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.

References

Anderson, A. K., Kriegeskorte, N., Lee, D. H., & Chikazoe, J. (2014). Population coding of affect across stimuli, modalities and individuals. Nature Neuroscience, 1-11. doi:file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/Research paper.pdf

Bankhead, C. (2012, November 11). Ecker, C. (2012). Brain Surface Anatomy in Adults with    Autism. Brain Surface Anatomy in Adults with Autism The Relationship Between              Surface Area, Cortical Thickness, and Autistic Symptoms. Retrieved May 25, 2016, from    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1393585. Medpage Today. Bechara, A., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. R. (2000). Emotion, decision making and the orbitofrontal cortex. Cerebral cortex, 10(3), 295-307.Retrieved May 25, 2016, from http://www.medpagetoday.com/neurology/autism/36125

Bartel, C. (2013). Grief and Growth: Mind and Body. Retrieved May 2016, from http://www.grief-growth.com/mindbody.html

Coleman, M., Betancur, C., DeLong, G. R., Gilberg, C., Nomura, Y., Pavone, L., . . . Zappella, M. (2005). The Neurology of Autism (1st ed.). Oxford University Press;. doi:https://books.google.com/books?id=dT3RCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=the neurology of autism and the orbitofrontal cortex&source=bl&ots=ATDclaNe38&sig=SC0kQG_8AwSVa7Wje3VEFJ7uVNU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwie5LyctfbMAhUm94MKHb-vC8oQ6AEIPTAD#v=onepage&q=the neurology of autism and the orbitofrontal cortex&f=true

D, L. (2014, October 14). Https://aquietweek.com/2014/10/03/losing-a-pet-in-an-autistic-household/

[Web log post]. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from https://aquietweek.com/2014/10/03/losing-a-pet-in-an-autistic-household/

Ecker, C. (2012). Brain Surface Anatomy in Adults with Autism. Brain Surface Anatomy in Adults With Autism The Relationship Between Surface Area, Cortical Thickness, and Autistic Symptoms. Retrieved May 25, 2016, from http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1393585

Jackson, M. (Director). (2010). Temple Grandin [Motion picture on HBO]. The United States.

Mitchell, K. (2012, March 28). The Human Brain and Autism: The Limbic System. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/site/autismthehumanbrain/limbic-connection

 

 

 

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