ADD, Aspergers and the ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome

This is not a ‘medical theory’ or even an ‘expert hypothesis’,  just my own thoughts and ideas.  Still, I do suspect that ADD/ADHD and Asperges are both a type of ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome:

Let us do a ‘thought experiment’…

You come to see your doctor because you can’t put any weight on one of your feet, and you want your doctors to help you. They run their ‘standard tests’ and diagnoses you with ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ (CPWOF) syndrome.   You are told that predicting the success of the treatment is difficult, because different approaches work for different people.
Some people are lucky and the CPWOF syndrome goes away on its own – they ‘grow out of it’. For others, there is a variety of treatments they can try, hoping one will work.

They can try icing it – perhaps even using a brace to support it.

They might try hot baths in salty water, perhaps rubbing in some antibiotic ointment.

Some people respond well to pain medication. Or, anti-inflammatory drugs…

Or other ‘stuff’.

Or nothing.

So, let’s try cycling through the treatments!

By now, you may have guessed that the ‘standard tests’ are questionnaires to be filled out by your family, perhaps teachers, for their observations of how you walk. Pages and pages of questions like:

Does he favour his foot: all the time, most of the time, some of the time, a little bit of the time, never. Circle the answer that fits best….

If they want ‘hard metrics’ – you know, ‘scientific data’ – they may ask you to put your foot on a scale and put as much of your weight on it as you can manage. That will give them ‘a hard number’ to work with!

Of course, this diagnosis does not differentiate between the ’causes’ of CPWOF syndrome.   The syndrome itself is so fascinating, they want to take a ‘whole-istic’ (chuckle at their own little joke) approach to it and not get bogged down in the details of ’causes’. (Translation: they don’t know and don’t care.  They have a ‘name’ for it and a bunch of treatments to try, and that’s enough…)

To make a long story short – whether you cannot put weight on your foot because you sprained your ankle or broke your femur or got a rusty nail stuck in your heel – or, if your foot got eaten by some piranhas that somehow got lost and ended up in your bathtub while you were soaking in it – it does not matter. You have ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome!

(I also secretly suspect that many immune system diseases and disorders, limbic system illnesses and brain chemistry imbalances are also one form of CPWOF syndrome or another…a ‘label’ hung onto a collection of ‘similar’ symptoms, regardless of their root causes.  I also suspect that this interferes with proper analysis of ‘problems’ where one set of root causes can present as a very diverse variety of external symptoms.  This then would, I suspect, prevent correct diagnosis and even preclude a search for any effective treatment…)

In other words, I think that diagnosing someone with ‘ADD’ or ‘Aspergers’ is like diagnosing them with a ‘headache’ – and treating all headaches as if they were ‘the same thing’, regardless of whether it is caused by migranes, having been hit in the head by a baseball, a tumour or having over-indulged in alcohol…or any other billion possible causes for a ‘headache’.

So, what is it that this ‘headache’, this CPWOF of Aspergers and ADD/ADHD is? Instead of ‘not being able to put weight on foot’, we  have ‘malfunctioning filters’.  But, I am getting ahead of myself…

In order to be diagnosed with Aspergers, one has to first be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. As in, everyone who has Aspergers has ADD/ADHD, but not everyone who has ADD/ADHD has Aspergers.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to see if there ‘is’ some ‘common mechanism’ to both conditions which differs from ‘the norm’.

This, then, is my hypothesis:

Both disorders/conditions could be caused by a break-down/partial development/some interference with the same ‘system’ in our brain and which could be described as: fewer ‘filters’, less conscious control over ‘filters’.

The difference is that in ADD/ADHD, only the sensory filters are broken. In Aspergers, these also don’t work, but, there are others that are also broken. And this is what leads to more pervasive disorders, problems, challenges – whatever you want to call them.

What do I mean by ‘sensory filters’?

One simple experiment that just about everyone I know has tried in one form or another is the whole putting one hand into cold water, the other into warm water. At first, we will have strong sensations that one hand is ‘cold’ and the other is ‘hot’. But, as time goes on, this will be less and less – the signal will diminish in strength over time, until we will ‘get used to’ the temperatures. Then, when we take our hands out of the water and touch them to each other, we’ll be amazed at the temperature difference between them when our brain is telling us both are ‘fine’….

That is an example of ‘sensory filters’ at work.

More simple examples:

We feel ‘clothing’ as we got dressed – but we are not consciously aware of every bit of clothing touching every bit of our skin at all times while we are wearing the clothes.

We may hear the furnace/air conditioner is on when we enter a room, but, after being in it for a while, we hardly notice its noise in the background…

People often over-apply perfume, because after they have been wearing it for a while, they do not smell it as much and keep re-applying more and more, increasing the ‘dose’ in order to get the same level of sensory input reporting it.

This is how our ‘filters’ ought to function. And, most ‘normal’ or ‘neurotypical’ people have lots of these ‘filters’, in various strengths.

