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What autistic traits are you born with? (Looking at Neuroscience and autism / Asperger’s / PDA)

What autistic traits are you born with? (Looking at Neuroscience and autism / Asperger’s / PDA)

So… what autistic traits are we actually born with? One of the most interesting aspects of autistic spectrum conditions is the debates and discussions you can have about what you are born with (in terms of autistic traits and behaviours), and what manifests over time.

“Anyone who is autistic is born autistic…”

Firstly, let’s be clear: anyone who is autistic is born autistic. (There’s a fair bit of information online on detecting autism in babies – there’s brief info on the UK’s NHS website HERE). There is very little concrete information linking non genetic causative factors to autism. Scientists are currently identifying ‘susceptibility genes’, e.g. genes that leave us susceptible to being autistic; meanwhile, studies HAVE found links to autism with pregnancy-related factors, including gestational diabetes, maternal medication and birth injury or trauma; but research is ongoing.)

In any case: autism does not come and go like a virus – the author of this piece was (inadvisably) told by a very experienced health visitor that the health visitor had seen cases of what she described as transitional autism, that a child grows out of; but this is probably a very simplistic and ill-informed view of the child’s situation – it is more likely that the child was misdiagnosed in the first place, or that his environment was managed to a degree so that his autistic traits and behaviours reduced during that period. Either way, it is a worry that a health visitor mentioned it as Truth, in passing!

Are all of your autistic traits always present from birth?

So, if you are born autistic, what does that mean – are all of your autistic traits always present from birth, just waiting to develop; or is it a series of connections in the brain that develop and work synergistically as a person matures, creating autistic trait 1, autistic trait 2 etc, as our neurons rapidly form connections, or synapses, within the brain? Given that some high functioning autism spectrum disorder traits are linked to a slightly more passive profile like Asperger Syndrome, and some autistic traits are more linked to the stronger or more overt characteristics of PDA or Pathological Demand Avoidance, just WHEN does the person slot into their autistic Profile? Is it at birth, or is it as they mature, and the neurological connections in the brain form the patterns that will stay with that autistic person as they grow older?

(NB – neuroscientists propose that autistic people have significant ‘structural differences’ in the amygdala regions of the brain – the amygdala being involved in emotional and social behaviour – as well as the hippocampus area, involved in memory, and the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is the ‘social’ part of the  brain. As our ‘autistic’ brains develop, who’s to say what is happening, and what new patterns are forming?)

Less PDA traits?

Families of children with PDA know that when demands are reduced and the causes of anxiety are managed, the child may show less overt traits of pathological demand avoidance. Obviously this does not mean that the PDA has gone away, just that the child and the family are able to manage the triggers for anxiety and the panic attacks (or meltdowns).

Some clinical psychologists believe that high functioning autism conditions are ‘variable’, in that the autistic traits, signs or behaviours will manifest themselves differently according to the person’s environment – something that the author of this piece would concur with. (In fact, that’s what the weighing scales that we use as our Spectra.blog logo mean – the fact that coping with autism and creating a balance in our autistic lives is about the balance between environmental (and social) triggers or autistic stressors, and the autistic person’s own skill-sets.)

As autistic traits tend to be driven and heightened by anxiety, if you can reduce the triggers for anxiety, this will generally reduce the manifestations of the adult or child’s autistic traits. Autism of course doesn’t go away in this case, but the anxious behaviours can be reduced.

So, going back to our original point at the start of this post, what autistic traits are we born with, in terms of collections of traits that are linked to a particular profile, such as Asperger Syndrome or PDA? Can the management of a child, or of ourselves if we are an adult with autism, somehow influence the profile or label of autism that we are given? Is there any way for example to almost prevent Pathological Demand Avoidance as the profile that the autistic child ends up being diagnosed with, through careful management of the triggers? (This does seem unlikely, but it is an interesting point of discussion!)

Two red herrings

(1)Interestingly, it does seem the case that many children with a demand avoidant autistic profile are initially incorrectly diagnosed with Asperger’s in any case, because the clinician has not had the exposure or experience to enable them to diagnose PDA.

“It’s entirely possible that the autistic traits may ‘lie low’ for a while, while the more neurotypical parts of the brain take the lead…”

(2)And, there is also the issue that even though a child may have a brain that is autistic, many parts of the brain are functioning in a neurotypical way, and as the child matures and hopefully their environment and the triggers for anxiety are managed, it’s entirely possible that the autistic traits may ‘lie low’ for a while, while the more neurotypical parts of the brain take the lead.

Both of these red herrings could lead us to suspect that we have somehow changed our child’s autistic profile, or that the autism is going away. Obviously the latter could not be true – once autistic, always autistic – and speaking with autistic adults with PDA, the overriding opinion is that your autistic profile cannot change or flip between one profile and another.

