Category Archives: Autism

Autism and the Sensory System: Part 8 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System
With Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L

 Interoception is the sense that allows us to feel sensations from the inside of our body like a growling stomach, or full bladder or tight muscles (Craig, 2002). These internal sensations can serve as important clues to our emotions (Craig, 2002; Critchley et al., 2004; Herbert, Herbert, & Pollatos, 2011; Herbert, Pollatos, & Schandry, 2007; Pollatos, Gramann, & Schandry, 2007; Pollatos et al., 2005).  For example, noticing a growling stomach is a clue that we are hungry, or noticing a full bladder is a clue that we have to go to the bathroom, or noticing tight muscles is a clue that we are frustrated. This body-emotion connection provides valuable information about the world around us and within us, information about the way our body is responding to the situation at hand. For example, noticing tight muscles and recognizing it as a clue of frustration provides us with valuable information about our current situation, our body serving as an alert that something might be off around us. This body-emotion connection urges us into action, to seek out a solution that will help us regain a comfortable feeling body and emotion (e.g. seek help; request that an unmet need is fulfilled; take a quite break)  (Jackson, Parkinson, Kim, Schüermann, & Eickhoff, 2011).

Taking In Interoceptive Information

Just as with all other seven senses, autistics can have differences in the way they take in interoception information. Internal sensations can be

too big(e.g. where many internal sensations are amplified, noisy and can cause extreme internal confusion)

too small (e.g. where internal sensations can be muted or even go completely unnoticed) or 

distorted (e.g.where internal sensations can be vague or not clear enough to provide specific detail about the exact location or quality of the sensation)

 Processing Interoceptive Information

Additionally, the processing style of autistics can impact the interpretation of the signals sent by the sense of interoception.

Linear processing of interoceptive information that in turn informs self-understanding of emotional state may happen in two different ways

Linear processing style one
The physical feelings connected to emotions may be processed one at a time:

  • first noticing the heart beating faster
  • next noticing hands shaking
  • then noticing tight feeling in chest

Due to this linear processing style these sensations are not linked together into the big picture of feeling anxious. This makes learning to label emotions extremely difficult and yet we see this goal over and over on a student’s IEP or a client’s therapy treatment plan.

Linear processing style two
With this linear processing style an autistic might

  • first process a sound like a loud noise
  • then process an interoceptive sensation like a tight feeling in chest

Because these two sensations were processed in a linear fashion the sensations are not linked together. This makes it impossible for the individual to process the experience as a whole. Thus the informative learning mechanism available to most people – that the loud noise caused my chest to feel tight which in turn means that now I feel anxious – is not going to happen automatically for individuals whose brain processes sensory information in this manner.

Nondiscriminatory processing, which refers to all incoming information getting processed equally means all interoceptive sensations noticed may be automatically interpreted to be of equal importance. This makes it difficult to figure out which sensations are relevant to the situation at hand.

Imagine if while eating, you were to notice all of these things as if they were equally salient to eating:

  • a slow heartbeat
  • warm hands
  • fidgety legs
  • heavy eyes
  • tight, heavy stomach

In nondiscriminatory processing the sensory system is not able to discriminate and then track the sensations relevant to eating. The pairing of tight, heavy stomach to being full is does not happen.  Individuals affected in this way are prone to overeat.

Monochannel processing, where one sensory system is used to process all information, poses a wide variety of interoceptive difficulties. For example, if I am working on learning when I am full and some days my one channel to process is interoception then I can feel sensations from my stomach. This will help my learning!  But other days my one channel could be any one of the other seven sensory system. How will I make any progress at all about feeling full on those days!

