Monthly Archives: July 2013

My Autism Theory

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I’m currently reading The Panic Virus, a book that explores the history and development of the false link between autism and vaccines. It’s fascinating to see how people can develop theories about just about anything based not on data, but on their own personal perception of reality.

Then I realized I’m capable of the same exact thing.

I have tons of theories. I have a theory about how our universe is just a microscopic part of a much larger plane of existence, and that we are a much larger plane of existence for another smaller microscopic universe (and so forth). I have a theory that centers around how early human evolution still continues to shape many of our decisions inour modern day world. I have a theory on why my car’s “check engine” light is on.

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I’m pretty sure it’s the fuel injectors.

The important thing for me to mention is that they are just theories. I’m no expert on particle physics or automotive mechanincs. I have no hard evidence to base these theories on, just some observations coupled with feelings that I have. I’m not going to argue that I’m “right” in any of these cases. They are just ideas that I put forth as interesting things to think of. With that said, I have a theory on what autism is and what actually causes it.

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You’ve been warned.

My theory started growing in my mind when I started looking at my own stimming behavior – biting the skin on my fingers. There were times where I could go for quite a long time without biting, but then I’d get stressed out and tear the shit out of my fingertips. I started thinking that maybe my stimming was a hyper-intense stress reaction. Could this apply to other autistic stimming behaviors?

Another little factoid that contributed to my theory was the difference between my two children. My daughter (the aspie) was conceived using fertility treatments and hormone therapy, while my son (the NT) was conceived naturally. My daughter suffered from severe GERD as a baby, my son did not. I also noticed that a fair portion of the women my wife was in contact with from various support groups (both IVF and GERD online support groups) had children that were on the spectrum in some capacity. Where, if anywhere, does this factor in?

My mind also wandered around the fact that there seems to be a genetic component to autism spectrum disorders. The gene has not been pinpointed, but it has been shown that autism seems to run in families. Genetics are pretty straightforward – simply put, either you have a gene for a specific trait or you don’t. So why does it seems to get wishy washy when it comes to autism?

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Ok, so my theory is basically this – autism spectrum disorders are, at the core, anxiety disorders that manifest themselves into social and physical symptoms of varying severity.

Why does this make sense? Because it brings together all of the aforementioned details, quite nicely I might add.

According to my theory, autism starts at the genetic level as an inherited predisposition for abnormally heightened anxiety. Perhaps the genes that regulate stress hormones produce abnormal amounts, or perhaps the receptors for these hormones are tuned to be overly sensitive. Whatever the mechanism, these are the children who are at higher risk to develop autism.

The next step occurs during pregnancy – during early development, the child is subjected to some sort of “triggering stress.” This could come from a number of different sources – exposure to elevated maternal stress hormones in utero (possibly in reaction to fertility treatments), metabolic stress due to medications (an explanation to the perceived link between autism and vaccines), or physical stress to the child itself (chronic pain, GERD, etc.).  The triggering stress conditions the child to adjust his or her baseline level of stress higher than a neurotypical child’s baseline would be.

The symptoms of autism (most notably stimming and tantrums) are physiological responses to perceived stress. The fact that the levels of stress are extremely subjective leads to the wide range of severity of symptoms; a child with Aspergers may only be moderately affected by stress, while a child with severe autism may find the slightest stimulus to be crippling. The social aspects of autism spectrum disorders (parrotting, echolalia, isolating, flat affect) correlate with social anxiety.

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Skeptical reader is skeptical.

Autism as an axiety disorder makes some sense. It explains why treatment with anti-anxiety meds helps improve behavior. It also explains why children on the spectrum tend to function better when set routines are in place, reducing the anxiety of the unknown. I’m not sure how one would go about proving this theory to be true, nor am I sure what good proving the theory true would accomplish. Perhaps better treatment strategies could arise, approaching autism from the “stress reduction” angle that one would use when treating other anxiety disorders.

I’m curious to hear opinions on my theory, as well as any other theories that you readers may have. Fire away in the comments section!!!

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Feeling Stupid

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It really is a no-win situation.

There were some issues with the bank that needed to get taken care of this morning… ok, fine, I’ll admit it. I forgot my PIN number for my bank card. As if I wasn’t already feeling stupid for the other stuff that I’m about to talk about. Thanks a lot, dickwad.

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Yes. Yes it did.

But I digress.

In order to get my PIN number reset, I had to call the bank and deal with (errrrg) customer service. This is not one of my many talents. In fact, I usually come off sounding more awkward than that friend of yours who asks you to be the best man at his wedding after his fiancee has already cheated on him with you. We’ve all been there, right?

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“So how are things going with the florist?”

So, this situation leaves me with only the following options:

A) Call the bank myself, and make a complete and utter ass of myself in the process

B) Ask my wife to do it.

Now many of you are saying, “Well, duh. If you can’t do it yourself, let you wife do it.” However, option B comes with a whole new set of problems. See, the customer service guy ALWAYS needs to confirm my identity before anything can be done. In order to do that, he needs to ask me to verify personal information. So my wife has to hand me the phone so I can talk to the customer service guy. There’s no escape for me, and now even the guy on the phone knows how big a douche I am.

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“Hey Bill! Check it out, it’s another lame ass guy who needs his wife to use the phone for him!”

Now, bless my wife, she tries to make things better by softening the blow and telling the customer service rep flat out that I “don’t like to use the phone.” It means a lot to me that she tries, but I don’t think for one second that it makes me look any more normal in the eyes of the person on the other end of the phone. They know the deal, they know what’s up.

