Autistic Pride Day – June 18, 2016

In the most recent decades autism rates have grown rapidly from the triple digits of the double digits.   Though no discovery has been determined, billions of dollars have been invested in finding a cure for autism.   All the while a wad of finances have been put into creating new services and supports for individuals with autism and their families. What is more is that autism has been looked as a disability and a label by society.  In the midst of society people with autism are seen as people who can’t live meaningful of fulfilling lives unlike their peers.  Last but not least there are those who live on the autism spectrum who believe that some with autism can while others can’t.    Although I do agree that intervention and other classes on social skills are highly important I disagree with the modern views of autism and how it needs to be cured because it is a defective disease.  Being that this is “Autistic Pride Day,”  one can argue that I am entitled to my own opinion.  Therefore I say that autism paints a very different picture than the portrait of common media.

While many argue that autism is a disability, countless others have argued even further that autism is not a disability but a different way of thinking.   In a recent book “The Autistic Brain: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Succeed,” Dr  Grandin pointed out that she thinks completely in pictures rather than word based.  For instance if you say a word like ‘stop light’ Grandin will run a google photo search in her mind and associate those photos to the word and give you a logical reasoning; Grandin & Panek (2013).  She declared:

Autistic Brains aren’t broken. My own brain isn’t broken. My circuits aren’t ripped apart.  They just didn’t grow properly.  But because my brain became fairly known for its various peculiarities, autism researchers have contacted me over the years to put me in this scanner or that.  I am usually happy to oblige.  As a result of these studies I’ve learned a lot about the inner workings of my brain.

For those who know Grandin’s amazing thinking have not only earned her a doctorates in animal science as a college professor but also earned her a career in agricultural engineering as well. Concurrently, various studies and testimonies have been given that one with autism does not only think in pictures.  Countless others have seen mathematical patterns which have allowed them to create geometrical shapes in the form of origami while other pattern thinkers can see entire laser shows in their head such as a close friend of mine who also works as a software engineer. Meanwhile word base thinkers don’t see pictures of patterns  but rather absorb loads of information on movies, books and even sports.  These types of minds can describe the whole plot of a movie or quote the every line perfectly. Finally visual thinkers, like Temple Grandin often associate pictures with words like ‘Steeple..’

Withal, I haven’t been able to create origami yet I do find my own mind to be rather interesting.  First and foremost my mind is somewhat similar to fictitious character Sheldon Cooper.  By this I mean that I hold an eidetic or photographic memory.  Naturally I can recall events and details as far back at as the age of 2 which was during 1984.  By the same token my eidetic memory also works as a source of information based on location or objects. For example, if I am taught about a certain fact at a certain place of shown a specific object, I will seem to forget about those facts until I am either as the location or shown the specific object that I will spit out all of the stored information on that fact.   By the same token I learned that I may be a pattern thinker in learning that I have an easier time understanding the language of mathematics along with seeing invisible lines in my head.  For example, if there is a wall in front me and I speak loud enough to produce an echo, I can see a green laser like line bouncing between the  wall and I.  Lastly, when I see fireworks, I can associate the noise and the actual firework with the word “Spark” or if a cat if walking I think of word “Walk,” repeatedly four times. Though I have many more interesting ways of seeing the world, I feel that these examples hold sufficiency.

While autism has seemed to become more prevalent today, many have often wondered if it has always been around but was never detected until recently.  What is more is that experts often wonder if Albert Einstein, was on the spectrum himself.  In an online fact sheet for autism and Asperger’s, it is said that, “People claim that Albert Einstein was a loner as a child, was a late speaker, starting only at two to three years old, and repeated sentences obsessively up to the age of seven.”  One of the key factors that plays a huge role in autism is speech delay.   It was also said that Einstein carried a limited interest in math and science along with looking up to his spouses to play the role of a parent due to his repeated patterns of forgetfulness;  Autism Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet (2008). All the while there are rumors that Steve Jobs was on the autism spectrum. It  was said that Steve Jobs like had a lack of empathy for the thoughts and feelings of others by being blunt to others around him.  He was also known for his limited types of clothing based on brands and close attention to details that experts today believe that Job had Asperger’s Syndrome; Wood (2014).  Be that as it may neither public figure were remembered for their quirky behaviors and absent mindedness but for the brilliant works that each poured their heart and soul into.