This of course hasn’t answered our original question – which it is impossible to answer! – but we hope it has provoked some interest and debate, and raised some interesting points for anyone interested in autism research! NB, there’s a doctor called David Eagleman, a renowned neuroscientist, whose work within the  field of neuroscience sometimes crosses over in to autism research; check him out, if you’re interested!

Furthermore, the website of Advanced Sensory Integration Practitioner Julia Dyer has some useful information on autism and neuroscience that serves as a pointer for further research, for anyone interested in finding out more – see the page ‘Autism and Neuroscience’.

Please note that as we always say in each blog post, here at Spectra.blog, we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We do not claim to be experts on any form of autism.

(You may also like this BLOG on functioning labels).

Finally, it’s a cliché perhaps, but many people with classic autism and high functioning autism love music, for many reasons. What better way to deal with life than to escape within a quirky song? In the words of Morcheeba’s ‘Be Yourself’ – “I’m sick of satisfaction and living in a drought. Just be yourself, anyway that you want to (anyway that you can).”

Calling all aspiring autistic bloggers and writers – are you our next #autismblogstar?

Calling all aspiring autistic bloggers and writers – are you our next #autismblogstar?

Here at spectra.blog we’re seeking a young autistic blogger (diagnosed or self-advocated) to join the team for 2018, aged 21 and under (by closing date, see below). The successful writer will blog for us weekly, and have their work internationally published in a compendium book at the end of 2018. This will be published with independent UK publisher Sirenia Books, and will be available worldwide as a paperback title. Any book profits will go to a charitable cause, to be decided by the winner and spectra.blog. The closing date is midnight 28/2/18 (GMT). We will select a small number of shortlisted writers (up to five) and showcase their posts in March 2018, before liaising with the writers, and choosing the final #autismblogstar.

HOW TO CONTACT US

Showcase your blogging or creativity on social media in an infographic or blog-post before the closing date with the hashtag #autismblogstar & we will find you!

You can blog or write your infograph about anything you like, providing it relates to autism somehow. Your post could be a poem, a short blog, a review of a product, an opinion piece – absolutely anything you like!

All that we ask is that we can find you via the social media platform that you put your post up with, so we may contact you thereafter. You may post anonymously or with a pseudonym, providing we can contact you via the social media handle you use. Writers from all worldwide locations are invited!

Thanks, and we look forward to hearing from you! The spectra.blog team x

What to expect during your adult autism assessment (ASD, ASC, Asperger Syndrome)

What to expect during your adult autism assessment (ASD, ASC, Asperger Syndrome)

It’s very hard to generalise about what to expect during your adult autism assessment, as each country and health authority has different procedures; however, I can explain my procedure here in the UK when I was diagnosed in my 40s, following an increase in my own knowledge-base about autism. (Read more about me HERE).

Apparently, attending an adult autism assessment with coloured contacts, spangly make up and a flower in your hair marks you out as ‘Quirky’.

Following a familial link to autism spectrum conditions, I started to recognise that I was probably on the spectrum myself. My doctor referred me after an initial consultation (possibly the fact I created a spreadsheet of colour-coded traits gave it away?!) and it took about six months for the appointment in my region of the UK to come through.

Assessments in my region are currently carried out by an independent organisation describing themselves as a ‘neurodevelopmental assessment and support service’ contracted to supply autism assessments for anyone over the age of eight years old; pleasingly, this third-party organisation replaced the ‘autism-team’ at my local authority, which seemed to consist of one part-timed lady called Brenda who was never in the office. I knew roughly when to expect the assessment and had called previously to check the time-scales, e.g. the aforementioned six months wait-time.

The environment was very relaxed and laid-back, and the office was staffed by very casual and friendly looking people. I arrived and initially saw an assistant clinical psychologist, followed by the clinical psychologist himself, and the whole process took about three hours.

I was fairly nonchalant, cool, calm and collected, and frightfully well informed about the whole thing; at least that is how I perceived it. When the report came back however it appeared that I was in fact very anxious-looking, displaying several autistic signs, e.g. mis-matching hand-and-vocalisation gestures, and not giving enough spontaneous speech, leaving the clinician in no doubt about my autisticness! However, and this is important I feel, he did note my GOOD eye contact, stating: “Throughout the assessment, she did use eye contact in a way to initiate, terminate or regulate social interaction, and her eye contact was reasonably well-modulated.” (It is frustrating when clinicians use the myth that ‘autistic people don’t make eye contact’ as a way of ascertaining a person is NOT autistic, e.g. if the autistic person DOES make eye contact. In my opinion our ability to hold eye contact is (a) learned, and (b) depends on how we’re feeling overall; e.g. we may reduce eye-contact when approaching shutdown.)

ADOS/DISCO

The clinician discussed my history and development, family, relationships, education etc and used both the Autism Diagnostic Observations Schedule 2nd Edition (ADOS-2), and the Diagnostic Interview of Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) for the assessment. He was calm and kind and informal throughout and very patient when I became teary, which I did when discussing a family member, and also some other personal matters.

