Emotions… Clues To Overcoming The “Stuck On High” Control Knob…
Perhaps one of the most complicated areas to understand in human thought processing was that of emotions. Emotions were, I would argue, even more difficult to understand in the child with autism – a child who appeared to be often unable to perceive emotion in others, yet, whose own emotions often seemed “stuck in overdrive” as evidenced by the many emotional outbursts so often seen in these children as a result of something that, quite frankly, could appear so trivial to a normal person.
Clearly, in order to be able to communicate with a child with autism, there had to be the ability to control his emotions. Not surprising to me was the fact that functions having to do with emotions were co-located in the temporal lobe along with the understanding of language. Yet, the ability to perceive emotions in others was located in the amygdale and the “control knob” for emotions – or “emotion control” was located in the frontal lobe. As such, if these areas were not communicating properly, as I very much believed to be the case, one could certainly see why “emotions” in children with autism, would be so difficult not only to understand, but to control.
Throughout my journey with autism, as I continued to research, I continued to find little nuggets that helped me to better understand specific issues. For example, the amygdale appeared to be involved not only in the perception of emotions in others, but, the amygdale, appeared to be that part of the brain could result in the experience of “fear” when stimulated. It also appeared to be an “integrator” for combining all “emotion” information in the brain. Note that the amygdale synapsed directly with the frontal lobe – that part of the brain responsible for the “control of emotions” – and also that part of the brain very much associated with the sense of – smell – perhaps explaining why simply taking a deep breath could so powerfully help one to control one’s emotions not only in times of personal stress but in response to emotions of others also, etc.
Below were quotes relating to the subject of “emotion” taken from books I had previously written. When taken together, these quotes truly helped to understand the issue of “control of emotions” in the child with autism – and indeed, in man himself!
“Zachary’s sense of smell did not seem to be affected, other than his general dislike for any new food. He just had to look at a new food and would turn away. Of course, I had no way of proving whether or not he could smell it from far away and smelling it was why he would run off as opposed to a visual cue of something being new. The one thing about his sense of smell I did notice from quite early on was that he liked to be “sniffed” around the ears, in his hair, on his tummy, and especially, around the neck. Actually, “sniffing” him often served as a method of calming him down. If he got upset, often all I had to do was to start sniffing him around the neck and he would calm right down. This actually also helped him to fall asleep. I never thought much of anything other than the fact that it was kind of “cute”. In fact, he “sniffed” my neck and ears first and that was how I came to recognize and use this behavior to calm him down.” [book 1].
Since the very beginning, when Zachary was very young, the sense of smell (i.e., via sniffing) had clearly played a role in the control of his emotions. To this day, “sniffing” still calmed Zachary tremendously!
Again, I could not help but wonder “how inter-related” all the functions within one lobe truly were! If you looked at the frontal lobe, the sense of self also resided there… along with motor activity and memory relating to motor activity. It was often said that “Actions speak louder than words”… another interesting saying. Let us take another example. The example of a person in need. If I helped that person – or failed to do so – that had an impact on my emotions (control of emotions), but that also had an impact on my concept of self. Indeed, our actions very much defined us as “the type of person we were”. Again, concept of self, control of emotions (i.e., I can not help but feel somewhat guilty if I do not help a person very much in need), and motor functions/actions… all in the same lobe. [book 2]
“Control of emotions was also located in the frontal lobe along with the concept of “self”. This again truly contributed to the definition of the “self”. People were often defined by their ability to control their emotions (i.e., hot heads, etc.). Note that although the control of emotions resided in the frontal lobe – along with the concept of “self” – emotions themselves resided elsewhere – in the area of the temporal lobe/amygdale. Thus, again, if little or no communication existed between the frontal lobe and these other areas, potentially one could experience an emotion and be unable to control it!” [book 3]
Thus, a person’s ability to “control his emotions” helped define the concept of self – a function co-located in the frontal lobe along with “control of emotions”.
“I had also found it interesting that control of emotions was co-located with production of speech given the fact that it was well known that often, persons who experienced great trauma often – literally - lost the ability to speak. Was it possible that trauma resulted in a loss of control over emotions and that this had something to do with the production of language itself? Just how was “control of emotions” tied to actual language production? The experience of a strong emotion or emotion in general seemed to be located in the temporal lobe/amygdale area of the brain. Also located in the temporal lobe was the “understanding of language”. Did the experience of a strong emotion have anything to do with the “blank” stares so often given when one experienced trauma – that apparent “inability” to understand the spoken language? In my opinion, this was all very interesting indeed!” [book 3]
Thus, emotions appeared to also play a part in actual “language production” – also co-located in the frontal lobe along with “control of emotions” as well as in the “understanding of language”, co-located in the temporal lobe along with functions relating to the experiencing of “emotion”.
