The Thalamus… Matters Of Consciousness… And A Mixed Up Dream…
Although there definitely were promising scientific and practical applications in matters relating to concrete issues, such as dietary supplementation, etc., there certainly also existed a great deal in that realm – the not-so concrete – that we simply did not understand – like vagus nerve therapy itself. Science now knew “it worked” but, those involved in vagus nerve therapy would also be the first to tell you that, “they did not know why it worked”. This posed an interesting dilemma. On the one hand this could – potentially – be a very beneficial therapy – provided any abuse of such technology was closely monitored – and yet, given there were unknowns in such therapies, one truly did not know the impact of such therapies on the brain. That realm of the “not so concrete” in science included not only things relating to technology - like vagus nerve therapy - but, obviously, the “not so concrete” also included our actual understanding of many, many functions and structures within the human brain – structures such as the thalamus, for example.
The thalamus was indeed a fascinating part of the brain. What we did know of the thalamus appeared to indicate that this part of the brain was involved in integrating central nervous system or CNS (central nervous system = brain + spinal cord) functions and peripheral nervous system or PNS (peripheral nervous system = everything else involved in nervous system) functions. Amazingly, the only sense that could bypass the thalamus – was the sense of smell (olfactory) – that sense I now believed could be very much related to one’s concept of self.
When I wrote Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! I did not realize how much the actual title of this book may truly be pointing us to one of the key parts of the brain in these disorders. I knew the thalamus was involved in integrating CNS and PNS information. What I did not realize until after the writing of that book was that the thalamus was also involved functions relating to conscious and unconscious activity. As I thought about this now, again, it made perfect sense. To integrate functions relating to the CNS and PNS would include both conscious and unconscious activities in terms of sensory input, but, at the time, I had not realized functions relating to one’s level of “consciousness” resided in the thalamus – nor did I know that the basal ganglia appeared to be involved in determining whether or not to process a conscious or subconscious task first if both tasks were required simultaneously. Research now indicated the “conscious” task would take precedence in such a situation!
Given what I had seen in my son, I knew that the role of the thalamus in so many of these disorders would also be key in to our understanding of so much of what we saw in autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.
This was all very interesting to me given that based on what I had seen in Zachary, I had mentioned in my second book that it was as though Zachary had to consciously integrate sensory input that it appeared to me – the rest of us integrated subconsciously - without that function of sensory integration having to enter conscious awareness. In my opinion, this certainly could help explain issues of “sensory overload” in persons with autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.
This, I was now convinced had a great deal to do with much of what we saw in these disorders. Time and time again, I had seen in Zachary hints of the fact that he appeared to be performing functions while conscious – or awake – that the rest of us performed unconsciously or subconsciously – functions the rest of us performed automatically – without thinking about it – or during our sleep.
The following was an example of this – something I had written in my first book, Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism!:
“When he went to bed at night, I often laid next to him until he fell asleep. Many times, he said things like “green circle” while he laid in bed, something totally unrelated to anything I was saying to him...it was simply “something to say” for no reason at all. He said it over and over and over...almost as though that was what he was “seeing” in his head at that moment. On one night in particular, I was absolutely amazed. He started with the letter “A” and said, “A is for apple, B is for bed, C is for cat” and so on. He did the entire alphabet that way, giving an accurate word for each letter of the alphabet, ending with “Z” is for zebra”. He had videos that took him through the alphabet like that but the amazing thing was that then, he started over, using different words for each letter, most words different than what he had used the first time through, and again, the word was accurate for each letter. At times, he said all his shapes before going to bed, “circle, square, triangle, rectangle, star, heart, hexagon, octagon, pentagon, trapezoid”...it was as if he was in “neural overdrive”, “ordering” his world while he was still awake, putting things “in order” before he went to sleep. It was the wierdest thing I had ever seen.
I had written these words almost eighteen months ago.
But there was also this… written in my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!:
“The incidence of "ordering language", at least for Zachary, was noticeably higher at specific times of the day - first thing in the morning, just before bed, and during stressful, non-orderly activities throughout the day. At the time, I definitely believed that Zachary's problem could lie in the fact that his brain may not be functioning as it should to "order things while he slept" and thus, he had an intense drive to consciously perform the "ordering" function while he was actually awake!
Now that I understood the need to "break the code" in the autistic child, I saw the need to "order" things in waking and sleep cycles. If the need to "order" the world was so all- consuming during waking hours, could this also explain difficulty in sleeping in the autistic child? Could it be that the brain truly was in "overdrive" even while Zachary slept? If this were true, then, it made my belief that for the autistic child - "Rest Is Work Too©"- even more true - because perhaps for the autistic child, there was much more going on during sleep (and waking hours) than should be normally occurring when it came to "understanding the world", and the "ordering" of what had been learned and/or processed during the day! I could not help but wonder. Was his brain in overdrive at night... processing more than it should in terms of "ordering his world" or was this function of "ordering not even occurring at night" and as such Zachary, himself, had to perform it consciously during the day? ... or, was it the opposite... that the need to understand the parts before the whole could be understood necessitated that the ordering function be the primary function during BOTH day and night? I had no way of knowing. All I did know was that Zachary had an almost innate defense mechanism that forced him to perform the "ordering function" during the day, while he was fully conscious or awake. His entire life seemed to revolve around his need to "break the code" - in everything!” [end of quote: Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!]
