves without assistance. I'll say it again, each individual on the Spectrum is unique and will grow and develop at their own pace, which may be barely at all for some or to a point where some might think they've been cured in others. Even if an individual progresses to the point where it's hard to notice that they're on the Autism Spectrum, they still have the same physical brain differences. They've just had better luck in the learning and developing department.

So unless you actually perform a successful brain transplant and then somehow transfer the individual's memories into the new brain from the old one, Autism cannot be cured. It can improve over time, but it won't disappear completely. Instead of looking for a cure, people should simply accept people on the spectrum for the unique individuals they are and concentrate on making life easy for them. Give them an environment where they can flourish and learn at their own pace, with smaller class sizes that have less distractions, one on one teaching, teacher's aides, and individual learning plans for those that need it. Don't try and force them to be someone they're not. They're just as human as the next person. They just have different ways of processing information and different capabilities when it comes to human interaction. They're all unique, just as everyone who is not on the Spectrum is unique. Autism is a very misunderstood condition for those who don't know how Autism works. Education is what's needed. Not just for those on the Spectrum, but even more so for those who are not on the Spectrum.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vaccinations and Autism - My evolving views.

I recently saw a post on a Facebook Autism group from a mother who asked the following question:
To vaccinate or not to, that is the question...

I have 4 children who are all fully vaxed between the ages of 13 years and 22 years old. I never had any major problems after they were done.

With my last child (who is special needs) I often wonder if I hadn't had him done would he be different? He was an awesome baby, my little koala. But at around 18 months to 2 years my angel disappeared and was replaced with a baby that just cried and screamed, something which he never really did before. I thought he was sick, so I took him to the Doctor, but he wasn't. It wasn't just me that noticed the change as my family did too. I put it down to teething, the terrible 2s, or just being naughty. I thought it was my fault, that I'd done something to hurt him.

I thought for a long time it was the vaccinations that he had around this time which had "stolen" my baby. Thinking back I realise I just had to have something to blame. But when having a really bad day the smallest part of my brain will start thinking this again.

Is this normal, do other parents ever wonder the same thing?
My lengthy response to her post was as follows:
Vaccines get a lot of the blame because they happen at around the same time that some milestones are supposed to be reached. It's the same theory as saying I gave my son a Vegemite sandwich for the first time when he was around 2 years old and then he stopped doing some things, so it must have been because he had tried Vegemite.

If a child has an Autistic brain then it was shaped that way during development in the womb, and most likely it was shaped that way because the instructions in the DNA strands were already programmed to shape it that way from the time of conception.

Some kids change at around 2 years of age even if they haven't had their shots. Each child on the spectrum is unique and all will present slightly differently even though they have many common traits.

The Autistic brain has areas with less grey matter than would otherwise be considered normal and areas with more grey matter than would otherwise be considered normal. The areas that are lacking grey matter have less neurons to experiment with as the child learns before the brain can establish the best connections to use, this explains learning difficulties. The areas that are excessive have extra neurons to play with and it takes longer for them to sort out which connections are best to use together, this explains learning delays.

The Autistic brain also fails to kill off the redundant cells as quickly as the normal brain would, so even though something has been learnt, the brain is still in constant learning mode and the redundant cells continue to experiment with each other, this explains why there is ongoing confusion, even though a skill has already been learnt.

The Corpus Callosum, which is the bit that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain is noticeably smaller in the Autistic brain, so exchanging information between the left and right hemispheres is not as effective, this explains social interaction difficulties as both sides need to consult each other to sort out left brain issues and right brain issues. What the left brain can't figure out gets sorted via a little consultation with the right brain, and visa-versa. Girls have larger Corpus Callosums compared to boys, so they don't necessarily have the same compromise if they have a reduced size, which explains why there are more boys diagnosed on the spectrum than girls. Some Girls have slightly different symptoms of Autism compared to boys and this can also be explained by the slightly larger Corpus Callosum.

