Asperger’s & the Overprotective Brain

Danger, Will Robinson!DSM-V removed the classification of Asperger’s and placed it at the “light” end of the Autism spectrum. There has been some talk, however, that Asperger’s and Autism are actually two distinct conditions supported also by MRIs and so on. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “overprotective” nature of the Asperger’s brain and see that it does differ somewhat from the Autistic model. Where the Asperger’s brain is like a shield, the Autistic one almost seems to sabotage its owner. (For an in-depth, scholarly view of the amygdala and the relevance detection theory of autism: an evolutionary perspective, click this link: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00894/full

I liken a lot of Asperger’s behavior to stone age development. Some aspies don’t make eye contact. This makes sense because eye contact is often seen as a sign of aggression. Aspies tend to think in terms of black & white. This is helpful in figuring out who’s on your side and who means harm. There can be no grey area with this simplistic concept as it can mean life or death. Collecting and categorizing things really comes in handy during the winter months when foraging for food is difficult because of the ice and snow. No matter how much I try to “turn off” my extreme, scream-at-the-owner-till-he’s-shocked/spider sense fear of dogs, when I inadvertently encounter one on the street, that’s exactly what my instant reaction is while I quickly look for a tree to fly up in to. My survival instincts kick in with such brute force that I momentarily have no control, none zero zip. Paying particular attention to detail and patterns comes in handy when you’re staring at a familiar section of the forest and all seems okay to you because things are still and quiet. Any disturbance, however slight, could mean a snake in the grass or a predator in the bushes and it’ll suddenly be time to haul ass. Fight or flight. By comparison I’ve seen Autistic kids who come into supermarkets and stay in one fixed position. Deadly if they’re in the forest. Aspies are sometimes overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds in a market, a sign that it’s better to avoid this conflagration of sensations just in case it means you harm.

I wonder if our stone age ancestors were smaller than their social cousins? Given that we’re the ones who get bullied we were probably smaller and weaker back then. I wouldn’t be surprised. That would probably make us more like collectors than hunters. Makes sense. Aspies can be anxious and timid to the point that they think everyone is trying to hurt them; best, then, to avoid people just in case they’re carrying a big stick. And I suppose having extra-sensitive vision and hearing also comes in handy for sensing those relatively quiet predator claws on the forest floor as well as seeing enemies from a distance. Shoot, everything’s trying to eat you. No wonder our lizard brain/limbic system/amygdala is always in overdrive. It’s no wonder why one of the ways we try to calm ourselves is stimming (rocking back and forth, bouncing our legs, etc). The hyper vigilance is like the robot on the TV show “Lost In Space.” In almost every episode it warns, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” Can’t really socialize, or develop social skills, if you think everything’s trying to eat you, right? Danger, indeed.

It’s interesting to lie around now at my age looking back at my life . My behaviours are becoming crystal clear. Here are a few probabilities why: I stayed single all my life unlike my brothers, sister and cousins because I was “supposed” to. Maybe I separated from the ancient group because of a natural land formation or disaster, or my tribe was killed by another tribe and I was forced to learn to survive alone. If I had seen another tribe in the distance it was best to avoid them because chances are they wouldn’t be sympathetic to my plight and try to eat me. I wouldn’t have been able to talk my way out of it because they wouldn’t understand me anyway. Even though we looked the same (just with different pelts) and smelt the same I didn’t recognize their secret grunts, the main one being Og had laid a trap for me and was waiting patiently for me to fall into it.

I also spent some of my solitary time living  in the woods of a mountain., specifically, the Catskills. Personally, I don’t think my mountain man days are over given the huge amount of time I’ve been homeless and un-domiciled. My long drives from Rhode Island to Los Angeles, Nashville to Seattle, New York City to Montreal, New York to Iowa and other trips were “supposed” to happen. My great, great, great etc grandfather from 50,000 years ago was forced to become itinerant because of famine and the tribe had to eat the runt of the litter which would have been, of course, him.

My intense fascination with the grid layout of a city, it’s transportation routes, and it’s landmarks was of similar importance to grandpa because one direction had a cannibalistic tribe that tried to eat him six months before, one direction had a hidden cave in which to sleep because those neck of the woods were bereft of Neanderthal-eating tigers. In another direction laid an undiscovered mangrove of various edible fruit, hopefully, that was ,just waiting for grandpa to eat. He had to remember the circuitous routes back to areas that offered him great protection so a formation of trees, a stream, fallen logs, specific vines or flowers were important. He must’ve also stayed in the woods so long that he barely saw the sun, making him very sensitive to its light on those rare occasions he found himself in a clearing running from a black saber-tooth bear. I’m being allegorical, of course, but the sentiments remain the same.

I ate the same things, and only those things, for months on end. One month it’ll only be frozen pizza, another month just frozen Chinese food (where my blood pressure would, of course, spike to stroke levels). There were also months of just clam chowder and months of just Chef Boyardee’s spaghetti and meat balls. At one point I had 150 cans of them stacked in a corner of my living room. When I bought it the clerk from the supermarket asked me if I was preparing for a zombie holocaust. I said no, but really, that could actually happen given the destructiveness, violence, aggression and nuclear weapons of man.

Wearing the same thing every day, just like Neanderthal grandpa, just makes sense. What he could change into was of no consequence, especially with a cannibalistic tribe just a few clicks behind him. He thought Og’s fascination with his own multiple fur pelt was ridiculous and excessive even though it made him a hit in his tribe. Collecting and categorizing acorns and nuts was more fun anyway given the harshness of the winters and the various tastes of the nuts. Plus, grandpa had nothing else to occupy his time in the cave anyway because the wheel wasn’t invented yet.

Or maybe he was just garden variety crazy.

Forgetting Who You Are

rememberFor the past year or so the main things on my mind are Jainism and autism. You can also add homelessism to the canon but it’s not necessary – it’s not really an ism and shouldn’t be something I look forward to anyway. I’ve never forgotten I’m a writer especially since I try to lay in a new blog post every week or so. One thing I did lay on the back burner is my songwriting. I haven’t written a song in years; hell, I don’t even have a guitar. From the way I live now you’d never guess I released albums, played in a few bands and engineered at a recording studio in midtown Manhattan. I got reminded this week that I am a songwriter, though. One of the songs from my solo album “Quartermoon” is going to be released, hopefully, in Europe soon and the video created in a month or so. The song is “Make A Big Noise” and I promise not to get a big head if it becomes a hit. It’s weird though especially since I am now a Jain and practice aparigraha, the concept of non-possessiveness, non-attachment, non-greediness, non-having moneyness.  I have only one pair of pants, one pair of shoes, eight shirts, my car and this laptop. The idea, of course, is that happiness derives from owning as little as possible. That makes sense to me because if I have basically nothing to steal I don’t have to look over my shoulder all the time. I think as long as I remember I’m an addict in addition to being an autistic Jain, and keep on working on myself, I should be okay.