Posted by JF
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!!!