And this, also from my second book:
“The proper integration of sensory input as it related to “the whole” was simply not there! The fact that this impacted all senses the same way made me believe this “integration issue” may be more readily identifiable in that it seemed to occur in those areas of the brain primarily for sensory input – overall, and, specifically, in relation to “partiality processing”.
The brain failed to see the whole without first understanding all the parts that made up the whole. In a normal person, this "integration of parts and the whole" was pretty well automatic or subconscious. In the autistic child, it was my opinion, that for reasons mentioned above, this ability had been severely, if not completely impaired and as such, in everything, the child had to painstakingly consciously put "everything back together", and his failure to do so resulted in a life of complete frustration and stress!” [end of quote: Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!]
And this… also from my second book:
“As a result of what was the root impairment in autistic children – the inability to integrate and relay sensory information – I believed that the only way for the child to begin to “recover” from this devastation was by painstakingly doing consciously a critical function that should have been performed subconsciously!” [end of quote: Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!]
The question in my mind now became, was Zachary failing to properly integrate sensory information because neural connections had been severed or neurotransmitters had been altered to such a point that they simply failed to perform their functions and as such, the sensory input pretty well remained “where it had entered” (i.e., visual input pretty well staying in the occipital lobe, auditory input in the temporal lobe, touch input in the parietal lobe, etc.) or was Zachary’s inability to properly integrate sensory input the result of damage to the thalamus – that part of the brain whose job it was to integrate sensory information or to the parietal lobe – that part of the brain that allowed you to integrate sensory input into “one concept”?
Could the fact that the sense of smell bypassed the thalamus be an indication as to the true source of the problem? Zachary had always had a very, very sensitive sense of smell. I had no way of knowing – but, again – I wondered as to what clues could be provided by the processing of input from the sense of smell!
All of this certainly only further seemed to support my belief that functions that were co-located in the brain were perhaps much more closely inter-related than we could ever have imagined. Clearly, input from the CNS or PNS – most of us would think was being integrated subconsciously by the thalamus during our waking hours. This was a function that we certainly performed while we were awake and seemed to perform less – while we slept. But, was that really true – given what I had seen in Zachary – perhaps a great deal of the integration of sensory input and of the ordering of that input actually went on while we slept. And, if that were the case, then sensory input integration and sleep would be very closely related – would they not?
This certainly, again, was all very interesting to me. Since most of our senses appeared rather “inactive” while we slept, I had not really considered the possibility of sensory input integration actually occurring during sleep. Of course I knew these systems were still somewhat active during sleep stages, but, there could be no denying that the “activity level” was very different between sleep and waking hours when it came to sensory input processing – due to the fact that there just appeared to be less sensory input to start with while we slept.
How did all of this fit together? What could be learned from sensory functions within the thalamus – and those functions – the functions of smell – that could bypass the thalamus? In the past, I had thought that an epileptic aura was usually only a “smell”. Since then, as I researched epilepsy in greater detail as I wrote this book, I came to see that an “aura” – that warning of an oncoming seizure – could actually be a taste, a feeling, something “heard”, etc.
Seizures appeared to have several stages – the aura being the first. The aura or first phase was an alteration or warning in smell, taste, visual perception, hearing, and/or emotional state. It appeared that an aura could actually be a small seizure that was followed by a larger one. Interestingly, pretty well all functions mentioned as possible “auras” were found in the temporal lobe. Seizures could occur in various parts of the brain... but the role of the temporal lobe and the thalamus were interesting indeed. Certainly, one would think that the “type of aura” could help pinpoint the problem – of course often – “auras” were not remembered – not surprisingly – given memory acquisition was also located in the temporal lobe area.
Seizures usually seemed to involve motor functions, followed by a dazed or “staring” expression and repetitious purposeless behavior, including picking at clothes or things, lip smacking, and other “odd repetitive behaviors such as aimless walking, etc. All of these things certainly appeared to involve motor functions, but there could be no denying that seizures also occurred in parts of the brain not involved in motor functions.