So do vaccines cause Autism? Legitimate studies that haven't been set up to give a false positive by using a pre-stacked set of subjects instead of using double blind and triple blind techniques say no.

Can a vaccine cause all those physical differences in the brain structure? I don't think so. The vaccine would have to kill off some areas of grey matter, then grow excessive grey matter in other areas, then reduce the size of the Corpus Callosum and then cause redundant brain cells to remain active instead of being switched off when they were no longer required.
In my earlier blogs I have stated in various places that there is perhaps a chance that a vaccination may do something to an already Autistic brain that tips it over the edge and makes the Autism more noticeable. Legitimate studies are showing that this is not the case, so my view has now changed and the correlation between getting a vaccination and Autism suddenly being more apparent is no longer a possibility.

As stated above, some kids will show a change around the 2 year mark and some won't, and that's regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not. If you're going to blame the vaccination for a child's Autism, even after so many studies have completely thrown that theory out of the window and even after those countries that actually made changes to their vaccinations in order to avoid the potential for Autism continue to have a steady rise in the amount of children being diagnosed with the condition, you may as well also blame whatever your child had for breakfast on that day. Like the mother said, she was looking for reasons and excuses at the time and the vaccination was an easy option to use as a scapegoat.

For the record, I was not vaccinated as a child. My mother had read in the papers back in 1965 that vaccinations were dangerous. Sensationalist and irresponsible reporting at its finest which worked. It made my mother buy the newspaper that day, and it made her decide that her unborn baby would not be getting any shots. Now here I am, close to 50 years later, typing this blog because my children inherited my Autism genes and I spent quite a bit of time researching and looking at various studies after they were diagnosed and came to the realisation that I too had grown up on the spectrum, yet had never been diagnosed. Before my children were diagnosed I didn't know anything about Autism. I was always labelled the weird, quiet kid at school. It turns out my unvaccinated brain was simply on the Autism Spectrum, along with countless others who had never been diagnosed at the time. I now know a great deal about Autism, and have learnt to separate the facts from the non-facts.

Anti-vaccers will always be around. People are capable of convincing themselves of anything, regardless of the facts, if they get fixated enough about it. Most of these anti-vaccers are most likely parents with children on the Autism Spectrum, which probably means they are also on the Spectrum, possibly undiagnosed, possibly unaware that they're even on the spectrum at all. But it also explains their fixation about being an anti-vaccer. One of the most common traits of Autism is the ability to uncontrollably fixate on something to the point that it becomes an obsession.

Anti-vaccers will hate this blog. It's a part of their fixation. Some will be obsessed enough that they may post their own blogs to debunk this one or to debunk me even. I'll get over it and the sun will rise again in the morning for me while the obsessed spread their conspiracy theories that in some cases would have you believe that I'm being paid by the vaccination companies to lie about their products. In which case you'd think I'd be quite wealthy by now. Well,... that's not what my overdraft says. ;)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Introducing new foods.

We've come an extremely long way with my son Danny in the food department since he came into the care of me and my partner a few years ago.

When he first came to us he would only eat Vegemite sandwiches, plain hamburgers (a bread roll with a processed burger patty on it and a slice of heavily processed cheese), sausage rolls (with tomato sauce numbers written on them), chicken nuggets and chips. Today I asked him what he'd like for lunch and he said a sandwich. I asked him what sort of sandwich, expecting the usual Vegemite response, but instead he asked for a chicken, cheese and barbecue sauce sandwich which he happily demolished after taking a bite and announcing that it was delicious.

There are two factors that I believe have helped him to expand his diet to the point where he'll now eat almost anything that's put in front of him. First, Autism is not a static condition. Each individual has the ability to learn to do more things (and eat more things) over time, at their own pace. Given time, patience, the right environment and some positive incentives anything is possible.

Second, my partner Janet put in a hell of a lot of time and patience towards slowly introducing new foods into Danny's diet and getting him used to the idea that new foods are good. The incentive was to offer extra time on the computer after dinner if he tried the new food, and even more extra time if he actually ate it all after he'd had the initial taste test. We're now at the stage where he doesn't need the extra time initiative, he just eats his dinner happily and has his regular after dinner computer allowance. If he gets a new food he'll just ask if it's a new food, then taste test it and give us the verdict.