“The more I look into matters relating to the possible role of the sense of smell, the more I found it absolutely fascinating. It was a well-known fact that people were usually more depressed in the winter and had "spring fever" - that intense feeling of "being alive" and "wanting to go out to enjoy a beautiful day" in the spring. The spring brought with it so many “beautiful smells”. The control of emotions was located in the frontal lobe along with the sense of smell.” [book 3]
“Flowers always made a woman “feel better” or “special”. Sure, there was the physical beauty of a flower, but could it actually be the smell that “lifted emotions”? I now tended to think smell had a great deal more to do with the control of emotions than had ever been thought… and that perhaps all “functions” located within one specific lobe were actually very much inter-related. [book 2]
It was a well-known fact that women loved to eat when depressed… chocolate and ice cream especially... :o)… both having to do with the sense of smell. Of course, in trying to “feel better” by eating, pounds were usually gained. As those extra pounds were reflected in the mirror (visual perception and emotion were in the temporal lobe, visual processing in the occipital lobe), depression could certainly set in (emotion in the temporal lobe) but the control of that emotion could be made more difficult by the fact that emotion control resided in the frontal lobe… not in the temporal lobe… where emotions seemed to be “felt”. The concept of self also resided in the frontal lobe… so, to see oneself as “fat” (visual perception in the temporal lobe, visual processing in the occipital lobe) may be hard to counter emotionally (i.e., the depression), since concept of self, control of emotions, and motor functions (i.e., the act of eating) were together in the frontal lobe. The battle of the bulge, when viewed in light of neural degeneration due to mercury exposure was perhaps more of a battle than anyone had ever thought possible! [book 2]
Control of emotions and the sense of smell… truly an interesting topic. We had a lot of “sayings” in life that truly indicated smell played a role in the control of emotions. For example, to express the emotion of relaxation or the need to enjoy life, we had the saying: “Take the time to smell the roses”. To express disappointment, we had the saying: “That stinks!”… another “smell” related saying relating to emotions. To express love or devotion, we had the saying: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”… another “smell” saying relating to emotions (taste and smell go together). To express vengeance we had the saying: “I’ll give him a taste of his own medicine”. Depending on tone used, we could also express excitement or disgust via the expression: “That’s just peachy”… another “smell” or “taste” expression for emotions. To express suspicion, we had expressions like: “That’s fishy” or “I smell a rat”… again, emotion expressed via the sense of smell! To express matters relating to one’s motivation or matters of corruption, we spoke of the “smell of money”. Note that motivation and corruption had to do with one’s actions (motor functions and the concept of self – also in the frontal lobe). [book 2]
As such, the sense of smell also provided opportunities for helping in matters of control of emotions. Often, if Zachary was upset, all I had to do was say, “do you want a glass a rice milk?” to trigger a word association of “something good” to help him regain control of his emotions. The senses of taste and smell were critical to emotion control and certainly explained why preferred “treats” could help bring a child “under control”. [book 3]
There could be no denying that the sense of smell clearly impacted a person’s “moods” or “emotions”. Again, functions for both smell and emotion were co-located in several parts of the brain – the frontal lobe (smell and control of emotions), the temporal lobe (smell and the experiencing of emotion), the amygdale (smell and the experience of fear, memories that evoked emotion, center for the integration of “emotion” functions).
The control of emotions had to be dependent on those “other functions” found in the frontal lobe – smell, motor activity, language production, higher functioning (concept of self, imagination, reasoning, etc.), and the assignment of meaning to words [word associations]. This explained why having Zachary repeat “it’s ok” had worked so well for him in helping to control his emotions (see Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!). This simple phrase involved language production and word associations and if my theory that the functions within a specific part of the brain were much more closely related than we could ever have imaged were correct – that would mean that simply “saying the right thing” [production/word association] – could have implications for the actual control of emotions as well given these were functions co-located in the frontal lobe. [book 3].
Reducing stress levels for Zachary had always been a priority for me, and now, this had even greater importance. Simple things like “words to cope” and attending immediately to his distress and showing him how to “ask for help” via word associations, for Zachary, I now knew would be more key than ever. Words to cope (i.e., word associations) had always been so very important to reducing Zachary’s stress levels. I now understood why. As such, these simple phrases would always continue to be constantly used in our home. Whenever Zachary became upset, I simply said: “just try again… or it’s ok… or when you have trouble… just ask for help” and I made him verbally repeat these phrases by saying: “Zachary, say… it’s ok”. I had always found that if Zachary actually verbalized these key “words to cope”, he dealt more easily with the stress. This now made sense to me given control of emotions, word associations and language production were all co-located in the frontal lobe! [book 3]
Of all of these functions “verbalized word association” – involving language production and word associations - in the frontal lobe – what I had referred to as “words to cope” in my second book - provided perhaps the best opportunity to help children with autism “maintain control” or “regain control” because verbal word associations were nothing more than “categorizations” relating to “emotions” and that provided a bridge to the temporal lobe where functions relating to categorization, emotions, understanding of language, memory acquisition, auditory processing, etc. were located – all functions certainly necessary to the control of emotions – something that was found in the frontal lobe. Thus the key was to somehow “bridge” the frontal and temporal lobe by using those functions that had “parallels” between the two. Interestingly, the most obvious parallel was probably that of smell – a sense that had functions in both the frontal and temporal lobe. This certainly could explain why “treats” worked so well in behavior therapy. [book 3]
Control of emotions, smell and word associations were also co-located in the frontal lobe and as such, this certainly explained why simple word associations were often enough to help Zachary “regain control” of his emotions. Emotion functions, smell and categorization were also co-located in the temporal lobe.
This certainly would also explain why Zachary was most “under control” when doing math or other “reasoning” type activities. Higher functions such as these were co-located in the frontal lobe along with “control of emotions”. This was also true of the assignment of meaning to words. There was no doubt that “word associations” triggered very specific emotional responses and that one often “lost control” based on “what he heard” or maintained or regained control of emotions based on something else that had been heard – another “word association”. [book 3]
Thus, one could also “control emotions” via specific types of activities – activities that made use of other functions co-located in the frontal lobe.
“B6 was required for the production of epinephrine – or adrenalin – something that was used up during stressful times. As such, B6 levels definitely appeared to be tied to the levels of production of this hormone. Epinephrine – or adrenalin – was a stimulant! That certainly would explain all that “hyperactivity” in these children! Also key, again, was the link to glucose – something tied to insulin levels!
I could not help but wonder if the increase activity in children with autism was not also an immune system response resulting from low glucose levels. If there was one thing my son appeared to have, it certainly had to be a lot of “energy” – so much so, that I wondered how much of his B6 intake was impacted by processes dealing with the production of epinephrine – or adrenalin. If indeed adrenalin – a stimulant - was produced during stressful situations (an apparently “automatic and necessary” system response, and the life of a child with autism was “a life of stress”, did it not stand to reason that these children could be “hyper” or “overactive” because of the production of adrenalin – a stimulant - as they attempted to deal with stress? Given epinephrine or adrenalin was a muscle stimulant, could it not stimulate not just the heart, but all muscles? That certainly could be one explanation for why these children were so active!
Also “coincidentally”, B6 was stored primarily - in muscles! Could this explain why it was believed exercise could help protect one from Alzheimer’s? Obviously, as one exercised, B6 would be released to help provide energy for the body. In my opinion, given that B6 was associated with iron, insulin and glucose levels and given it had been shown to be so helpful to children with autism, again, the “exercise link” certainly appeared to make sense, too!
