1. What is a Chaos Model and How does it help us understand Autism
2. How using a Stress or System Model helps us outline, delineate and create supports for the various Autisms.
3. The difficulty in relearning everything we thought we knew and applying a new science.
1. Autism as a Chaos pattern. In chaos physics you have what are called sensitivity to initial conditions. In understanding the patterns we have initial conditions, variable influences and variable but predictable outcomes. (More on Chaos Patterns- Story)… Western medicine had linear view, that one thing created one outcome, but a chaos model looks more like a Plinko Board where “stress” variability creates a variability of outcomes.
We all have individuality to how we respond and handle stressors. For spectrum of Autism the initial conditions are what I call the peripheral personalities.
Variable influences are the gene-environment interaction that is programmed most readily in early life. This could be construed as early life adaptive stress which impacts multiple interactive sensory and processing systems. In personality theory lingo I think of them either from Dr. Michael Lessor and call them the Star, Lover, Dreamer, the Warrior and the Guardian, or from Dr. Helen Fisher and think of them as the Negotiator, Director, Explorer and Builder (extreme version). Derivatives of the Big Factor Five what we know of as personality traits with correlates in estrogen, testosterone, dopamine and serotonin (and other substrates and structures). But what i explore and draw from is a conceptualization of a community. Where the majority (around 40%) of that community were socially oriented and the other traits were split between people that processed information differently than the majority, specialized tasks in that community for survival, like foraging, exploring, leading, story-telling, craft-skills, technical skills. These required information and sensitivity to that information to be handled differently than the “salt-of-the-earth” glue of the majority population that kept us cohesive.
My fascination in college was the bell curve. How and why it exists. And what if since we base our entire framework assumptions that the bell curve is our guiding post to research… what if that was wrong? That question… throughout my time in school and beyond… always stayed in the back of my mind. And when I read Dr. Lessor’s account of personalities he experienced in his office, that 60% were the Stoic Personality… I wondered… If the Stoic personality was the majority, the average person, would that mean that our scientific quandaries revolved around that particular personality? And if there were neurobiological correlates as he suggested would that too then be regulated to “them”, the average?
So what if those that process information uniquely also more uniquely responded to stress? What if they needed more resources for that information processing? And I started hypothesizing that maybe Autism was what happens to one personality —–my type, the science and math or what he calls the Dreamer type — because in science we try to reduce to one starting point and control for all but one variable to get answers. I eventually realized I had it backwards. Autism wasn’t one personality, it was all but one personality. Autism susceptibility came from 5 of the 6 personalities. In Autism research this is known as the BAP or the Broader Autism Phenotype. In the BAP we see “traits” of Autism, but without the dysfunctional aspects or disability.
This required moving away from singular thinking, because I also realized this couldn’t be random, or “just too confusing’ and I had the sudden insight that those patterns systematically would fit another science, chaos dynamics, and the pieces starting falling together becoming predictable and systematic. The majority or average personality processed information and responded to stress relatively the same way, whilst the outer 5 “personalities” processed information uniquely and were uniquely susceptible to stress adaptation because of the equivalents in resource needs required by that processing (glutamate turnover, myelination, dendritic growth, mitochondria function).
2. A Stress Model and Variable influences. Once we set up the sensitive systems we move on to Stress. Stress is something that is ignored in our current framework of science. When we control for variables, stress and placebo which is basically relief of stress and those factors that impact stress, such as the system, endocrine status, nutritional status and natural variation in stress responses… and how those work, through complex feedback and homeostatic mechanisms… were factored out. These were considered “static” basically because they were so “dynamic”. But we ASSUMED we could hold them static because we assume that they’d “right themselves” so they wouldn’t be real factors. So we built a science and scientific methods to exclude them. We only considered direct, singular, linear cause-effect mechanisms as relevant for disease and health.