Storing and Retrieving Interoceptive Information

As with all other sensations, the storingandretrieving of interoception information can be enhanced by teaching categorizationand using deliberate practice to develop critical mass. Here are some examples:

  • teach mini categories first (e.g. the category of hand sensations or, in other words, providing the category of ‘all of the different ways that my hands can feel’)
  • then put these mini-categories together into a larger category that represents entire body sensations (or the category of ‘all the different ways my entire body can feel’)
  • use deliberate practice designed to give concrete meaning to the words within a mini category (e.g. when washing hands in warm water, noticing the way the hands can feel ‘wet’ and ‘warm’)
  • systematically categorizing the way each individual body part can feel, giving plenty of specific practice (make it a game or a predictable routine), can help move towars critical mass
  • use deliberate practice by playing a game or engaging in a routine that draws attention to noticing the ways the entire body can feel is another essential step in moving toward attaining an interoceptive critical mass (Mahler, 2019)

As awareness of interoceptive signals and their meaning expands over time by using the above bulleted techniques, critical mass can develop.This means individuals can come to not only experience interoceptive physical sensations but also learn to pair meaning to that sensation. Thus, a client may come to know that when he notices shaky hands, fast heart and a tight chest, it means he is anxious.

As discussed, interoception underlies our ability to clearly detect our own emotions in the moment. This body-emotion connection is now well-validated and understood in research.

Furthermore, the awareness of our own emotions has been found to underlie the ability to quickly read the emotions of other people. In other words, research has found that a solid body-emotion connection is first needed for understanding of our own emotions, and once that connection has been established, only then can we come to understand or read the emotions of other people (Adolfi et al, 2017; Singer et al, 2004; Cook, Brewer, Shah, & Bird, 2013;  Grynberg & Pollatos, 2015; Gu et al, 2012; Shah et al, 2017). It is essentially a self first, other people second phenomenon. In other words, we need to understand our own body and emotions before we are ready to intuitively understand others.

Difficulty reading the emotions of others, whether a conversation partner or a character in a novel, is typically due to a skipped step in the developmental progression of emotions (e.g. missing interoception information). Ensuring that emotions are learned from the inside out is an essential skill for reading comprehension: being able to quickly infer the emotions of characters in a story. It also goes a long way in making comprehension of life in the world around us easier.

Thanks, Kelly Mahler! Now, I (Judy), would like to share with you a personal example from my growing up years that illustrates the impact sensory disregulation can have on literacy instruction.

 I like to think I am fairly intelligent with good cognitive resources to bring to  the task. After all I received a nearly perfect score on the ACT College  Entrance Exam so there is some validity to my assumptions in this  department!  I tell you of my normal intelligence because when it comes to  reading, my cognitive capability isn’t the only thing that matters.

When my sensory system is not well regulated my comprehension fades.  Even though I am able to read the words with fluency I do not know what they  mean. Because of this oral reading fluency and because of my intelligence teachers often made assumptions about my character on days my  comprehension was low or altogether missing. I have been called lazy,   stubborn and told that I didn’t care about my grades and that I must want to fail during my elementary years. In High School I was told that I must think I am too        good to answer the teacher’s questions and was actually punished for failing to answer comprehension related questions! I had to move my desk to the hall  when the bell rang and sit in that desk until I was ready to answer while the rest  of the students moved on through their class rotations.

I didn’t have the words to explain my truth at the time, but then I heard one teacher say to another, “She won’t answer questions today” in an exasperated  voice. After hearing that, each time I was asked if I was ready to answer the questions I co-opted that phrase knowing that teachers have all the right answers. I repeated my teacher’s words along with her irritated voice saying, “She won’t answer questions today.”

No matter how many times I repeated this right answer it did not work out for me that   day. I sat there, shamed in front of my peers, for a few more hours.  When the dismissal bell sounded I got up and left with the other students.

Some days I could comprehend what I read and some days I couldn’t – a lot depended on my sensory regulation in the moment. As a child I did not know the information I do today and thus had no way to explain what was happening to my teachers. Instead, I believed them. They were the adults. They were in charge. I  indeed must be lazy and stuck up just like they said.

Unfortunately, experiences like this, where others made assumptions based on the behavior I exhibited happened frequently. Regardless of the techniques employed – negative or positive – none of it gave me access to comprehension when I was disregulated. Even as an adult, having a well regulated sensory system before I begin to read anything makes a huge difference. In fact, I am unable to take in written information when I am not well regulated. I can read the words both silently and aloud, but am unable to comprehend them. Over the years I have come to learn that this differential access to comprehension has nothing to do with my character or intelligence, but instead has to do with the fact of my autistic neurology.