Also, if epinephrine was associated with the elevation of glucose levels in the body, could “hyperactivity” in these children be an actual immune system response in order to increase glucose to appropriate levels and if that indeed were the case, what would drugs used for the suppression of “hyperactivity” do to these children? Again, I truly wondered as to the implications of all this given I had seen many parents state that their children “got worse” when placed on medication! Thus, could it be that the key to reducing acitivity or “hyperactivity” in these children was not medication but the alleviation of stress?
In my opinion, this was very interesting indeed given my son’s activity levels clearly appeared to increase when his levels of stress also increased!
Given I now very much suspected that functions co-located in the brain were much more inter-related than we may have ever imagined, I also believed that this issue with epinephrine in children with autism could have something to do with the fact that we saw hyperactivity not only in the physical motions of these children, but in their emotions as well. Could it be that elevated epinephrine levels, clearly documented in autism, resulted not only in extremes in motion but in extremes in emotions as well? I was now, very much starting to think that indeed, this could very well be the case. [book 3]
Thus, again, it appeared that functions co-located in the brain were much more inter-related than we may have ever imagined. I now truly believed that “hyperactivity” in children with autism could very much be related to the production of adrenalin in order to deal with elevated stress levels – and as such, that hyperactivity could be an immune system response to control emotion (i.e., stress) via physical activity. Note that motor functions and control of emotions were co-located in the frontal lobe!
Touch – as in “hugging” was obviously also important in emotions, after all, both "touch perception” and somatosensory functions were co-located in the parietal lobe...thereby explaining why a "hug" just "felt so good". I was simply stating that unlike the importance of touch in emotions, perhaps the sense of smell had been very much overlooked not only in matters dealing with the control of emotions but also in matters as they related – to the sense of - “self”! [book 3].
Note that “touch” was located in the parietal lobe – away from “control of emotions” in the frontal lobe and as such, “touch” (i.e., a hug) was probably not the best way to control emotion a child with autism in distress if indeed there existed little or no communication among the various parts of the brain.
Clearly there could be no denying that many, many things played into “control of emotions” and the actual “experiencing of emotions” in the child with autism as well as in a “normal person”. Likewise there could be no denying that those functions co-located with “control of emotion” functions provided perhaps our best tools for actually controlling emotion in children with autism – functions that included: motor activity/motions (i.e. playing alphabet in motion games using body parts, exercise, etc.), language production and word associations (i.e., the actual verbalization of key phrases such as “it’s ok”… “just try again”… “just ask for help when you don’t understand”… “just say… help me…”, “I’m ok…”, etc.), and higher functioning (i.e., math, “counting games”, etc.).
As such, to help children with autism control their emotions, for example, in social situations, those functions co-located in the frontal lobe would perhaps best help in “socialization” issues also (i.e., encourage children to socialize with other children via the use of puzzles, snacks, activities involving “motion games”, higher functioning, etc.).
As I thought about Zachary and issues with socialization, there were many things that came to mind. If indeed I were correct in that Zachary lived “via reference”, it stood to reason that as he came to build more references pertaining to “socialization” that he would naturally “do better” in these situations. I very much believed this would be the case. This year, I planned on putting Zachary in more “social situations” in order to see how well he did. It had only been in the last year that his language skills had flourished enough and I had figured out so many of the “tricks” to calming his frustrations. I was finally at a point where I felt I could tackle a little more with Zachary in terms of “public outings or settings”. That would be “this year’s challenge” along with helping to build his conversation skills. :o)
With Zachary, although he was on a cfgf diet, I carried with me “tic tacs” almost everywhere I went in public. That way, if Zachary had any type of a “meltdown”, I could usually use his sense of taste and smell to help quickly bring him back under control – or I could draw his attention to “counting things”. Just one small “tic tac” was usually enough to do the trick. All these simple tricks worked rather well. When plans changed, I simply made sure the explanation included a statement to the effect that: “first, we are going to do this, second, we are going to do this, third, we are going to do this…”. If a planned activity for the day could no longer be done, I would simply do the “first, second, third explanation” and then included… “and tomorrow, we are going to…” as I substituted a planned activity for another day. Simply providing that “counting” of activities to be done provided the understanding Zachary needed and the “new order” to his day in terms of what we were going to be doing.
Controlling Zachary’s emotions was really, I believed, a matter of finding “the tricks” that worked based on functions co-located in the frontal lobe along with control of emotions and controlling emotions in Zachary was one thing I had learned to tackle rather well. “Meltdowns” no longer lasted very long in our household and for all of us, especially for Zachary, that had tremendously reduced his stress levels.As important as controlling “his emotions” however, was the need for Zachary to understand emotions in others. That function was co-located in the amygdale – perception of emotions in others.
Interestingly, face, voice and auditory processing were co-located in the temporal lobe along with olfactory processing (sense of smell) that synapsed directly with the amygdale. I had always found that the best way for Zachary to understand emotions in others was for him to be told what the other person was experiencing – in other words, the understanding of emotions in others was, at least in Zachary’s case, best understood via the use of “auditory processing” as opposed to visual processing. Again, I quote words from a book I had previously written:
“As with so much, issues with the processing of emotions could also be explained by this theory. For example, a child may be able to visually “see” a person crying (visual sensory input), but, unless that input went to that part of the brain that dealt specifically with the processing of emotions, the amygdale, then to an autistic child that information meant nothing! There were plenty of times when I cried deeply as a result of autism and Zachary never really particularly seemed distressed over that. Yet, if I said: “I’m a sad mom”, he often came running with a kiss! Sensory input as it related to sight was primarily in the occipital lobe. Auditory processing, understanding language, voice recognition and memory as it relates to emotion were in the temporal lobe… so, my saying: “I’m a sad mom”, obviously would have a greater impact on an autistic child than would seeing me cry.” [book 2]
As such, the “understanding of emotions” in Zachary, appeared to be much higher if auditory processing was used. Interestingly, understanding of language, auditory processing and emotion functions were co-located in the temporal lobe along with face, place and body part recognition. Thus, although perception of emotion in others was located in the amygdale, surely, the understanding of those emotions also very much involved the temporal lobe. Upon hearing “I’m a sad mom” – thus hearing, not seeing my emotion - Zachary not only perceived my emotions, he also very much reacted to that and attempted to alleviate my sorrow as he came running with a kiss saying: “I want a happy mom”. Clearly, auditory processing in terms of both myself (“I’m a sad mom”) and Zachary himself (“I want a happy mom) was much more important than visual cues when it came to the perception of, understanding of and reaction to – emotion in others – and that, in turn also very much impacted Zachary’s emotions also! As such, in using verbalizations, I found I could easily control Zachary’s motor functions by his desire to control or help with my emotions too!
