This is an add-on to an earlier post since I just came across “the intense world” theory proposed by of Henry Markram, director of the Brain Mind Center at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technologym, which seems highly relevant to it.
In that previous post, entitled High-sensitivity, synesthesia…and hearing tones, seeing lights or other anomalous experiences, I drew on material from Michael A Jawer to discuss the topic of how the over-stimulation of certain early life experiences may potentially hard-wire an individual to process sensory information in an unusual way for the rest of their life.
In my own case, my propensity to notice, then experience, all kinds of “ordinary” sensations as “too much” or as “painfully intense” and even “overwhelming”, when others mostly don’t seem to be aware of them at all (for instance, cellphones, radio waves, GM variations, EMFs, solar flares, full moons, subtle sounds and vibrations, lights, chemicals, certain fabrics and many other sensory stimuli) is only increasing with age. I have recently conducted a “positive” autism and asperger’s pre-diagnosis assessment for myself, using numerous online tests and by reading broadly on the topic (yes, it seems, I’m far from the only person to reach a later-life autism diagnosis, according to some very useful materials I am reading, see below) and this has tilted some of my research on this topic since I had never, seriously, considered an autism diagnosis before.
This led me back to Michael Jawer, whose article “Kids With Autism Live in an Intense World (Contrary to appearances, people with autism may be overloaded by sensation)” mirrored some of what I shared about my childhood perceptions in that other post. Quoting Maia Szalavitz in her article “The Boy Whose Brain Could Unlock Autism“, he included the following most-relatable account of what it could be like for such an overstimulated child:
“Consider what it might feel like to be a baby in a world of relentless and unpredictable sensation. An overwhelmed infant might, not surprisingly, attempt to escape. Kamila [Markram] compares it to being sleepless, jetlagged, and hung over, all at once. ‘If you don’t sleep for a night or two, everything hurts. The lights hurt. The noises hurt. You withdraw’. Unlike adults, however, babies can’t flee. All they can do is cry and rock, and, later, try to avoid touch, eye contact, and other powerful experiences. Autistic children might revel in patterns and predictability just to make sense of the chaos.”
He links his article to Markram’s paper: The Intense World Syndrome – an Alternative Hypothesis for Autism in which the abstract outlines as follows:
“we propose here a unifying hypothesis where the core pathology of the autistic brain is hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity of local neuronal circuits. Such excessive neuronal processing in circumscribed circuits is suggested to lead to hyper-perception, hyper-attention, and hyper-memory, which may lie at the heart of most autistic symptoms. In this view, the autistic spectrum are disorders of hyper-functionality, which turns debilitating, as opposed to disorders of hypo-functionality, as is often assumed. We discuss how excessive neuronal processing may render the world painfully intense when the neocortex is affected and even aversive when the amygdala is affected, leading to social and environmental withdrawal. Excessive neuronal learning is also hypothesized to rapidly lock down the individual into a small repertoire of secure behavioral routines that are obsessively repeated.”
In other words, the baby feels too much (not too little), resulting in a kind of sensory melt-down, with secure, repetitive patterns of behaviour and emotional lock-down established as a kind of secure framework to hold their chaotic world together. In fact, they become the very experts of pattern detection, prefering it to human interaction (again, I relate), disappearing into their own super-analytical world. Quoting Jawer:
“Just to survive, you’d need to be excellent at detecting any pattern you could find in the frightful and oppressive noise. To stay sane, you’d have to control as much as possible, developing a rigid focus on detail, routine and repetition. Systems in which specific inputs produce predictable outputs would be far more attractive than human beings, with their mystifying and inconsistent demands and their haphazard behavior.”
In my case (being the only case I have to compare with), is it coincidence that, just as I have worked so hard to identify, then dismantle, the most rigid and repetitious, also avoidist or escapist, behaviours of my life, in the name of personal development (ironically, my aim having been to expand my mind, since these were holding me as a kind of experiential prisoner), a tidal wave of extreme sensory experiences has swept in to unsure-foot me like never before, causing me to withdraw from “ordinary” life more than ever since I find it much too stimulating? Far from suggesting autism to be a failing “The Intense World Syndrome suggests that the autistic person is an individual with remarkable and far above average capabilities due to greatly enhanced perception, attention and memory” (Markram), yet there’s no doubting it leads also to “an intensely perceived world” (Markram)…adversely so, in some cases.
It’s as though the autistically-inclined brain (genetics do come into this), once stretched by “too much” at such an early stage in its development, can never be shrunk back into a “normal” format, so what next for someone like me? I remain, as ever, work in progress and as open-mindedly, inquisitively optimistic as I can bring myself to be.