So, inevitably, I threw a tantrum later, because I HATE feeling stupid. I only felt better after playing a car racing game with my kids and showcasing my mad skills.

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Because video games.

It is still nice to know that I have a family who cares for me – a wife who loves me enough to do the things for me that I can’t do myself, and children who will gladly have their asses handed to them on a platter so I can feel better about myself.

An Aspie and a Funeral

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There was a death in my family last week and the services were this past weekend. It felt weird being at the funeral. It was my aunt who died, and I was very close with her for quite some time, until she started to have some mental health issues. Then things kinda sorta just… went. In all honesty, it was probably for the best that she went.

So the funeral was an experience, I’ll tell you that. I’m not quite sure exactly how funerals feel for neurotypical people, but for me it just felt kinda strange. The rest of my family was really shook up, my mom in particular. She was really upset, which I completely understand. I just had none of that going on in my head at all.

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And there were Tootsie Rolls. I am not kidding.

It sucks to admit this, but I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t really understand what I was supposed to do. Mourn? How? The aspie side of my brain doesn’t really get it. Yes, she’s gone. Yes, she will be missed. But why am I sitting in a room for six hours with her dead body? Can’t we do this somewhere else? And what exactly is the “this” that we are doing?

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I’ll just stand here and count to fifteen, then I’ll go sit back down.

I wasn’t all that saddened by her death. I looked at this as a positive – I was able to comfort my mother and relatives in their fragile states. With my detached emotional state comes a pseudo-strength that others can lean on. Until I start to get tired and want to go home, because I still don’t understand what I’m doing there.

But yeah, it was very interesting. In this situation, Aspergers was my ally. I always try to look at my aspie-ness as a blessing, but it was almost impossible not to when I saw the pain everyone else was in.

And there I go, making it all about me again.

What Does Aspergers Feel Like?

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It’s a phrase I hear from often at home. It’s a phrase I’ve used myself from time to time. When you hear it, you know exactly what it means.

“I’m feeling a bit aspie today.”

Yeah, totally. We all have days like that. But what does that really mean? What does Aspergers feel like?

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“I LOVE it when he uses the title of the post in the post!!!”

Aspergers is a unique condition due to the fact that no two people who have Aspergers are the same; there are very few unifying symptoms. What one Aspie experiences will not be felt by another, and vice versa. So it may seem pretentious of me to write a blog post about how Aspergers feels. To avoid coming off sounding like a complete asshole, I’ll make this post about how Aspergers feels to me.

To me, Aspergers feels:

Awkward – this is pretty much the default, base line feeling of Aspergers. It always seems like everyone else understands what’s going on except for me. I’m doing my best to keep up, but I seem to do everything the wrong way. And everyone’s looking at me because of it.

Stressful – I’m often very aware of the fact that I’m not quite with it, that I’m a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit into its space. I want to be able to follow along, to get with the beat, to approach some sort of normalcy. But it’s not easy. It takes effort. And when that effort fails, I get stressed that I’ll never be what I want to be.

Carefree – Then again, Aspergers gives me the ability to be blissfully ignorant of the annoyance I’m causing other people in some situations. As long as I’m feeling good and having fun, I can completely block out everyone and not even give a shit about being the weirdest person in the room. It’s these times when Aspergers becomes – dare I say it – fun!

Powerful – Aspergers gives me the ability to do things that most neurotypical people are not capable of. I’m able to think through most situations rationally, setting aside any emotions I may have and avoiding the biases that come with them. I’m able to process information faster than most people, which gives me the illusion of looking smarter – when in reality, my brain is simply more efficient at learning. I also have the ability to burden myself with painful situations and push through without falling apart mentally.

Weak – On the other hand, sometimes the smallest annoyance can seem like the biggest pain I could ever experience. A fold in my sock becomes an immediate emergency. I can’t cope with simple everyday situations that almost everybody else shrugs their shoulders at and moves on. I end up melting down over the smallest thing that doesn’t go my way.

Alone – I haven’t made any new friends since I graduated from high school. I don’t know how. The sad truth is this: I really DO want friends. People with Aspergers (and autism as well) may seem antisocial, but it’s not because we don’t want to be social. It’s because we have no fucking clue how to be social, so we’d rather just avoid the situation instead of failing miserably.

Loved – I can be such a pain to deal with, I know for sure that the people in my life truly do love me and care about me. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother putting them through the shit they go through to be connected to me. It’s not an easy thing to love an Aspie, or even to be good friends with one. There’s a lot of take and sometimes not that much give. But when someone gets to know me and understands that there’s a person inside who wants to care about people, soemthing magical happens… they actually like me.

Passionate – The things I’m interested in, I jump in full force. I want to know everything about it. I’m competitive, high spirited, I love knowing things, and I love being right. There’s no better feeling than being completely engrossed in a subject to the point where every new detail is a gift.

Bored – The things I’m not interested in, I couldn’t give less of the square root of a shit about. God help you if you want to have a conversation with me about something that bores me, because I’ll tune out faster than you even realize it and two days later I’ll insist that the conversation never happened. And to me, it didn’t… because I was off in my imagination doing something else that I care infinitely more about than your stupid thing.

And lastly…

To me, Aspergers feels like life. This is my life, and these are the difficulties that come with it. Everyone has things they deal with in their life, whether you are on the spectrum or neurotypical or whatever you want to call yourself. We learn to live the way we are.

My Aspergers doesn’t make me any less or any more human than anybody else. It just makes me who I am.