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’.
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 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…..as 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)