I once viewed an ABC health program where an eminent psychologist was commenting on different levels of the autistic spectrum.
In particular, she referred to people who had Asperger’s Syndrome and how they all seemed to have high IQ’s and an obsession with specific detail.
Her punch line was that many of these people had “professor” as their first name and that universities formed up as “sheltered workshops” around these people because of the highly focused research they were capable of performing.
In a research report released in December 2015, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and La Trobe University, working together with scientists from Canada, have shown that people with high autistic tendencies see the world very differently from those with low autistic tendencies similar to the psychologist description above, and described in more detail in the lower half of this article.
To understand what are the primary features of this now very common disorder, some details are offered.
Autism is a brain disorder in which communication and interaction with others are difficult. The symptoms of autism may range from total lack of communication with others to difficulty in understanding others’ feelings. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
High-functioning autism (HFA) is at one end of the ASD spectrum. Signs and symptoms are less severe than with other forms of autism. In fact, a person with high-functioning autism usually has average or above-average intelligence. The differences from other forms of autism have led many psychiatrists to consider high-functioning autism as similar to or the same as Asperger’s syndrome. However, usually children with HFA have language delays early on like other children with autism. Children with Asperger’s, though, don’t show classic language delays until they have enough spoken language to assess language difficulties.
Whether it’s labeled high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome, coping with this condition presents daily challenges for those who have it and for their family and friends.
What Are the Symptoms of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome?
Other than the difference in their language development, people with high-functioning autism and people with Asperger’s syndrome share many similar characteristics. They typically have average or above-average intelligence. They may, though, show other behaviors and signs similar to what’s seen with other types of autism. These include:
* A delay in motor skills
* A lack of skill in interacting with others
* Little understanding of the abstract uses of language, such as humor or give-and-take in a conversation
* Obsessive interest in specific items or information
* Strong reactions to textures, smells, sounds, sights, or other stimuli that others might not even notice, such as a flickering light
* Unlike people with other forms of autism, people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome want to be involved with others. They simply don’t know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others’ emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression.
What are the causes of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
Autism runs in families. The underlying causes, however, are not known. Potential causes under investigation include:
* Inherited genetic conditions
* Other medical problems
* Environmental factors including chemical contamination of the food chain (Monsanto’s glyphosate is a major offender here).
The fact that higher levels of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome and other tic disorders often occur in families with children with autism suggests some relationship among these different mental processes.
Diagnosing High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
Children with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome may not be diagnosed as early as children with more severe forms of autism. That’s because the symptoms aren’t as noticeable. Symptoms may not become a problem until a child is in school. A diagnosis is based on the doctor’s assessment of the child’s symptoms in three areas:
* Social interactions: symptoms such as lack of eye contact or an inability to understand another person’s feelings
* Verbal and nonverbal communication: symptoms such as not speaking or repeating a phrase over and over again
* Interests in activities, objects, or specialized information: symptoms such as playing with only a part of a toy or being obsessed with a particular topic.
The doctor may gather information about these areas by:
* Conducting psychological testing
* Establishing the history of the child’s development
* Interviewing parents and others who have frequent contact with the child
* Observing the child’s behavior
* Requesting physical, neurological, developmental, or genetic testing
* Seeking a speech and language assessment
* In addition, the doctor may request tests to rule out other causes of the behavior, such as hearing problems.
People with autism focus on details of a visual scene and this helps explain why autistic individuals often miss the big picture.
In a study published this week in Royal Society Open Science, the research team found that people on the higher end of the autistic spectrum have a higher tendency to show greater saccadic suppression – the reduction of visual sensitivity during rapid eye movements – than individuals who are lower on the autistic spectrum.
As a consequence, people who score highly on measures of autism, even those who are not clinically autistic, are more likely to concentrate on the details of a visual scene rather than on the overall picture as they move their eyes around.
“This may help to explain why such individuals often see the trees – but miss the forest.” lead author, Professor David Crewther from Swinburne’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology said.
Using sophisticated recordings of the electrical activity in the brain, the research team went on to show that the failure to see global visual information during rapid eye movements is associated with greater suppression of input along a particular visual pathway, the so-called ‘magnocellular’ pathway that runs from the eyes deep into the brain.
Crucially, the results of the study may help to explain why autistic individuals focus more on details and often miss the big picture.
People with autism could be less aware of the global attributes of things like facial expression as they move their eyes from one part of a scene to another, and this could contribute to their problems in social interactions.
That people who have Asperger’s syndrome are frequently found in influential positions, particularly as they may be high achievers on the academic scale, and hold in influential positions where they can influence government policies or the policies in professional leadership organisations.
While they have difficulty in a social setting, they do respond to networking with others that are similarly afflicted.
Thus an organisation like the Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) suits these people as an outlet for their narrow focus extremely well.
It also explains their ferocity towards health modalities such as homeopathy because it is a part of the “forest” that they are unable to “see”, therefore should not exist.
Fortunately, most of us are not afflicted with autism and can see the wider picture of health and care delivered through a range of choices, including all the facets of complementary and alternate medicine.
With a focus now in play for health consumers to control their own health we are already seeing a consumer choice favouring natural health directions (Blackmores is booming).
The arid landscape created through the use of falsified evidence by global pharma’s has left a trail of disillusioned patients along the way, and pharmacy ought to be the leaders of this new patient freedom movement.
If not, we die by not satisfying consumer need – which is health solutions, not an expanding list of drugs.