Recognition… perception… and understanding – clearly very different functions when it came to the processing of emotions and so many other functions in the human brain!
Face recognition was one thing – “reading that face” was quite another. Zachary could recognize “who I was”, but he still had great difficulty in “reading” my expressions, although, clearly, he had also come a long way in this area also.
The following were words I had written as they related to this issue of “face perception” and what was in my opinion, a critical need – the defining of “face parts” in order to help the child understand how each part “fit into the whole”:
“For example, the act itself of looking someone in the eyes involved "looking at 2 eyes"... that in itself was difficult for the autistic child since he could not deal with "partials" ... and the 2 eyes were simply 2 parts of the face... that in itself was a problem for the autistic child and was enough to make him want to break eye contact. But, the "part" that I had missed for so long when it came to eye contact was the fact that breaking it... with anything...a person or object… was also a coping mechanism for the autistic child. The child broke eye contact with anything that was "partial" or offended him...in the sense that it had not yet been “decoded”… be that his mother's eyes or a book. Not able to deal with the "pages"... the "parts of the whole book", the child simply chose not to focus on a particular page, but rather, often simply turned all the pages quickly, shut the book and tried to run away!
I had started to pay more attention to this issue of eye contact recently. I believed it was important to label each eye for the child... the left eye and the right eye. I believed it may also help to say that: "the left eye is to see things on the left" and "the right eye is to see things on the right"... and "both eyes are used to see everything - together". Again the use of labels was critical and for the autistic child, these labels had to be very, very specific when first explaining exactly how "parts" fit together to form "a whole". Just labeling these 2 things as "eyes" would not do it... you had to label each eye and explain its purpose. This was also true of all other body parts having a left and a right – although the eyes, given their proximity to one another and their “motion”, obviously posed a greater problem for the autistic child…” [book 2].
Simply helping Zachary to understand “how a face fit together” had helped tremendously with issues of “eye contact” and Zachary’s desire to look at me when I spoke to him. There was no doubt that when it came to emotions in the child with autism, there was a great deal to consider – everything had to be defined and explained in order to be understood - but, it was in providing those labels and that understanding of “the purpose of things” that Zachary had truly thrived!
I very much knew Zachary to be a “left brain” dominance child. That meant he should be processing faces based on “the whole”, whereas children who were “right brain dominant” were believed to process the face based on “parts”. Boys generally were more “left brain dominant” and girls, more “right brain dominant”. I certainly understood how that could be a problem given I very much felt that for the child with autism, in order to understand “the whole” they had to first understand “the parts” that made up “the whole”.
Interestingly, although the number of boys impacted by autism was significantly greater than the number of girls (4:1 ratio), was each sex impacted to the same degree? Were boys more impacted by autism or were girls? I was not sure that such a study could really be proven since so very many variables fit into the “autism equation”. The fact that more boys were impacted by autism was clearly documented when it came to “actual numbers”. Whether or not girls or boys were “more severely” impacted by the disorder itself remained to be proven. But, if there were “gender differences” in terms of “severity” of the disorder in boys verses girls, that had some rather interesting implications when we considered the “left brain” verses “right brain” theory.
Boys were generally “left brain” and that meant that they primarily had to understand things in terms of “part to the whole” – in terms of how the “details” fit together. From what I had seen in Zachary, this was certainly true.
Again, according to work done by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine, males were believed to scan faces with the right brain, whereas females were believed to scan faces with the left brain. [source: D.E. Everhart, J.L. Shucard, T. Quatrin, D.W. Shucard, "Sex-Related Differences in Event-Related Potentials, Face Recognition, and Facial Affect Processing in Prepubertal Children," Neuropsychology, 2001, Vol. 15, No. 3, 329–341, http://unisci.com/stories/20013/0709014.htm].
The fact that boys, however, processed the face using primarily the “right side” of the brain meant that Zachary was forced to “look at the whole concept” – the face - when he was primarily a person who needed to first understand “the details”.
I wondered how all this fit into the fact that Zachary had very much focused on “my mouth” when looking at my face. Had that only been his attempt at “breaking the code to language” as he attempted to decipher sounds, etc. or could this whole issue of “right brain” verses “left brain” have played into this also. A focus on the mouth would indicate Zachary was focusing not on the “whole” face but rather on a very specific “part” to the face. Boys were said to process faces more with the “right brain”. That would mean Zachary should have been processing faces based on “the whole” as opposed to the parts. Yet, clearly, he had very much focused on “my mouth” when I spoke and as such, although studies indicated boys processed faces more with “the whole” or “right side” of the brain, children with autism, such as Zachary, in attempting to “break the code to language and communication” – even boys – focused very much on “the parts” of the face – not the whole!
Perhaps this helped to explain why it had been so very difficult in the past for Zachary to look at me in the eyes. For a very, very long time, he had only focused on the mouth. It was only in the last year or so that he had made so much progress in this area and could now much more easily look into my eyes and focus much less on “my mouth”. I suspected that this was due to the fact that he now understood so much more when it came to language and communication in general and as such, he did not have the need to “break the code to language” he had once had. He could now process my face more on “the whole” as “normal” boys would – but I suspected that had only been because he had come to a much greater understanding of the parts first!
When it came to issues of children with autism “focusing on the mouth” of persons who spoke or interacted with them, I was now beginning to suspect that these children did this for a very specific reason. Indeed, if boys perceived things primarily “in parts” in order to understand, that could, at least, in part, help explain this issue of focusing on the mouth – that part of the body “emitting language” so very obviously in humans. Thus, if I were a child “attempting to break the code to language” – the mouth, in my opinion, would absolutely be the area “of focus”.
