Shame

I can’t talk about this

And I can’t talk about that

And how dare you put something so private on your Facebook page

And then share it with the whole world

Aren’t you afraid

Aren’t you ashamed

No

You can’t shame me

I did nothing wrong

Take these stories and weep

But please, society, please

Give me validation and peace

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Me Too

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the #metoo movement. It has inspired many women to share their stories of sexual assault and violence. Strong women. I am amazed by all the strength I see in the women who have gone public to tell their stories of sexual assault and violence. It has inspired me to do the same. It is time. The stigma attached to sexual assault has to end. It is time that people placed the blame where it belongs. This is hard for me to write, and harder to share, but it is time.

My story starts before conscious memory. I was two when he started grooming me. Two. I would sit on the couch, and he would have me spread my legs so he could see my panties. He would bounce me on his knees, and stick his fingers between my legs. Sometimes, my mom was right there.

He was never that gentle, kind man that lured me into trusting him. He was my father, and he was all I knew. He was mean. He was a drunk. He was a drug addict. He was many things, but nice? No. Manipulative? Yes. He beat me, and he beat my mom in front of us. He was relentlessly cruel.

When I was five, he laid me down on his bed, put a knife to my throat, and told me he would kill me if I told. Then I watched the light beams overhead fracture into a million pieces as my world fell away into a flurry of pain. My psyche disappeared that day. Thank god I do not remember details.

When I was seven, I had this amazing friend who was deaf and wheelchair bound. I don’t really know how we became friends; communication had to of been hard, but we were little and we made it work. I would go to her house for lunch almost every day. We would have grilled cheese sandwiches while sitting in her yard. One night, my mom babysat my friend, and my mom had to run to the store. While she was gone, my father tried to do horrible things to my friend.

The next day, I went to her house for lunch, as normal, except her mom wanted us to come inside for grilled cheese that day. Right after she gave me my sandwich, she asked me a question about my father, and I couldn’t speak. I dropped my sandwich into my lap, and clammed up and started crying. My friend’s mom called the police, and they took us to the hospital after I told them what my father had been doing to me, my whole life. That day, we all went to foster care.

My father went to jail for his crimes. He was sentenced to sixteen years, but only served twelve. He was released the same summer my oldest daughter was born, 1999.

When I was nine, my mom rented this house from this man who lived in a shack in the back of the house, I can’t explain it better, but the shack wasn’t exactly in our yard, but it was on the same property. The landlord was nice. He was gentle and kind. He always had sweets and fun things to do. His shack was a place the kids liked to hang out.

It was Easter when I went to his place to give him some eggs.  I was alone, and uncomfortable, but he said he had something for me, so I went into his shack. I don’t remember if he had anything for me besides his fingers between my legs, but I ran out of there and told my mom immediately. She called Social Services instead of the police. Nothing happened, except we moved to a new place.

When I was ten, my mom was addicted to drugs, and she was often not attentive to her children. There were many nights we would spend the night alone while my mom was across the street at her friend’s house getting high. She had this friend, a man, who she got high with, and who hung around all the time. I didn’t really have an opinion of him.

One night, him and my mom were hanging out in our living room, while us kids all slept. I woke up to someone taking my panties off. He had told my mom that he was going to the bathroom, and came into my room instead. I slept on the bottom bunk, and shared my room with my little sister. He pulled her blankets down so I couldn’t see him, and when I kicked him, he ran out of my room and ran into the living room. I suppose he must have thought I would go right back to sleep, but I got up. I went into the living room and saw him sitting there, and I knew it was him who had taken my panties off and was touching me in my sleep. I told my mom I wanted to take a shower. She said it’s three in the morning to back to bed. I told her I needed to talk to her, and took her into my room, and told her what had just happened. She found my panties behind the toilet, where this man had thrown them when he ran out of my room. After kicking him out, my mom called the cops. They picked him up a couple of blocks away. Come to find out, he had been molesting many children I knew, both boys and girls. He was sentenced to six years in prison. Six years. At least four kids testified against him, and he got six years in prison. Doesn’t seem long enough.

