Xanthippa on Aspergers

Tools to help Aspies conquer the World!

ADD, Aspergers and the ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome

This is not a ‘medical theory’ or even an ‘expert hypothesis’,  just my own thoughts and ideas.  Still, I do suspect that ADD/ADHD and Asperges are both a type of ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome:

Let us do a ‘thought experiment’…

You come to see your doctor because you can’t put any weight on one of your feet, and you want your doctors to help you. They run their ‘standard tests’ and diagnoses you with ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ (CPWOF) syndrome.   You are told that predicting the success of the treatment is difficult, because different approaches work for different people.
Some people are lucky and the CPWOF syndrome goes away on its own – they ‘grow out of it’. For others, there is a variety of treatments they can try, hoping one will work.

They can try icing it – perhaps even using a brace to support it.

They might try hot baths in salty water, perhaps rubbing in some antibiotic ointment.

Some people respond well to pain medication. Or, anti-inflammatory drugs…

Or other ‘stuff’.

Or nothing.

So, let’s try cycling through the treatments!

By now, you may have guessed that the ‘standard tests’ are questionnaires to be filled out by your family, perhaps teachers, for their observations of how you walk. Pages and pages of questions like:

Does he favour his foot: all the time, most of the time, some of the time, a little bit of the time, never. Circle the answer that fits best….

If they want ‘hard metrics’ – you know, ‘scientific data’ – they may ask you to put your foot on a scale and put as much of your weight on it as you can manage. That will give them ‘a hard number’ to work with!

Of course, this diagnosis does not differentiate between the ’causes’ of CPWOF syndrome.   The syndrome itself is so fascinating, they want to take a ‘whole-istic’ (chuckle at their own little joke) approach to it and not get bogged down in the details of ’causes’. (Translation: they don’t know and don’t care.  They have a ‘name’ for it and a bunch of treatments to try, and that’s enough…)

To make a long story short – whether you cannot put weight on your foot because you sprained your ankle or broke your femur or got a rusty nail stuck in your heel – or, if your foot got eaten by some piranhas that somehow got lost and ended up in your bathtub while you were soaking in it – it does not matter. You have ‘cannot-put-weight-on-foot’ syndrome!

(I also secretly suspect that many immune system diseases and disorders, limbic system illnesses and brain chemistry imbalances are also one form of CPWOF syndrome or another…a ‘label’ hung onto a collection of ‘similar’ symptoms, regardless of their root causes.  I also suspect that this interferes with proper analysis of ‘problems’ where one set of root causes can present as a very diverse variety of external symptoms.  This then would, I suspect, prevent correct diagnosis and even preclude a search for any effective treatment…)

In other words, I think that diagnosing someone with ‘ADD’ or ‘Aspergers’ is like diagnosing them with a ‘headache’ – and treating all headaches as if they were ‘the same thing’, regardless of whether it is caused by migranes, having been hit in the head by a baseball, a tumour or having over-indulged in alcohol…or any other billion possible causes for a ‘headache’.

So, what is it that this ‘headache’, this CPWOF of Aspergers and ADD/ADHD is? Instead of ‘not being able to put weight on foot’, we  have ‘malfunctioning filters’.  But, I am getting ahead of myself…

In order to be diagnosed with Aspergers, one has to first be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. As in, everyone who has Aspergers has ADD/ADHD, but not everyone who has ADD/ADHD has Aspergers.  Therefore, it seems reasonable to see if there ‘is’ some ‘common mechanism’ to both conditions which differs from ‘the norm’.

This, then, is my hypothesis:

Both disorders/conditions could be caused by a break-down/partial development/some interference with the same ‘system’ in our brain and which could be described as: fewer ‘filters’, less conscious control over ‘filters’.

The difference is that in ADD/ADHD, only the sensory filters are broken. In Aspergers, these also don’t work, but, there are others that are also broken. And this is what leads to more pervasive disorders, problems, challenges – whatever you want to call them.

What do I mean by ‘sensory filters’?

One simple experiment that just about everyone I know has tried in one form or another is the whole putting one hand into cold water, the other into warm water. At first, we will have strong sensations that one hand is ‘cold’ and the other is ‘hot’. But, as time goes on, this will be less and less – the signal will diminish in strength over time, until we will ‘get used to’ the temperatures. Then, when we take our hands out of the water and touch them to each other, we’ll be amazed at the temperature difference between them when our brain is telling us both are ‘fine’….