3. Unlearning is Sometimes More Difficult than Learning; The Shift to a New Medical Model. So Autisms as neurobiological behavioral traits that have neuroadapted to be hyper or under-reactive to their environment. Having adapted to being in a hostile environment. That environmental set-point can be moved internal (hormones) or externally (stressors that may not have been stressful in conditions of lowered nutrition etc. become stressful and we don’t see it b/c we are looking for the norm/direct and not the periphy adjustments.
We didn’t see dimensional and comorbid issues b/c we assumed categorization (single outcome) which has obviously done some major changes in recent years (Insel). So we may now suspect that the Autisms of early years, may be affective and personality disorders of middle years and parkinsons and alzhiemer’s of later years and all of the resource sharing systems, cardio-immune-metabolic issues in-between and layered. Variations on the same tune. Same influences creating different outcomes and different influences creating the same outcome because once you put stress and systems and chaos into the mix and leave out direct causes… it all becomes patterns instead of absolutes.
So Autisms are information processing issues within the periphery personalities, emotional and informational over-reactions to stress. Those that process information differently, historically, are more susceptible to this information overload and sensitivity (and damage but it’s not THE damage its the system’s response TOO damage, it depends on the system). So throughout history these aspects of information processing difference has made them uniquely susceptible when the environment is not conducive to productive growth (and some respond to stress WITH growth) and trade-offs are created. Typically in history these were either mood or temperament disorders, but the evolving issues with our capacity and interuption of resources and programming puts us in an “evolutionary crisis” of misbalanced development b/c our enviornment is sending us both mixed cues and obviously “we are in a threatening environment” so “protect and figure it out” cues. Which is unique, but because it is merely “amplifying’ features is also very familiar….
What Is Autism?
Autisms are amplified personality traits (information and stress processing) that have become unbalanced and maladaptive.
What causes Autism?
Anything that tips the balance (neuroadaption or up/down-regulation) of information processing capacities or puts the system in a trade-off of functioning in order to constantly regulate, protect or trying to right itself.
So what causes Autism, in a nutshell, is stress. An excessive down (or up)-regulation of systems in response to stress. Stress has the potential to protect the system by increasing the amount of information it has available, or by making the system more sensitive to information, and has the potential to cause damage, while trying to protect from damage. Our systems are under too much stress, possibly from an alteration of resources, and we are just like different buildings in different areas of a country, all be affected in our own unique ways. Autisms are just those systems being impacted very early, like when the building was still under construction and the blueprints were re-written for extra protection and use.
What are the specific causes of Autism?
This gets a little trickier. First you start with an initial condition, behavioral genes reflecting information processing and stress responsiveness. Then environmental influences to those set points and activation levels. And then those things that topple the set points and load balancing. Then you have a variety of outcomes based on the initial point, timing, and other adaptive factors and coping mechanisms. Predictable outcomes that are “variations on the tune”
o Genes. Behavioral genetic make-up and biological correlates of “peripheral” personalities and cognitive function, historically for specific tasks that benefited community living and survival.
o Endocrine Disruptors. Lower the threshold for response to stressors. This again may depend on the initial sensitivity of those receptors reflected in personality traits. Which will then in turn drive sensitivity and density of neurotransmitters and glia. So this may be something that both amplify the “trait” and entirely too sensitive to stressors. OR
o Stress: Early life programming. Emotion, chemical or physical it won’t matter. At a certain point within the system; Stress is stress. It downregulates or upregulates, alters size, creates damage, and can create hypersensitive over-functioning and under-functioning.
o Nutrition. And much of this might be predicated on the state of our nutrition. Nutrition will determine how much stress one can handle (like metals or pesticides) and how well one might recovery. And all of these factors will play teeter-tooter with these balances. Examples of missing nutrition and unbalanced nutrition that impact stress sensivity are fats (DHA, 2), microbiota, and minerals/vitamins (zinc, manganese, selenium, iron, folate, B12, B6, Vitamin D) and other common foods that have become more/less consumed or compromised.