Seizures… motor functions… the frontal lobe…the temporal lobe…the sense of smell… the thalamus… the conscious verses the subconscious…the sense of smell…
The sense of smell was found in the frontal and temporal lobes… lobes associated with motor functions and auditory processing as well. Could something be learned from the sense of smell as it related to all of this? If asleep and I smelled fire or smoke, would I more or less “automatically” awaken? Were we more sensitive to smells or sounds as we slept? How did all this fit into the integration of sensory input during conscious verses unconscious states? I very much suspected that in the unconscious state, we were more susceptible to – smells – the sense that could bypass the thalamus – that part of the brain associated with levels of consciousness.
Levels of consciousness certainly were altered during epileptic seizures also. And what could be learned from delusions if I were correct and they were possibly the result of seizures? Could vagus nerve therapy be acting on the thalamus?
Because the thalamus was involved in sensory integration of CNS and PNS information, it was also involved in the sensation of pain. The altered sensation of pain certainly was an issue for many children with autism. Many children with autism were believed to “not feel pain” the way a normal child would. Indeed, I had also seen this in Zachary in the past. Since he had been on a casein and gluten free diet, his pain sensitivity had returned. Yet, casein and gluten were known to act as natural hallucinogens on the brain – and a hallucinogen certainly could “numb” pain. Were casein and gluten impacting the thalamus – a part of the brain known to be involved with the integration of sensory input as it related to the sensation of pain – a part of the brain also known to be involved in levels of consciousness – a part of the brain also known to be involved in the integration of CNS and PNS information?
It was also known that damage to the thalamus could result in insomnia. Given the thalamus was involved in levels of consciousness, obviously, this made sense. Damage to the thalamus was known to result in altered states of consciousness and arousal and also to result in memory defects, speech problems, apathy and disorientation. The thalamus was also impacted in bi-polar (manic-depressive disorder).
There could be no denying that damage to the thalamus was absolutely a possibility in autism given that this particular part of the brain was involved in sensory input integration – and there was no denying that this was a major issue in autism.
But, again, the question remained, was what I had seen in Zachary the result of damage to the thalamus or the result of sensory input “not even getting to where it needed to go” and hence – not being able to be integrated by the thalamus. Given what I had seen in Zachary, in terms of his state of consciousness and his need to “order things” before he went to bed, I did think the thalamus did play a role in all this. Zachary’s sleep patterns had improved significantly since the very beginning when he was placed on a casein and gluten free diet and his need to “order things” before bed had greatly subsided. He still, however, very much needed to understand “the parts” in order to understand “the whole” but perhaps that had more to do with parietal lobe damage as it related to the integration of sensory input for the understanding of a single concept.
Yet, even in that area of “one concept” there was no denying that there had been tremendous progress in Zachary. With each new label I had provided, Zachary had been better able to understand and cope with his world. Although he still needed to understand the “parts” and how they fit into the whole, his frustration levels had gone down tremendously and he did not seem “as concerned” with the “pieces” as he had once been – certainly, the concern was still there – only much less intense than it had been in the past!
As I thought about so many of these issues dealing with the integration and ordering of sensory input and the conscious verses the subconscious, I could not help but think of a dream I had experienced recently – a dream I so clearly recalled – and now spoke of to my husband as “the mixed up dream”. Surely, all of us had at one time or another had such a dream. But, as I now thought about this recent dream, its implications in terms of what we could learn from a brain processing aspect were very fascinating indeed – at least in my opinion.
Dreams had provided great insights in the past – perhaps mine had been for a reason, too! :o)
To those of you who were already thinking: “Oh, my – here we go into the dream world in order to come up with theories” or that you could not move science forward based on dreams, I wanted to remind you that – indeed – many in science – actually – in the very field of “brain matters” had indeed been very much influenced by dreams. Most notably, and perhaps best known was Freud – often considered by many a primary founder of the discipline now known as psychiatry whose life works were based first and foremost on a dream he had experienced – although I, personally, quite frankly, did not agree with his teachings. But even more significant than that was the influence of a dream on another man – an Australian scientist by the name of Otto Loewi who in 1921 – discovered the first neurotransmitter - now known as acetylcholine - as a result of something that came to him - in a dream! So, it looked like neuroscience itself owed a great deal to people who chose to follow their dreams and listen to that inner voice.
And now… for my dream… “the mixed- up dream”…
The dream I had experienced was as follows:
The first thing I recalled of this dream was a wheelchair. The wheelchair had some orange on it. It was located in my neighbor’s driveway. In this dream, I saw this wheelchair at the top of the driveway – a driveway that had a very distinct upward slant to it. The chair started to slowly roll down the driveway and then made a u-turn and ended up in our yard. The next thing I recalled of this dream was that the wheelchair was now in our kitchen. I had come downstairs after a nap and was talking with my mother. Seeing the wheelchair, I asked her what it was doing in our kitchen and where it had come from as I touched and turned the chair to look at it. She then stated that my neighbors had given it to her to sell in order to make money for the local church. I recalled that in this dream, I had thought to myself: “This is a pretty old wheelchair… I don’t think anyone would buy this” – although I had not actually uttered those words to my mother. Initially, I had not noticed that my neighbor, the woman who had supposedly given us this wheelchair, was sitting in a corner of our kitchen. As I turned and saw her, I thought to myself – again in this dream – “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud”. Then the dream ended as I awoke.
