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
Barb Cook – Neurodivergent advocate, writer and speaker
Autism and sensory processing disorder – Michael A Jawer
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