For six years after that, the only abuse I had to deal with was the physical, mental, and emotional abuse my mom put me through. It’s sad but once you are a victim of sexual assault, you are more likely to be victimized again, and again. And those statistics have certainly proved true for me.

When I was sixteen, I went to a party, and got drunk. My friend put me in his roommates bed, because his roommate was gone for the weekend. I had never met his roommate. Sometime in the middle of the night, I came to and was being raped, but I was too drunk to do anything about it. When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t find my clothes, there was blood everywhere, and I was so sore. I have no memory of that night to this day. I finally found my clothes and got out of there. I reported the roommate to the police, so did two other girls. This guy was a serial rapist. For raping three girls in three nights, he got six months in county jail. Six months.

Not every woman you meet will have a story like or similar to this, but three out of four of them will. That’s three out of four women who have had a sexual crime committed against them. And, that’s only the statistics on crimes that are reported. Imagine all the little girls out there who can’t report it, who do not understand that this is a crime. Who do not understand that the most common perpetrator of such crimes are people you love and care for. People you would never imagine doing such a thing to you. The long term effects of such crimes, I will cover at a later date, because that’s enough sharing for one day.

If you know a woman who has been sexually assaulted, please be gentle and kind, be understanding and patient. Most survivors I know do not want pity. They want to place the blame where it belongs.

You are not alone.  I am here for you. #metoo

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a neuropsychological disorder that gained attention over the years due to soldiers returning from war with what use to be called “shell shock.” Post-traumatic stress disorder, however, is not solely associated with soldiers returning from war. In fact, the vast majority of people who suffer from PTSD is found in another population; adult women who suffered from childhood sexual abuse. The research for how childhood trauma, especially abuse by one’s caregiver, affects the brain is still a relatively new field, but evidence has revealed that it can change one’s brain, and thereby, change how a person responses to trauma in the future. Researchers also know that early victims are more likely to be re-victimized in the future; increasing one’s chances of developing PTSD. In this paper, I will discuss the effects of PTSD on the adult brain of a childhood sexual abuse survivor.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a neuropsychological disorder that is caused by exposure to extreme trauma and stress. These incidences; sexual assault; unexpected death of a loved one; threatened death to one’s self or a loved one; obtaining or being threatened with serious bodily harm; or witnessing traumatic events such as a serious car accident (such as in the case of first responders); living through a natural disaster; and experiencing war; can cause a person to have vivid, intrusive, reoccurring flashbacks, nightmares, thoughts, or emotional or physical reactions to either internal or external cues that remind one of the incident  (DSM 5, 2013). In response to these intrusive memories, individuals will often employ some type of avoidance behavior; they will avoid talking about or being reminded of the event(s) in any way.

In addition, patients will experience a wide range of emotions that are negative in nature, and they must experience at least two of the following symptoms, in addition to the above symptoms, to be diagnosed with PTSD (DSM 5, 2013). Shortly following the event the patient may be unable to recall details of the incident; they may have overtly negative thoughts about themselves and/or the world; they may have an exaggerated sense of blame for either themselves or someone else for causing the incident; they may experience negative affect (an overwhelmingly negative view of the world); they may experience a decreased interest in participating in life or activities that once interested them;  they may have extreme feelings of isolation; and they may have difficulty experiencing positive affect (DSM 5, 2013).

After a traumatic event, individuals with PTSD will experience at least two of the following reactivity symptoms; they may become extremely irritable or aggressive; they may partake in risky or dangerous behavior; they may become hypervigilant (meaning that they may be always “on their guard” or “ready to run” at any time); they may have a heightened startle response; and they may experience difficulty with sleeping and/or concentrating (DSM 5, 2013). The symptoms must also have a duration of at least one month, they must cause significant distress or functional impairment in the patient’s life, and they must not be due to substance use or another psychological disorder (DSM 5, 2013).

Epidemiology

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication, conducted between February 2001, and April 2003, found that a diagnoses of PTSD, within the adult American population, was a remarkable 6.7 percent. Among men that percentage was 3.6 percent, and among women that percentage was at an astounding 9.7 percent of the population (Gradus, 2017). Women are almost twice as likely as men to experience PTSD in their lifetime, and this is mostly due to either childhood sexual abuse and/or, sexual assault as an adult.