When I awoke and recalled this dream, I thought to myself – boy – that was about one of the silliest dreams I had ever had. It made absolutely no sense to me. Yet, like so many dreams we experience – it had seemed so real! I had obviously recalled this dream because of the emotion associated with it. In this dream – was my mother – a woman who had died over six years ago of ovarian cancer – a mother I still missed – tremendously! It had been a very long time since I had dreamed of my mother.
But, there was a great deal more to this dream – and it was my thoughts about this “mixed up dream” I now wanted to share with all of you as I tried to decipher the “meaning” of this dream – a meaning that in my opinion, was not important in and of itself, but that from a brain functioning perspective – in terms of how the brain worked during sleep - could perhaps teach us a great deal.
As I thought about this dream, clearly, the dream itself made no sense whatsoever. The thought then occurred to me that perhaps the dream itself was not what had been important, but rather, what could be learned from what had occurred in the dream as it related to brain structure and function.
First, there was the wheelchair with some orange on it. This was a wheelchair I had never seen before in my life and as such, it was a “new” piece of information. Also noteworthy was the fact that one of the first things I had perceived in this dream was a color – the faded orange on this wheelchair. In my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!, I had written a chapter on colors and my belief that in the person with autism, color played an important role. Indeed, it appeared that autistic adults recalled “coding” things in color when they were young. So, color, did seem to play a role.
The chair then began to roll down the driveway. The driveway and “outdoors” I had seen in my dream were exactly that which existed – there – today – and then. It was real and looked in my dream exactly the way it would were I there today with one exception – the fence in our yard. The fence we had when I was a child had since been replaced with a cedar hedge. In the dream, the fence was still there – with the same opening in the fence to the front door. In reality – today – the fence was no longer there.
Thus, this driveway and the “outdoor” scene overall - unlike the wheelchair - were the recall of an accurate, past memory – a long-term memory of well over twenty years ago. I had moved to this neighborhood when I was approximately nine and had lived there until I went to college. Although my mother had died six years ago, the house I had been raised in was still very much part of my “real world” since my sister now lived there and I returned to this area often. Thus, the “outdoor” scene in my dream had consisted of accurate memories of long ago.
In the dream, the wheelchair rolled down the driveway (motion) and I could see (visual) it doing this slowly (perception of motion). This driveway, had a very distinct upward slant (three dimensional perception) toward the house and again, was the same in my dream as what actually existed there (reality). Although I could see the wheelchair rolling down the driveway (a visual input), I did not recall hearing the noise it made as it rolled down. It may have been there, but I did not recall that specifically as I recalled this dream. I did recall however, the sensation of a slight breeze in the dream (somatosensory and touch perception) – a breeze that had caused this wheelchair to go down the driveway (motion).
I had not been looking out the window or anything – the view of this wheelchair rolling down my neighbor’s driveway had just been as an opening scene in a movie – just something I had “seen” without physically looking out the window. In other words, I did not recall looking out the window, nor did I recall my actually standing outside and looking at the wheelchair rolling down. It was just a scene of a wheelchair (a new reference or input), rolling down a driveway (a past memory). I, personally, did not have the impression of “being there” watching it (awareness of self) as it happened.
The next part of this dream had to do with the “u-turn”. For this wheelchair to make a u-turn as it had and end up in our yard by going through the opening in the fence that led to the front door – would have been quite an accomplishment. In other words, in reality, this would have been absolutely – impossible – due to distance, road surface, and such variables as the “laws of physics”. Yet, clearly, in my dream, I had seen this wheelchair do this. That had to involve those parts of the brain dealing with “imagination”.
The next thing I recalled was that the wheelchair was in the kitchen of the house where I had been raised. The kitchen itself was not as it was today - nor as it had been as when I was a child. It was sort of an “in-between” phase – although still one I had experienced in my lifetime – more of an intermediate memory of say perhaps ten years ago. How the wheelchair actually “got” to the kitchen – was an unknown. It was just “there”. So, there was a lapse in terms of events that had occurred to get this wheelchair (new input) from the yard (past long term memory) to the kitchen (intermediate memory)… the putting or incorporating of “new sensory input” – the wheelchair - into an old environment or memory – the kitchen of the house where I had been raised.
