Brain Imaging

Autism & Brain Development in Children.

Recently at the Annual Meeting for the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), some fascinating was revealed into the brain development of infants with Autism.

Dr. David Amaral

At the 10th annual meeting of INSAR, Dr. David Amaral of the University of California, Davis revealed that the brain development associated with regressive Autism can be imaged in children as young as 4 months of age. This is not only a remarkable discovery, but also lends a great deal more weight to the argument that the MMR vaccine (which is given at 12 months) does not cause autism.

 

Dr. Eric Courchesne

Dr. Eric Courchesne of the University of California, San Diego found that connectivity between the Temporal Lobe (which deals at least in part with Speech, Memory, Reading, Emotional Responses, Auditory Responses, Visual Processing and Olfactory Functions) and the Limbic System (a set of primitive structures within the brain, again partly used to process emotions and sensory input) both develop very differently in people with ASD’s very early on.

Brain ImagingAlso the  Frontal Cortex (responsible for higher brain functions such as mathematics, logic and reasoning) appears to have twice as many cells in young people with autism, but then slows in development as they age. It is thought that this could be one of the factors that leads some autistic children to develop exceptional gifts early on, but to struggle with social reasoning and development later on.

It appears that there maybe a small physical manifestion in infants with ASD’s – Dr. Courchesne has noted that “Precocious” brain growth and larger head diameters in those early months are associated with regression.” and although not a diagnostic criteria, is still nevertheless an interesting find.

Other research presented at the conference points towards possible links between ASD’s and the mothers health during pregnancy. A difficult labour or fever during the early part of pregnancy could contribute towards the development of ASD’s in children. It has also been suggested that mothers who suffer from hypertension or diabetes, or are obese before pregnancy, are statistically more likely to have children on the Autistic Spectrum.

My Thoughts.

The causes of Autism are very complex and quite difficult to pin down. The study of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders is still a very young science and as we all know, science is still largely baffled by the brain and how it works exactly, but progress is being made. It is obvious now, that people on the Autistic Spectrum do have neurological differences and in severe cases, those differences can have a truely devasting effect. However, for others there can also be some benefit and indeed some benefit for society as a whole. As we understand autism more, it becomes clearer that the thought processes behind many of our greatest advances where in no small way linked to the autistic mind.

I suppose the question many people reading this will have, is will Autism ever be cured?

I think very soon it will be very easy to detect early on in a childs development, and that treatment to help cope with or suppress symptoms will continue to improve. In time, it may be possible to not only identify the causes, but also to reduce the number of  instances of Autism.

On a personal note, I am often asked the question: If you could cure your Aspergers Syndrome, would you?

The answer to that is no, probably not. It has caused me incredible difficulties in my time and will always continue to do so, but equally it is very much a part of who I am and has granted me insights and abilities that I know I wouldn’t have had or understood otherwise.

Zen Emu X

Anxiety

Aspergers & Anxiety

AnxietyAnxiety: I’m sure you have all felt it at some point in your lives; That horrible, sickening, churning feeling in the pit of your stomach. It feels like it will never go away. The feeling of dread, the unknown, the uncertainty.

For many people with Aspergers Syndrome, perhaps one of the most debilitating symptoms they face is Anxiety. This symptom is often confused with Social Anxiety Disorder which is a different condition. Although people with Aspergers often experience Social Anxiety, it tends to be of a different kind. Individuals with Social Anxiety tend to develop severe tension/anxiety as they try to participate in a relationship, wanting to create a relationship but having low social confidence. Individuals with Asperger’s have difficulty with the actual mechanisms of communication within  social relationships – experiencing problems expressing emotions, social articulation and understanding vague verbal and non-verbal cues.

For people with Aspergers Syndrome, Anxiety can be a near constant companion and for others it can be a cyclic symptom, whereby months can go by with only minor attacks and upsets, before a full meltdown ensues. Symptoms of AS such as social isolation, communication difficulties and an inability to easily cope with change or the unexpected are all triggers for anxiety. The stress of so much anxiety often leads to behavioural problems, over sensitivity, irritation, short temper and even depression – a large percentage of Aspies will be diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. Physical symptoms can manifest too – stomach pains, racing heart, sweaty palms and insomnia for example. Guilt, shame and regret over past meltdowns, overwhelming thoughts, fatigue, tiredness and panic attacks are also quite common. These are not necessarily symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome; they can simply be a consequence of coping with the  anxiety the condition can cause.

For obvious reasons, these issues can be especially problematic in children and young adults. For young Aspies, the battle with constant social pressure, increased social distancing from their peers, an increased sense of isolation and a growing realisation that they are different are all causes of stress and and can cause anxiety. These kinds of trigger can be purely subconscious, and when asked, a child or young adult may be entirely unaware of why they feel anxious and what their specific triggers are.

Unfortunately for many people with Aspergers, unhealthy coping mechanisms can sometimes develop to help cope with anxiety, stress and depression. These strategies can take the form of anything from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to substance and/or alcohol misuse and although these conditions are not guaranteed, they are far more prevelant in people with Aspergers Syndrome.

Aspergers Syndrome can’t be cured, but coping mechanisms do fall into place over time, which do help to some extent. For children, if diagnosis is undertaken early enough – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be beneficial in helping to develop coping techniques to help diffuse anxiety. In some adults, especially in severe cases, medications, like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) can help to ease some of the triggers for anxiety, but not all.

For many people with Aspergers Syndrome, Anxiety is such a normal state that to look at them, you won’t necessarily be aware of the anxiety they are experiencing, it is something that many Aspies learn to hide when they are quite young, in order to help them “fit in” better.

With Aspergers Syndrome, there can be many triggers for anxiety. The more common causes are disruption of routines, unplanned changes, sensory issues, such as loud noises or bright lights, and social interaction. The anxiety can literally be unbearable and it often increases the expression of the Aspergers Syndrome itself, causing a viscous and endless circle.

For obvious reasons we tend to want to avoid the causes of our anxiety, but this isn’t always a healthy thing to do. Ultimately we need to learn to cope and to some extent desensitize ourselves to those triggers and although that is easier said than done, it can be an invaluable learning experience.

If you know someone with Aspergers Syndrome, try to bear in mind that a lot of the time the world is an incredibly difficult and stressful place to be. Sometimes we need a little time to ourselves, for no other reason than to simply relax and cope.

Zen Emu X