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: This blog completes the series below.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System

IMG_7881

REFERENCES

Adolfi, F., Couto, B., Richter, F., Decety, J., Lopez, J., Sigman, M., Manes,  F., & Ibáñez, A. (2017). Convergence of interoception, emotion, and social cognition: A twofold fMRI
meta-analysis and lesion approach. Cortex88, 124–142.

Critchley, H. D., Wiens, S., Rotshtein, P., Öhman, A., &  Dolan, R.  J.  (2004). Neural systems supporting interoceptive awareness. Nature Neuroscience, 7(2),189-195.Cook, R., Brewer, R., Shah, P., &Bird, G. (2013). Alexithymia,notautism,predicts poor recognition of emotional facial expressions.Psychological Science, 24(5),723.

REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

.Grynberg,D.&Pollatos,O.(2015).Perceivingone’sbodyshapesempathy. Physiology and Behavior, 140. 54-60.

Gu, X., Gao, Z., Wang, X., Liu, X., Knight, R. T., Hof, P.  R., & Fan, J.  (2012). Anteriorinsularcortexisnecessaryforempatheticpainperception.Brain,135(9),2726-2735.

Herbert, B. M., Herbert, C., & Pollatos, O. (2011). On the relationship between interoceptive awareness and alexithymia: Is interoceptive awareness related to emotional awareness? Journal of Personality, 79(5), 1149-1175.Herbert, B. M., Pollatos, O., & Schandry, R. (2007). Interoceptive sensitivity and emotion processing: An EEG study.International Journal of Psychophysiology, 65(3), 214-227.

Jackson, S. R., Parkinson, A., Kim, S. Y., Schüermann, M., & Eickhoff, S. B. (2011).Onthefunctionalanatomyoftheurge-for-action.CognitiveNeuroscience,2(3-4),227-243.

Mahler, K. (2019). The Interoception Curriculum: A step-by-step guide to developing mindful self-regulation. Lancaster,  PA:  Kelly Mahler.

Mahler, K. (2016). Interoception the Eighth Sensory System:Practical solutions for improving self-regulation, self-awareness and social understanding of individuals with autism spectrum and related disorders. Shawnee Mission,  KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Pollatos, O., Gramann, K., & Schandry, R. (2007). Neural systems connecting interoceptive awareness and feelings. Human Brain Mapping, 28(1), 9-18.

Pollatos, O., Kirsch,W., & Schandry, R. (2005). On the relationship between interoceptive awareness, emotional experience, and brain processes. Cognitive Brain Research, 25(3),948-962.

Shah, P., Catmur, C., & Bird, G. (2017). From heart to mind: Linking interoception, emotion, and theory of mind. Cortex. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.02.010. Website accessed 2019.

Singer, T., Seymour, B., O’Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2004). Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science, 303(5661), 1157-1162.

Autism and the Sensory System: Part 7 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development

As I worked on another year’s worth of daily hidden curriculum items, much to my delight, I discovered that it appeared that all the individual hidden curriculum items on a given topic had come together on their own! Brenda Smith Myles refers to this as having enough similar experience to enable critical mass development (personal communication, 2010). She has since written a book about this topic called Excelling With Autism: Obtaining Critical Mass Through Deliberate Practice(Myles, Aspy, Mataya & Schaffer, 2018), which is pretty much a mirror image to my personal experience.

For me, “it was as if those [individual hidden curriculum] items had somehow morphed into my general operating system. I no longer needed to intentionally go on a search-and-find mission to uncover a pertinent hidden curriculum item in order to act on the previous information I had learned and stored.

Another thing I noticed when compiling literally thousands of learned hidden curriculum items was that once there was enough critical mass on a given topic, such as racism, for example, so that the information became part of my operating system, similar topics, in this case, sexism, had also morphed into my operating system even though I had not intentionally noticed and compiled information on sexism. It was just there!

