Aspergers and ADD

As promised, this the second one of my very personal perspectives on living with Asperger Syndrome.  If you have missed my introduction, you can find it here.

Not being professionally trained in these fields, I can only offer the most basic observations.  Many people diagnosed with ‘Asperger Syndrome’ are also diagnosed with one or more of other ‘problems’, such as ‘Attention Deficit Syndrome’ (ADD).  I wanted to link the ‘ADD’ bit to some good site that defines it, but, well, I could not find one that reflects reality.  My reality, anyway!

Contrary to popular belief (and the focus of most ‘ADD’ articles and treatments), this does not denote the inability to pay attention.  Rather, it denotes difficulties in contolling one’s ‘concentration’.  It’s like the ‘focus switch’ is very, very deep:  it takes a lot for something to trigger it, but when it does – it is just as hard for it to get un-triggered.  This is a much more complex thing than just being unable to settle down or to control one’s impulses. 

Rather, these are possible symptoms, not the causes of the problem.  Yet, it seems that no professional seems to want to see , discuss, treat or, indeed, acknowledge anything other than the symptoms…which is why they usually are not much help at all.

This is my personal suspicion of a small part of the causes:  it has a lot to do with ‘filtering’ the stimulae we are constantly bombarded with.  It’s like the ‘light’ and ‘medium’ filters are completely missing.  So, the only options the brain has is to use the ‘extra-strenght-don’t-let-anything-through’ filters, or no filters at all…

For example, I have a problem with my hair:  if it is cut short (or if I have bangs), the areas of my skin which are touched by the ends of the individuals hairs are constantly being stimulated.  I cannot, no matter how hard I try, control this continuous input.  It is constantly rubbing and I cannot block it.  The continuous stimulation to the skin results in a physiological response – exczema.  Mine is not a reaction to any hair product – this was tested for. 

It is a response to the constant, minor yet unceassing stimulation due to the hair-ends rubbing against my skin and it is something that fails to be filtered by the brain.  My only solution is to have hair long enough to pin up or tie back, so it does not touch my skin….then I have to rearrange it often so the ‘position’ of the hair does not become painful.  To other people, it looks like I am always fidgeting with my hair – like a nervous habit or a mannerism.  Yet, I am only relieving built up pain.

Compare this to a ‘normal’ (or, as many ‘Aspergers pride’ people refer somewhat condescendingly to the rest of the population, the ‘neurotypicals’, or NTs) response:  after being exposed to a repetitive stimulus for several minutes (less for some individuals), their brain automatically compensates.  An example is ‘getting used to’ the cool temperature of the lake, or the hot water in a bath.  The skin sends initial signals informing the brain of the new stimulus, but after a while, the intensity is decreased. 

For many people who have ADD (and most ‘Aspies’ do have some form of it), this ‘filtering’ does not always happen.  You are always aware of the clothing that is touching you.  You are always aware of even the minutest breeze rubbing your skin (I, for one, I experience even a tiny draft in a room as intense pain on my skin – I could never understand how people could stand in front of a fan, or go outside in the wind).

For me, it’s my skin (well, that’s one of my ‘things’).  Other people can have other things that they have trouble filtering out.  Bright light can make them feel blinded or anxious, or the light contrast between the digital display of a clock in a dark room can trigger such anxiety as to prevent one from being able to fall asleep.  Falling asleep in front of a TV would be unimaginable for these people.

On the other hand, I know several people who can only sleep with the TV on:  the constant yet irregular changes in light and sound levels help block the regular cyclicity of the white noise of the heating system, air conditioner, and so on which seem to feed into the subconscious and cause bad reactions.  If the TV is turned off after they fall asleep, the cyclicity of the white noise will be enough to trigger some feenback loop, which keeps buildig up until they get an axiety attack while they are sleeping!  Not a pleasant way to wake up…

And don’t even let me get started on the rustling of leaves, crickets chirping or wind chimes!

On the other hand, when my brain focuses on something – and I mean, really focuses on something – external stimula have about zero chance of breaking through.  People can talk to me – and claim I made responses – yet I am not aware of it…not even a little bit!  Little things, like fire alarms, can go completely unnoticed.  And I am not alone! 

When my younger son was only a few months old, we became worried because there were times – but only some times – when we could make a very loud noise, directly behind him – and I mean LOUD – yet it would produce absolutely no response in him whatsoever!  Not even the tiniest twitch!  His brain was being used in processing something else – so it paid no attention to the audial input.  The physical reaction was the same as if he had never registered the stimulus at all!  I must admit, I am also guilty of this – as are both my husband, and my father….

But, here comes the interesting bit:  and yes, my father, my son and my husband all display this:  sometimes, you speak to them, they hear what is said and their brain stores it in some sort of a ‘buffer’ – but it never gets to the bit of brain that actually processes it.  They are completely unaware of whatever it was that was said, and appear oblivious to having been spoken to.  But, if you ask them to go back, they can ‘replay’ the message from the ‘buffer’ in their brain and ‘listen’ to it.  ‘Oh, yes’, they say, ‘I get what you want now!’

Hopefully, this will help give people a little bit of understanding of what is happening in those of us with ADD.