Long term trauma, trauma in which the victim is under complete control of the perpetrator and cannot escape, such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, causes additional symptoms in the victims that may not manifest until later in life, and/or, they can or have, become chronic; causing severe dysfunction in the victim’s life and in their interpersonal relationships. Although it is not listed in the DSM 5, Complex PTSD, is a subtype of PTSD that only effects victims of long term trauma.  Survivors of long term trauma will often display issues with emotional regulation, consciousness, and self-perception; they may have a distorted perception of the perpetrator, often attributing total power to the perpetrator, or becoming preoccupied with revenge; survivors may experience a plethora of problems in their interpersonal relationships, including being unable to trust anyone, repeatedly looking for a “rescuer,” promiscuity may be a problem, or they may take the opposite route and never date anyone; and often survivors are plagued with a feeling of unworthiness, hopelessness, and despair (National Center for PTSD, 2016). Often survivors of childhood sexual abuse have relationships with people who continue to abuse them, or their children. Breaking the cycle of abuse, becomes a major aspect in treatment for these patients.

I started this paper with the belief that not too much research had been done regarding PTSD on victims of childhood sexual abuse, but I found plenty of research. I chose this topic because I am one of the many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and I plan on targeting trauma, stress, and anxiety related disorders after I complete my doctorate in psychology; I want to know how to help survivors cope with the abuse they suffered through, how to heal from the past, and how to have a quality relationship with a partner in the present.

Natural History of PTSD

Almost everyone experiences some sort of traumatic event at least once in their life, but not everyone develops PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous situation either. Symptoms usually start occurring within three months of the incident, but they may not develop until years later. The course of PTSD varies, some patients recover within six months of treatment, but for some patients the condition may last much longer, or it may become chronic. It is important that people who do suffer from PTSD seek professional assistance as soon as possible. Treatment usually consist of psychotherapy and medication, and with treatment, a patient has an increased likelihood of recovering from PTSD. Without treatment a patient may go on to experience additional life problems to include; drug or alcohol abuse, depression or anxiety, physical symptoms of chronic pain, employment problems, and/or, relationships problems (National Center for PTSD, 2016).

Methods used to Diagnose PTSD

Psychologists have a variety of assessments available to them to diagnose PTSD. Some, such as the Beck Anxiety Inventory – Primary Care (BAI-PC), are self-reports, that the patients fill out on their own and then gives to a physician. The BAI-PC is a seven item self-report assessment that screens for anxiety, depression and PTSD, as well as other disorders that are highly co-morbid with PTSD, such as drug or alcohol abuse (Mori, 2003).  A positive score of five indicates the patient may suffer from PTSD, but will need to be screened again by a professional.

Other assessments are designed for use in a primary care setting. The Primary Care PTSD Screen for DSM – 5 (PC-PTSD-5) is a five item screen that was designed for use in a primary care setting and is used to determine those patients with probable PTSD (National Center for PTSD, 2017). However, a positive indicator on this assessment means that the patient should undergo a structured interview by a psychologist who specializes in trauma and stress related disorders. If a psychologist determines that a patient has PTSD, the use of medication may be required, but cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are two recommended treatments for PTSD (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

Risk Factors

While anyone can experience a traumatic event that results in a diagnosis of PTSD at any time, and at any age, there are certain risk factors involved in developing PTSD. People who have experienced long term trauma, or have a genetic predisposition to the disorder are more prone than others to developing PTSD after a traumatic experience. However, most people will not develop PTSD due to high resilience factors.

Some things that may increase one’s chances of developing PTSD include, living through dangerous events and traumas to include natural disasters; getting hurt; seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body; childhood trauma; feeling extreme fear; having little or no social support after the event; dealing with additional stress, such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job or home, and being injured due to, or after the event (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

Some things that may make a person more resilient against PTSD include, seeking out assistance and social support, friends, family, and a local support group are all good ideas; learning to feel good about one’s own actions during and following the traumatic experience; and having a positive coping strategy after the event (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Research is ongoing about the effects of PTSD on the central and peripheral nervous systems, however, some remarkable discoveries have already been discovered, and may assist in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in the future.