Kids With Autism Live in an Intense World – Michael A Jawer, Psychology Today
The Intense World Syndrome – an Alternative Hypothesis for Autism – Henry Markram,1 Tania Rinaldi,1 and Kamila Markram1,*
Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): How Seeking a Diagnosis in Adulthood Can Change Your Life – Philip Wylie
Barb Cook – Neurodivergent advocate, writer and speaker
Autism and sensory processing disorder – Michael A Jawer
This blog, its content and any material linked to it are presented for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. The material and opinions shared are anecdotal and should not be considered to be medical advice or diagnosis. This article does not constitute a recommendation for the treatment described and the effects related are my own anecdotes, not a prediction of how anyone else might respond. I am not affiliated with AuraTransformation™, nor am I its representative (please go to the AuraTranformation™ website for its official description and further information). Please consult with a licensed healthcare professional if you have or suspect you might have a health condition that requires medical attention.
12 thoughts on “Too much (not too little) going on”
Oh yes I hear where your coming from Helen. Late in life I realised that many of my issues in life especially at work could be ascribed to autistic tendencies or traits. This mostly came about as a result of me pushing to get my son some medical intervention. He was eventually, when aged 12 (he is now 24), diagnosed with Dyspraxia, and high end Aspergers. He also has a form of colour deficiency and sensitivity to light, is super sensitive to noise (hyperacusis) has low muscle tone and hyper mobile joints. He has trouble sleeping and with hindsight just as you describe when as a baby we could never get him to sleep he was probably being bombarded with ‘too much’ sensory stimulation. He cannot stand the touch of wooden kitchen utensils or certain fabrics and for dental work he has to have a general anaesthetic. He lives in and sees this world very differently. He and I are tuned in to each other in many ways much to the exasperation of my wife and daughter who just dont’get it’.
Thank you for such an honest and informative post. Life continues to be ‘work in progress’ …
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Yes work in progress indeed. Thank you for sharing all that Clive, it gave me much food for thought. I now see these traits in my father which, added to some of the more bizzare physical symptoms we share, gives me further pause for thought as it doubles the effect of my own observations through my intimacy with him (though he died 30 years ago). He struggled all his life with so many ordinary things, couldnt even bring himself to answer a phone or the door, buy a card in a shop etc (would have outburst of uncharacteristic rage if it was suggested to him) and he was very meticulous in his hobbies, did beautiful marquetry with tiny shavings of wood etc and was such a precise gardener, everything just so, labelled and done on time (he lost himself in his garden and the birds, another shared trait) so it all makes such sense. Like me, he was super sensitive to many things, getting so much worse in his later years but, of course, he was medicated heavily for his ailments, for all they werent really understood which, I think, only added to his odd symptom quota. I can appreciate him and some of his behaviours, not to mention what he went throug, so much more in the light of all this. Very grateful to have this insight rather earlier (if belatedly) in my case. Thanks as ever!
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Have you read cathytea’s series on the Spectrum …
I think she may also be a follower of your blog.
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Yes, she does I and I am reading them now, I so relate…
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Ah! Do you remember I’d left a comment not too long ago that I’d begun to suspect I was autistic? I identify so many similarities in your posts! 🙂
I’m writing a series around my experience of considering that I might be on the autism spectrum, https://cathytea.wordpress.com/spectrum/ .
I’m undecided if I’ll pursue diagnosis (I don’t like the pathological view that seems to often accompany official diagnosis), but considering that many of my differences stem from neurodivergence helps me integrate the blips in my past into a whole and accepting sense of self.