The next part of the dream consisted of my (self awareness) being in the kitchen (an intermediate memory) and seeing (visual) this wheelchair (new input). I had seen the wheelchair before I had started to talk with my mother (intermediate memory). And, I had – in this dream – just come down from a nap (somatosensory perception and self awareness). I had not pictured myself actually going down the stairs or anything. I just had “an awareness”- in the dream - that I had just taken a nap and was now in the kitchen. As I saw the wheelchair there, I began a conversation with my mother. Although my mother – in reality – had now been dead for over six years – in my dream, my mother was approximately fifty years old, smiling and healthy (intermediate memory). She had – in reality – died at the age of sixty- one – just over six years ago. The odd thing was, however, that I perceived myself very much as I was today. In this dream, I did not see myself as a younger woman, but, very much as the woman I was – today - a woman who had two small children – although neither my children nor my husband were in the dream. This, obviously, had to do with my “sense of self”. My mother had died before I even knew I was pregnant with Zachary and hence she had not known Zachary although, clearly, in this dream, as far as I was concerned, I was still very much the mother of two young children.
In this dream, although there were many past memories, my sense of self was very much as it was today in terms of its accuracy. I would not say that I sensed I was “visiting”. It was as though the scene was one from my past, but that I, personally, was not as I was then, but pretty well how I was – today. The scene involved past memories, but my “self” was pretty well “intact”. My mother – her “self”, however, was not as she had been just before her death – frail and in pain – in my dream, she was vibrant, healthy, and happy and I could hear her voice clearly (a visual and auditory memory).
The next part of the dream involved my asking my mother where the wheelchair had come from as I manipulated the object itself – the wheelchair. This was simply a question I had asked in my dream - but, in reality – it was a question about “a new piece of information” – a new sensory input in my life. This wheelchair did not exist in reality, but it certainly could represent a “new” sensory input my brain had to deal with.
The next part of this dream was rather interesting to me. Upon asking my mother where the chair had come from, she replied the neighbor had “given” it to her to sell to raise money for the local church. This - in the reality of this dream - would have been an outright lie (ability to distinguish truth verses non-true). Yet, in reality, I knew my mother – in real life – had been a very honest woman. But, in this dream, she had told me the chair had been “given” to her – and that – according to my dream – would have been false. My dream had not had any part to it where the neighbor had verbally uttered that she was “giving” this old wheelchair away for this particular purpose. The wheelchair had simply rolled into our yard – and somehow – ended up in our kitchen.
The next part of this dream involved my recall of a thought as it related to “my self”. Again, in the dream, my “self” was very much as it was today. In the dream, I had “held my tongue” in terms of saying what I had thought about that old wheelchair and my neighbor’s “gift” to the church. Approximately two years ago – in reality – I had become a Christian – and in my dream – I was also a Christian – and hence, had been perhaps a little more careful than I would have been in matters of “holding my tongue” and not verbally uttering what I had so uncharitably thought. Thus, this memory of my “self” was also based on my current reality.
Next, in the dream, came the physical assessment of the wheelchair. I observed and assessed it in terms of its “usefulness” and “desire to possess” (assessment of value of “new input”).
Next came my realization that the woman who had supposedly – according to my mother – “given us this wheelchair” – was sitting in one of the corners of the kitchen (spatial perception and awareness and recognition of others). There had been and still were two entrances within the house – to the kitchen – in addition to the door leading outside. The angles of the kitchen were such – then and now – that this woman could be sitting there without my seeing her – and so, what I had seen and perceived in my dream in terms of this particular issue, was once again an accurate depiction of reality.
Although this woman was sitting in the kitchen, I had the impression that she had just been “visiting” – and that the “visit” had nothing to do with the wheelchair itself (time perception). In other words, at no time did the woman mention or refer to the wheelchair. It was as though the “visit” could have occurred on any other day – any day – not involving the “wheelchair”.
The last part of my dream had involved a “thought” I had based on the fact that I had now seen this woman sitting there – the very woman who had supposedly “given” us this old wheelchair. The thought I had of “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud” was a thought I could have had as myself – now – or then, but the emotion associated with that thought, from what I could recall – was very much more closely associated with a “child-like” response of “I’m glad I didn’t get caught saying that” as opposed to the emotion I would have perhaps had today – based on my Christian views – an emotion that – today – would have focused not more on my “self” and being caught saying something I should not say, but an emotion focused more on “the other person” and an emotion based more on “having hurt someone’s feelings” – a more mature emotion.
The dream then ended as I awoke. But, although the dream had ended, my perception of the dream itself was not quite over yet. As I awoke from this dream, a dream that had felt so real to me in terms of seeing my mother – a mother I had so missed over the last six years – I had the response we pretty well always had when we awoke – an assessment of “reality” verses “the non-real” – that assessment of one’s environment in regards to “reality” that always seemed to happen in the first waking second! Clearly, “how real” the dream appeared had been very much influenced by the strong emotions associated with seeing my mother again. Memories were very much impacted by emotions. But, could that also be the case for one’s sense of reality?
Note that both emotions and ability to perceive truth verses a lie – the real and the non-real – were co-located in the temporal lobe. As such, emotions could definitely play a role in one’s “sense of reality”.