When I combined that with the fact that the “understanding of language” was co-located in the temporal lobe along with “auditory processing” and the fact that “the mouth” certainly provided for “auditory input” to the child with autism – again, I saw that, truly, “a focus on the mouth” seemed to be exactly what was needed to “decode language” – at least “verbal language”. When I considered other functions co-located in the temporal lobe along with the understanding of language, functions such as “categorization” (i.e., necessary to categorize or make sense of all these sounds), functions such as “visual perception” – specifically as it related to face and body part recognition, functions such as “memory acquisition” – again, so critical to language comprehension – I simply could not help but again, suspect my theories could absolutely prove to be true. And, if they were, could it be any wonder why these children – almost universally – focused on “the mouth”. In my opinion, they were absolutely trying to “break the code” to language by doing this. Perhaps the fact that they did this – so universally – should have been -“our first clue” – that there was “something important to this focus on the mouth issue”!
As such, I could not again help but feel tremendous sorrow as I thought of the many, many children who had been in behavior modification programs that had emphasized a “focus on the eyes” for communication “breakthroughs”. While adults were “focusing on the eyes” – in my opinion – they were clearly failing to see the very issue before them – that, perhaps, given all these children appeared to focus on the mouth – that this was where the focus really needed to be! If my theories proved to be true, this, unfortunately, could mean that so many children could still be non-verbal, because once again, we had attempted to view their world through our eyes instead of attempting to view it – through theirs!
Surely, if this was indeed the case, I could certainly understand why so many would still be “non-verbal”. Indeed, if I were a child attempting to focus on “the mouth” to decipher language and each time I did that, someone “grabbed my head” or provided some type of “negative reinforcement” to have me focus on “the eyes instead”, then, surely, the very behavior modification methods that were intended to help these children – could indeed be resulting in “learned helplessness” and the simple “giving up” on the part of these children to “break the code”!
As I considered all this, I could not help but feel that as therapists and parents around the world focused on phrases like “look at me” and “eye contact”, that there were probably many, many, children who wished they had the ability to scream: “No… you look at me!”
If one considered the fact that girls were primarily “right brain”, that appeared to mean that girls would process information primarily based on “the whole” as opposed to “the parts”. The one area that had been shown to be an exception to this was the processing of “faces” – in this area, girls used primarily their “left brain” as opposed to their right brain. As I considered this, I wondered… if indeed there did exist “gender differences” in terms of “severity”, could this “left brain verses right brain” issue, at least to some degree, help explain these differences?
Truly, it was evident to me that “severity” of the disorder was a very subjective thing because to determine “severity” you had to look at various factors in terms of brain processing. Clearly, boys could be better in some areas and girls in others. As such, any “severity study” would be greatly skewed in terms of those areas of strength or weakness generally associated with each gender. For example, girls were generally better at social and communication tasks than boys. As such, to measure “gender differences in severity” based on certain functions that were clearly known to be better in girls would most likely skew results to show “girls were less impacted”. Yet to perform a “gender severity study” using tasks such as mathematics – an area generally believed to be stronger in boys – would perhaps, indicate girls were “more severely impacted” by autism. Obviously, one could greatly sway the results of such studies based on “what was included in the study”. Clearly, boys could be more severely impacted in some areas, and girls in others. But, what could explain “gender differences”?
In book three, Breaking The Code: Putting Pieces In Place! I had explained how the brain of a boy was much more immature at birth than that of a girl and as such, boys were more susceptible to trauma resulting from exposure to vaccine toxins, etc. – and, hence, this certainly appeared to help explain why so many more boys were impacted in terms of “numbers”.
Yet, when looking at “severity issues”, if indeed girls generally processed information using more “right brain” functions – and as such – should be processing information more based on “the whole” than the parts, I could not help but ask myself: “How could one have an understanding of the whole without first understanding – the parts that made up the whole?” Everything I had seen in my son indicated to me that Zachary very much needed to understand “how the parts fit together” to understand the whole.
I truly wondered how all this fit together. Could it be that boys although they needed to understand the “parts to understand the whole” had a better ability to come to that understanding because they were more “left brain” focused and that girls saw “the whole” but lacked an understanding of the parts because, primarily, they processed “wholes” and as such, had a greater difficulty “with parts”? This certainly was all very interesting indeed, and if this was indeed the case, this certainly would have major implications in terms of how we taught these children!
In working with Zachary, providing verbal (auditory) explanations for him had always helped Zachary understand not only his emotions, but emotions in others as well. As I provided “auditory” or verbal explanations of “emotions”, I usually provided “word associations” and “motions” that went along with that in order to help Zachary “categorize” emotions. Word associations, after all, were but a form of categorization, and as such, again, this provided that critical “bridging function” between the frontal and temporal lobes. Again, the following were words I had previously written on this subject:
“As with everything else, with emotions, all sensory input was but a part to the whole. Thus, things were either “this way or that”… the part was either there or it was not… the sensory input was either there, or it was not – everything was an “all or nothing” in terms of the “stimuli” perceived via all the senses… and as such, this explained why even in emotions, too often, everything was an all or none too! Aggression was either there, full blast, or it was not present at all. Anger was either there as complete anger, or it was not. Sadness was either there as complete sadness, or it was not. Joy was either there as complete joy, or it was not. Frustration was either there as complete frustration… or it was not!” [book 2]
“In July of 2002, while we were visiting many of my in-laws, almost all my nieces and nephews were playing together... all except Andrew. He went around, talking to himself - undoubtedly a form of ordering language in the older autistic child - and every once in a while, he would notice something another child did, something he thought was funny. What hit me right away on this particular day, was the fact that what Andrew had "perceived as hilariously funny", most children would have perhaps only found "somewhat amusing". Yet, there was Andrew, laughing hilariously at something that really "was not that funny" to begin with.
By this time, I had already figured out that partiality processing was an issue for the autistic child... but, what I had not realized until that very moment, was that partiality processing affected absolutely all aspects of the autistic child's life... including emotions! Once again, it all made perfect sense!
Andrew did not understand the "in between" emotion or "partial emotion" much as he could not understand the "parts" in anything else until they were first "explained" or "labeled". As such, I came to quickly understand that for the autistic child, even "degrees of emotion" had to be labeled!
