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Zero Tolerance

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The funny thing about my Aspergers is that it blesses (curses?) me with extreme polarity. I can remember the tiniest minutiae of information, yet I can’t remember where I put my keys. I can deal with major levels of discomfort, but I can’t handle having an itchy tag on the collar of my shirt. And while it gives me the ability to tune out things that drive me crazy, it also makes me lose my shit at the smallest provocation.

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So that’s where my keys were.

My tolerance level is practically nil for certain EXTREMELY annoying things. Recently, my daughter has begun making this really strange noise with her mouth/throat that makes me nauseous. It sounds like a pig trying to stop itself from vomiting. In fact, you know what? I can’t even describe how gross it is, so I’m going to let you experience it for yourself:

My daughter’s disgusting throat noise.

I told you so.

Now, I don’t know if this is some sort of new stim/nervous tic she has developed, but I have told her over and over again to STOP MAKING THAT GOD DAMN NOISE. But she doesn’t stop. Most likely can’t stop, but that makes no difference to me. Last night she made the noise at least ten times while we were playing Life, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I told her if she kept doing it, I’d make sure she wouldn’t be able to play at Life anymore. And I wasn’t talking about the board game.

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She didn’t think it was funny, either.

And it’s even funnier that as I’m writing a blog post about not having any tolerance for anything, I have a difficult time making the post exactly how I want it to be and end up throwing a tantrum over it. I can usually problem solve pretty effectively, but sometimes the problem is just so frustrating that it makes me just up and say “fuck this shit” and give up. I had some other things to talk about in this post, but I’ve kinda lost the groove after my energy-draining frustration explosion.

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The Sensory Experience of Autism

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People on the Spectrum experience the world in a different way. The senses of someone with autism are wired in such a different way that it is almost like they are living in a different world than a neurotypical people. Different stimuli lead to different behaviors that are considered “abnormal” – imagine if everybody in the world was wearing sunglasses except for you. You would think that the sunlight was too bright, and everyone else would just think you are crazy.

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They would also be so much more cooler than you.

That’s what what autism is like… sort of. A child on the spectrum will react to loud noises that are not quite so loud to everyone else. A person with Aspergers will tune out everything in the room except for the smallest little thing that has grabbed his or her attention, simply because it is not so small to him or her. It’s not only that our reactions are different; our perceptions are altered, as well.

I went to the orthopedist the other day to address some pain issues I’ve been having in my elbows and wrists. The doctor begins examining me and asks me if it hurts if he does this, what pain level am I at if I do that. Now, I’m lucky to have been blessed with a high tolerance for pain (possibly due to my Aspergers). In order to answer his question to get the desired result  – him actually giving a fuck about my arm hurting and doing something about it – I need to do an “Aspie-to-NT Pain Conversion” calculation. Simply put, I lie and say my pain is worse than it really is.

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“… then we multiply by the indifference constant to overcome the “Who Gives a Shit” factor…”

But the skewing doesn’t just go one way. If the doctor asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how big of an annoyance having a fold in my sock is, I’d answer “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HELL I’M LIVING IN AT THIS MOMENT!!!!” So it’s not like I’m completely numb in one direction or overly sensitive in the other; it swings both ways. My stimulus filter is tuned differently than most other people’s are. So I’m forced to adjust, and as I grow older I learn the ways to adjust the way I see and feel the world to fit closer to what would be considered”normal.”

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!!!

To Each His Own Stim

Of all of the behaviors that encompass Autistic behavior, there seems to be one common thread – stimming. Stimming is short for “self stimulation” and usually involves repetitive movement that stimulates one or more of the senses. In Autism, it is usually seen as a response to intense stimuli. Not much is known about the reason for stimming; it could be a stress response, a way to burn off unfocused energy, or a kind of self-comforting mechanism.

Stimming is very common in Spectrumites, however the specific stim can vary greatly. My daughter’s main stim behavior is chewing/mouthing on objects. Other common stims include rocking back and forth, head bobbing, or skin pinching. Mine is picking and biting at the skin on my fingers. Sometimes the compulsion is so strong, I pick at my fingers to the point of drawing blood. Yeah, it’s that bad.

There has been a debate about how to handle stim behaviors. Should all stim behaviors be stopped in an attempt to make the person more “normal?” Or should the stim behaviors be allowed to continue, for the comfort of the Spectrumite? I’m very waffley on this issue – I think the best approach is a little bit of both. I think allowing harmless stim behavior is a good idea if there is no potential for harm or injury to the person.

For example: in order to help our daughter feel more comfortable, we got her a chewable necklace so she could chew and mouth appropriately when needed. On the other hand, I have been trying REALLY hard to stop my finger picking, because it’s obviously not good for my hands.

So I would be in favor of allowing something benign like hand flapping to continue, but I would certainly be trying to keep something like banging one’s head against the wall to a minimum. The goal is to try to keep the person safe, but avoid depriving them of the behaviors they feel they need.