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Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Autistic Brain from the Inside


From several Ideas programs on CBC Radio, I’ve learned a lot about myself that makes sense I’m autistic with life-long anxiety and depression disorders. According to current research and theory relating to neural networks in the brain, many mental disorders may be related.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/wit-s-end-part-1-1.3641153
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/wit-s-end-part-2-1.3654204
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/counting-in-colour-daniel-tammet-1.3632529
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/all-in-the-family-part-1-1.3523111
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/all-in-the-family-part-2-1.3532422
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/neuron-therapy-1.2913975

Autism and epilepsy seem to result from a fault in the pruning process of extra connection in the brain. All babies are born with extra neural connections. This is believed to provide redundant connections in case of dame as well as allowing the rapid learning of many complex skills such as talking and walking. As we age, these connections are pruned to prevent problems like overload and crossing signals. Epilepsy seems to be a failure to prune the connections between brain hemispheres causing overloads experienced as seizures. Autism seems to be a general failure in pruning throughout the brain, or at least in areas such as those involved in fine movement, speaking, sensory input, and emotions, particularly anxiety and frustration.

I have been told that I overthink things. That is literally true. I overthink everything, all the time.

We all have one major nerve feeding information from each eye to the brain, which combines the information into an image with depth and detail. Imagine having five nerves for each eye, all sending the exact same information at the same time.  Imagine every sense working this way.  Autistics seem to have good attention to detail, a talent for pattern recognition, and good memories. You would too if every image came in five copies with the force of a freight train. This also happens on the way out, making our speech and movements tangled and awkward. We withdraw from the overload or explode in frustration.

In addition, it seems that the brain has around seventeen neural networks with various functions. One works as a central node and processor, the salience network, coordinating and connecting the other networks with delicate timing and assigning importance and relevance to everything flowing through. Many mental disorders, particularly those involving some form of obsession, seem to involve a disorder of the salience network.  This turns random thoughts into irresistible commanding voices, daydreams into hallucinations, dark thoughts and moods into spiraling depression, worries into unrelenting anxiety, fears into paranoia, and desires and habits into addictions.  The brain assigns false associations and importance that it clings to as if life depends on them. The thought, emotion, or memory gets stuck and repeated without end. You can’t shake it off, get over it, use will power, or forget it.

Autism seems to include both disorders, possible solely due to pruning. In effect, we are in permanent crisis mode, like in combat or an accident. Every second has vital clarity and the body is primed for survival. Fight, flight, or freeze, unable to pick, we meltdown attempting to do all three. I've heard experts say that trauma, especially in childhood, changes the brain to resemble that of an autistic. Once traumatized, the brain becomes vulnerable to more. We seem to be born traumatized.

My brain is like the Internet, overloaded and cluttered with redundant information with little way to tell what is relevant or true and memes and videos that refuse to go away. Sometimes the synthesis produces something amazing. Savants may have connections between normally unconnected areas. Most of the time, it’s just frustrating.


From:https://nexusnewsfeed.com/article/health-healing/people-with-autism-have-unusually-symmetrical-brains-new-scans-reveal/#.WEZsYeH80AI.facebook


People with autism have unusually symmetrical brains, new scans reveal

Brain connections in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show more symmetry across the right and left hemispheres, suggesting that tasks are being divvied up in the brain in a very different manner from those without autism.


The find, which is based on new brain scans of young people with autism, could explain why one of the hallmarks of the condition is an innate skill for identifying specific details in something, but a failure to put them into a wider context.


As researchers from the San Diego State University explain, the left and right hemispheres of the brain process information in very different ways, and how the brain as a whole mitigates this could help us better understand how people with autism spectrum disorder see the world.


While that old myth that the right hemisphere of the brain is more 'creative' and the left is more 'analytical' has been well and truly debunked - and despite what Oprah says, there’s zero evidence that a person can be more 'right-brained' or 'left-brained' - we do know that certain functions are performed by certain hemispheres.




Researchers also suspect that the left hemisphere is more involved in analysing the specific details of a situation, while the right hemisphere is tasked with integrating these details and various other stimuli into a more cohesive whole.


The way these two hemispheres work together to combine their various functions explains how we perceive and respond to the world, and a new experiment has revealed that this occurs very differently in young people with and without autism spectrum disorder.

The San Diego State University team used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique known as diffusion tensor imaging to visualise the brains of 41 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and 44 without (referred to as "typically developing", or TD, participants).

