Monday, November 12, 2012


During my thirty years practicing orthomolecular psychiatry and homeopathy, I have treated many children and adults on the autism spectrum.  It is now up to one out of every 88 children in the US, even higher in parts of California, where my three year old granddaughter lives.  She has recently been diagnosed with autism. 

It is said to be common in children of engineers, maybe because people with Aspergers make good scientists and engineers. Asperger people tend to focus on an area of special interest and learn everything they can about it, which can eventually become the basis for a career.  They are usually of higher than average intelligence. They are more interested in figuring out how the world works than social relationships. 

According to Sara Robinson, “Asperger's Syndrome wasn’t named and identified until 1994, but by the 1950s, the defense industries in California's Santa Clara Valley [Silicon Valley] were already drawing in brilliant young men and women who fit the profile: single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached, and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest.” 

Now that I am a grandmother, I am discovering that I have Asperger traits myself.  I’ve never been diagnosed, but I have diagnosed it in some of my patients. I am reading in books like Aspergirls, by Rudy Simone, and on the internet about how differently it presents in females, so is more often missed.  It would explain a lot of the funny little things about me.  

Aspergirls, unlike most of their teenage or adult peers, have little or no interest in fashion, make-up, or hairstyles, or chatting with friends for hours.  Like me, they hate shopping, prefer wash-and wear hair, and comfortable, practical clothes with lots of pockets.    One good thing for Dads, their daughter might be happier helping him in his workshop rather than helping their mother with housework. 

Three years ago my husband and I retired and moved to Italy, where he was born.  My possibly Aspergian attire (baggy blue jeans, sweatshirts and Birkenstocks, here in the land of fashion), and demeanor are probably attributed to just being American.  There are no other Americans in this town.  People ask my husband why I don’t talk much, don’t I understand Italian yet?  He says, “Lei e fatta cosi.”  (She’s made that way.)  I do understand most of what is said, but my taciturnity is more acceptable here, because there is seen to be an excuse for it.  I have become more talkative now, and the Italians are very helpful because they don’t care if everything I say is ungrammatical and pronounced wrong, as long as they understand my meaning.  They do correct me kindly, and don’t laugh unless I say something really funny (like saying I made a cake with “mascalzoni” (rascals), instead of “mascarpone” (cream cheese).   

I once had a brain map done by Dr Les Fehmi, in Princeton, NJ, a pioneer of biofeedback with whom I used to work.  It showed I was low in alpha brainwaves.  Alpha waves, 10 to 14 hertz, are associated with a relaxed, creative, open-focused state, in which the left and right hemispheres of the brain are in synchrony, together producing the large, smooth alpha sine waves.  (If you draw one vertically through a circle and add dots, it becomes the Taoist yin-yang symbol.)  I don’t know if low alpha is a general characteristic of Aspergians, but it would help explain their chronic anxiety.

Alpha waves can be increased by things like yoga, meditation, and marijuana.  THC from this herb happens to fit the brain’s anandamide receptors.  Anandamide is the first endogenous cannabinoid, discovered in 1992 by Raphael Mechoulam ,  named for the Sanskrit  word “ananda” meaning inner bliss.  After smoking the herb, some Aspies discover for the first time what it’s like to feel normal!  They can talk and converse like anyone else.  I invented the term “anandapenia”  to signify the condition of a lack of anandamide, (or lack of bliss).  

Aspergers is thought to be related to hypofunction of the right hemisphere, affecting things like:  recognition of faces and facial expressions, body language, spatial orientation, sense of direction, remembering how to get somewhere, (making it hard to drive).   I seem to lack the internal map that neurotypicals have in their brain that helps them find their way around town, or hotels, airports and train stations.  (I call it “dysmappia”.) 

As for recognizing faces - I seem to need to meet a person at least 3 times before I remember them.  This can be very embarrassing.  When people say Hello to me here, I’m always asking my husband, “Who was that?”  He’s gotten used to my quirks. 

Autistics may have more problems with the left hemisphere, where the speech centers are.  They may think in pictures, as Temple Grandin describes, rather than in words.  Animals probably think in pictures too.  It’s probably a primordial way of thinking that humans used before we acquired language.

Aspies are generally good at left brain functions like language and math.  They are very logical and generally prefer science, nature or computers to interacting with other people.  They often love to read, especially science fiction and fantasy. I’ve always been a Sci-Fi geek myself.  When I was a kid in Allentown, PA, I used to walk to the library a couple of times a week, check out some books, sit on the library steps and read them, take them back in and get more.  (I guess children were only allowed to check out 3 or 4 at a time, and I couldn’t have carried more than that home anyway.)   I read all the science fiction I could get.   My mother said I taught myself to read at 4, and I haven’t stopped since. 

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