For the past year we've weaned him off the Vegemite sandwiches for school lunches and changed them into fresh chicken with tomato sauce, This was achieved after he had first gotten used to having freshly cooked chicken with some of his meals. He decided he liked it with a puddle of tomato sauce on his plate to dip his food in. So we tried it on some lightly buttered bread for his school lunches. Once he was happy with that we introduced a slice of real cheese into the mix (not that plastic processed crap), and last week I boldly switched the tomato sauce for mild, American style mustard sauce, which was purely by accident (I grabbed the wrong bottle from the fridge, then after his sandwich was made decided that he could try it as another new food). He loved it so much he actually asked for barbecue sauce for his next sandwich to see if he'd like that too, which is what he had today. Danny also has cooking as a part of his high-school curriculum and is happily trying new foods there as well.

It's nice to be able to sit Danny down at the dinner table with the rest of the family and actually give him the same meal as everyone else now. Gone are the days where he'd have a separately prepared meal placed in front of him because that's all he would eat. He now eats a variety of foods including chicken, pork, lamb, beef, peas, carrots, broccoli, potato, cauliflower and corn. We do have to cut some of his food before it's placed in front of him, such as steak because he finds it hard to cut, or baked potato so the heat can be let out a bit before he puts it in his mouth, but he is starting to get used to cutting his own food now. If we give him sausages we let him cut them himself as they're reasonably easy to get a knife through. We've begun to cut some of his other meats into larger chunks now so we can tell him to cut things into smaller pieces before he eats them. We're hoping to eventually leave meats on the bones for him. For the moment he has trouble with meat on the bone, but we're confident he'll eventually have his chops on the plate looking like the chops on everyone else's plates.

For those of you who are still struggling to get your children to eat a healthy and nutritiously balanced diet, which is very common for children on the Autism spectrum, I sympathise with you. We've been there. There is hope over time though if you persist. It's very easy to give in and just serve the same three foods over and over, but it's well worth the effort of trying to introduce a small amount of something new at first, just on the side, with a small reward to help encourage the new eating behaviour. Eventually it will become an accepted routine to have something new on the side, which can then become something that's a regular part of the meal as the child becomes accustomed to it. We did make it a reward system and not a penalty system though. Danny didn't lose computer time if he didn't eat something new, he was just made aware that he wasn't going to get the extra time if he didn't eat it. It all had to be positive for him, and now he sees new foods as a positive thing instead of a dreadful challenge.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Food Intolerances and Autism

I've been asked if I can explain how food intolerances can cause issues for people on the Autism spectrum. Some of you are being fed misinformation that Autism is actually caused by toxins, gut bacteria and nutritional deficiencies. While any of these can exacerbate the sensory issues associated with Autism, they are not the cause of it. Autism can NOT be cured simply by changing a person's diet or giving them a detox program. At the most, you can alleviate the symptoms if a person does have a food intolerance, which in turn can make life easier for them by giving them one less discomfort to worry about. Discomforts which could be getting in the way of their ability to learn as they grow and mature by causing a constant internal annoyance or distraction.

Here's how it works:
Some people on the Autism spectrum have certain food intolerances, the same way as some people who are not on the Autism spectrum have the same food intolerances. Each person on the spectrum is as unique as an individual who is not on the spectrum, so some have issues with certain foods while others don't. In the case of a person on the Autism spectrum, the sense of discomfort from having a food intolerance can either be enhanced or it can be less noticeable compared to people with the same food intolerances who aren't on the spectrum. If the person on the spectrum who has the food intolerance is in discomfort, then it can consume their entire lives and actually get in the way of day to day learning and coping. Remove the foods that are causing the issue, and the discomfort will also be removed which frees the person's mind up for getting on with more important things, such as life skill development.