Below were words taken from the first book I had written, Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism!:
“As I continued to read, signs I would not have recognized as symptoms of autism now jumped out at me. I was overwhelmed with more emotions than I could handle - disbelief, fear, anger, distress, guilt, anxiety... hopelessness. It was now about 3:00 a.m. I had read all I could take for now. I went to bed, physically and emotionally drained and cried myself to sleep.
When I awoke in the morning, Fred was not next to me. This did not alarm me nor did I find it unusual since his farm background had never left him and he was usually up by 5:00 a.m. anyway. As I lay there in bed, I asked myself: “Was this just one of these bad dreams that seem so real? Did I just dream that Zachary had autism?” As I continued to lay there for another fifteen seconds or so, the atrophying reality set in, I had not dreamed it…my son had autism! I could not move a single muscle. Only my shattered heart pounded within my chest. The function was there but its life had been sucked out of my body. I was but a shell... a body without life. All the hopes, the dreams, for my son, for my family, for myself…gone! The person I was yesterday died and this hopeless, joyless person had taken her place. The tears flowed, again.” [emphasis added - end of quote – Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism]
From this passage I had written over eighteen months ago, it was very clear that for quite some time, I had trouble distinguishing between what was real and what was not. All persons experienced dreams that just seemed “so real”. Although the “mixed up dream” of the wheelchair had indeed been a dream, in this example from “Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism!, there had not been a dream, but the confusion as to the “real” verses the “non-real” still very much existed as my first thoughts that morning dealt with “assessing reality”. In this case, there had not been a dream – it had been real – I had not dreamed that Zachary had autism – but, the “reality” was so painful that I mentally had to assess it in order to determine whether or not “it had been a dream”. Unfortunately, there had been no dream – as much as I had hoped there had been – this, was very much “my reality”!
What these examples clearly showed was that reality and the “non-real” could very much be perceived as being one and the same. Things that were real could be perceived as “not real” – if even only for a few seconds until “reality” set in – and things that were “not real” could very much be perceived as “real”.
The interesting thing about this was that something that occurred subconsciously, during a sleep state, could be even outrageously ridiculous and not be perceived as “odd” when explained to a spouse, or someone else in a waking state. Clearly, in this dream, my physical senses and my sense of reality had been very much at play. This type of “mixed up dream” was perfectly “acceptable to society” since it was just “a dream”. Yet, I now wondered, could it be that “mixed up thoughts” we saw in these disorders, things such as losing touch with reality, have something to do with conscious verses subconscious processing? Obviously, my “mixed up dream” was acceptable in a “sleep state”, but what if this same type of “mixed up processing” – fragmented thoughts and brain processing functions – pieces from here and there - occurred during a waking state? That could certainly result in one being perceived by others as “having lost touch with reality” – could it not? In my opinion, again, this was all very interesting indeed.
It was as I thought about these things and especially, the “wheelchair” dream – that “mixed up, non-sense dream” that many thoughts came to mind as they related to brain functioning. Memories, face and voice recognition, classification of objects, auditory processing, understanding of language, some visual perception, the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie – all these things involved functions located in the temporal lobe. In this particular dream, there had been no sense of “smell” involved.
There had also been in this simple dream, the activation of many frontal lobe functions also – motor activity, language production, higher functioning relating to imagination, the concept of self, etc., the control of emotions, and the assigning of meaning to words (i.e. “given”). Again, although the sense of smell was also located in the frontal lobe, in this particular dream, I had no recall of the sense of smell being used – other than perhaps the fact that the majority of this “mixed up dream” occurred in a kitchen.
In this simple dream, there had obviously been many functions in the parietal lobe also activated: somatosensory processing (I sensed I had just awakened from a nap and had that “just got up from a nap feeling”), spatial processing (as I looked at the wheelchair rolling down the driveway and was conscious of the layout of the kitchen during this dream), touch perception and manipulation of objects (as I felt and turned the wheelchair). In terms of goal directed movement and three dimension identification, the only things I could see relating to those functions in the brain as they related to my dream would be perhaps the “goal” of the chair making it to our yard and the perception of the wheelchair rolling down the driveway.
Obviously, the occipital lobe had also been activated during this dream as my dream had involved not only “seeing things” but also the perception of color, motion, and the location of objects within the environment.
This simple mixed up dream that had appeared to last but a very brief time, had in reality, potentially activated all parts of my brain in a rather interesting sequence. Quite clearly, the beginning of the dream had started with “new input” and ended with my sense of self and assessment of reality as I awoke.
Although I knew the content of dreams could definitely be of great value, the focus of this particular dream had been a worthless wheelchair that had never existed in my reality – in my life! As such, given the apparent lack of “usefulness” in this object – the old orange wheelchair - could not the value of the dream come not from the more obvious “content” itself but perhaps more from the processing of those things within the dream – processing that may involve a definite sequence and/or flow as it related to “new information” being incorporated and somehow “ordered” into memories we already had!