Finally, I have learned that as the autism community has learned to embrace difference, one can be taught to focus what they can do and ignore what they can’t.   As someone who is on the spectrum myself,I recently grew fed up with the word “Disabled” and replaced it with the title “Human Detour System.”  This simply means that one can build on their strengths and work around their own weaknesses.  Another way to look at the human detour system is taking a longer but fulfilling road to success.  Be that as it me, I have done exactly just that.

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Emotionless in Petville

 

When going through the process of purchasing my condo six and a half years ago, I found love in a beautiful red and white four-legged feline named Yeller.   Not only was it because he was ginger feline alone with being half Siamese,  but this little soul was able to capture my own heart.   It was during the last seven years that Old Yeller became similar to a child.   Be that as it may, my days with Yeller suddenly ceased when I reached on April 22, 2016, in attempting to ask a neighbor who I gave him to was doing the post giving Yeller to her one year prior. Sadly, she returned my comments by mentioning that Yeller was gone and had been put to sleep a few weeks earlier.  This was in due part to some sort of illness from facing years as a homeless cat before taking him in two years ago that the vet had guessed was hemorrhaging and increasing blood in the stool.  While one would normally break down in floods of tears after dealing with a significant loss, rather I seemed to relate to more to Mr. Spock where there are no emotions and only logic as to why my neighbor put him to sleep.  On the contrary, if ignores me or if one is ugly to me then I will sob uncontrollably.  Yet, my response losing Yeller was again very similar to the response of a Vulcan where logic and reasoning filled the gaps.  After learning how I respond to the bereavement of Yeller, I elected to do weeks of research on the effects of the autistic brain and lack of emotional response.

While hearing the news of a great loss did not trigger a deep emotional response, I had attempted two other actions that I thought might help. The first being that I had gone to visit Yeller’s burial site and even set some cat toys there.  Yet no such emotive response arose.   My second attempt included watching two different videos on YouTube about two discrepant felines who spent the last moments with their owners at the vet before facing euthanasia.  Once again I experienced no emotional regulation but rather had more interest in the effects of the drug and each feline’s response during those last few minutes on planet earth alive.  What I discovered firsthand is that the little mousers appeared to be in a state of constant relaxation rather than inert.  Whilst I realize that some people might be quite disturbed they may not realize that the autistic brain processes emotions adversely than those of a neurotypical.  Further on researchers also learned that two types of codes were discovered in both visual as well as OFC; Anderson et al. (2014).

Just located about the eyes, the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for processing executive function in such areas as rewards,  such areas include controlling impulses and processing rewards.  Other areas include recognizing emotions in others and displaying adapted behaviors during the period one’s youth.   Finally, the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for picking up vocal and social cues.Many investigations have been done regarding  autism and the orbitofrontal cortex and what they have found were similarities in the emotional malfunction in the brain of both individuals with autism and the nonhuman primates; Coleman et al (2005).

Two years ago, Anderson and a team of neuroscience postgrad students conducted a study on the effects of emotion and sensory processing in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). This area is responsible for the deeper perception of olfactory processing and the visual frontal cortical lobe; E Rolls (2004).  During the study, Anderson asked 16 participants to look at 128 pictures along with smell various distinct scents.  What they found was that the OFC contained very small grains that held a specific code of patterns in both pleasant and unpleasant situations based on what was seen. Furthermore, they learned that these grains could lean in opposite directions depending on the emotions; Anderson (2014).

In 2012, MedPage Today published an article based on the work that Ecker and a team of researchers who conducted a neurological study. “Autopsy and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated multiple differences in brain anatomy of individuals with ASD compared with the general population,” Bankhead, Ecker; (2012).   What Ecker and her team detected was that the cortical volume was greater on the left side of the orbitofrontal cortex rather than on the right in those with autism.   Furthermore, Ecker observed a correlation between reduced cortical mass and the severity of autism.  Finally, they learned that the cortical mass held a greater level of decrease in the right orbitofrontal cortex versus the left; Bankhead.

