Why An Intense World?

Since learning my older son, Daniel, has autism, I have spent a great deal of time reading about it. With my undergraduate degree and two years of graduate school in molecular biology, the things I typically read are on the molecular biology and neurobiology of autism. Since I can understand the most recent research, that’s what I prefer to read.

One theory I have read about makes a great deal of sense to me. It’s called the Intense World Theory of autism. The theory is basically that positive feedback dominates in the brain, and as we’ll see shortly, this idea can make a lot of sense out of the way autistics experience the world and behave.

Of course, there are plenty of detractors when it comes to this theory, though it seems that the main complaint about this theory is that it does not explain all forms of autism. Given a recent metastudy suggesting there are at least three different kinds of autism, I would hardly think this is in fact a real a problem of the theory. In fact, this is good news, since we will begin to understand more clearly why some things work for some autistic children, but not for others. If they don’t actually have the same syndrome, you wouldn’t expect the same things to work for everyone. That being said, the Intense World Theory, as described in the above linked article, makes a lot of sense to me.

My interest in the brain precedes my even having children, as my dissertation, Evolutionary Aesthetics, shows. In my dissertation I review some of the neurological underpinnings of artistic production and creation, with a focus on language and literature. Since then, I have mostly published, though, on self-organizing scale-free network processes — including spontaneous orders — in which negative and positive feedback is present.

Coincidentally, brains are these kinds of systems as well. So let me quickly explain the different kinds of feedback.

When a system is dominated by negative feedback, the system tends toward equilibrium. Think of your home’s air conditioning. When your house gets too warm, the thermostat turns the cold air on. And when your house gets too cold, the thermostat turns the cold air off. Thus, the temperature remains the same, more or less.

When a system is dominated by positive feedback, you get runaway growth. It would be as though you had a thermostat that make the air get colder the colder the air became. Of course, in a world with limits, you don’t actually get runaway growth, but instead you get regular cycles — booms and busts, in economic terms.

When such a system has both positive and negative feedback present at the same time, you have what is called a biotic system — such systems are complex and creative. Spontaneous orders are biotic systems — especially in combination with other spontaneous orders, other scale free networks, etc.

Most people’s brains have both kinds of feedback. There are probably a few aspects of the brain that are dominated by negative feedback, simply to keep things stable, but it cannot dominate a brain without the person no longer reacting to anything but the most extreme situations.

According to the Intense World Theory of autism, the autistic brain is dominated by positive feedback. That means the brain gets ramped up and the person becomes more sensitive to the world around them–more, that means some degree of cycling, which can be interpreted as being slightly bipolar.

I see these traits in both my son and myself. Which is why i titled my blog An Intense World.

Introduction to Daniel

Daniel is 7. When he was around 3 and still not speaking very much, we took him to the Richardson school district to get him evaluated. Indeed, it was more than his speech delay that prompted us to take him — there were his behaviors, many of which my wife insisted were odd, but which I had insisted were within the realm of normal, using myself as a standard; there was a tendency to collect and carry around Matchbox and Hot Wheel cars rather than play with them; there were sensory sensitivities; there were the tantrums. All of this taken together resulted in the diagnosis of autism.

Shortly thereafter Daniel was put into PPCD. We have to say that we were generally quite pleased with the outcomes there. His language and social skills improved. He became friends with several of the children there — in particular two boys who behaved just like Daniel, and who in turn seemed to think Daniel was just the greatest thing since chocolate ice cream. Daniel moved from merely playing next to children to (sometimes) playing with children — including his two siblings. Of course, Daniel tries to direct the play so that everyone is doing what he wants them to do, but it’s a level of interaction we had not seen before he was five. Today, he is very much more verbal, he plays with both his brother and sister, and he still tries to direct play.