Neurological and Biological Systems Involved in PTSD

Women who have suffered and lived through prolonged childhood sexual abuse make up anywhere from eight to thirty-three percent of the American population, depending on how pervasive the abuse was (Steine et al., 2017). They are more likely to develop intimate relationships with abusers, and the abuse continues into adulthood. The patients who develop PTSD report multiple types of abuse, physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and neglect (Steine et al., 2017).  PTSD effects these patients differently than it does patients who have PTSD but did not suffer childhood sexual abuse (Binder, 2013). Post-traumatic stress disorder effects many parts of the brain, and those are some of the very parts of the brain affected by childhood sexual abuse (Blanco et al., 2015).

PTSD is an extremely complicated disorder, and its effect on the brain and hormones in the body are many and varied. The locus coeruleus, a nucleus located at the base of the brain stem, which is responsible for the bodies response to stress, among other things such as cognition and memory, releases increased amounts of norepinephrine (a hormone) into the body in response to stress. This makes the person more aware of their surroundings, and activates the sympathetic nervous system (flight, fight or freeze system). In patients with PTSD, norepinephrine is released in increased amounts; a patient may have a minor event that reminds them of a past traumatic experience, such as a combination of words, or the way a person touches them, that makes them over-react to the stimulus (Wilson, 2013).

Repeat exposure to trauma, such as in the case of childhood sexual abuse survivors, changes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and endocrine response to stress, as well as its function in metabolic and immune systems of the body (McGowan, 2013). The HPA plays an important role in maintaining allostasis, or the body’s ability to maintain stability amongst challenging environmental circumstances.

The decreased size of the hippocampus shown in most patients with PTSD is related to an increase in the activity of the hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released in relation to stress and the prolonged exposure to the hippocampus of this hormone has been shown to cause atrophy in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for episodic memory creation. Decreased amounts of cortisol release during the initial event may lead to a chronic over-reaction to stress in patients who later develop PTSD (Sherin, & Nemeroff, 2011).  In addition, functional imaging studies have shown a decrease in response of the prefrontal cortex, and an increase in response from the amygdala in patients with PTSD, leading some scientists to believe that stimulators of the limbic stress system prevail over inhibitors (Malejko, et al., 2017). Since, in PTSD, individuals associate neutral cues with the traumatic event(s), it has been suggested that the interaction between the hippocampus and amygdala, as two regions of the brain that play a role in consolidating memories, may contribute to the intense recollection of trauma experienced by patients with PTSD (Malejko, et al., 2017).

The biological and neurological systems that are involved in, and affected by, PTSD are numerous and varied. Interactions between the stress response system and the threat response systems of patients with PTSD may explain the avoidance and emotional reactivity aspects of PTSD. Reduced connections between the amygdala and cingulate cortex imply a decreased ability to cope with fear vigilance and reactions to threats (Wilson, 2013). Research is underway in regards to genetic factors that may make a person more predisposed to develop PTSD. Recent research has revealed a relationship between the SLC6A4 serotonin transporter genotype and elevated PTSD symptoms (Wilson, 2013). Future studies hope to reveal the interconnectedness between all the neural pathways involved in PTSD.

Treatment Options

Diverse pharmacological and psychological treatments have been used for the treatment of PTSD. Pharmacological treatment doesn’t erase the traumatic memory of the incident(s), instead it aims to control such symptoms as anxiety, depression, and/or alcohol and drug related disorders, all common co-morbid diagnosis with PTSD. Medication to help with sleep disorders and/or nightmares may be prescribed as well (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and sleep medications are common symptoms control treatments for PTSD. However, the best therapy for PTSD is psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy,” is the best know treatment for PTSD, and there are various forms of psychotherapy. The two best known treatments for PTSD are cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. Both types of therapy should only be attempted with a psychologist who specialized in trauma and stress related disorders.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients to question and then alter their dysfunctional perceptions and reactions to trauma by confronting traumatic memories, and retraining the patient in responding to those memories (Malejko, et al., 2017). Sometimes patients remember the event differently than it happened and in that case psychologists will help the patient remember it the correct way, or help them to make sense of the bad memory. Sometimes the patient may feel blame or guilt for something that is not their fault, and the psychologist will assist the patient in placing blame where it belongs (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

