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From a medical point of view autism is a pervasive development disorder. The words he communication disruption and perceptual processing disorder are as understandable as pervasive development.
Ok this you can understand as good as which are also used often when you talk about autism. At this point I need to say that in the medicine you call many things a disorder when they don’t work as they should do.
But how should something work normally if the basics are not present? The autistic brain is wired differently from normal. More exactly the brain areas are more or less tied together than what you would aspect. It could also be that some brain areas are tied together whereas you can’t find the contacts in the brains of non-autistic people. At least in an autistic brain there are sometimes other brain areas active as in a brain of non-autistic people. An example that is well known is that an autistic brain uses the same brain area for things and for faces. The brain of a non-autistic person uses different brain areas for faces and for things.
It's also noticeable that an autistic brain processes all sensory impressions individually. That means that there is no connection between the seen and the heard. So, there could be the following problem: “There in front I can see someone who split wood but where comes the knocking noise from?”, that there is also a noise when someone split wood must be learnt consciously and so connect picture and sound remains something you need to do more or less consciously. In this case it doesn’t become simpler if there are more sensory impressions like smell and feel.
The non-autistic brain connects sensory impressions together so that they make sense. So, there are not that match single impressions than an autistic brain has, that doesn’t connect the impressions and processes every sensory impression extra. After that it’s more difficult to understand the sensory impressions and it’s harder to understand that you can see and hear someone who split wood.
To find all the important puzzle pieces for the current situation, if you have many pieces, isn’t possible. The result is that all the impressions are equally important and are being processed on an equal footing in the brain. For example: during concerts, autistic people can hear at the same time the respiration, movements of their neighbour and the music of the concert.
In a situation like that, it can quickly lead to sensory overload. The brain stops its own functions to have chances to process all the information it gets. Seen from the outside it can be a fit of rage, self-harming behaviour or frozen. The uncontrollable emotions and the blackouts are rarely visible from the outside and create problems for those affected. These people need often long periods, for example some days, to regenerate themselves. Something that mustn’t be forgotten is that not every overload or excessive demand can be registered immediately. There are some overloads that show their effects after hours.
That’s the reason why autistic people can show an unremarkable behaviour during an event. But after this event they are very exhausted and need to regenerate themselves for days in their bed.
Overloads can be triggered via one sensory channel. For example, very loud music or flickering light can trigger an overload with all consequences. If one sensory channel has an overload it can affect all the other sensory channels and that can be the reason for a sentence like: “Please be quiet, I can’t see anything!”. It isn’t important which sensory channel has an overload, it has effects on the others, sometimes so strong that one or more sensory channels fail temporarily.
But not only can the brain cause problems for autistic people, the nerve pathways between the brain and the rest of the body also have their pitfalls. I talk about a phenomenon I know very well: I mean the phenomenon of time shift. I explain it, with an example: I can hold test tubes from one end to another when they are 80° without feeling the heat. After some minutes I must use gloves against the heat as the other people. The heat signals need a lot of time to come up from the fingers to the brain and the way back can also be very long.
That means that it isn’t guaranteed that information arrives in the brain or at another place in the body on time. So, it could happen that in a situation in which I need to sit down on a chair, that I understand what I should do, I want to do it and I know how to do it but I can’t do it because my brain can’t send information to the muscles about what they have to do – that’s a transient phenomenon. If there is a problem with the nerve pathways or with the muscles, you can`t know it and it isn’t important.
Information that are stuck in traffic jams and arrive match to late, have a very strong or a very weak effect of the brain. The reason is some of them are chancing during the way between the starting point and the end point.
Information that arrives in brain without resistance can result in fatal reactions.
Still, other information arrives in the brain so slowed down that there isn’t a reaction on this, or this reaction is very weak. The language is of hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity. To deal with that, often you can only organize your live so that you can live with your own perception and hope that other people pay attention to your perception.
Autistic people know the most of what I have described before as a problem which chance during the time or stay for a long time. The expression of problems are very different.
But one thing is clear: This problem doesn’t make the life easier and makes the need of structures and safety greater.
In contact with other people, this structural difference is particularly difficult. People not only communicate with each other via very diverse signals, but are usually neither logical, predictable nor unambiguous. In a conversation, an autistic person does not hear some things at all, some things much more intensively and some things with a strong time delay from the other person. What an autistic person hears is often filled with contradictory information. This can be due to the ambiguity of the counterpart as well as the fact that some information arrives at the wrong moment due to the time shift.
So as an autistic person you are busy with stimulus processing, compensating behaviours and the content of the conversation to be able to interpret what is said. That’s often enough to do, so there isn’t time to interpret the things which the other people said. Many autistic people can understand and use phrases if they are light and without overload. If there a small overload or something else, those skills collapse immediately because the brain doesn’t have the capacity for that.
Thus, when dealing with autistic people, one is well advised to be clear and unambiguous in what one says and not to get upset if the desired response is delayed.