In ADD/ADHD people, it is as if there were way fewer of these ‘filters’. Instead of, say, 100 (from weakest to strongest), we might have 20.

Or 3.

Or just 2:   100% ‘on’ and 100% ‘off’!

(Not all people with ADD/ADHD will have ALL their filters broken.  Some individuals may have ‘fewer’ filters in one specific area, others may have fewer ‘across the board’.  And, for some, it seems as if the ‘filters’ existed – but were only accessible at some times while totally off-line and unavailable at other times….which would drive their teachers and parents absolutely nuts about ‘inconsistencies in behaviour’! )

So, if the filter were 100% ‘on’, people might be calling your name, the fire alarm might be on, but, since you are reading a book and the rest of your ‘filters’ is ‘100% on’, you honestly do not hear any of it.

The ‘neat’ thing – the one that made me think of this as ‘filters’ rather than anything else – is that you actually DO perceive the sounds physically. It’s just that the brain sticks the information that you perceived the sound into a ‘buffer’ – and leaves it there unless you specifically try to retrieve it. Then it is a toss up as to whether the buffer has been ‘wiped’ or whether you can access the info held in it.

My younger son, for example, would not react to sounds as an infant – sometimes. Not even the ‘flinch’ which babies are supposed to have (say, when we are getting to 8 months of age and so on) when a loud sound happens directly behind them. He had absolutely no reaction. Yet at other times he obviously found even moderate sounds painfully loud…

Now, when he does not respond to what I say – not even aware of me talking to him – and I get his attention, I can ask him ‘what did I say’. He says he doesn’t know. I ask him to’ re-play it’. He does. He can repeat it word per word perfectly.

Only after he repeats it does he comprehend it!

Weird, but true.

My husband has the same thing… does my dad.

With Aspergers, these same malfunctions with ‘filters’ – or, perhaps ‘missing filters’ also exist. But, rather than just sensory ones (that drive one to distraction at one point while make them oblivious to their surroundings the next moment), the filters on feelings and emotions and – hormones – are similarly not all there, or broken, or whatever.  (And, having problems with ‘both sets’ it is sometimes difficult to tell where the dividing line ‘ought to lie’…)

So, it is easy for Aspies to get ‘overwhelmed’ by emotion and adrenalin, because where a neurotypical (NT) person would feel a gradual rise in these, we don’t. The floodgates are either down – and we ‘appear cold, unfeeling and un-empathetic’ or they are all the way up and we are ‘out of control’.  Total meltdown.

Many of us learn to develop various ways of ‘shutting down’ as a self-protection from this overwhelming flood….because this flood is often accompanied with adrenalin flood (we panic from being emotionally overwhelmed, which releases the adrenalin…).

This is bad.

Not only does it shut down our brain functions like, say, thinking, it also leaves us physically ill from the overpowering adrenalin rush. We get clammy and shaky and icky inside and out.

And most Aspies really, really, really do not like this feeling.  A lot.

What many people don’t understand is that  it is not just ‘negative’ stuff that can trigger this reaction.  ‘Positive’ emotions and feelings are just as dangerous to Aspies and their end-result is just as unpleasant and uncomfortable – at times quite painful, physically!

So, as we grow up and try to cope with this world (!),  we try to learn how to avoid ’emotionality’, even on a sub-conscious level.

If you know people with ADD/ADHD and/or Aspergers – or if you happen to be one yourself – please, try to see your experiences through the prism of my little hypothesis.  Then, whether it ‘makes sense’ or not – or any other observations you might have about this, please, let me know through the comments.  Pooling our observations and analysis might, perhaps, help us help each other!

(Cross-posted at Xanthippa on Aspergers)

7 Responses to “ADD, Aspergers and the ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome”

  1. Shawna Says:

    AS is really more common in boys than in girls, Asperger syndrome is a neurological disorder that is the result of some anomaly in the brain . This is a critical point for teachers and coaches to understand; actions displayed by children with AS are not due to willful misbehavior. In fact, children with AS have no more ability to control their behaviors and preoccupations than children with cerebral palsy have the ability to control their muscles.

  2. Cassandra Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Might it simply be that the children cannot control their hands and fingers adequately, for example repeatedly generating the calibrated force required to produce a series of shapes of a the same size? Certainly both children had difficulty in maintaining consistent size and slope when writing.