Exposure therapy involves slowly introducing aspects, such as tactile, visual, auditory, and olfactory cues that remind the patient of the traumatic event(s) (Malejko, et al., 2017). Occasionally, if possible, the psychologist may take the patient to the place the traumatic incident(s) occurred. This helps patients with PTSD learn to face and control their fear. By slowing introducing the patient to the traumatic event in a safe environment, psychiatrists help the patient cope with his or her feelings (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). The main theme of treatment appears to be the confronting and restructuring of memories related to the traumatic experience(s).

Psychotherapy helps patients by teaching them about trauma and its effects on the body and brain. It teaches patients how to manage and control their anger, as well as techniques to relax, and calm down. Patients should learn about how to sleep, exercise, and eat better; learning the effects of how these things can effect responses in the nervous system. In addition, psychotherapy is designed to teach patients how to identify and cope with feelings of shame, guilt, disgust, revenge, and how to have a healthy relationship with oneself and with others (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). In regard to patients with PTSD who also experienced childhood sexual abuse, it is important the doctor imparts to the patient, over and over again, that the abuse is not his or her fault.

Patients are highly encouraged to help themselves as well. Some ways that patients can help themselves recover from PTSD include; taking the first step by talking to their doctor; engage in physical activity every day; break up large tasks into smaller steps, and set realistic goals for oneself. Patients are especially encouraged to engage socially, either with trusted family and friends, or with a support group (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).  Talking about the event gives it less and less power, and patients are encouraged to talk about the event(s), and triggers to people they trust. Patients should be aware that symptoms will improve gradually over time, not immediately. Patients are highly encouraged to seek professional help in an outpatient facility, such as their local mental health center (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

Future Research

Research is still underway on PTSD, but recent research has encouraged scientists and helped them to narrow their focus on different areas and functions of the brain, as well as possible genetic predispositions to the disorder (Sherin, & Nemeroff, 2011).  Some research is looking at trauma victims in acute care settings to try to better understand how the symptoms improve in those patients who heal naturally. Some research currently underway include looking at how fear memories are effected by learning, changes in the body, and sleep. Preventative treatment measures are also underway; scientists are currently looking into how to prevent PTSD following a traumatic experience. Research into trying to predict how a patient will respond to one intervention or another better is also currently underway. With technology improving every year, one-day scientist may be able to pinpoint the exact gene and part of the brain in which PTSD starts to develop (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).

Conclusion

PTSD is a debilitating disorder that activates the bodies sympathetic nervous system causing the patients to experience a heightened response to stress and trauma, and minor cues of both internal and external stimuli that results in an over exaggerated startle reflex, and intrusive memories of the incident(s). Neurological studies have shown an extensive connection between the stress and fear response in the body’s central and peripheral nervous systems. Long term exposure to trauma, such as in the case of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, shows an increased probability of developing PTSD if one is exposed to trauma as an adult. Unfortunately, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to engage in unsafe activities and relationships that often result in exposure to more trauma. Psychologists should focus treatment on confronting and reshaping behaviors toward bad memories and traumatic experiences. PTSD is a curable disorder under the direction of a specialists who exposes the patient to the traumatic experience in a safe environment over a long term period. Patient can sometimes expect to see improvement in as little as six months, but, depending on the type of trauma one is exposed to, and its duration, symptoms may become chronic, but manageable. Patients must be willing to take the first step in talking to their primary care provider. “Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose” (Michelle Rosenthal). One must choose to heal by taking away the power of the traumatic experience by talking about it, and remembering that you are not alone.

No Point

I’m so sick of my life the way it is. I’m ready for some big changes. I’m not talking about self-discovery here, although that should always be a top priority. I’m talking about being finished with school, moving, starting my business, pursuing all the things Tim and I talk about every day. We’re so finished with this place, and ready to expand and grow. It’s become painful to be here.