That is an example of ‘sensory filters’ at work.

More simple examples:

We feel ‘clothing’ as we got dressed – but we are not consciously aware of every bit of clothing touching every bit of our skin at all times while we are wearing the clothes.

We may hear the furnace/air conditioner is on when we enter a room, but, after being in it for a while, we hardly notice its noise in the background…

People often over-apply perfume, because after they have been wearing it for a while, they do not smell it as much and keep re-applying more and more, increasing the ‘dose’ in order to get the same level of sensory input reporting it.

This is how our ‘filters’ ought to function. And, most ‘normal’ or ‘neurotypical’ people have lots of these ‘filters’, in various strengths.

In ADD/ADHD people, it is as if there were way fewer of these ‘filters’. Instead of, say, 100 (from weakest to strongest), we might have 20.

Or 3.

Or just 2:   100% ‘on’ and 100% ‘off’!

(Not all people with ADD/ADHD will have ALL their filters broken.  Some individuals may have ‘fewer’ filters in one specific area, others may have fewer ‘across the board’.  And, for some, it seems as if the ‘filters’ existed – but were only accessible at some times while totally off-line and unavailable at other times….which would drive their teachers and parents absolutely nuts about ‘inconsistencies in behaviour’! )

So, if the filter were 100% ‘on’, people might be calling your name, the fire alarm might be on, but, since you are reading a book and the rest of your ‘filters’ is ‘100% on’, you honestly do not hear any of it.

The ‘neat’ thing – the one that made me think of this as ‘filters’ rather than anything else – is that you actually DO perceive the sounds physically. It’s just that the brain sticks the information that you perceived the sound into a ‘buffer’ – and leaves it there unless you specifically try to retrieve it. Then it is a toss up as to whether the buffer has been ‘wiped’ or whether you can access the info held in it.

My younger son, for example, would not react to sounds as an infant – sometimes. Not even the ‘flinch’ which babies are supposed to have (say, when we are getting to 8 months of age and so on) when a loud sound happens directly behind them. He had absolutely no reaction. Yet at other times he obviously found even moderate sounds painfully loud…

Now, when he does not respond to what I say – not even aware of me talking to him – and I get his attention, I can ask him ‘what did I say’. He says he doesn’t know. I ask him to’ re-play it’. He does. He can repeat it word per word perfectly.

Only after he repeats it does he comprehend it!

Weird, but true.

My husband has the same thing…..as does my dad.

With Aspergers, these same malfunctions with ‘filters’ – or, perhaps ‘missing filters’ also exist. But, rather than just sensory ones (that drive one to distraction at one point while make them oblivious to their surroundings the next moment), the filters on feelings and emotions and – hormones – are similarly not all there, or broken, or whatever.  (And, having problems with ‘both sets’ it is sometimes difficult to tell where the dividing line ‘ought to lie’…)

So, it is easy for Aspies to get ‘overwhelmed’ by emotion and adrenalin, because where a neurotypical (NT) person would feel a gradual rise in these, we don’t. The floodgates are either down – and we ‘appear cold, unfeeling and un-empathetic’ or they are all the way up and we are ‘out of control’.  Total meltdown.

Many of us learn to develop various ways of ‘shutting down’ as a self-protection from this overwhelming flood….because this flood is often accompanied with adrenalin flood (we panic from being emotionally overwhelmed, which releases the adrenalin…).

This is bad.

Not only does it shut down our brain functions like, say, thinking, it also leaves us physically ill from the overpowering adrenalin rush. We get clammy and shaky and icky inside and out.

And most Aspies really, really, really do not like this feeling.  A lot.

What many people don’t understand is that  it is not just ‘negative’ stuff that can trigger this reaction.  ‘Positive’ emotions and feelings are just as dangerous to Aspies and their end-result is just as unpleasant and uncomfortable – at times quite painful, physically!

So, as we grow up and try to cope with this world (!),  we try to learn how to avoid ’emotionality’, even on a sub-conscious level.

If you know people with ADD/ADHD and/or Aspergers – or if you happen to be one yourself – please, try to see your experiences through the prism of my little hypothesis.  Then, whether it ‘makes sense’ or not – or any other observations you might have about this, please, let me know through the comments.  Pooling our observations and analysis might, perhaps, help us help each other!