Could it be that a dream had a great deal to teach us from a brain function perspective as it related to the ordering of facts – new or old - of memories – new or old - and states of consciousness as well as overall brain processing! In my opinion, as I thought about this “mixed up, seemingly ridiculous dream” – this certainly did appear to be a possibility.
Dream analysis could certainly be rather interesting if we looked not only at the content of the dream but at those areas of the brain activated and the sequencing involved in terms of mental processing in the interpretation of those dreams. For example, could the number of times or references in a dream to the concept of self be indicative of “how strong” one’s concept of self really was? Could “imagined” variables in a dream be indicative of how well one was “in touch with reality”?
With all the work I had done, a “crazy dream” once in a while was of no surprise to me. Recently, I certainly had once again assumed the ranks of those among the many “sleep deprived in this nation”. Yet, although my sleep patterns had perhaps been altered for the worse, Zachary’s – there could be no doubt – had greatly improved by simply placing him on a casein and gluten free diet and providing supplements known to help children with autism.
Everything we had done with Zachary had been based on what appeared to work for other parents of children with autism – options that had – based on parent testimonials – proven helpful over and over again. Other families going through the trials of autism were clearly my best resource in determining what to do for Zachary. Families after all had that twenty-four hour, seven day a week – “living lab” - as I had come to call it. No half hour visit in a doctor’s office could provide for me the insights that were to be gained from other parents going through this.
I had spent a tremendous amount of time on parent discussion boards – reading what other parents had to say. Although many doctors and therapists would probably rebel at my saying this, the simple fact was that “parents” spanned the entire spectrum. They included a lot of stay at home moms with a great deal of common sense and drive to understand their children – moms who – collectively – had done a tremendous amount of reading and provided an invaluable resource in terms of information when it came to things to “look into” that could provide answers to parts of my puzzle in specific areas. But, “parents” of children with autism on message boards included much more than moms at home with their children. They included doctors, lawyers, scientists, therapists, teachers, researchers, chemists, biologists, and on and on and on. As such “parents” truly were a wealth of information and in my opinion, one of the greatest untapped resources available in “breaking the code” and “putting pieces in place”.
Although I personally had ten years of university, I came to see that even moms and dads with no “formal education” could contribute a tremendous amount of knowledge and help a great deal in my understanding of so many issues. The simple fact was that “moms” and “dads” – more than anyone – more than any doctor or scientist – had the drive to understand their children – the drive to “find the pieces” and help put them in place – not only for their child or loved one or for themselves, but for others also. As such, online discussion boards could be a great place to go to simply “ask a question” about a specific issue and see what others going through this had to say.
The enzyme and mercury Yahoo group discussion boards relating to autism had provided for me such a great understanding of so many issues. The level of conversation on some of these boards could get overwhelming at times – there was always so much to learn, but, I found most participants very much willing to help others going through this journey we had all known as “autism”. Parents shared their trials and successes – no matter how small - they shared their sorrows and their joys – but most importantly for me – they shared what they had found “to work” or “not work”.
Message boards could indeed be great resources, but you had to know when to “cut the cord”. My personal gauge had always been: “Was I learning anything new? Was this productive? Was this helping me in any way with Zachary?” Although many frequented message boards for the support only, I frequented them more as a source of valuable information. If I found there was too much repetition of information I already had learned, I stayed away or looked elsewhere for my answers, returning only when I needed to ask very specific questions. I also read online autism newsletters and constantly scanned the Internet as I researched the pieces to my puzzle.
It was as I read on the Internet that I became aware of an “option” for autism that truly troubled me. This particular option involved the use of subconscious methods to apparently “reprogram” a child with autism – so parents were told. Given everything I had learned about autism – through carefully observing Zachary, and of “government experiments” like “MKultra”, and through all the research I had done, I had great concerns over such “options” as this, options – in my opinion – potentially – very dangerous options - that appeared to play on the vulnerabilities of parents so desperately looking for answers.
The simple fact was that brain damage had been confirmed over and over again in children with autism – of that – there was no doubt – and as such, I saw these “therapy options” involving the use of somehow “reprogramming the subconscious” as “the answer” as quite questionable – and quite frankly, in my opinion, potentially, very, very, damaging. The simple fact was that man did not even begin to understand man in the conscious state and persons who believed they understood man in the subconscious state were… how shall I put it lightly…. well… there was no way to put it lightly…
I cautioned all parents who considered involving their children in such “treatment options”. I wanted to remind all families of the words of a man considered among the most brilliant of all:
"We still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us."
Within these words could be found not only a very accurate statement, but also a very powerful warning when it came to matters dealing with the “manipulation of the unconscious”, the manipulation and/or “control” of thoughts!
