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April 2018: 2 Science Headlines

1/ Social pressure

A drug is being tested which claims to help people on the autism spectrum with social skills. Balovaptan, said drug, acts on receptors. Receptors are located on the outside of cells and communicate commands to the inside of the cell. There receptors receive a hormone called vasopressin, which is a hormone from the brain which influences social behavior. Balovaptan is designed to block a receptor of a specific vasopressin, which might be linked to social anxiety says Larry Young, professor of psychiatry at Emory University. Basically, the brain sends vasopressin to cell receptors and some of these hormones affect social behaviour. This drug might be able to prevent the hormones affecting social anxiety. Behavioural “symptoms” of autism can be identified (but not limited to) as trouble in communication and interaction.

The idea of using drugs to change characteristics of people on the autism spectrum to “fit in” to a neurotypical society is worrying. That being said, it is important that such medication is available for the safety of the people that need them and for the mental well-being of the people that make the decision to take them.

We all have some form of social anxiety. Whether its tapping fingers, playing with your hair, flapping arms or other forms of stimming. People on the spectrum are under pressure to behave neurotypically to avoid bullying, rejection, discrimination – referred to as ‘masking’. This may be a solution for some but there’s a better one – it starts with ‘aware’ and ends with ‘ness’.

2/ Genes

Remember the MSSNG project which highlighted “an additional 18 gene variations linked to the development of ASD. Nature Neuroscience Journal, published a report on this project which found that the 18 newly-identified autism genes can be instrumental in understanding the pathways in the brain that affect how cells ‘talk’ to each other.” (The Biology of Autism)?

Remember the research published by Princeton University and Simons Foundation researchers where they analysed the human genome to try and predict which genes are likely to cause autism? They had linked about 2,500 genes to autism; we have an approximate total of 24,000. (Mr Autastic)

WELL: Researchers have found alterations of the gene thousand and one amino-acid kinase 2, known as TAOK2, which is so much fun to say out loud. The alterations found are thought to play a direct role in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

Karun Singh, study co-author and researcher with McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute said: “This is exciting because it focuses our research effort on the individual gene, saving us time and money as it will speed up the development of targeted therapeutics to this gene alone.”

img_6972Science is on its way to delivering answers to what causes autism. They are closer to finding out how to predict autism, and, as a result, closer to finding a way to prevent it. In the  meantime, it’s up to you to ask questions, to include to shatter stereotypes and to embrace the people around you.

 

 

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Sibling Week

There was a hashtag trending a few weeks ago celebrating Autism #SiblingWeek and I had messages asking me how i felt and how I coped as an Autism sibling.1456685_10152043682305030_1431061625_n

In my head, it’s unfair to blame the parents if a sibling is struggling to understand Autism – the parents have enough to deal with. And yes, they are important and they need to seek out ways to get professional help, or books, or alone time. They’re only human and they have their own emotions and their own process to go through; life just dealt them a wild card. I believe, the doctor that gives the diagnosis should also offer advice to parents about their siblings. I haven’t figured out the ins and outs of it yet; but shouldn’t it be a professionals job? They deal with this every day, they know the consequences, they know the shock that drowns out the reality you had been living in until that moment. Even more so, shouldn’t the school be aware of ways to help so they can be offrered?

Chris and I were born 8 years apart. Raising a child, in general, demands extraordinary things from parents, and the family as a whole. When one of them has Autism, those demands are the only thing you have time for. The time you invest in the well-being of that child, you know you will not regret when you see their progress. Siblings though, older or younger, remain silent bystanders. Their silence resonates in their misbehaving at school, in their picking up of bad habits and hanging out with questionable friends. The way the ‘Others’ are affected can take as many forms as can Autism.

416800_10150752443010030_1110641324_nI don’t know whether it’s harder when they are older – so the attention is shifted completely from them – or when they’re younger – so it’s all they know and might not get enough attention.  Your life has changed, the balance has shifted, your parents only talk about Autism, and you can only trace it back to one person. It causes resentment, whether you are old or young, the feeling is there. My mum told me that when Christos was born i used to climb into bed and drink milk from the bottle. I was 8 years old. I was at school. I had friends and I was drinking milk from a bottle and asking my mum to tuck me in; seriously. When he was diagnosed I started acting out at school, mum said – original. Thinking back on it now, its embarrassing, but that’s what happens to children.

As a result of no proper support system being put in place for the Others, there is tension that builds up between the needs of the child with Autism and those of the Others. I used to get annoyed when he played with my toys, when he watched my video tapes because he broke everything; absolutely everything. What i have found, in reading about this and listening to stories, is that there are many ways this frustration can manifest and without the right guidance it can get out of control. The obvious side note here being that where Autism isn’t dealt with early and effectively we get relationships that break down, or never even form to begin with.