  3. Shane Says:

    I have ADD, there is no question. I am being evaluated for Aspergers at the end of the month. A lot of what you said, or hypothesized hit home, but something shocked me. Toward the end you mentioned an adrenaline rush, that left you drained, and clammy, and shut down, and just generally feeling icky inside. I have had these for years, since I was 12 in fact. I was tested, and no one could tell me what it was. Doctors assumed it was petit mal epilepsy, despite my assurances to the contrary. I dont lose consciousness, but I get a surge, like an endorphine rush, and then I have trouble speaking, I feel like I just want to curl up, and sit still, I feel clammy, and my head swims. I had never evem thought to put this in the aspergers folder in my head. Amazing! I just want my brain to be more linear. Im very smart, but harnessing all of my thought process is difficult if not impossible. I can sit down and build a circuit board, but my math skills are terrible. I was repairing lawn mowers and vcrs at ten years old, but I did terrible in school, due to “acting out” or boredom. This may sound bizarre, but I hope I get a confirmation of Aspergers. That diagnosis seems to umbrella all the little quirks, and issues I have in one nice near package. I am blown away.

    Xanthippa says:

    I’m glad I was able to have made a piece of the puzzle ‘click’ into place.

    I understand where you are coming from!

    Many people seem to think a ‘diagnosis of Aspergers’ is a bad thing. Really, it is not: it is simply a confirmation that you are not nuts – and not alone! It does not change who YOU ARE – but it makes it easier for ‘mundanes’ or ‘neurotypicals’ (pick a label that does not offend you) to accept us if they have a nifty little ‘label’ for us!

    One thing I have become convinced of: Aspergers affects each person a little bit differently, but, there are some general or ‘global’ similarities. One of these is that we learn DIFFERENTLY than ‘mundanes’. We truly do.

    Study after study has shown that we do not learn well by ‘memorizing’, but excel at learning by ‘figuring out’. If we want to remember anything, we have to be able to ‘reason it out’ from ‘something’…whether a silly association or deriving it from first principles.

    In order for Aspies to do well at school, we need a completely different ‘learning tool set’ than ‘neurotypicals/mundanes’ do. Yet, this is not understood by educators – much less do they know what this tool set is! That is why so many Aspies are smart and knowledgeable and understand ‘stuff’ at a deep level, but are still unable to score well at school tests!

    However, Aspergers is a dominant gene…. (I don’t know ANY family with 2-Aspie parents where there is even 1 non-Aspie kid – but I do know 2 non-Aspie parent families with 1 or more Aspie kids!!! That makes Aspergers a dominant gene and we will see our society change, gradually, into a place where non-Aspies are the exception. Personally, I think this will make the world a much better place.)

    As we see more and more Aspies, the educators will have to learn to adjust. You and I just happen to be on the leading edge of the growing wave of Aspies!

  4. ‘Depression’ is ‘not being able to feel’ « Xanthippa's Chamberpot Says:

    […] just like with so many other conditions related to brain chemistry, this is a bit of the old ‘can’t-put-weight-on-foot syndrome’:  a single set of symptoms is the only visible result of a number of various and quite different […]

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  6. angelofletters Says:

    Hey, Xan

    This is an excellent post. I read somewhere that, if we hadn’t learned how to tune out just the background noise that results from rushing air and other weather patterns that occur inside an ordinary room in a house, the ambient sound would be deafening—we wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves think!

    Please read my chapter in An Exceptional Pupil, entitled “Gestalt Thinking: Events within a Moment, and the Temporal Lobe as Sensory Scheduler.” It is about how millions of tiny sensory inputs are contained within this cash, and not filtered and pieced together until they can be reconciled and perceived as a momentary “event” in time—even something as simple as seeing something and hearing the noise it makes as a single “event.”

    For lack of neurotypical “filtering,” sometimes the sight and the noise presented by something can actually be perceived in slightly separate “slices” of time, because the sight might reach your sensory system a fraction of a second earlier than the sound that “goes with it.” Sounds and sights don’t go together in real time—they must be held in this cash, then pieced together, before they can be reconciled and perceived as a single, unified “event.”

    So I’m not the least bit surprised that your son didn’t piece together the “meaning” of what you just said, but had stored each word of it for later filtering, piecing, processing, and interpreting at a subsequent “moment” when his sensory system had time to “catch up,” so to speak.

    This process of “sensory scheduling” works more smoothly and seamlessly in neurotypicals than in Aspergers. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Your son was slower than a neurotypical at filtering your words for meaning, but more accurate in remembering each word as a separate “event,” each word occurring in a separate “slice” of time. Neurotypicals have to go through the same process of “adding words up,” then “interpreting them as a whole,” they just do it in a more efficient and less accurate way. If what you need is accuracy, get an Aspie to do it. If what you need is efficiency, get a neurotypical to do it. If you need both, I guess Aspies and neurotypical have to work on the same project together.

    This, as you point out, is not a hard and fast rule. Everyone, whether they are neurotypical or not, is capable of switching from one mode to the other and does so countless times every day. All of us adjust our modes of perception to suit the circumstances—the difference is how often and when.

    On a related note, when can we expect to see the U Tube video of the speech you gave at Yale which touches on these glitches in sensory filtering?

    Xan says:

    I don’t know!!!

    The organizers have promising to put the video up, but haven’t yet. But, the moment it is out, I’ll post it.

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