Perhaps we are going in the wrong direction when we try to get autism spectrum people (like perhaps ourselves) to learn social skills and to focus on acquiring skills that are hard for us by direct education and practice.
Intuitively, I have always felt like this was the wrong approach (trying to acquire skills directly), because
1) It never really worked for me, and
2) It felt very uncomfortable, almost as though it were bad for my brain somehow.
Perhaps other gifted, autism spectrum people might be able to understand this. There are some sorts of brain tasks that feel great. Others just feel painful and difficult.
For example, I love speed-reading, listening to French, etc. Music seems like a bridge skill for me–it is satisfying but it seems to challenge my brain a little toward the social/language side. And listening to people read or tell a long story that I have to follow, without being able to write or read at the same time, simply feels painful and harmful.
Here’s a really interesting example of this. It’s about a math prodigy who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
My commentary on the clip:
0) The most profound thing I noticed in the clip was the suggestion that letting Jake do what he enjoyed as a kid somehow helped him to get over the problems of autism.
The parents said that when they let him do math and science, he would show relief at not having to do something he didn’t enjoy, like autism behavioral therapy.
Now he is, well, more high-functioning than he probably would have been if they had kept forcing him to get autism therapy. He seems like such a cool kid! Eye contact, emotional content, attitude, confidence, lack of typical arrogance in prodigies, everything.
Could this be a revolutionary autism treatment, or perhaps a treatment for the too-gifted symptoms we experience? Simply doing what we love and what makes our brains feel good?
I have to remark that for a while in my life I was in a slightly similar situation to Jake, where I taught myself several grades of math in a few months and jumped into college courses while under 18 and was tutoring the older kids. This was also probably the healthiest time in my post-puberty life, the only few years when I had decent energy after getting problems I now attribute to excess copper when my estrogen went up (since with poor methylation and low metallothionein I probably had trouble excreting it). It was something about having appropriate challenges that I enjoyed, that were hard enough but not so hard that I couldn’t succeed, along with social approval and getting validated and recognized for what I could do.
I then went to a top college where I had trouble recreating that environment, and between taking on challenges that were too hard for me at the time, or being under-challenged in some courses, and having to do much more humanities (which I hated and which seemed to ruin my brain ability for my other math and science courses; it was very hard to switch), I kind of faltered and had a lot of difficulty and developed health problems again. There it is again — lack of flow as a potential cause of health problems in gifted people.
That said, it’s unclear how many children with autism would develop like this if given the chance, but I have a theory that letting kids do what they like might help to balance methylation….
1) The clip seems to suggest that “very few autistic kids are like this; most are profoundly disabled,” but after watching yet another clip of a seemingly mentally retarded autistic girl who turns out to be a sassy, eloquent teenager (when she became able to express herself by typing) makes me question that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNZVV4Ciccg It’s really hard to determine whether someone is actually “mentally disabled” if you are not in their mind, since there can be so many issues with translating what they experience to the outer world.
This clip makes me think autism might be more of a problem of communication and translation than lack of content. In fact, when going through intense heavy metals detox, my boyfriend and I have both experienced times when vocal communication was difficult, and it felt like the means to talk was somehow “very far away.” Simply from toxicity. Did we stop thinking and feeling during this time? No. But we couldn’t talk much. The autism treatment community needs to consider this video and recognize that we can’t make assumptions about what is or isn’t going on inside someone else’s head, regardless of how “irrational” their behavior seems.
Could it be that many autistic people could have great skills, if only they were given tools to express and develop themselves in ways they actually enjoyed? Flow and enjoyment have profound effects on methylation and therefore detoxification, which seems to be one of the major problems in autism.
Ben Lynch talks about this in his video on MTHFR and methylation. He says that it is very difficult to balance methylation if your emotions are not good, if you are experiencing chronic stress and not doing things you enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRHif2aVPvw
2) Is autism behavioral therapy making autism worse?
Would any of us enjoy being made to sit and do things we aren’t good at and don’t enjoy for hours a day? This would probably make anyone’s health worse. Yet this is what we subject autistic kids to in an effort to get them to be more normal.
I honestly have to wonder whether coercive therapies that try to make autistic kids conform on the outside without taking account of what feels good for the kids themselves, could be making autism worse. Since as we know, stress has negative effects on immunity and methylation.