In her article Ecker interpreted:

These two factors are likely to be the result of distinct developmental pathways that are modulated by different neurobiological mechanisms. Both cortical thickness and surface area would thus benefit from being explored in isolation to elucidate the etiology and neurobiology of ASD, they added.

In late 2014, Lori D, covered a story in her blog series “A Quiet Week in the House” when breaking the news to her then adolescent son Thomas.  “Oh. So, then we’ll get a new kitty,” he returned with a lack of emotion as if he was referring to a damaged rug that had so many stains that one could easily replace it.  Furthermore, Lori also went on to mention that Thomas went over exact calculations in hid head about the life span expectancy of their cat.    This included the date when she would be expected to die.  Other ways he coped with her death was by giving a deep reasoning as to why he wanted her to be cremated versus buried due to fears of a potential change in routine.   Furthermore, he had lots of intelligent inquiry on the day of Pearl’s departure at the veterinarian upon telephoning Lori while she was at the vet.  In her blog, she explained that he asked “I know about Pearl.  Are you going to cremate her or bring her home? Is she dead? Are you going to bring her home? Is she dead? Will I see her dead body? Will you burn her on the charcoal grill? Is she dead?” She also discussed that Thomas would have rather seen his cat cremated verses being put into the ground because burial meant full departure. Finally, Lori discussed that her son wrote a poem to show his acknowledgment of her death D, L. (2014, October 3).

In the biographical film “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes, three scenes were shown where Grandin encountered death.  Rather than responding by breaking down into floods of tears, she questioned life after death.  She often asked, “Where do they go?”  Amid her high school years, one scene showed a favorite horse of Temple’s lying dead in the stable.  While she a inquired on Chestnut’s life after death to her favorite teacher and mentor Dr. Carlock, she explained that she saw millions of pictures of horses in her mind who resembled Chestnut.  This was after Carlock provided a suggestion not remember Chestnut in the current state of death , Jackson, M. (Director). (2010).

Though very little emphasis has been put into conducting research on the grief and the effects of the autistic brain,  there have been countless studies on autism, emotion, and the brain. In the website “Grief  and Growth” studied have proven that in the brain of a neurotypical brain that:

  Deep within our brains, lie structures that help translate signals from broader parts of  our brain.  The main structure is the limbic system, which contains the hypothalamus,  amygdala, and hippocampus.  The limbic system is the center of our emotions, learning   ability, and memory.  The amygdala, in particular, is responsible for our fear response and other emotional reactions, whereas the hippocampus is responsible for memory.  The hypothalamus regulates our emotions and secretion of hormones.  Signals are sent from the hypothalamus to signal the secretion of hormones to our body, allowing us to respond to certain situations, Bartel (2013).

On a web page of the site “Autism and the Human Brain” it is said that:

Research has shown that in some individuals diagnosed with autism, there are structural abnormalities in the Hippocampus. Dr. Bauman and Dr. Kemper of Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine have completed extensive research on autism and neurological damage to the Limbic System. They have examined post-mortal brains of individuals with autism and have found the Amygdala and the Hippocampus to be underdeveloped. In particular, they have reported finding densely packed, unusually small neurons in the Amygdala and Hippocampus of autistic individuals. The exact implications of the findings are still unknown, and more research must be completed in order to definitively connect autism to abnormalities in the Limbic System.

While I spent many hours and weeks attempting to find information in putting together first scholarly research blog, I expected more emphases to put into grief and the autistic brain which was rather frustrating.  Especially since there seem to be no current studies or findings on the bereavement and the effects on the autistic brain regarding the emotion.  What I did find that I was able to come up with my own question which appears to be answered.   Is the lack of cortical mass in the right hemisphere of the orbitofrontal areas connected to the lack of emotion?  Either way, we know that information is processed in the right hemisphere of the brain and that is why I ask the main question above.  Though I have never done any neuroimaging while viewing a series of videos of cats undergoing euthanasia while monitoring facial expressions,  this is a study that I would participate in as I learn more about myself and how my brain functions.

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