(Cross-posted from Xanthippa’s Chamberpot)


24/02/2010 - Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspie emotions, Aspie thinking, Hearing/Listening | , ,


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  3. Thank you for your post.I have a beautiful daughter that is 9. She has been diognosed with ADHD,ASBERGERS,OCD,and ANXIETY DISORDERS.

    My heart so breaks for her! We recntly learned of this last year. I have always known that there was something special about her.

    When she was younger, she was very quiet and reclusive. she never cried much, or did the tantrums.

    As she began school, it truly began showing up. It was in school that the problems began. ( maybe at home, I was a stay-at-home mom, so I guess I just adapted.Didn’t really notice.) Noncompiant, began to be verbal. She was always “in her own little world”. I mistakenly took it as her being creative and playing. She could make characters out of her fingers,while in time out or in the car.

    As she has grown, so have the symptoms. She is no longer the quiet little girl she once was.Example- It’s like a person who has always dressed very modestly, very lady like- to wearing something sooo extremely out of the norm, leather and chains.
    She screams,throws fits,(meltdowns-is what I call them) without reason. Refuses to do school work, never picks up after herself, hates her room to be clean. I will clean her room, she will take a bin and empty in the floor then sit and watch t.v.- no reason(in my mind).

    We went to Wal-mart yesterday, She was so extremely agressive. Yelled at the top of her lungs. Demanded to push the buggy, then would not stay with me. She fought with me. I tried to leave the store, refused. I could not pick her up and carry her out. I tried reasoning…not so much.
    The more people looked the wosre she got. Running away from me, up and down the ailes. I’m not handeling it very well, not to mention I had just pulled an all nighter, trying to get my homework cought up. (I am in college).
    At one point I had took hold of her wrist, hand, to get her attention she screams out I think you broke my hand. I did not hurt her, She is over dramatic.She dramatizes everything. I thought, Lord help me, someone is gonna call the police over her screaming and broken hand statement.
    ( don’t ya know there was about 5 police that came into the store…my heart sank…they were arresting a man for whatever reason…lol)

    I am so at a loss, I have looked into several classes for the entire family. I have read books, searched the enternet…..

    To make things worse, her dad and I have divorced.( It has been about 2 1/2 years. He and his family are not supportive whatso ever. Tries to convince her she doesn’t need her medication, mom is bad and has made all this up.

    She is a little girl taught to trust her family, has all these issues and emotions that she doesn’t understand and can not get consistant support. How does a child like this maintane…she doesn’t do very well.

    She has been late to school so many times, due to fits, meltdowns, lots of tears. She has gone to her room and cried out to God to please help her.

    On the other hand I have another beautiful daughter,10. (They are the same age for 12 days out of the year.)
    They are complete opposites. She has always had to be the center of attention. She did the normal, fits,tantrums…

    (I will refer to my older daughter as 1 and younger as 2.)

    1 has always been very dominating over 2, I would even say agressive. I believed it to be kind of normal because of the young age and the desire to have the attention.

    As they have grown older, 1 has aquired certain habbits that are slightly repulsive. 2 has never let up on 1.She constanly belittles her, and still agressive with her. Very embarassed by her, she makes cruel staements that are very hurtful. She is also broken by the life altering change.

    If you have resources or words of advice, I would so appreciate it.

    Xanthippa says:

    Oh, Misty, how I would love to wave a magic wand and make this all better!

    OK – the first thing your daughters need is consistency. And, yes. They BOTH need it – usually, siblings of Aspies also have some level of the same problems (these are genetic…). Perhaps the problems are not as severe, so they are not noticed due to the ‘volume’ of the sibling’s problems. But, ADD/ADHD, Aspergers, OCD…. – these are not ‘on/off switch’ type conditions. Many ‘normal’ people have SOME degree of some of these problems.

    But, that is not the thing I was trying to say. Even if she has none of these problems, living with an Aspie sibling IS difficult – and consistency helps. Really, it does.

    Aspies cannot function without consistency!

    We don’t deal well with change.

    So, the most important step you can take right now to make things better is to introduce consistency into their lives.

    This does not mean they should not spend time with their dad – though, getting him and his family ‘on board’ would be useful.

    It means putting all the ‘rules’ into ‘words’ – and then sticking to the rules as best as possible.