It was necessary for me to learn, item-by-item, many similar, but not exactly identical, items until I had stored enough individual items to create a critical mass. I needed to enter enough data for the critical mass to develop, and once the individual data morphed into a critical mass, it automatically became part of my operating system.” (Endow, 2012, pg. 66-67)

Thus, critical mass development allowed an automated sort of retrieval. For me, the process over time followed the same trajectory and to this day when I want to learn something new I follow the same path of taking in, processing, storing and retrieving information.

Handling New Information: Charging Camera Battery Example

Taking In: I learn the new bit of information such as how to remove and charge the camera battery by reading about it in the instruction manual that came with my new camera.

Processing: Initially, once I understand the instructions, I manually decide this information will go with other information about my new camera.

Storing: I slide in this newly learned information under the topic category of Cannon T3i that I can see in my head.

Retrieving: I know that when I learn new things it works best for me to intentionally store any information I learn on the new topic under that topic category as it makes for more efficient retrieval.

I have come to learn that over time, as my brain develops enough critical mass in different areas, information tends to automatically duplicate itself into other pertinent categories. In the above example I know that I deliberately created a Cannon T3i topic category and visually watched the information on how to charge the battery slide under that topic category in my head.

Three years later, after not using the camera for some time and needing to charge the battery, I was quite surprised when my visual thinking pulled up Batteries/Charging/Cannon T3i. I had never intentionally stored the information in this way, but my brain had developed enough critical mass that it was able to duplicate and plunk that information under another whole topic of batteries! I am learning critical mass development allows for a more efficient retrieval of stored information. Today I am amazed all over each time I see that my brain has automatically stored and retrieved yet even more data. It is quite miraculous to me!

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: Approximately once a week a new blog in this series will be released.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System
 IMG_7795

REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Autism and the Sensory System: Part 6 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Six: Categorization of Information

Even into my adult life I had to consciously categorize similar bits of information into general categories. My brain did not automatically categorize anything. No new information automatically fit itself into anything previously stored.

I became intensely aware of this back when I authored the 2010 Hidden Curriculum calendar (Endow, 2009a). Near the end of the process and after all the items for each day had been written I was then supposed to categorize these items. This posed a problem because at that time my brain had not stored the individual hidden curriculum items according to categories. I tried to figure out how to categorize the year’s worth of individual items. I started reading books on my shelf written by autistics (Grandin, 1995; Paradiz, 2002; Purkis, 2006; Williams, 1996; and Willey, 1999) specifically looking for information on categorization. It is interesting to me that even though I had read these books, I had not retained any categorization information.

I came across Temple Grandin’s explanation of her system of categorization of social sins (Grandin, 1995, 2006 and Grandin & Barron, 2005) and once I had this structure I was able to go on and construct my own. I actually wrote my categorization system down on a piece of paper and for some time needed to look at it in order to place the hidden curriculum items pertaining to social sins into the proper categories I, myself had created. Having this visual outside of me to look at was essential in that over time it allowed my neurology to grab onto this structured storage system. Once the picture of these categories was in my head I could more easily sort and categorize the items.

From this I was able to go on to write the index for the 2010 calendar. I looked at the index of the older calendars (Myles, 2006; Myles & Duncan, 2007; and Myles & Duncan 2008) and initially used that written structure to place items. Because the 2010 calendar was the first one specific to older adolescents and adults I had many items left over that did not fit into the index structure gleaned from an earlier calendar targeted towards elementary students. As I had done with developing my own structure for social sins, I wrote the categories from the older calendar on a piece of paper and then added to the topics. I think it took me longer to write the index than it did to write the individual hidden curriculum items for the 2010 calendar!

My brain was being deliberately instructed (by me) on a totally new storage system as I applied the above strategies to the task of writing the index for this 2010 calendar. Once this calendar was completed and sent off to the printer, I very soon began writing the next 2011 calendar (Endow, 2010). This time I already had the list of topics from the last calendar and as I wrote the hidden curriculum daily entry items I typed the dates right into the topic index. Initially I needed to look at and ponder over the entire index written out on paper for each hidden curriculum entry. It took considerable time as I figured out where to put each item. Over time I no longer needed to look at the topic index to know where to put new items.