I left the office feeling a mixture of elation and relief and a jumble of other things, and left the office profusely thanking the psychologist. He may as well have handed me an envelope with big red writing saying “Autism – your new special-interest”, as at least that’s how it has been for me; literally every day since I started learning about autistic spectrum conditions and the familial links in our family, I devour information and studies and articles in an effort to become more well informed.

How do friends and family react?

I’m not sure how it is for everyone, but my initial belief that I may be autistic and then my diagnosis was widely met with what I deem to be a kind of ambivalence by those around me. Which is great really, in that people who like or love me do so whether or not I have a high functioning autism diagnosis, or an Aspie badge. I imagine it would be similar to a family member ‘coming out’ for the first time to me, and telling me they were gay; it wouldn’t be a big deal to me, and I wouldn’t ask them about it each time I saw them – why would I?!

Someone will of course ask you how it feels to be given the diagnosis (in my case, high functioning autism with an Asperger’s-type profile – although clinicians are leaning away from using the term ‘Asperger’s’ these days); and you say things like: “Well it’s a relief really, it’s good to be told what I already knew, and I always felt different, and now I know why, etc etc.”

The first few weeks post-autism-diagnosis are spent getting used to the new label, telling certain people when the time is right, and having 1-million lightbulb moments of realisation about your past, your present and your future.

Who are you?

As time goes on you may well start to question who the real you is; if you’re autistic and you made it to adulthood without you or your friends or family knowing about your condition, you have undoubtedly been masking your struggles, in particular within the social sphere; this may lead you to then question who is the real you. If you’re within the workforce, your workmates probably know that you’re quirky, but do you have to put on a (probably unconscious) mask to carry out your job? Do you continually seek acceptance, being the natural people pleaser that you are, and in order to nail this social communication thing, do you sometimes use alcohol to help shape your social personality? And if you’re a lively social butterfly, is your social personality or persona the real you, or is there a more quiet and passive person underneath, who enjoys time at home with a book and pyjamas and quiet-time? There are so many more questions!

If you take some time to ask and answer the questions in that busy old brain of yours, you will start to find some answers and how long the process (of finding them!) lasts is anyone’s guess; my clinical psychologist told me that some people don’t want to accept their adult autism diagnosis, but that most people on the whole are relieved and positive. It is worth remembering that some of the more high-profile autistic people (and I’m thinking specifically of broadcaster Chris Packham, footballer Lionel Messi and actor Anthony Hopkins) did not shout their diagnosis from the rooftops initially, and presumably spent time coming to terms with it and finding themselves before sharing their autistic-selves with other people; this is probably a fine idea, but either way the autism community is grateful for their honesty.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

It’s a cliché perhaps, but many people with classic autism and high functioning autism love music, for many reasons. What better way to deal with life than to escape within a beautiful song? As Bruno Mars says: “There’s not a thing that I would change, ‘Cause you’re amazing just the way you are…”

Autism Foundation Posts – Spectra.Blog’s FAQs and key posts and articles on autism spectrum disorders

Autism Foundation Posts – Spectra.Blog’s FAQs and key posts and articles on autism spectrum disorders

What is autism? Spectra.Blog explores the definition for autism spectrum disorder

What is autism? Spectra.Blog explores the definition for autism spectrum disorder

So, what is autism?

I’ll tell you what it is NOT.

Autism is NOT a mental condition; thanks Google, for that fairly bland description (see pic!) Autism is categorised clinically as a ‘pervasive developmental disorder’.

The UK’s National Autistic Society states that autism is – “A lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”

The UK’s NHS describes autism as follows – “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.”

Check out a few of the common ‘autistic traits’ below…

The common sub-types of autism tend to be described as ‘classic autism’ and high functioning autism. The latter includes Asperger’s and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Almost half of people identified as having ASD are said to have average to above average intellectual ability; so autism isn’t linked to low intellect. Autism is essentially a condition affecting communication and processing, at varying levels – hence the ‘spectrum’ – no two autistics are the same!

There’s no cure for autism, although people on the autistic spectrum may undergo various therapies that help them to develop their own skillsets.

There is a useful graphic which we have shared here, called ‘The family of pervasive developmental disorders’, sourced from the excellent website “PDA Resource” which has links to various recommended websites, blogs, documents, graphics etc. This graphic is by Newson, Marchal and David. This graphic shows nicely the relationship between the different ‘sub-types’ of autism.

Please note that as we always say in each blog post, here at Spectra.blog, we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We do not claim to be experts on any form of autism. 

(You may also like this BLOG on functioning labels).

This entire blog includes various articles aiming to inform readers about the various facets of autism, so this post itself is quite short! However one of the best videos that we have seen describing autism spectrum disorders in children is included below, as it is so explanatory.