They were particularly interested in analysing how dense the connections were within different regions of white matter across the two hemispheres. 


They found that the "typically developing" participants had much more densely packed connections in the right hemisphere than in the left.


"This fits with the idea that the right hemisphere has a more integrative function, bringing together many kinds of information," the researchers explain.


But the scans revealed that the brain connections in participants with autism spectrum disorder were more symmetrically organised across both hemispheres.


"The idea behind asymmetry in the brain is that there is a division of labour between the two hemispheres," says one of the team, Ralph-Axel Müller. "It appears this division of labour is reduced in people with autism spectrum disorder."


To be clear, the experiment only looked at a very small sample size, so until the results are replicated in a much larger group, we can't read too much into them.

But they do correspond with results of a separate experiment from earlier this year, which found that mice with autism also had unusually symmetrical brains.


At this stage, the San Diego State team isn't clear on how this symmetry plays into the cognitive differences between young people with and without autism spectrum disorder, and they can't say for sure if the symmetry leads to autism, or autism leads to the symmetry. 



By Bec Crew / Managing Editor
Bec Crew is an award-winning science blogger with the Scientific American Blog Network, Australian Geographic, and World's Best Ever. She is the author of Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals (NewSouth Press) and the former online editor of Cosmos science magazine. @BecCrew
(Source: sciencealert.com; December 6, 2016; http://tinyurl.com/hlfkerl)


As an autistic, I find this theory in agreement with experience. It is the best description of autistic perception that I've read.



Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado


Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

“A ground-breaking theory suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.”

“People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?
This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the “intense world” theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.
As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.
“I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling,” Kamila Markram says. “The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it. There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough. We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.”
Virtually all people with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, report various types of over-sensitivity and intense fear. The Markrams argue that social difficulties of those with autism spectrum disorders stem from trying to cope with a world where someone has turned the volume on all the senses and feelings up past 10.
If hearing your parents’ voices while sitting in your crib felt like listening to Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music on acid, you, too, might prefer to curl in a corner and rock.
But, of course, this sort of withdrawal and self-soothing behaviour – repetitive movements; echoing words or actions; failing to make eye contact – interferes with social development. Without the experience other kids get through ordinary social interactions, children on the spectrum never learn to understand subtle signals.
Phil Schwarz, vice-president of the Asperger’s Association of New England adds, “I think most people with ASD feel emotional empathy and care about the welfare of others very deeply.”
So, why do so many people see a lack of empathy as a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder?
The problem starts with the complexity of empathy itself. One aspect is simply the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Another is more emotional – the ability to imagine what the other is feeling and care about their pain as a result.
Autistic children tend to develop the first part of empathy – which is called “theory of mind” – later than other kids. This was established in a classic experiment. Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?
Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent of autistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.
Of course, if you don’t realize others are seeing and feeling different things, you might well act less caring toward them.
It takes autistic children far longer than children without autism to realize other people have different experiences and perspectives – and the timing of this development varies greatly. But that doesn’t mean, once people with autism spectrum disorder do become aware of other people’s experience, that they don’t care or want to connect.
Schwarz, of the New England Asperger’s association, says all the autistic adults he knows over the age of 18 have a better sense of what others know than the Sally/Anne test suggests.
When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. “But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person’s mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right.”
Thus, when, for example, a child with Asperger’s talks incessantly about his intense interests, he isn’t deliberately dominating the conversation so much as simply failing to consider that there may be a difference between his interests and those of his peers.
In terms of the caring aspect of empathy, a lively discussion that would seem to support  Markrams’ theory appeared on the website for people with autism spectrum disorder called WrongPlanet.net, after a mother wrote to ask whether her empathetic but socially immature daughter could possibly have Asperger’s.
“If anything, I struggle with having too much empathy,” one person says. “If someone else is upset, I am upset. There were times during school when other people were misbehaving and, if the teacher scolded them, I felt like they were scolding me.”
Said another, “I am clueless when it comes to reading subtle cues but I am very empathic. I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling and I think this is actually quite common in AS/autism. The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it.”
Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away.
For people with autism spectrum disorder, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.
“These children are really not unemotional. They do want to interact – it’s just difficult for them,” Markram says. “It’s quite sad, because these are quite capable people. But the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.”
Article written by Maia Szalavitz
Amazing original art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado – http://aegis-strife.net