Daniel is very curious. He wants to know what things are made of and how they work. He is a deductive thinker, is able to make associations, and can see right through to the correct cause-and-effect relationships. For example, when he was five and I was reading him the book Wacky Wednesday, I pointed out one of the cars; it is missing its back wheels, and the person in the back is walking the back of the car with his legs. I asked him what was wacky in the picture, and that was one of the things at which he pointed. I asked him why it was wacky, and he said, “The wheels are missing. And the bottom of the car is missing so his legs are sticking out.” You cannot actually see that the bottom of the car is missing; Daniel correctly deduced it was missing. To say your average 5 year old cannot do that is an understatement.

His current interest is sharks. And Star Wars. Both he and his brother are obsessed with Star Wars, and they especially love the bad guys–Dylan loves Darth Maul and Daniel loves the Storm Troopers–and the Lego’s toys. Daniel also has a fish tank because he loves fish.

Daniel has a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to doing things. I have to encourage and encourage him. A good example of this was with drawing. He was having me draw him cars and trucks (with which he was obsessed at the time), but he would not draw the pictures himself. One day, I just kept insisting that he draw. He was getting upset, but I kept insisting. Finally, he drew a “road” and asked me to draw a car on it. Well, that was something, so I drew his car. I kept getting him to draw the “roads” until one day I insisted he draw the car. He, again, started getting upset, insisting he couldn’t do it. I told him I wanted him to try, that I wanted to see his cars. He asked me if it would make me happy. I told him it would. He drew some circles, and some were actually quite good. Of course, Daniel could immediately tell which ones were good and which ones were not, and he wasn’t going to put up with being told the bad circles were good. “Yes, but look at how good these are” did manage to work, and I managed to encourage him to draw a car. His cars are boxes on circles, but he was drawing. And now he draws all the time, first making cars and houses, and now drawing Star Wars characters.

Daniel also love building things. He loves blocks and Legos. And he’s showing more and more interest in building things. He loves going to the Perot Museum and building things there.

His language has been improving quite a bit since his diagnosis. He still primarily uses language to inform others and to ask for information, but we was five before he carried on an actual conversation with his mother, Anna, while we were driving home from somewhere.

Daniel is a bit sensitive to sounds, but he also has a tendency to use that sensitivity as an excuse when he doesn’t want to hear something, like “Clean up your toys.” What this says to me is that he knows we understand he is sensitive to sounds at times and that we sympathize with him about that, so he is trying to exploit that sympathy to avoid doing something he doesn’t want to do. For those who think that there is a deficient theory of mind in those with autism, I invite them to explain that level of metaunderstanding.

I spend a lot of time with Daniel, perhaps in no small part because I get him. Of course, I get him because the two of us have very similar minds. We may have difficulty truly understanding neurotypicals, but we have little difficulty understanding each other.

Troy’s Introduction

I decided to create this blog because I think I provide a unique perspective on the topic of autism.

For example, I am the father of an autistic son, Daniel. But I discovered, through the research I did on autism after learning Daniel was autistic, that I have Asperger’s. I was officially diagnosed in the Fall of 2016, and I score 33-35 on the Autism Spectrum Quotient test (33-50 is autism; 26-32 is Asperger’s). I spoke early and read early, and a lack of language delay typically has meant a diagnosis of Asperger’s rather than autism. But the DSM-V has defined it all as autism.

This means that my wife is not just the mother of an autistic son, but the wife of an autistic husband.

We also have two other children. Melina, our daughter, is the oldest, and our son Dylan is the youngest. Dylan had a slight speech delay, but does not seem to have any other autistic traits. Melina has been tested for autism, but scored just under what was needed to get a diagnosis, meaning she has a few traits, but isn’t quite on the spectrum. Indeed, Dylan has a few traits himself, mostly obsessive traits.

It is not uncommon for the siblings of an autistic child to have several autistic traits themselves. The same is true of at least one of the parents. Many parents have learned they have Asperger’s when their child gets diagnosed with autism, as was the case with me. And the more I think about my family, I’m convinced my mother probably had Asperger’s (girls/women express autism differently than do boys), and that her father probably had Asperger’s as well.

I believe Daniel’s and my autism are due to the features described by the Intense World theory of autism. That is why I chose to call my blog “An Intense World.” Daniel and I live in a very intense world. If you follow us, you will get to know more about that world.