In my experience, personally, as well as my discussions with other Others, the great majority has to deal with jealousy for the first couple of years but then there’s this power that comes in. Maybe its from reading, maybe its from witnessing how strong your parents are, maybe its from seeing how someone so small can be so fierce, how someone who cannot speak 419409_10150751639425030_721113893_ncan progress right in front of your eyes. I’m not sure what it is, or where it comes from, but it does and it makes you become who you are. You grow up, you cope, you become passionate, understanding, experienced; you just learn that life isn’t about coping, it’s about taking every day and making it worthwhile, it’s about excellence, because someone is doing that right there, in front of your eyes.

The bright side of being an Other is that we learn, whether alone or with help, to manage these demands and behaviours which makes our childhood/adulthood easier. It teaches us skills we wouldn’t otherwise have or learn at school. We become effective and resilient adults; because being an Other doesn’t end with childhood. It’s a bond we don’t have words for, it’s a relationship that matures and grows stronger over the years.

The concerns of toys and attention fade and as an adult we start thinking of the future and develop a sense of responsibility that makes it difficult for us to leave home and begin an independent life.

Missing home was isn’t an issue, but missing Chris is unbearable. I can text, whatsapp, call my parents, my friends, my family; but my brother I can’t. He doesn’t like the telephone, or talking on skype for too long and when we do he just tells me what he wants to eat. I consider myself lucky if I get the same few words out of him; always ‘Hello, I love you’ and when i ask how he is its usually followed by a kiss and him running away.

I can’t ask my brother how he is, can you imagine that?

It breaks my heart when they call and tell me he asks for me, and asks when he can see me. There’s this weight on my shoulders that I’ve put there that will not be lifted until i know i can give him everything he wants. He doesn’t ask for much, he just wants his music, his food and the pool; but its doesn’t matter, because if he wakes up one morning and asks for something, i want to be able to give it to him. No one expects this from me, and no one has ever spoken to me about the day I will be his carer but it’s something i have been preparing for since i was 17.

That’s the end-game, that’s the dream.

That’s what being an Other does to you, it drives you and it makes you better. So when you meet someone with Autism, take a moment to take it in, see beyond the Autism and realise that they are inspiring, they can motivate greatness without ever saying a word.

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PS: Love?

Been watching ‘The Undateables’. For those of you who don’t know, the show it’s about people living with challenging conditions who are often considered ‘undateable’ – this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love.

It’s a great show to see what dates would be like without the social expectations of ‘playing hard to get’, ‘saying the right thing’, ‘not being too keen’, rating people from 1-10. Dates are fun, they’re honest and the people on the show don’t play games. They are looking for love, companionship and happiness in it’s purest form. They’re not scared to say ‘i like you’, they’re not under pressure to look, sound or act perfect – they are real. The show aims to explore a side of dating that most people don’t even consider. When you see a person with Downs Syndrome, Tourettes, Autism, Aspergers etc the first thing you feel is pity, sympathy, maybe a bit uncomfortable because they are ‘different’. But who defines ‘different’ other than yourself?

Open up your world.

Everyone is looking for a companion – whether its a man, woman, friend, partner. We look for intimacy because love or affection at its purest is loving yourself first – which then enables you to love, care about another the way people are meant to be loved; completely. Without stereotypes, without social expectations, without games.

love‘Challenging conditions’ can mean anything. What makes a disability challenging, more than any other factor, is the way it is perceived. Autism is perceived as difficult, unsociable, untamable; and at its worst that is sadly the truth. But what makes it get to its worst is the way it it’s treated by society. Why do people with disabilities have to be boxed up and labelled ‘undateable’? Why do we have separate dating sites or agencies? Yes, its difficult, and if you don’t grow up with it or around it it can be daunting. But don’t you think that if education regarding disabilities and their challenges was available at school we would all be more accepting to dating or befriending the ‘undateables’? Or even better, wouldn’t it mean that people with disabilities would not find it challenging to find companionship?

When living with Autism, love is something that you never think your kid will miss; because you love them so unconditionally. But then you’re driving and he sees a girl walking down the street and he waves at her; it’s so unexpected, it’s so out of character. Mum and I laughed so loud when Chris did that one time. However, it reminds you that love – that feeling that we all need, seek, treasure – is in all of us. Whether we can express it or not, we want love in our lives. Everyone who has Autism in their life has thought about how their kid might never have that feeling, might never find someone to love, live with and have a family with. It hurts. It’s a feeling that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

That’s why we raise awareness. Not for likes, not for views. We do it for the future, we do it for the chance to find love. Whether love comes in the form of acceptance or in the form of romance we seek it, we need it for our children.

Can you imagine your life without the possibility of love? Learn about Autism – love it.