Three years in college, and I’m almost finished. I can’t say it’s been particularly hard, because it hasn’t been. Do I plan on getting a doctorate? Yes, I do. Am I tired of doing homework everyday instead of pursuing my dreams, and spending time with my family? Yes, I am. Do I know that I need more education in order to pursue my dreams? Yes, I do. Hence, why I sit here and do homework every day. Why I devote all my time to this endeavor. Why I only go out once a week, to go hiking, instead of disappearing into the forest forever.

Tim is tired of his job. Every day it’s a challenge to drag himself out of bed, and go to work. He wants to start a business in San Francisco. He talks about it every day. I swear, we both spend more time daydreaming than anything else. We want to go exploring in the wilderness of Yosemite. We want to spend our days chilling on the beach. We want to bring our brother back, and take him with us. We want the memories we’ll never make. Still trying to talk the twin into going with us, but he seems intent on spending his days in the everglades.

Some day’s despondency gets the best of me, and I think, “we’ll never make it.” I’m use to poverty and disappointment. Then, the new positive, self-aware me, fights back against negativity. Someday, Tim and I will make all our fantasies a reality.

I know, that with the twin and soul sister in the Bahamas, not many will miss us here. Sure, there’s a few mamas’ who will, but the majority of our families are already elsewhere. For the first time in my life, all I can think is, “let time move faster.” Just not this week, as soon I will lose my oldest daughter. This summer has been rough; we all need it to get better.

This, of course, is just a series of random thoughts I had to express. I have no point.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This week in class, I read something I had never heard before; that Autism is a consciousness disorder. I have a nine-year-old with Autism, and had never heard or read that before; strange huh? I’ve heard autism be called a spectrum disorder, a neurophysiological disorder, and a sensory disorder. I’ve always explained it as, “his senses do not work the same way ours do.” That description is right, and wrong. Let’s take a closer look at autism.

Autism does not have one known cause, and the disorder can range from severe to high functioning, leading scientists to believe that there are probably many causes. (Autism is NOT caused by vaccines, and that is all I will say about that in this paper.) Because of the complexity of the disorder, researchers believe that the cause of Autism may be both environmental and genetic (Mayo Clinic, 2016). Post mortem examinations have brought about many discoveries in how autism effects the genes, and the brain.

Several different genes appear to be involved in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some children have mutations in their genes, that may be the involved in Autism. Some children who have Autism also have a genetic disorder, such as fragile X syndrome or Rhett’s Disease. Some mutations may be on the genes that affect communication, or determine the severity of symptoms. Some mutations may occur spontaneously, while others may be inherited (Mayo Clinic, 2016). One’s chances of having autism increase if one has a sibling or other blood relative with autism, however, scientists believe that many environmental factors may be involved in autism as well.

Environmental factors are currently being explored, and some causes that have been considered are; viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, air pollutants, and GMO’s (Mayo Clinic, 2016). All of these factors are considered to effect the baby in utero, evidence shows that around thirty-two weeks in utero, the baby’s brain stops developing normally.

The cerebellum, limbic system, and cortex appears to be affected by Autism. The cerebellum controls fine motor skills, balance, and coordination of the body, as well as, receiving sensory information from muscles, joints, and visual and audio input. Post mortem examinations of the brains of people with Autism has shown an under developed prefrontal cortex and a decrease of purkinje cells in the cerebellum, and that this mutation occurs around thirty-two weeks in vitro. This cell deficient in the cerebellum appears to increase the risk of seizures, and the risk of Autism (Blatt,2012). Many autistic patients also suffer from severe epilepsy.

Many neurotransmitters are affected in the autistic patient including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and Acetylcholine. Dopamine plays a large role in regulating sensitivity and processing of information, perception of change, relying information, cognition, motivation, emotional responses, attention and focus, movement, and posture (Autism Couch, 2017). A decrease in dopamine levels can impair attention and focus, while an increase can cause the mind to race, and increase sensory processing causing an overload on the brain’s ability to process information. Studies have shown that individuals with autism have increased dopamine receptors on the mRNA expression (Autism Couch, 2017).