It had been our lack of understanding that had brought us to these explosions in mental illness in the first place and I had no doubt that our lack of understanding in matters relating to the subconscious also had the potential to do great harm for within techniques aimed at “manipulating the subconscious” – as in the case of project MKultra – the bottom line was that these so called “treatment options” involved matters of “mind control” – and that was very dangerous ground to walk on and as such, I urged all family members to keep their very vulnerable loved ones – away from such “options”!
The difficulty in all this was that software could certainly be used by such “options” – and in all likelihood – in a manner one would perhaps never suspect as having anything to do with “mind control”. The danger of using “games” or “puzzles” or special pictures or music with subliminal messages was not as far fetched as one may think.
Indeed, recent headlines certainly show that for some, the issue of “mind control” was indeed very much a reality. For example, take the film “Matrix”. There now appear to be several cases of young men committing murder after having felt they had become part of “the Matrix”. I, personally, had never watched this movie and never will. Certainly, there would be those who would say that was “ridiculous”, well… perhaps… but, given everything I had come to read in matters of “mind control”, quite frankly, perhaps this was not as “far fetched” as some may believe. Take the following comments that appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian on May 19, 2003, in an article by Duncan Campbell entitled: “Matrix filsms blamed for series of murders by obsessed fans”:
“One of the attractions of The Matrix, the film whose sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, opens in Britain next week, was its blending of fantasy and reality. A series of murders in the United States suggests some people have been unable to distinguish between the two… he shot his father and mother in the basement of their home and then called the police. His lawyers say he believed that he was living inside the Matrix. The theme of the films is that computers have taken over the earth, although some humans exist in a computer-simulated world, battling to save humanity. "He's just obsessed with it,"… [and in another case]… she had had dreams which turned out not to be dreams. The local prosecutor said that, "in her warped perception", the film played a part in the killing…. [and in another case]…The police who interviewed him said he had made "reference to being sucked into the Matrix"… [and in yet another case]… The young man accused of taking part in last year's sniper attacks in the Washington area has also cited the film… [and, finally… this comment]… "Free yourself of the Matrix," wrote… one of the two defendants, in his jail cell.” [end of quote – emphasis added, text in square brackets added also, Duncan Campbell, Matrix films blamed for series of murders by obsessed fans”, The Guardian, May 19, 2003].
A little “too weird”? There were a few old sayings that came to mind when I read this article. These included: “if you play with fire, you are going to get burned” and “curiosity killed the cat”… and the fact that sometimes, it was, truly better to “let sleeping dogs lie” and not go “looking” for trouble. Given everything I had read in this area of mind control, did I think it was possible? Absolutely – especially given that, just as “you are what you eat”… so were you very much a function of what you thought – especially if those thoughts became “obsessive thoughts” due to variables such as frontal lobe damage and the inability to distinguish between the real and non-real (temporal lobe damage). Did I think mind control was possible? Well, obviously, the CIA did and their job was “intelligence matters” – was it not?
MKultra’s “mind control” had involved over one hundred and fifty projects over approximately 20 years – surely some – if not all - of these had to involve sensory processing of some kind and the manipulation of thoughts. Had the CIA ordered the destruction of MKultra documents because there was “nothing to hide”?
More than ever was the need for parents to be involved in any software development aimed specifically at helping those with disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.
There was a time where I would have said: “mind control… that’s crazy”… but not today – no longer would I ever be that naïve - that trusting – again – especially since I knew many currently in the White House had very strong ties to the CIA.
From what I had seen in Zachary, I knew there were ways to help him without getting involved in such options as “manipulation of the subconscious” and, in my heart, I believed that could be true for others as well. During his first two and a half years, Zachary’s sleep patterns had been horrible as he awakened at least two or three times a night – often screaming uncontrollably. It often took hours for him to fall back asleep. For persons suffering from these disorders, there was no doubt that “rest is work, too!” given it was something so difficult to accomplish for so many. Parents of children with autism – I had no doubt – clearly knew the value of a good night’s sleep – because for too many, this was a rare treat indeed!
The fact that Zachary’s sleep patterns were now so much better than they had been in the past had to have played a tremendous role in his ability to perform conscious and subconscious functions – in a more “normal way”. He could now go to sleep without having to spend a great deal of time “ordering things” as he had once done. I allowed him to listen to music (i.e., classical) since I knew music therapy was helpful for persons with autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s. Granted, he still had a night here and there that was difficult – but that was true of all children and adults. I still suspected, that to an extent, Zachary still performed certain “ordering functions” in a waking state when they should perhaps be done in a sleep state, but, there was no doubt that he had come a long way. In spite of his tremendous progress, however, I knew there were certainly still critical hurdles to be overcome in matters relating to the conscious and unconscious. Especially troubling for me were those hurdles that could literally cost Zachary his life – hurdles in the area of safety.