As with so many other things in the life of the autistic child, we had made the mistake of assuming a child could at least "see all levels" of emotions, but for the autistic child this was a very false assumption! The fact that various "levels of emotion" were expressed every day by those all around the autistic child did not mean that the child necessarily "understood" those emotions, those degrees of emotions within a specific emotion. I would argue, indeed, that the autistic child did not understand "in between" emotions until they were specifically taught. Only then, did I believe, could the autistic child truly come to perceive "levels or degrees of emotion"... only then could he understand the "parts" or "degrees" to the whole - the type of emotion!
This easily explained not only issues with "hilarious or inappropriate laughter" so often seen in autistic children, it also explained the other extreme of emotions too - the violent outbursts of anger and aggression. In autistic children, it was all too obvious that it seemed to take "almost nothing" to upset them tremendously. Again, there was no "in between"...the autistic child was either "not upset" or "tremendously upset", "not finding something funny" or finding something to be "hilariously funny"... and nowhere were "degrees" of either anger or happiness anywhere to be found!
I now truly came to understand that in order for the autistic child to "perceive" and understand the various "degrees" of emotion - in all types of emotion - those "degrees" literally had to be taught via labels and explanations.
The various or "in between" degrees of "happy", for example, needed to be taught to the autistic child since he knew no "in between" emotions. The autistic child was either happy or not happy, sad or not sad, angry or not angry. In my opinion, the autistic child experienced only the "full blown" emotion or none at all.
As with everything else in the child's life... the part to the whole had to be defined to be understood...and again, this was why labels were so critical for these children in coping with their world. As with everything in the autistic child's world, when the parts could not be understood, they were simply ignored, or frustration surfaced and erupted in the form of anger and aggression, self injurious behavior and withdrawal and so many other "coping mechanisms" we saw in these children.
Given this, how did you go about teaching "degrees" of emotion?
As with so much in the life of the autistic child, this too, had to begin with a label. For example, in teaching "degrees" of happy, the autistic child needed to be given labels and specific examples of the following ideas or "levels" of "happy": giggling, snickering, grinning, contentment, enjoyment, pleasure, satisfied, ecstatic, elated, overjoyed and so on. The goal was to teach the various "degrees" or "in betweens" ... between the "a little happy" and "very super super, absolutely ecstatic happy". Once the child understood the various "labels" for the "in between" levels of "happy" or "mad" or "sad", he could then himself, make use of these emotions because now, each specific level of emotion, each "degree" of emotion had been given a label ... making that "degree" or "part" to the emotion an entity in and of itself as opposed to a "part" to something else. Emotions should no longer become outbursts - in any direction - happy or mad - as labels to variations of one thing should provide a coping mechanism and greater understanding of the “range of emotions” for the child.
In teaching a child to deal with anger and/or frustration, it now became necessary to show him the various levels of anger... to show him that "it's ok to be a little angry if this happens, but not very angry"... to show him what level or degrees of anger were appropriate for various situations. So was it true for levels of aggression. Autistic children needed to be shown what was acceptable “emotion” and “behavior” and what was not - given a specific situation. The same would be true of "levels of screaming"... when was a little scream ok... and when was it ok to give out a huge scream! All these "levels of emotion" had to be taught to the autistic child! :o)
Teaching the child to cope with his emotions via productive coping mechanisms, [discussed in detail in book 2] and helping the child understand alternatives to emotions, the "in between" emotions as opposed to only the extremes, I was convinced would be of great help to these children in anger and aggression management.
I knew Zachary has some appreciation for the expression of emotions as seen in these pictures when asked to show me his "happy" and "sad" face.
But, in teaching him, I previously had never thought about the "in between" in emotions... at least not until recently.” [book 2]
Obviously, this certainly appeared to be a great deal of work, yet, once something was taught and understood, it made life much, much easier – for everyone!
I had also recently started to explain to Zachary what was appropriate in terms of “what could be experienced” for a given situation since I knew that again, he had no reference points in terms of “what was appropriate emotion for a given situation”. Thus, I taught him not only degrees of the emotion itself but degrees of “what was appropriate emotion”. For example, I explained to him things that made “mommy happy”, things that made “mommy very happy”, things that made mommy “very, very, very happy” and so on as I gave him concrete examples of each. Likewise, I explained to him things that “made me upset”, things that made me “very upset”, things that made me “very, very, very upset” and explained to him that for example, “dropping your ice cream cone (cfgf) was upsetting – but only a little bit – that you should not get very, very upset because of that”… that you could “just ask for another one”.
It was always key to explain “the alternative” to Zachary when he became upset… and to simply explain to him that “he had options” not only in terms of “experiencing the emotion” but in terms of “dealing with it” also!
Thus, providing the “in between” again was key – as was providing “options”!
The one area I had found extremely difficult in dealing with “appropriate emotions” and the “associated response” definitely had to be the emotion of “fear” as it related to matters of safety. I discussed this issue at great length in both books two and three and strongly encouraged all families to read this information. The part I had failed to understand when it came to “safety” and “fear” was that “fear” could apparently, only be experienced by stimulating the amygdale. That certainly could help to explain why so many of these children seemed to “experience no fear of danger” if my theory of limited or no communication among the various parts of the brain were correct. Fear of danger had to be “specifically taught” to Zachary. Zachary was finally making progress in this area, but it had taken a lot of work involving word associations, categorizations, etc.
In addition, I had always found that “negative emotions” were much, much more difficult for Zachary to deal with – be those emotions in himself or in others. As such, I became very attentive to his emotions and was quick to respond when Zachary experienced emotions I considered “negative” – emotions that usually resulted in stress for him. The easiest way to deal with these was always by using something involving the sense of smell (i.e., treat) or categorization functions. If certain toys or objects became too stressful, they were simply removed and put away for a while and taken out again at a later time. Just diverting Zachary’s attention, via games involving motion for example, was always helpful. Zachary absolutely loved anything that involved motion in play – especially when verbalizations (auditory processing) were also used. For example, if we engaged Zachary in play, just the motion of “tickle fingers” coming his way was enough to get him very excited, as was the rubbing of one’s palms together as we said: “I’m going to get you”.