It’s making me think that one major approach to this gifted/autism spectrum problem could be simply enhancing your epigenetics in general. Balancing methylation with 23andme/Yasko tests and the proper methylation supplements for one’s genetics seems to help. Trauma processing seems to help quite a bit with sensory processing disorder and might help with autism spectrum. And beyond that, feeling appreciated, safe, and free to pursue life in a manner that is actually enjoyable to oneself seems to enhance methylation, detox, and health. Stress and coercion have profound effects on methylation.
And in the case of this child, Jake, it seems to have greatly helped his “autistic” symptoms. In the videos, he makes great eye contact! He doesn’t seem flat or unemotional, and instead seems to have a really refreshing attitude. Interestingly, he doesn’t even seem to be getting caught up in the ego trips of being a prodigy, and simply says, “well yeah I was doing what is fun for me” or something to that effect.
When I started researching this topic recently, I came up against the wall that many people with Asperger’s or too-gifted symptoms hit — which is, to succeed in the world, are we going to have to learn to do a number of things that are extremely uncomfortable for us?
I was bracing to have to force myself to practice these skills directly, but I also hand an inclination that there had to be some better way, and that following what actually felt good for me (see former posts on turning social skills challenges into challenges that are actually enjoyable for you) was probably better.
Maybe I was noticing that stressing myself to do things in uncomfortable ways impairs methylation, and that any solutions I have have to follow the path of low resistance, the path of bliss and flow, because only that path will help to keep me properly methylated/epigenetically healthy.
3) Bottom line is, if these are problems of poor methylation balance, and there’s reason to believe they are, loving what you do, being able to be heard and seen as a valuable person, and feeling social approval for what makes you special could be a great treatment for the entire autism/gifted spectrum.
Yet unfortunately we are doing crazy things to these people that only serve to hurt their methylation:
-Keeping gifted children in boring classrooms and forcing them to “learn to get along with regular people”
-Forcing autistic kids to “learn” social skills directly from therapy while perhaps keeping them from what they enjoy
-In general, not really encouraging gifted or autism spectrum people to pursue their unusual habits and interests.
-Negative feedback for being different, and people trying to slow us down or keep us from indulging the brain habits that satisfy us. For example, I read extremely fast and learn quickly and I felt my best when engaging in this at what for me was a comfortable speed. Yet people kept telling me to slow down. When I finally developed fatigue, they said “told you so,” even though the fatigue developed at a time when the challenges I was dealing with were halting and not correlated to validation or the possibility of succeeding, NOT at a time when I was simply enjoying doing my thing.
4) All in all, one of the main things I have noticed from writing this blog is how little I have tended to indulge my manic/gifted/Aspie side, simply because it is not socially rewarded and tends to get me into trouble in society. And how much I lose out on for not doing what I really enjoy (like full enjoyment of life in the way that is possible for me).
This is the side of me that makes me enjoy life and feel healthy, and yet it is hard to find outlets where I can turn it on at full force and not run into difficulty. (Which is why many gifted people learn to dumb themselves down or blunt themselves to avoid the social pain of others thinking we are showing off or being “too” this or “too” that. In fact, I have reason to believe that I used anorexia as a way to dumb myself down to avoid the discomfort of being so smart and intense and operating at such a faster pace than others. Not eating will certainly slow you down.)
The main area where gifted people seem to be able to be themselves at full force is in science and technology, and you find many people in those fields who are fairly well-adjusted and making a living and succeeding, even though it would seem that they might really struggle in more boring fields or if they didn’t have this outlet. Anecdotally, the work seems to keep them healthy. They seem to need sanctuaries where they can be a little unusual and intense and absent-minded-professor-ish and still be respected, since, as I’m starting to think, social approval might be a much greater switch of our epigenetics than we tend to realize, and a much bigger factor in whether we are healthy or not .
Some of us unfortunately have skills in slightly different areas, or need more creativity or humanities or music or emotion or whatever than science and technology can provide, or else we find ourselves with health problems that keep us from pursuing those fairly demanding fields, so we go into other things and sometimes struggle.
Truly being myself at my current job seems to put me out of sync with the rest of the company. I want to introduce one innovation a week, whereas it seems to take about six months for everyone to get used to each new change. I feel like I am holding my breath. I don’t want to create problems by being too intense, so I channel my intensity into other pursuits.
5) Anyway, per the main topic of this blog – how to enjoy life as a “giftie” – I’m getting a new concept that simply making one’s brain feel good might be the way to go. And finding outlets where you are validated or approved of for doing it. Because methylation and epigenetics seems to be so important.