    By the way – I know what you mean about the ‘finger games’. When my younger one was little, he did something similar. But this is good – it is something you can use to teach your daughter how to ‘go to her happy place’ when things get too stressful. It will not help when a meltdown is full blown, but, if you can ‘catch’ it just before the major ‘eruption’ (the first one!), and if you explain to your daughter (by 9 years, she ought to be able to ‘get’ it) that these ‘meltdowns’ are something that ‘happens to her’ – not what she is ‘doing’ – you can get her to WANT to stop the ‘meltdowns’ before they ‘get her’.

    OK – I think I need to go back a few steps and explain what I mean – and how to present it to a 9-year-old.

    During a calm, receptive period: Find pictures of a ‘normal river’ and a river that has a dam on it – or a stream with rapids. Explain that the river is flowing down hill – but gently, so the river flows smoothly. Then explain that similarly, when most people experience ’emotions’, they flow just as smoothly.

    There are also people in whom the chemicals that let us feel emotions are not released smoothly, but in chunks. This is not usual – but, it IS normal because there are a LOT of people like that.

    Since the chemicals that let us experience emotions are not released – but the emotion is building – it is like damming up a river: it cannot flow and builds up behind the dam. Then, when the chemicals DO get released – it’s like taking down the dam! The emotions now CAN flow. But so much of the emotions has built up that when they CAN travel, they RACE out and flood everything!

    And THAT is a ‘meltdown’.

    Yes, it is valid to have these feelings/emotions. Having them was NEVER the problem! She is not bad or stupid for having these feelings/emotions! Validate her experience!

    But, she is one of the people whose body is doing the ‘dam/flood’ thing…. And, this is not always a BAD thing! It is exactly this type of mechanism that ‘floods’ a mom with panic when, say, her baby is trapped under a car that gives her the temporary ability to LIFT that car off her baby and save it! So, these people are important!

    There was even a queen once, who was like this! Some baddies tried to kill her husband, the king – and she BROKE their swords in half using just her BARE HANDS! (True story – Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor)

    But – being one of these people also has a price associated with it…. When there is no life-death type situation, she STILL has to deal with the ‘flood’ which, really, is a very, very powerful thing and a hard thing for a young person to control. Still – she IS one of these strong people, so, she WILL be able to learn to deal with this.

    She is 9: this is the best age to introduce this idea.

    10th birthday is a big marker. When a person turns 10, they stop being ‘a child’ and become ‘a tween’!

    And, tweens have some bigger responsibilities in our society than kids. One of them is that tweens must learn to control their ‘floods’ – they must ‘master’ the ‘basics’ by the time they are teens! So, you are explaining it to her, because she is smart and capable of starting to practice the techniques for mastering ‘the flood’ even now!

    Yes – this is a lot. You may need to break this up into several ‘sessions’, or say a bit here, make an allusion to what you have already said there….

    It is important to get your daughter fully engaged in identifying HOW to ‘control the flood’. Different people will be calmed by different things. So, this cannot be achieved by ‘methods’ that are ‘external’, developed by someone else and then handed to her to learn.

    What might work is to get your daughter to start ‘preparing’ for ‘learning to master the flood’. The first step is to get her to notice the signs. Then, she can think about what ‘calms her’….

    I’ll try to write up more of this…

    Comment by MISTY | 25/02/2010 | Reply

  4. I have ADD, there is no question. I am being evaluated for Aspergers at the end of the month. A lot of what you said, or hypothesized hit home, but something shocked me. Toward the end you mentioned an adrenaline rush, that left you drained, and clammy, and shut down, and just generally feeling icky inside. I have had these for years, since I was 12 in fact. I was tested, and no one could tell me what it was. Doctors assumed it was petit mal epilepsy, despite my assurances to the contrary. I dont lose consciousness, but I get a surge, like an endorphine rush, and then I have trouble speaking, I feel like I just want to curl up, and sit still, I feel clammy, and my head swims. I had never evem thought to put this in the aspergers folder in my head. Amazing! I just want my brain to be more linear. Im very smart, but harnessing all of my thought process is difficult if not impossible. I can sit down and build a circuit board, but my math skills are terrible. I was repairing lawn mowers and vcrs at ten years old, but I did terrible in school, due to “acting out” or boredom. This may sound bizarre, but I hope I get a confirmation of Aspergers. That diagnosis seems to umbrella all the little quirks, and issues I have in one nice near package. I am blown away.

    Comment by Shane | 15/09/2010 | Reply

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