GABA is a neurotransmitter that contributes to calming a person down; prohibiting neurons from firing. Research has shown that individuals with autism have an imbalance of glutamate to the GABA receptors, causing over excitement, explaining why so many individuals with autism also have a co-morbid diagnosis of ADHD.

Acetylcholine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that contributes to the contraction of muscles, and stimulates the release of certain hormones. It is involved in wakefulness, attentiveness, anger, aggression, sexuality, and thirst, among other things. A decrease in acetylcholine may explain why so many on the spectrum suffer from issues with aggression.

Autism spectrum Disorder is an extremely complicated disorder, and individuals can range from low functioning to high functioning. What may affect one autistic person may not affect another. However, there are common characteristics that all patients with autism will share to one degree or another.

Social interaction and communication are issues for almost all individuals on the spectrum. They may fail to respond to their own name, after someone has called it many times. They may resist hugging and may not want to play with other kids, often times they will appear to be “in their own world.” They may lack eye contact when having conversations, and they may lack facial expression as well. Delayed speaking, or never speaking at all are common, as well as the inability to use words correctly, and some may lose the ability to speak. Conversations are hard for people on the spectrum, and often they may appear to be uninterested in what the other person is saying. They may speak in an abnormal tone, either sing songy, or robotic is common. Social interactions are complicated for autistic people, and they may approach a situation inappropriately by being passive, or aggressive.

As well as communication and social problems, people on the spectrum may have behavioral problems as well. Common behaviors found in ASD individuals include rocking of the body or flapping of the hands. They may self-harm, but not because they are emotionally damaged. They may bite themselves or hit their head against things. Autistic patients are very fixed in their routines and do not like change or surprises. They may be clumsy or have exaggerated body movements, as often they have a hard time with body coordination. (We know that this is due to the damage in the cerebellum.) Most autistic patients are unusually sensitive to light, and sound, but are indifferent to pain and temperature. Children on the spectrum tend to fixate on certain things, have very real food preferences (and that “let them get hungry” philosophy, does not work with autistic kids – they WILL starve before eating something they do not like). They participate in what is called “parallel play.” This means that, yes, they play with other kids, but only alongside them, not interacting or exchanging ideas with them – Jacob still does this.

Treatment for autism is nonexistent. I hate that some people do not care about a cure. I would love a cure for my son. Autism makes his life so hard, and he gets bullied every year because he has a hard time in social situations. Right now, he is in elementary school, and has a student aid that helps him; I’m scared for when he goes to middle school.  I hope they keep doing the research and find something, someday to cure autism. Many on the spectrum suffer from co-morbid diagnosis of epilepsy, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and sometimes OCD. Since the core symptoms of autism cannot be treated; treatment is focused on the symptoms, or what symptoms can be treated.

Jacob suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, and he takes an adult dose of Prozac to combat that. He’s been in behavioral therapy since he was diagnosed at age three. Behavioral therapy teaches him how to interact with his peers, and how to react in social situations. Jacob is high functioning, but when he was younger, and first diagnosed, the doctors told me that he would never communicate, and never have a life outside of my home. Well, he sure showed them! Jacob has many friends, and talks up a storm – he never stops, he even talks in his sleep! While I know that there is no cure for autism, some patients can be brought out of their shell, and can go from low functioning to high functioning. Jacob use to be non-verbal, and non-communicative (meaning no outward signs of communication, not even grunting and pointing), his IQ use to be a 70, now it’s a 92, and Jacob has come so far in his abilities to interact socially.  Jacob use to be in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy (all common therapies for autism), and now he is only in speech and behavioral therapy. I have no complaints.

Autism spectrum disorder is complicated and can take many different paths. This is not a complete list of all signs and symptoms. If you feel like your child may be autistic, please see your primary care provider.

 

 

 

References

Gene J. Blatt, “The Neuropathology of Autism,” Scientific, vol. 2012, Article ID 703675, 16

pages, 2012. doi:10.6064/2012/703675

Autism Couch, Neurotransmitters and Autism. Retrieved from:

http://autismcoach.com/neurotransmitters-and-autism/