Will removing food groups help everyone on the Autism spectrum?
No. It will only benefit those who are having issues with the food types that were removed in the first place, the same as anyone who is not on the spectrum will only benefit from having food groups removed if they are actually intolerant to the foods being removed.

Picture it this way: Person A is on the Autism spectrum and has a gluten intolerance. Person B is also on the spectrum but does not have a gluten intolerance. Giving person A foods with gluten in them is going to cause them discomfort and will probably make life a little more harder to cope with. Removing the gluten will help this person because it's alleviating the discomfort of the symptoms of being gluten intolerant. Giving person B foods with gluten in them is not going to cause any issues, so there is no need to restrict them to a gluten free diet as it will have no benefit to them whatsoever. In fact, many people on the spectrum are incredibly fussy eaters, so restricting their diet further than they already try to restrict it themselves is not exactly making life easy for anyone, especially if they don't have an intolerance to warrant the restrictions being made in the first place.

What Causes Autism?
Autism begins at the moment of conception. It is caused by physical abnormalities in the brain structure. Whilst some parts of the brain for an individual on the spectrum contain excessive amounts of grey matter, other parts are lacking in grey matter. The areas that are in excess have to compensate for the areas that are lacking. The corpus callosum is also smaller for individuals on the spectrum, this restricts the flow of information between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. On top of this, the brain cells which would ordinarily die off from lack of use as an individual grows and learns do not appear to die off so readily for people on the spectrum This means that the brain is in a current state of learning, even after a permanent connection between two brain cells has been established as the best possible combination, the redundant cells are failing to step aside. NONE of this is caused by stomach bacteria or food intolerances. NONE of this can be cured by removing food groups or toxins or stomach bacteria. The best you can do is to identify IF there is an intolerance. If there is, then by all means, restrict the foods that are causing the intolerance. It will benefit the individual by removing an internal sensory issue. If there is NOT an intolerance, then DON'T torture the person by removing something that they'll actually be happy to eat! The best way to get a person on the spectrum to learn and grow at their own pace is to ensure they have as happy and as stress free an environment as is physically and emotionally possible to give them. Causing excess stress is NOT beneficial to their abilities to cope with the world.

So what should I do to help?
If you have a person in your care who is on the Autism spectrum and they DO have an intolerance to certain foods, you can help them by getting them used to eating foods that aren't going to cause them some kind of stress. In this case, restricting their diet will be beneficial in the long run.

If they DO NOT have an intolerance to certain foods, you can help them by NOT restricting their diet, especially if it's going to cause stress by force feeding them something that they don't like because it's blander than normal.

How should I respond to fanatics?
If you find someone who insists that Autism is caused by food intolerances and gut issues, you may find yourself hitting your head against a brick wall when they refuse to believe otherwise. Some people can't help themselves and once they've made their mind up, there's no swaying them regardless of how much factual information is offered to them. Don't stress yourself out over them too much. Have your say then move on, knowing that you've given your opinion and others who might be a part of the conversation as observers have heard your side of the argument. You can't help everyone, but you can help to give input into an otherwise one sided debate, and that in itself can help people to make up their minds for themselves.

Having said all this, I'll most likely be trolled by anti-vaccer fanatics and food intolerance fanatics after they've read this particular blog post. My policy on trolls is to not feed them no matter what they say. So if anyone wants to get on their soap box and tell the world how much of a horrible person I am for writing this blog, do so with the knowledge that I don't really care what you think or say. I'm happy with my post just the way it is and it won't be changed because of some cyber-bully trying to force everyone to follow their own wildly inaccurate misinformation.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Life before and after Asperger's

For those of us who grew up in the decades before the 90s, the diagnoses of Asperger's just didn't exist when we were kids. I sometimes wonder how different life would have been for me or my brother had we actually had some early intervention in our younger years.