My brain had been deliberately and intentionally taught this new storage system. This meant I could start automatically retrieving the system. Once retrieved, the new calendar item needing to be inserted could be slid right into the proper category! I watched the process in my visually thinking brain as the words slid under the topic category. I was glad the whole system was working more quickly and without as much intentionality on my part as time went on.

One day I noticed my retrieval of this stored information was changing. After initially developing the new (to my brain) storage system I was able to slide new items into the system, but retrieving them from this system meant my brain automatically scanned the system using the alphabetically arranged topics until the individual item was found. This meant if the item was under the topic of cyberspace I would retrieve it more quickly than if it was under the topic of workplace. To me this seemed inefficient, but I didn’t have any ideas on how to speed up the new way my brain was now working.

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: Approximately once a week a new blog in this series will be released.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System
 IMG_7813

REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Grandin, T. (1995, 2006). Thinking in Pictures: My life with autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Grandin, T., & Barron, S. (2005). The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships.Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

Myles, B. S. (2006). 2007 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S. & Duncan, M. (2007). 2008 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S. & Duncan, M. (2008). 2009 Hidden curriculum one-a-day calendar: Items for understanding unstated rules in social situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment.Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Paradiz, V. (2002). Elijah’s Cup: A family’s journey into the community and culture of high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Purkis, J. (2006). Finding a Different Kind of Normal. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Williams, D. (1996a). Autism – An Inside Out Approach. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.

Williams, D. (1996b). Like Color to the Blind. New York, NY: Times Books, a division of Random House.

Williams, D. (1998). Autism and Sensing. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.

Willey, L. H. (1999). Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd.

Autism and the Sensory System: Part 5 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information

For me, every bit of incoming information was stored separately as I grew up. It was also stored in a sensory fashion. Just like typical people do not consciously decide how their brain would store information, neither do autistic people. Even so, it is important to consider because it impacts all of life.

For example, I can remember taking a history test in seventh grade and it took me much longer than it took other students. It was because of the way the information had been stored when I was studying for the test. I had studied in multiple locations so I had to go looking for information by visualizing the sparkles I saw from the fluorescent lights in the history classroom. Then, I recalled I also studied in the morning study hall where the outside lighting was coming in at a slant so had to visualize that in order to gain access to the information studied in that location. Next, I had to visualize studying in my bedroom with incandescent lighting in order to look at that chunk of information.

Because my brain had automatically stored cognitive information according to sensory environmental lighting conditions it took much longer to retrieve it than it would have taken if it had all been stored under a topic or category such as “history.” First I had to understand the schemata in order to even begin the search for information in my storage system. Next, I had to be able to visualize (or put myself into) the visual sensory condition at the time the history information was stored. Therefore,

  1. IF I did not understand the storage schemata AND
  2. IF I could not recall all the places I had studied for the test AND
  3. IF I could not visualize myself in each of these locations of study inorder to access the information

THEN I would be missing some information needed to answer some of the questions. This would directly have a negative affect on my test score.

Over the years I have learned about all sorts of unique storage systems from students and clients with whom I’ve worked. I believe it is important to find out this information because it directly impacts the learning or therapy outcome.

For example, I had a student who was academically gifted, but was failing one of his favorite classes. I met with him to try to figure out why he was failing and to right the situation.

The way I usually interface with individuals who are able to talk with me is to check out how they take in, process, store and retrieve information. So, first I asked him to show me how the important astronomy information landed in his brain. I wanted to make sure he was taking in the information.

I learned not only was he taking in the information, but his brain was also storing it as he described the library card catalog storage system in his brain. He had a library card catalog for each class. He told me the information went into the card catalog in alphabetical order.

Then I checked on how he retrieved information. He said, “Duh…..I just pull open the right drawer and fish it out.”

Next I thought time might be a factor so started asking things related to how long it took him to look through the drawer and if he had to sometimes look through several drawers before finding the information. He responded that he always looked in the right drawer first try. This told me he had processed the information before storing it.

It looked to me that he had a working system for handling information. I was a bit stumped so commented about needing to find the breakdown in this system that had served him well all through his school years until now. He told me nothing was wrong with the system. It worked fine, but some of the drawers had been shut down for business.