If the situation was one of rather intense stress for Zachary, I would also use a lot of good old hugging and “sniffing” to calm him down. There were times when simply saying “let’s go make a cocoon” was enough to calm Zachary down as we went to hug, rolled up in or just hiding under a blanket. Zachary had the video “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle and I had once noticed him “making a cocoon” in order to physically comfort himself in the past. As such, this became an easy way to provide actual physical comfort for him – a way he knew that he could simply “get away” and relax by literally separating himself from the rest of the world. Other tricks that worked well to give him “quiet time for himself” involved “building a house” out of blankets and furniture. These were all things that even a normal child enjoyed. As time went on, we needed fewer and fewer of these things, but I always kept them in mind – “just in case”.
Word associations were easy ways to deal with negative emotions too. I had a few key phrases that, at least for now, still worked amazingly well. For example, if Zachary was “whining” or crying, a simple “stop whining or go to bed – which one?” was usually enough to get him to stop “whining”. Only once or twice had I made Zachary take a “time out” by lying on his bed – telling him he had to stay there until he calmed down. Zachary had not liked that at all. There was no tantrum but he certainly did not enjoy the boredom of daytime bedtime. The thought of “going to bed” during the day was “not normal” and as such, it was something he preferred to avoid since “going to bed” was only for “night time” – as he clearly indicated when he stated, “no, not time for bed” – yet another example of “reference living” as discussed in greater detail in both my second and third books.
Motor activity (i.e., making a cocoon), word associations and control of emotions were all co-located in the frontal lobe, and as such, again, it made perfect sense to me that the methods I used to help Zachary deal with stress had worked so well. Given the fact that the body used B6 to produce epinephrine to deal with stress, and epinephrine was a muscle stimulant it thus made sense that “motor activity” – something involving muscles – had to be a way by which our bodies naturally helped us cope with stress and as such, motor activity to control emotions made perfect sense.
Ultimately, I knew that Zachary had to come to an understanding of how to alleviate stress by himself – how to prevent the stress from happening in the first place. In order to understand his world, I knew Zachary had to understand how the parts to the whole fit together and as such, labels had helped tremendously in alleviating stress. Zachary was finally at the point where he understood that if he had trouble understanding something, all he had to do was ask: “what’s that?” and that which he did not understand would be explained to him.
I quickly came to realize that for Zachary, simply saying “no, don’t say that” or “no, don’t do that” was not enough. I had to add that extra to provide for him the reference he needed. Thus, if I said “no, don’t say that…”, I had to add, “you say…” to give him what was the “appropriate” or desired response instead. To just say “no” without providing the alternative did very little for children like Zachary as that provided no future reference to draw from for an appropriate response next time around. As such, unless the alternative was provided – the appropriate reference – in my opinion, one could easily keep going over and over the very same issues and spinning one’s wheels in frustration without realizing why a simple “no” was not enough for the child with autism. In my opinion, the same was true for not only verbalizations but for behaviors as well. As such, to tell a child like Zachary “no” when it came to inappropriate behavior did nothing if the reference as to “what to do instead” was not provided along with the “no”. Of course, the more “references” in terms of “what to do instead” – the better!
There finally came a time when I had realized that my providing the labels was not enough – Zachary had to come to learn to ask for the labels he needed – himself! As such, I now gave Zachary more instructions in terms of how to deal with stress. I had told him, for example, “If Zachary does not understand, Zachary just says “what’s that?” and mommy will help Zachary understand”. “Just say, what’s that…” or “Just ask for help by saying - help me mom -…” became key phrases I used with Zachary to provide instructions for him as to what he should do to help himself “decode” his world and help himself deal with stress. Instructions included “what to do”, and also what “not to do”. For example, I would say: “Don’t get upset… just ask for help”…, “say, mom, I need help…”. Once Zachary understood that, again, life became much, much easier – for everyone.
Given control of emotions was co-located in the frontal lobe with word associations and motor activity, it was obvious to me that these were the critical keys in helping to best control Zachary’s emotions. As such, I began to have “key phrases” for specific emotions.
For dealing with frustration: “It’s ok… just start over”, “try again…” , “sometimes, that happens… just try again”, etc.
For dealing with anger: “It’s ok… just let it go” – as I used motions to show the “let it go” part of the phrase by extending my arms away from my body.
For dealing with sadness: “It’s ok… I love you… let’s be happy…”. I also used favorite treats, motion, phrases involving things he liked to do, such as “let’s draw a green truck”, or “get your puzzle” or “let’s make a picture with lots of colors”, etc. Anything I knew helped Zachary to “de-stress” was a hint as to what to use to help control his emotions.
For dealing with excess excitement: “That’s great… let’s keep going”, “ok… let’s watch what else happens…”, or “what’s next?”, etc., were phrases that helped focus on “the future” or “looking ahead” or “the next step” to prevent Zachary from getting so completely wrapped up in the moment of excitement that it became so intense it interfered with teaching.
I found that helping Zachary anticipate what was “coming next” was also very helpful with transition issues. For example, in teaching Zachary, if he was becoming disinterested, a simple: “let’s finish this page and then Zachary can take a break” was often enough to help him complete the task. Not surprisingly, Zachary soon learned that when he reached his saturation point, he himself could say: “I need a break…” and that was my cue to give him a little rest for fifteen to thirty minutes before going on to the next lesson.
To cope with changes in routine or changes in plans, I explained, “what was coming” by providing the appropriate chronology. For example, I would say: “First we are going to … second, we are going to… third, we are going to… … is that ok”. By providing an “outline that involved chronology” for activities to come, Zachary was better able to deal with stress and changes in plans. I found that I could also easily ask and obtain Zachary’s forgiveness for changing plans. After providing the chronology, I would say, for example: “sometimes, plans change… forgive me… do you forgive mom for changing plans?”. This simple phrase made Zachary realize that at times, we did need to do things differently than originally planned but that it was ok to do so. Given I usually kept a favorite treat in the car to help control Zachary’s emotions, if I sensed any distress at all due to the “change of plans” and the “chronology explanation” was not enough, usually, providing both the explanation and the treat together (i.e., a “tic tac”) was enough to keep Zachary well under control when it came to changes in plans.