I was always labelled the shy one, or known as the quiet weird kid at school. I wasn't shy, I was just incapable of communicating most of the time. If I was asked a question, my brain would find a dozen ways to interpret it, so I'd have no way of knowing what the correct response would be. I couldn't process an answer if I didn't know which way I was supposed to process the question in the first place. My brain still does this so I'm often giving answers to a completely different yet similar question to what I've been asked, which usually just confuses the person who asked the question in the first place. Sometimes I have to clarify what the question is actually about before I can answer, which further confuses the person who has asked it as they don't see the multiple ways of interpreting it the same way as I do. The person who's asked the question might think I'm trying to complicate things, when in reality I'm trying to simplify things before I can begin the process of formulating an answer for them. Having grey matter distributed unevenly throughout the brain can cause a lot of complication for otherwise normal thought processes. The extra brain cells in some areas can mean extra possibilities for some thoughts, while the lack of brain cells in other areas can mean less possibilities for other thoughts. I'm not shy, I'm just confused a lot as my brain inputs information and then has trouble understanding how to process it. This can make life very difficult at times, especially in social situations where you're expected to have immediate responses during conversation. I've overcome a lot of the social issues as I've grown older and the extra neural connections have finally decided which combinations work best together, but I'm still uncomfortable in front of new people and feel out of place when there's a conversation happening that I am physically incapable of keeping up with due to all the extra thought processes happening in my scone while everyone else happily moves from one topic to the next.

Asperger's sux at times, and I'll always be stuck with it. Those who know me well actually like my company. Those who don't know me will either get to know me and my eccentricities as a good thing, or just decide I'm a weird person they'd like to avoid contact with at all costs. Either way, I'm happy to be almost 48 years old with the worst of the mind hurdles behind me. I've found a group of people who are comfortably happy to be associated with me and who I'm comfortably happy to be associated with. Most of them live in Facebook land, which is a bonus because we don't have to make actual eye contact to converse with each other and I actually have time to think before I put my two cents into the conversation. I have met one or two of them, which went well because we all knew what to expect from each other after having gotten to know each other in thought over quite a good amount of time. I even got engaged to one of them last year after our brains slowly fell in love via Facebook interactions over a number of years. We now raise our own blended family together.

Having a house full of people on the Autism spectrum has had its head banging on the wall moments for us at times, but that's another story altogether. We have a happy family, and that's all that matters. We have happy children who live in an age where early intervention and extra support in schooling is now a reality. They still have trouble understanding how to process the world, the same as us. But they're no longer shunned as weirdos or just fobbed off as being shy. We're the strange, eccentric family that lives in the middle of the street that doesn't interact with their neighbours. We aren't being snobs by not interacting with you. We're just not capable of knocking on your door and introducing ourselves as easily as you might be able to with us. That's the other thing about Autism and Asperger's, we aren't always capable of initiating the contact, but we will actively make an effort to join in if we have a friendly invitation and don't get fobbed off as weirdos when we do go out of our way to make that effort.

We now live in a society that supports people on the Autism spectrum and my kids are growing up with the security of being accepted for who they are. It's also helping us oldies to accept who we are, after years of not knowing why we were different and why we couldn't interact the way the other kids at school did.

Our kids will always have their Autism and Asperger's, but luckily they won't have to go through all the crap that we did in our younger years.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reject rejectful society.

Society can be a cruel place for those with special needs. Not just for those on the Autistic spectrum, but for anyone who presents themselves as “different” to the accepted norms of the day. Whenever people come across an individual they don’t understand, there is a tendency to mock them or blatantly go out of their way to avoid the person in question. Apparently it’s ok in some people’s minds to publicly ridicule or put down a person who most likely has little control and little understanding of their “different” appearance or mannerisms.

So what must it be like for someone who’s been misunderstood since childhood? How would a young child develop over the years after being shunned and made fun of? Imagine a young boy growing up in the 1970s. His mother often finds that he’s broken all of his toys. He’s thought of only as a problem child, with most people branding him as annoying and different. As he grows he begins to aggravate people to such an extent that he's always in trouble, and for this reason a psychiatrist decides he’ll never be able to hold down a job. Yes son, you will never be able to get a job or have a half decent future, because you annoy everyone around you, sorry.

