autism emotions brain

Autism, Empathy, and How the Brain Might Truly Work

As someone who is around a high-functioning Autistic child daily, it is easy to see that many of society’s current notions about the disorder, and how it effects the brain and empathy, might be incorrect. This interesting article was sent me that backed up some current feelings we have in this household.

Autism is thought to result from a deficit in the brain’s social region based on research and ideas starting in the 1980 called the “theory of mind” developed by Uta Frith, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Alan Leslie.

They found that autistic children are late to develop the ability to distinguish between what they know themselves and what others know—something that other children learn early on.

What if however, their perspective was just different? What if they were actually taking in so much information, it became difficult to separate and think about things from a different view point?

autism empathy brain

Nationally renowned neuroscientist and father of a high-functioning autistic boy, Henry Markram, is looking into how autistic children might have “mind blindness” (or a failure to take on different perspectives) but not actually lack understanding of others all together. Markhram’s colleague and another neuroscientist, Michael Merzenich, proposed that autism is caused by an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neurons.

So Markram started his research at a circuitry level. They studied rats with autistic behaviors and used what we know about VPA drugs, like Depakote, to increase the odds of these specific rats. The networked VPA cells responded almost 2xs as strong as the normal cells. The cells had become hyper-connected. The rats infected were quicker to both frighten and learn. They also had a harder time forgetting because everything that might of given them fear (the room, the feeling, the smell) would re-trigger the same reaction. The VPA rats learn too quickly with too much irreversible fear.

Markram notes how this sounds more like his son as it does with our experiences of Autism. Depending on the child’s individual experiences and make up, being made of these hyperactive cells could explain a lot of different things we know about Autism.

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fine motor skills

Fine Motor Skills: Milestones Checklist, 0-2 yrs

Fine motor skills are an important part of child development. They prepare children not only for writing, an everyday skill, but also for eating, dressing, and other important self-help skills. Here are some skills your child 0-2 years old should be exhibiting:

Birth to 3 months

  • Hand to Mouth
  • Reflexive grasp (Place a finger in your child’s palm. Child should automatically hold your finger)
  • Visually Tracking High contrast toys (Red, black, and white have been shown to be the most intriguing to this group). Tracking center (midline) to side (both left and right)

3-6 months

  • Swipes at dangling objects
  • Follows moving objects with eyes (3-5 seconds is a typical attention span)
  • Recognizes bottle
  • Grasp and shakes rattle

6-9 months

  • Raking small objects
  • Clapping
  • Poking finger in hole
  • Transfer object from one hand to another
  • Explores toys with hands and mouth

9-12 months

  • Pincer grasp (a three finger approach to picking up things like cheerios)
  • Removes socks
  • Removes 2-3 pegs from peg board
  • Puts objects in and takes them out of containers
  • 30 second visual and auditory attention span

fine motor skills

12-24 months

  • Opens book, turns single page
  • Tapping spoon
  • Helps with dressing
  • Plays quietly 5-10 minutes
  • 5 minute plus attention span with a single toy
  • Stacks 2-6 blocks
  • Dumps objects out of a container
  • Scribbles in imitation of vertical stroke
  • Inserts three shapes into shape sorter
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speech and language milestones

Speech and Language Milestones: Birth through Kinder

Speech and language milestones are important little snippets that give us insight into how a child is developing. If your child is falling behind, they might just need a little help to achieve more. It might be a sign of some larger problem, but there is also a great chance that if you address their language now they will be ready to learn in school. Here are some great speech and language milestones to look for:

9 months- Produces long chains of consonant-vowel combinations

12 to 18 months- Identifies up to 6 body parts; Asks for “more”; Says 8-15 words; Follows one step commands; Uses the t, d, n, and h sounds

18 to 24 months- Imitates environmental noises; Uses 50 words; Uses me, my, mine; Uses 2 word phrases; Understands action words

2 to 3 years- Responds to WH questions, Responds to greeting, Expresses physical states (like tired, thirsty); Identifies 4 object by function (like, What do you eat with?)

3 to 5 years- Follows two step unrelated commands (like, put away the book and close the door); Uses the consonants: m, p,b,k,g,v,sh,ch; speaks intelligibility 90-100% with unfamiliar listener; answers yes/no correctly

speech and language milestones


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High Functioning Autism: Signs and Perspective

High Functioning Autism, HFA, as of 2013 absorbed the label Aspergers. This is the result of the DSM-5 (the test to label it) replacing what it was labeled as. There is talk of another test changing these possibilities in 2017, but that is up in the air. This interesting link was sent to me. It compiles a bunch of different individuals with autism and gives you their insight as to what it feel like to have autism. As we know it is important to think what it feels like to walk in another persons shoes, and hearing it directly from them is the best source. Obviously it is a spectrum and each individual has unique experiences, but there is also something that binds them as a group. By understanding them better, we can be better educators, parents, advocates, therapists, and/or whatever other way in which we relate to one another. It is just part of understanding better how all the the puzzle pieces.

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Here are some signs of High Functioning Autism:

  • Inability to build friendship
  • Social awkwardness
  • Clumsiness
  • Hyper-focus
  • Extremely stuck on their routines
  • Lack of/forced eye contact
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Literal Interpretations
  • Difficulty with fine motor (writing, cutting)
  • Selective Muteness

All of these might not apply to your child or your child might have acquired skills to ‘fake’ some of these. Remember each child on the spectrum is different. Also the link above provides great stories that provide insight to adults with high functioning autism. It seems most are leading full lives, so although autism doesn’t fall in the ‘norm,’ and I do suggest getting your child as much help as possible…there are great possibilities ahead.

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