Friday, July 22, 2011

Autism Spectrum Disorder--the root causes.

Hello everyone--

There is a question that lingers in the mind of everyone touched by those on the Autistic Spectrum--what causes it?  I had a fellow classmate do a pathology poster about ASD in my summer school class and she spoke of finding genetic links.  I hadn't heard that, but it got me curious.  So the former librarian kicked into full research mode, and here I present what I found.

First, I dug out some interesting nuggets from the National Institute of Health. This page lays out a lot of useful and interesting information about ASD, but the key paragraph for the purpose of digging out the root cause is here:

Current research points to brain abnormalities as the cause of AS.  Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of normal versus AS children.  These defects are most likely caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development that affects brain structure and “wiring” and then goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior.  
For example, one study found a reduction of brain activity in the frontal lobe of AS children when they were asked to respond to tasks that required them to use their judgment.  Another study found differences in activity when children were asked to respond to facial expressions.  A different study investigating brain function in adults with AS revealed abnormal levels of specific proteins that correlate with obsessive and repetitive behaviors.  

The page goes on to explain that although the genetic link is obvious, as Autism tends to run in families, no specific gene has been identified as a cause. Instead, researchers believe it is probably a group of genes.  With this in hand, I continued my digging and found this highly tecnical abstract which seems to imply that they are starting to get a grasp on which genes may be involved.  This is expanded in this Nature article that is also highly technical (well over my head, I have to admit).  It is also clear when reading the links that the reason why ASD is so hard to identify, understand, and diagnose, is that it really does express itself differently in everyone who has it.  This makes logical sense.  If a group of genes is responsible, each person on the Spectrum is going to have different genes in that group tweak different ways.  The, lets say combinations, of things that can go wrong are going to be different for everyone.

What does this tell us?  First, there is a genetic link, the answer to why people have Autism is in our genes, and doesn't that makes sense?  In a technical,  biological sense, our genes are responsible for coding us, making us who we are, and if we are born with a disease or disability or a talent or genius or anything else, it is going to come down to the genes.  Which doesn't mean we will always be able to understand how it works.  How fascinating science is, that slowly, we start to get a glimpse.

One other thing to ponder--from what I read here, and what I understand, Autism in all of its many variants is not something you can cure.  It is what it is, hardwired into your brain.  Not a disease.  Just a rewiring of the brain which means we do things in different ways.  Accordingly, we don't need a cure.  What we need is knowledge, training, practice, and understanding.

God bless you all,


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dealing with grief

Good evening my friends--

A week ago today, I broke up with my boyfriend, the love of the life, the man who I have been totally committed too for the past 3 years.  And I am NOT happy about it.  In fact, my heart is shattered into little bitty pieces, and I am simply overwhelmed with sadness.  The only other time I have felt this level of grief is when my beloved Grammy died, the Erudite Mom's mom, 7 years ago.  The sinking feeling in the stomach, the constant flow of tears, the lethargy, the listlessness, the inability to think about anything other than the vast maw of misery.  It took me a couple of years to even start to recover from Grammy's death.  

Grief is a universal emotion, we all will experience it at some time in our lives, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being a Spectrumite or a Neurotypical or male or female or Schizophrenic or Depressed.  Grief simply is.  It is part of the human race, part of being what we are, and is unavoidable.  

This time, however, my period of grief coincided with the last three weeks of a very interesting and very challenging Anatomy/Physiology summer school course, three weeks in which I have taken or will take 2 midterms, two lab practicals, a project, and a final exam.  Clearly, Erudite though I may be, I need all of my mental capacity to take tests AND I need to be able to study and learn and process and remember vast amounts of information.

Baaaaaaddd timing.  Life, however, doesn't usually give you good timing.  And in an attempt to get my mind focused and flexible and capable, I started to ask myself about the process of grieving, how I cope, and if I have different coping skills being on the Autism Spectrum.  (I also wondered about the physiological processes that cause you to cry when you grieve as crying (or lacrimation!) is about flushing out the eyes which is part of our bodies innate defense system, but I digress).

I have learned that I  have to give myself at least a day, sometimes longer, to do absolutely nothing but wallow in bed and cry.  Exercise is good for relieving stress and grief, but I've learned that when it is really bad, for the first day or so I just can't do anything.  I've learned to allow myself this time.  I'm no good to anyone or to myself at all, absolutely incapable of rational or practical thought, and in the two times of extreme grief I expressed above I get to the point where I can actually barely walk.

After that, well, I go through the motions of life.  I never want to.  I want to just stay in bed.  But knowing that I can't, I force myself to get up with the alarm, study and work, exercise and cook and eat.  And check google+ and catch up on current events on PJTV.  To pet the cats, and feed the lizard.  And yes, you go through these actions numbly.  But it is better to go through the motions numbly than to not do them at all.  Exercise especially does have positive benefit, if only to help burn the calories you often over consume when really upset.  So do cats.  Nothing loves you more unconditionally than a cat.