In my opinion, understanding the workings of the human brain and how to control emotions was especially important for children with autism given these children lived “via reference”. In my opinion, anything they saw, heard, etc., could become a reference for future use.
Unfortunately, not all “references” – things seen or heard – were “good references”. These children could truly be a product of their environment. Of course, one’s “environment” could include many, many things, such as the influence of violence on television. As such, I did not allow Zachary to watch programs that involved violence. Granted, I knew there were many who would say that you could not shield a child from such things. Perhaps. However, I also very much knew that “these types of references” – until he understood more in life – were references that at least for now – Zachary could very much do without!
I cautioned parents to be very, very careful of the words they used with their children. For example, words like, “you’re stupid” or any other negative verbalization, in these children, especially, although also very much true for any child, had the potential to clearly devastate and destroy a child emotionally and psychologically. I urged parents to remember that the “parroting” in their children, especially in such verbalizations, were not “mindless or nonsense language” but, truly, perhaps more accurately, a reflection of - the parent – or of those things a parent allowed to enter a child’s life via television, and yes, potentially, abusive caregivers!
Parents finding themselves asking: “where did he pick that up” as they listened to verbalizations from their children with autism should truly look for “the source” of any troubling verbalization in their child – because if a child with autism was verbalizing such things that was due to a very definite reason! Likewise, given my belief that these children lived via reference, in my opinion, physical violence directed at either these children or someone else was also something that they very much could “learn” and “reproduce” – as was true of other, “normal” children also.
Increased aggression was a sign of temporal lobe damage, but, it was also, very much a reflection of one’s environment – of that – I had no doubt! A child’s environment today included much more than just “the home”. It included school, after school programs, babysitters, errands to the store, visits to the dentist, athletic events, tv, radio, etc. There were, truly, many, many “sources of input”. Children mirrored in their words and actions what they saw and heard – and this was, in my opinion, also very true of children with autism!
Given that motor activity, memory as it related to motor activity, motor planning and execution, word associations, and control of emotions were co-located in the frontal lobe – along with concept of self – there was simply no denying that this was the reason children were, often, a reflection of their environment! There was an old saying that stated: “Actions speak louder than words”. Given the above, that certainly was true. The only words that could be “just as loud as actions”, “were word associations” – because like motions – or actions – “word associations” were co-located in the frontal lobe along with language production and motor functions. As such, a child was very much defined not only by actions, but, by the words used to define him – and that held within it tremendous potential – to either build up a child – or completely destroy him!
The implications of this in my opinion, spanned far beyond autism. For example, this certainly could help explain why women who were abused by their spouses still remained with them, in spite of possibly having their very lives in jeopardy. Word associations, such as “I love you” when combined with abusive behaviors, certainly made for a dangerous situation indeed, especially given that emotions (sadness, hurt, etc.) were located in another part of the brain and as such the word association and motor activity would have a stronger impact on a person than would the recall of the memory associated with a bad experience – such as spousal abuse.
Note that obsessive-compulsive behavior was a sign of frontal lobe damage – the very area associated with motor activities and word associations. Note also that this part of the brain involved motor activity as it related to “habits” – and abuse, certainly could become – “habit”.
As such to overcome issues of spousal abuse, or child abuse, a person (both victim and offender) had to be taught to properly “categorize” word associations and actions. Word associations, motor functions and sense of self were co-located in the frontal lobe. Categorization functions and emotions could be found in the temporal lobe. Many functions dealing with “emotions” and the integration of “emotion type input” occurred in the amygdale.
In my opinion, one of the keys to helping individuals in situations such as spousal abuse was clearly in the categorization of word association and actions in order to best help one understand the situation. The understanding of language (or the situation), categorization and emotion, were all functions co-located in the temporal lobe along with face and voice recognition – and most importantly, the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie! Interestingly, goal directed behavior (i.e., the need to get away from an abusive situation) was located not in the frontal or temporal lobe, but in the parietal lobe – a completely different part of the brain. When one considered all these issues, clearly, the need for proper communication among the various parts of the brain was paramount.
Fortunately, although the power of negative words and actions was clearly there, so too, was very much the power of positive words and actions for a child. In my opinion, there could never be “too many I love yous”, too many kisses, or too many hugs. If there was one thing we had always worked very hard at showing Zachary, it was that he was very, very much loved, and very, very much wanted. Games like “my boy”, where all family members physically “tugged” at various limbs in an attempt to “keep Zachary” and have possession of him, had always been a favorite for Zachary. Like any child, he needed to know, without a doubt, that he was loved and wanted.
Since Zachary loved letters, I had recently made it a point to show him that he had an “M” in the palms of his hands. As I showed him that “M”, I said: “M is for mommy’s boy” to indicate that he had that “M” in his palms to show he belonged “to me”. As soon as I had said that, Zachary smiled, but then, I saw a little “concern” in his face, because he only had “Ms” in his palms – no “D” for “daddy’s boy”. I quickly grabbed Zachary’s bare foot and with my finger, showed him that the arch of his foot made a “D” and that his “D for daddy’s boy” was on his feet. I could see the joy in his little face as he realized he once again belonged “to both”.
Since we had also been working on proper pronoun usage, I showed him that “one M” in his palm was for “mommy’s boy” and that the other was for “M equals me” to provide for him a constant reminder – a physical reminder - that in his hand, was a mark indicating “who he was” – that this was “me” – not “you” – the pronoun children with autism often associate with themselves because of the fact that they were referred to as “you” by those who spoke to them. I also added, “M equals me equals my equals mine” to help reinforce the key pronouns associated with one’s self so that Zachary would have a clear reference indicating that pronouns referring to “him” were pretty well all those that started with “M”. I had also worked a great deal at adding “when Zachary is talking Zachary equals I”. This was a simple way to use “recognition of body parts” in the understanding of language – both functions located in the temporal lobe!
The issue of pronoun confusion, in my opinion, was not only an issue of “speech” and proper grammar, but very much an issue that had the potential to either build or destroy the concept of self in children with autism. There was simply no denying that as Zachary came to also better understand who “he was” in relation to others as a result of work I had done with him on proper pronoun usage, that his person, and hence, his emotions – overall – became much, much happier. This critical topic – pronoun confusion in children with autism - would be covered next.