Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month, and if there is anyone aware of autism, it is me. My son is autistic, I am autistic, and my maternal grandfather was probably autistic.

I have written quite a bit about autism on this blog. I have written about when your work is who you are, institutional discrimination against autism, honesty, loyalty, and autism, autism as strong explicit learners, weak implicit learners, on the varieties of styles of thinking, how my thinking affects my social views, the autistic brain and thinking about spontaneous orders, theory of mind and the autism spectrum, learning to act human, part 1 and part 2, Am I a kind of unrecognized autistic? (to which the answer turned out to be: no, I have Asperger's), and the intense world theory of autism and Daniel.

It's been a fascinating journey into myself and into learning about neurovariety.

I think there is little doubt that autism runs in my family, and that the kind of autism we have is best described by the intense world theory. The dominance of positive feedback in our neural systems goes a long way toward explaining a large number of traits, including my being mildly bipolar. Another thing that happens to me on occasion also now makes sense in the light of the intense world theory. Every so often my skin becomes hypersensitive. This happened just this week. Except this past week, it was more intense than ever before. More, my joints and muscles ached and my mind was racing -- I could not remain asleep for more than a half hour at a time -- and I would become ravenously hungry, but then be able to satiate that hunger with, say, a handful of chips. Everything was moving at top speed in me. After three days, it has subsided.

This makes perfect sense with the intense world theory of autism. When positive feedback dominates, the system in question cycles. This is true of any scale free network process, including neural networks. There are times when I don't feel very much; but most of the time the cycles are subtle enough that they are not all that noticeable. However, sometimes those cycles run amok, and the intensity increases and increases. There is eventually a crash back to normal, but the period of intensity can be a bit much.

So that's a bit of personal experience. The next thing I want to share is on a recent finding on oxytocin.

It seems that "A pair of researchers, one in Israel the other in the Netherlands has found that volunteers given oxytocin tend to be more willing to lie if it benefits a group they belong to." Now consider the fact that there seems to be less oxytocin in those with autism than in neurotypicals. This would suggest that those with autism are less willing to lie, even if it benefits the group to which they belong. This would of course be interpreted as "social awkwardness" by those for whom it is natural to lie to benefit their group (such as their family). The neurotypicals in the autistic person's group are wondering, "Why wouldn't you back me up on that?" while the autistic person is saying, "But I was only telling the truth."

Oxytocin is an interesting molecule. It is the trust molecule. It is a love molecule. And it is a divisive molecule. Specifically, it seems to be a strongly in-group molecule. The kind of trust it fosters, for example, is among those within your group. Those with autism are trusting -- but they/we are typically trusting of everyone. We don't in-group, out-group. Which, for all the benefits lost with lower oxytocin, is something I would consider a significant gain.
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