Why would we miss this?
Because our current methods of medical science and epidemiology relies heavily on methods predicated on The Germ Theory Model of medicine influence of diseases coming from 1) single sources, 2) impact the entire population they come in contact with and 3) are present in everyone who has the disease. It locks us into thinking we could find direct linear cause and effect for diseases and disorders. For example that if something causes something you get rid of the something (germs, fats, sunlight); It high-jacked our thinking in subtle but powerful and profound ways.
So instead of personality-descriptions which I think works best for the evolution-story, there are category subtypes of Autism discussed by Temple Grandin which are Word, Picture and Pattern-Thinkers. These I feel are good reference points when discussing the dichotomous nature that I see easiest in Word vs. Pattern.(*They overlap in the personality dimensions, generally I see that Words are Guardian, Warriors, some Lovers and Stars. Picture-thinkers blend (into Word/Pattern) but appear to lean heaviest as Lovers and Stars, and then Pattern are heaviest in Dreamers, but they can blend too. Nothing is absolute, but I think general abilities, like the way the process or pattern-out rules remain consistent.)
If you’re familiar with the research dichotomy suggested by Crepsi and Badcock, then what they suggest is that Autism and Schizonphrenia are opposites. However what I suggest is that they are really the dichotomies in Autism of Word-Thinkers and Pattern–Thinkers.
Word vs. Pattern.
What I feel (at this time) best represents this dichotomy is Word-Thinkers with estrogen-white matter brains and Pattern-Thinkers with testosterone-grey matter brains
(“Intelligence in men and women is a grey and white matter“, “Gender and hormones affect Pain responses” and from McEwen “The End of Sex as We Know it”) we know that these hormone differences can be more about brain development than sex) . There are likely just as many men that have an estrogen-driven brain that leads to specific skills in leadership, planning or story-telling . In this way, because of the high myelination and dopamine sensitivity I think they are especially vulnerable to our fat-decisions and calorie in/out mistakes. For example the trans-fat or low fat craze may have caused greater stress in this population. (ADHD and Fats?).
Dopamine crosses both, but has a special relationship with estrogen (and others such as serotonin which acts intimately with dopa). But in Word thinkers it could be hypothesized that they downregulate. They become more reactive but become less aware of pain. Whereas testosterone upregulates some aspects of pain reactivity. Which essentially makes this subtype more sensitive or reactive to pain or stress. There is a huge role for BDNF, dopa, ValMet, ER as well here, hpa-social stress-gender, timing and nutrition.
Ultimately we could hypothesize that under stress, Word Thinkers “feel pain” less and Pattern “feel pain” more. (“pain” also referring to the salience of information)
If Word-Thinkers are characterized by their ability to create stories, reflected in white matter proliferation, under stress early, pregenerational or early prenatal stress, we’d be inclined to see more profound low-functioning Autisms in this phenotype. Also because of the estrogen-dopamine-serotonin combinations involved we’d see a downregulation in dopamine and pain sensitivity. They get more “lost” away from feeling and sensing the outside world. Whereas those on the Asperger’s side, or the Pattern-Thinkers become more hypersensitive to their environments. In a way they are both more sensitive, just handling it in their biologically unique ways. We see examples of this in that estrogen-testosterone responds differently, sometimes in this dichotomous way to stress, pain and inflammation. Women are known to feel more pain but handle it better. Meaning a low pain threshold can mean a higher pain tolerance. But that tolerance is only because they feel so intensely. Adaptively the dopamine system with the help of opioids and endorphins might up/downregulate so they stop feeling.
So many on the autism spectrum feel this type of intensity of their environment, or feel the intensity that it numbs them to it. There are many variations and opposite reactions within the autism spectrum. Which may lead some people to conclude that “everyone is different”. HOwever, with a better framework of understanding the unique impacts of stress and applying the rules and internal biomechanics of how stress impacts us uniquely. We may be able to devise better interventions and outcomes.