The mental process is much more difficult.  We Aspies obsess.  That old saw 'just don't think about it' probably doesn't work for most people, and it most especially doesn't work for me.  And the mechanisms of  trying not to think about it, trying to block off the emotion, trying to have a positive attitude because that will make the pain lessen and go away faster, just don't work!  Not that those are bad things, but my obsessive personality, my self-awareness, and my highly linear if emotional mind means that if life sucks, it SUCKS, and I can't imagine that it doesn't.  Nor can I pretend to be happy when I am not.  Nor can I clear the thoughts from my mind.

So I am sitting here thinking hey, I have an A in my class so far.  I've had good talks with friends and family.  I've had some good luck I praise God for in other areas of my life.  And I don't want to diminish the positive in my life.  But none, NONE of that distracts me very long from the grief, and the hurt, and the anger.  Because reality is reality no matter how you try and handle it.--though, admittedly, writing this post has been somewhat cathartic.  

If I had to guess, I would guess that my way of handling grief is common, and not limited to those who have Asperger's.  The neurotypicals who read this post, please comment below.  I'd love to hear your take on it.

And please either pray hard or think positive thoughts, whatever may be your wont, that the Erudite boyfriend and I can work things out.  Hope should spring eternal, no matter what.

God bless you all,

Erudite Aspie

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mommy Sisterhood

One thing I've notice since discovering my daughter's unique talents is how much you immediately have in common with others raising kids on the Spectrum. You've been there, you're still there, will be there 'til you croak, and you know how it can be to parent what is often a difficult child. Today on G+ I was perusing profiles of people in my circles, and while reading through Melissa Clouthier's, saw that she has an autistic child. For me, anyway, instant mommy bonding. Melissa and I happen to have many interests in common, but this is something that's more fundamental than the politics or the science or the art--because being a mom is the essence of who we are, and its importance trumps all the other roles we play. You can screw around with many things in your life, but not your kids. You fail at that you fail them, and Moms, do you hear me? We really really don't want to do that. Really.

I've noticed that being the mom of an Aspie really helps me with talking to the parents of my students on the Spectrum. I can say I know how difficult it is, my daughter has Asperger's, you have my support. Mommy bonding kicks in immediately, and it's with a sense of relief that they know that this teacher really understands what they're going through. I love my Autistic/Asperger's students because they're so familiar. I use the same skills on them that I learned by accident raising EA, and fortunately it works.

Anyway, check out Melissa. She's funny and smart and interesting, my favorite kind of person.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An excellent conversation on a summer afternoon

Yesterday afternoon I had a very interesting, and in the end heartwarming, conversation with some of my classmates.

To put this into perspective, we had just finished a midterm, so were on that 'yay the midterm is done and I can rest a few hours before I have to start studying for the next test" high.  And believe me, during a summer school  anatomy and physiology class, the moments you can take a breather are few, far between, and very short.  I was outside resting in the 30 minute break before my lab session started, and they came up to my bench and started talking, in that way that all exam survivors do (and darn it, I got a question wrong on the exam.  Grrr...I HATE that).

This conversation started out differently because one of the woman was upset and annoyed with a classmate for basically hogging the teachers time and being overall rather obnoxious.  She then mentioned, I think this person has Asperger's though or Autism or something like that.  

I said, you know, I'M on the spectrum.  

And thus started a truly fascinating conversation.  They wanted to know what it was, how I knew, what I did about it.  I explained what has already been explained so much in this blog--how I am so much better now than I was when I was younger, the techniques I have learned to adapt, and the things I still just can't do and how I get around them.  Particularly, I explained how I absolutely lack the ability to read body language and tell if someone is bored or interested, telling a white lie to get me to go away, sincere or polite, etc.  I explained how the best way I have learned to handle it is to  have someone I trust cue me in whenever I needed to change my behavior, and tell me the truth about people's actual motivations.  I also discussed how by the grace of God the Erudite Mom managed to do all the right things for training and helping people on the Spectrum without even knowing it.  

Granted, I could be off base as I am an Aspie and have my limitations, but it felt like a very positive conversation.  One where I shared my story, helped them to understand another classmate, and interested them.  I do know that I forgot time and thus was a couple of minutes late for lab, which is horrible, but I'll forgive myself this time. As I was running to lab,  one of the women yelled after me "it was great talking to you--and I really mean it!".  Hearing that sort of warmed the cockles of my heart (though those famed cockles don't exist, I have now studied the basic anatomy of the heart and know!).

So for all those who are Aspies, sometimes it is a good thing to share.  And to those fellow classmates of mine at Monterey Peninsula College, thanks.  You really made my day.

Social Networks

One thing that is well-known about Aspies and others on the Autism Spectrum is the difficulty they have with general social interactions. Talking on the phone, face to face, it can be hard, but what's easy is the computer. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail, Skype, all are a boon to the Aspie (and her non-Aspie Erudite Mom!) because they can control the message in a timeframe that doesn't freak them out. It's a world-opening gift to kids like Gage, and to our own EA.

Something new burst on to the social media scene this week, Google+, which all the Aspies here have dived head first into. Will it rival Facebook (which we also use extensively) or Twitter (which EM uses)? Who knows, but if it's about communicating without angst, we're willing to give it a try. It's in Beta, buggy and slow, but it shows promise. We'll update as we become more comfortable it the saddle, and in the meantime, let us know how you like to communicate. And be sure to watch the vid about Gage over on PJTV.