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Yes, I do and I’ve got into your series of posts, as you will have seen. I’m with you on the matter of diagnosis…except I might seek an informed “pre-diagnoisis” via a private individual recommended by the guy whose book I am reading, as he rates her very highly for that and ongoing resources. Like you, I so strongly dislike the “pathological” leaning of the “official” approaches. For instance, I refer to “demand avoidance” in today’s new post (which, apart from the associated rages and unruly behaviour, I recognise in myself as I have become expert at avoiding other people’s demands over the course of my lifetime). However, this is “officially” termed “pathological demand avoidance” all across the internet (though I have just read an informed viewpoint that its is a co-occuring feature of autism, not its own pathology). As soon as that heinous “p” word is applied, the entire conversation takes a different turning and I can feel myself growing into the realisation that its people like us who are needed right now, to disllusion the medical world of this nonsense as we bring these matters of inappropriate labels out into the open, via blogs and so on. There are so many websites and forums for autistic kids and their families (which is great) but I cant help feeling there is a much needed space at the table for adults, especially those who come to this topic with the fresh eyes of the newly diagnosed, since we havent been stigmatised all our adult lives by these labels so we will (hopefully) speak up for ourselves all the more when they feel “off”. For me, it feels like “best of both world” to lay claim to the word autistic (having never sought a label before…) because the label helps, in this case, primarily ME to understand MYSELF and to locate information and other people that might help me. Yet my inbuilt refusal to be boxed-up by a diagnosis will keep me questioning, pushing and expanding what the very idea “diagnosis” means….it should be there to assist, broaden scope, encourage dialogue, not to limit, cease question-asking or attract narrow-minded or fixed conclusions. I can see me bringing a balanced left-and-right brained approach to all this, my left aspect welcoming the label while my right side says “yeah, but, thats not the whole picture…autism is here for a reason, its an expansion, an upgrade, an evolution, we might even be the new prototype human being….Just saying 😉
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Ok, ok! Maybe I will seek a diagnosis! 😉
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Do you know (having spent another day researching this from every angle) Im really not so sure about an “official” diagnosis, the territory seems fraught with pitfalls as I dont tust the criteria (and wanted to say that to you before you pursue anything). But I do think its so helpful to run as many online tests as possible and become really familiar with the traits from reading (many of which are paradoxical eg not empatic/too empathic…yet I think we can each feel into our own deeper truth around what this means for us since not all empathic “data” is the same, for instance we may empath “feelings” or even “frequency” but not so much “thoughts” or “motivation”). I feel convinced we each have a perfect reason for these specialisms, the important thing being that we are outside the mainstream, which is always important during an era of paradim leaping. Also (on that topic) I am feeling, more and more, that high functioning autism is an evolutionary gift. I came across some fascinating research indicating these are neanderthal traits in our DNA…and that neurotypical is the faulty (if dominant) version of the overal gene expression, which is quite a theory suggesting a fateful forking of the ways many generations back….hmmm, I have played with this before! I tend towards the theory that we need a bit of both, in balance, and that this is what is starting to occur, only (in the great balancing act) there are always going to be extremes on either side. In one of the more detailed tests I did today, I came out with almst 50:50 neurotypical and neurodiverse traits in some very interesting formats since they put my skills into the most useful places for someone who loves to create and communicate. The whole exercise is hugely empowering and I recommend it!! I might have to write a post about this research / self-discovery process in itself.
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Oh, interesting! What is the detailed test you took today? I took RAADS-R and have been taking many Aspie and Autism tests I find online–I come out well above the threshold on all of them! When I think about it myself, I feel that my neurology is not typical–and I don’t feel it’s broken. I agree with you that our approach is evolutionary and needed. I also tend to be “in my spirit” most of the time, and my spirit is very whole. It might be practical, before I retire, to get a diagnosis, since my health insurance will cover it. I can imagine, late in life, that it might be useful info to have while I seek the types of assistance for living and such that elders can benefit from. At the same time, when I don’t think about diagnosis, I feel very whole and complete. Sure, I don’t understand friendship and I have executive-functioning challenges. But I’ve crafted a life that fits me.
I’m with you about the different ways of being empathic! I pick up feelings and vibrations all the time–decoding those into “what the other person is feeling” can be challenging, but, as you seem to indicate, it’s often a matter of picking up too much, rather than too little…
So happy you’ll be sharing your discoveries! 🙂
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…and I love all this that you’re sharing, and this whole dialogue between us on this. The very detailed test I took is the one I mention in today’s blog created by the Swedish guy where I included the little diagram of the split between my nuerotypical and neurodiverse traits. I have found it sooo helpful to be able to visualise that, it feels like a talisman or coat of arms, almost, of my divine gifts which I know I must have chosen for a purpose, as we all do. All this discovery feels so connected to getting closer to dharma. What I really love about his website is the theory he shares about this autism quirk being a remnant of the neanderthal gene (recommend at least skimmig through the neanderthal traits that he compares, convincingly, with autistic traits and how these would have all been so USEFUL for these people, in a different paradigm world, not unlike how we will benefit from different traits in the world we are heading to, I suspect…) I’m already so fascinated by that possible link with the elusive neanderthal gene (which I never believed had “disappeared”, I have been forming my own theories for a long time…note also what he says about people in the Basque region, I have looked into that culture before) so a loud bell clanged at that point. His website, again, is http://rdos.net/eng/ with the test on there. Sounds like youre doing all the same tests as I have done!
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Yes that was one of the first ones I took several months ago–the one that prompted me to seriously consider I’m likely an Aspie. I retook it today and it seems pretty clear! [img]http://www.rdos.net/eng/poly10a.php?p1=100&p2=85&p3=100&p4=100&p5=91&p6=92&p7=96&p8=91&p9=23&p10=81[/img]
Oh wow yes, I see what you mean!!