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Quieting the Brain.

*The stories in these posts are a compilation of discussions that I have had with parents throughout the years.

I recently read an article written in 2013, about a father whose son was diagnosed years ago with Asperger’s Syndrome. This father also happens to be one of the world’s leading neuroscientists: the man behind the Human Brain Project. The diagnosis of autism prompted him to change the trajectory of his research and build a revolutionary new theory about autism. He proposes that the world is an overwhelming place for people on the autism spectrum, that their brains are hyperfunctional or excessively active. That there is an overwhelming amount of information and sensations being processed in their brains. When the tag in the shirt feels like sandpaper, when the overhead lights feel like laser beams, when the voice of your teacher sounds like a screaming eagle, when a fire alarm bell is an ear drum piercing screech. 

This neuroscientist asks the reader to "consider what it might feel like to be a baby in a world of relentless and unpredictable sensation.  An overwhelmed infant might, not surprisingly, attempt to escape. He compares it to being sleepless, jetlagged, and hung over, all at once.  'If you don’t sleep for a night or two, everything hurts. The lights hurt. The noises hurt. You withdraw'. Unlike adults, however, babies can’t flee.  All they can do is cry and rock, and, later, try to avoid touch, eye contact, and other powerful experiences. Autistic children might revel in patterns and predictability just to make sense of the chaos."

If this theory is to be believed, imagine how exhausting that is – a barrage of sights, sounds, sensations, emotions – all day long, every day. Then throw school into the mix, and ABA, and occupational therapy, and all the other appointments, and social situations. Now imagine how you feel when you are overwhelmed and multiply that by 10 or 100. Like being in Las Vegas and Times Square at the same time.

Some suggest that people on the autism spectrum are lacking emotion and have no empathy, but what if instead there is so much emotion and so much empathy that the only choice is to retreat. Without the necessary communication skills to process these emotions they come across as unempathetic. This theory raises those questions. 

Last month I talked about creating a safe space for your child in your house. I feel that it is so important, that I want to bring it up again. Think about a time when your child seemed at ease – what were you doing? How about a time when he was on the verge of a meltdown and was able to find a place of calm – where were you? Where does she flee to when she is overwhelmed? When you are overwhelmed what calms you down – channel that feeling to help your child. 

Is being outside in nature soothing? Is there a quiet place inside the house that she can escape to like a closet or tent? Does water feel calming – a bath, shower, or a swim. Do you have a special pet that sits with your child during those times? Does he enjoy playing the piano because the rhythm is relaxing or does she immerse herself in painting, drawing maps, or lining up dozens of matchbox cars in precise designs? The main idea is to find something that removes all the extra stimuli (that usually means no electronic devices), to lessen the clutter in their minds and provide some predictability.

We are all busy, we all have so many things going on in our lives, but our kids need us to build time into our days and busy schedules to reduce the chaos.  To quiet the brain. 

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