This took some time to tease out, but in the end I learned that when a card catalog drawer became full it automatically shut itself down for business. This meant he had nowhere to put additional information that would have gone in this drawer had it not been shut down for business. Because the drawer was full there was no room to add any new information so he simply didn’t store it. I assured him that since he had figured out one solution (discarding information when the drawer was full and therefore shut down) he could figure out more. I commented that it would be great if there might be a way to have self-expanding drawers so that once they reached capacity they would automatically regenerate the original space.

The following week when I saw him he said he really hadn’t done anything at all, but the next time he had read astronomy material the full drawers that had previously been shut down for business, unable to store any additional information, had somehow lengthened on their own so there was now plenty of storage room in all drawers of the library card catalog storage system.

He had to go back and read over about three weeks of assignments to pick up the missing information and get it into his storage system. Over time, it did turn out that each time a drawer in the storage system became full it did self duplicate the physical space of the original drawer so as to be ready to take in and store more information. This is but one example. I believe it interesting to note that I have never found two autistic people who have identical storage systems.

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: Approximately once a week a new blog in this series will be released.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Autism and the Sensory System: Part 4 of 8

Autism and the Sensory System
Part Four: Processing Delays

Autistics often experience a variety of processing delays. Sometimes this is directly related to the processing style our brain is employing. For example, in linear processing as discussed above, the processing task simply takes longer when one sense is processed at a time, thus a processing delay becomes evident.

Other times the processing delay is related to our general sensory disregulation. For example, one time at a graduation party for a friend I started losing the feeling in my hands. This happens sometimes when I am disregulated. Body awareness fades. If I catch it soon enough and get some input such as squeezes or light scratching on my hands and arms the feeling returns. Since I was at the party with a friend and we were both having a good time I didn’t want to leave, so opted to get some sensory input and see if then I might be able to stay. The friend and I went out to the car. She was squeezing and lightly scratching my hands and arms. I could see her doing it, but couldn’t feel it. Wanting to get back into the party I said, “I can’t feel that. Squeeze harder. Scratch harder.” She complied too no avail. I thanked her for trying and went home while she went back into the party. The next morning I woke up with my arms feeling as if they were on fire. I used ice bags and it took three days for the feeling to subside completely. This is an example of a physical feeling coming in too big along with a several hour processing delay.

To further confound the situation sometimes a processing delay is simply that several years later an element of a conversation or situation pops up and is processed. We all have old memories that sometimes get triggered by current events of the day. It seems when autistics have memories there often times is some delayed processing that happens along with the memory running in our brains.

For example, I recently saw the whole segment of pin the tail on the donkey game from a childhood birthday party delivered to me compliments of my visual thinking style. Back then, during the game I was told by an adult using an exasperated voice to wait a few minutes. I didn’t understand why I was being told to wait because I was NOT asking to take my turn. When this video ran in my head recently I could see that right before I perceived I was being instructed to wait another guest had asked if she could have a birthday cupcake.

It was only then, decades later that my brain processed that scene in a way to let me know that back then the wait instruction was not even meant for me, but for another child. This is important because at the time I thought the cranky sounding adult was assuming I was not acting correctly and therefore I was somehow being a bad person. Autistic adults often experience a pervasive feeling of being somehow bad or wrong and cannot figure out why this has become their truth. I expect that at least some of this is to do with the way our brain processed information from the world around us as we grew up.

Today as a clinician I see this play out for some of my autistic clients as they find their way out of a depression. It is a relief for them to find that some of the story running in their heads about the sort of person they are is based on the way their brains have processed past information rather than a truth about their character. One client summed it up quite nicely when she said, “Wow! I’m not the bad person I thought I was!”

– from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.

Note: Approximately once a week a new blog in this series will be released.

Autism and the Sensory System

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Taking In Sensory Information
Part Three: Processing Sensory Information
Part Four: Processing Delays
Part Five: Storing and Retrieving Information
Part Six: Categorization of Information
Part Seven: Critical Mass Development
Part Eight: The Role of Interoception, The Eighth Sensory System

IMG_7711

BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.