Imagine how you’d feel from a young age if no one would play with you and seemingly everyone laughed at you. You’d probably start to lose respect for the world because it’s certainly not showing you any respect. So here’s the catch 22. Society gives you a hard time because you are different, and in return you learn to hate society. To say sorry for giving you such a hard time and making you hate it so much, society then gives you more of a hard time…. Now repeat this cycle through to adulthood. By now you’ve completely lost all faith in humanity, and humanity’s lost all faith in you being a respectable part of it. So who’s to blame? Personally, I think society’s so full of itself that most of it fails to show any compassion for those who could use a helping hand anyway. How different might this young man’s life had been if he had actually been nurtured and helped in his journey instead of being swept under the carpet, bullied, and mocked?

No doubt, most of you have heard of the Port Arthur Massacre, a horribly tragic event where a young man went on a public killing spree in the Australian state of Tasmania back in 1996. I do not condone one bit the atrocities that this man carried out on that dreadful day. I’m also not here to defend his actions or to justify his intentions. The man has been locked up for the rest of his life, and that’s where he belongs. He’s an obvious danger to society. It’s just a pity that he started life as the same young boy I was writing about in the first few paragraphs of this blog you are now reading. Would he have been a good member of society had he been treated nicer in his youth? Who knows? Maybe he might not have hated the world so much as to think killing parts of it was a good idea. I now know a person who went to school with him, and apparently the boy was a bully himself. Was his bullying a result of his upbringing? Again, who knows?

There have been theories thrown around that this person might have been Autistic. From what I’ve read, he’s not shown any classic signs of being on the spectrum. He even went out of his way to travel overseas in his attempts to make society accept him. He didn’t make the trips because he wanted to see the rest of the world. He made the trips so that people would be forced to sit next to him for long periods of time and would be forced to be polite with him, maybe even talk to him. He wanted to be accepted, even after all the abuse that the world piled on him. He’d dress up to go to his local restaurant and the world would laugh at him because he dressed in an eccentric manor, which was most likely a request to the world to “please look at who I really am and please accept me for who I am”. I recently read of a published study claiming that psychopaths have sections of brain that show reduced amounts of grey matter. The sections noted were those identified as being responsible for empathy and other emotions. I also have read many studies that show similar reduced amounts of grey matter in those who are on the Autistic spectrum. Those on the Autistic spectrum however, also have sections of brain with excessive amounts of grey matter, which was not shown in the study of the psychopathic brain. The psychopathic brain would therefore be only partially Autistic, if Autistic at all. People on the Autism spectrum, in my opinion, have good qualities which, if they’re capable of bringing them to the surface, show that being on the spectrum and being psychopathic are two completely separate conditions. I don’t believe this man was Autistic. Psychopathically challenged perhaps, but not Autistic. He was known to be deliberately cruel to animals in his youth. Again, this could reflect on his view of a world that refused to accept his differences.

Unfortunately by the time he was 28 years old, the years of rejection by society was all too much for this young man, and he ended up killing 35 innocent people, including some very young children. He also wounded a further 21 who are probably emotionally traumatised to this day. He no longer has a place in society and quite rightly will never have a place in society ever again. So next time one of you decides to bully someone or laugh at someone or avoid someone in disgust because they’re not the correct shade of public society for your liking, just stop and think how many other people are treating this individual the exact same way, and how you are actually contributing to this individual’s feelings towards society by being a part of the greater collective. A collective of bullies that you don’t see, but this person is forced to encounter on a daily basis. Now stop and think, how you would feel if the rest of the world treated you like dirt because you were a little “different”. What he did was wrong, but are you contributing to the way someone else’s world becomes by not treating them as a human in the first place?

As a society we are all responsible for the way it forms. How you treat an individual today contributes to how that individual deals with life tomorrow. Play nice with each other, and include the “different” kids too. You may actually make the world a nicer place to live in, not only for today’s generation, but for the future children of today’s generation.

Treat the people of the world with respect, no matter how different they may seem. They may respect you in return.