In this rather long post, I hope to show you how my title ties together several experiences I had this week. I ran across the above photo this morning and it triggered me to group these experiences to share with you. The photo is from Die Spiegel’s collection of photos looking back at 2012. This photo superbly illustrates the collision of rich-and-poor/sick-and-healthy in America with the obvious subtext being “We don’t care.” But should we care?
I know next to nothing about “Autism”, mostly because, of the many maladies of life, this is one that does not affect me as strongly as others. So because of this, I naturally don’t care as much as I otherwise would. Nonetheless, I recently read three articles about autism and had a conversation with my dentist and my son that made me care a little more this week. First, let’s start with the three articles:
(1) Antidepressants in water supply may increase risk of autism
This article examines known autism-related gene expressions in fathead minnows brains who were exposed to unmetoblized psychoactive pharmaceuticals in rivers.
Source Article: Thomas MA, Klaper RD (2012) Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce Fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism. PLoS ONE 7(6): e32917.
(2) Autistic mice respond to bacteroides probiotic
Though I’ve know gut-bacteria are important, I never realized that they may influence depression, MS and autism. A recent study feeds mice a common gut bacteria and their behaviors felt to be autism-surrogate-measures improved.
Sources: I first saw it in this New Scientist article, then saw a FANTASTIC TED-x 6-minute talk by the researcher, Elaine Hsiao. The I found a group of her research articles here.
(3) Autism: lack of caring vs. hyper-caring
Apparently in the new updated DSM-5, “Aspies” (people with Asperger’s syndrome) will lose their own category and will be classified under the “Autism-spectrum” category (see here and here). I’m not sure of the consequences but there are sure to be many untoward ones as this is the bible of Psychiatry and used for disability funding and social labeling. And social labeling has huge effects.
Autistic folks are often typified as lacking empathy and not caring about other people like neurotypicals do. But I read an article describing Autism as an “Intense World Syndrome” with hyper-perception, hyper-attention and hyper-memory which is debilitating. (see Markram et al). The author tells us that people with autism can be overwhelmed by empathic feelings and tend to pull back to avoid pain and fear. Learning skills to limit input and to interact with such an intense world is one of the huge challenges for autism-spectrum people.
Now, my dentist experience:
I said, autism-spectrum folks don’t touch my life too much, but occasionally they do, and I care for a moment – as happened this week.
Wednesday one of my wisdom teeth cracked in half. Ouch! But do you care? Well, maybe, if you have had a cracked tooth. But is it me you care about or the way it makes you feel about yourself?
Anyway, back to me. That tooth and I have a long history. I first chipped it in Pakistan in the 70’s when I chomped down on a little pebble in some rice – boy did that hurt. With no language skills at that time, and no friends or acquaintences in Pakistan, I finally found a Pakistani army dentist to fix it for me. Twenty years later part of the filling he did fell out. So a Seattle dentist replaced the filling with a gold in-lay. During this second repair, the dentist remarked, “whoever did the first repair of this tooth was a hack!” I told him the story and he laughed. But I was grateful to that Pakistani dentist for taking away my pain and making a repair that lasted 20 years.
Well after this week’s cracking, that gold in-lay was slicing up my tongue until it was repaired by my third dentist. So I was thankful again to another dentist.
While waiting in that dentist’s chair for my tooth-cement to dry, I was reading some tweets on my phone and saw the bacteria-and-autism post. My dentist asked me what I was reading and when I told her. She was surprised saying, “My daughter has severe autism. May I look at that article?” She was excited and said she is going to look more into the issue. So autism touched my life this week.
Finally, my conversation with my son:
On one of our car trips this week I was explaining the bacteria study to my son. We discussed drug metabolism, water supplies, gut bacteria and more. He found it interesting but through in a caveat “Dad,” he said in a serious tone, “at school they tell us about all the horrible environmental stuff happening and about the injustices in many countries around the world. But is it wrong that I don’t really care?”
Wow, I was so very proud that my son felt comfortable enough to ask me that question. We talked a long time about the issue and afterwards he told me felt much better about his supposed heartlessness. I won’t bore you with the details — more important was that we had a conversation about empathy, morality, motivations and information overload.
So, I just flooded you with lots of information today. Should you care?
My childhood world was much simpler than my son’s. I was raised with no computers, and only one newspaper and only three TV channels. My son is flooded daily with may fold more input — and thus many more issues which he is apparently suppose to care about. Withdrawal from this hyper-information world is an adaptive, helpful mechanism. I can’t pretend to understand my son’s world and what it means to his growing mind — I never had that experience. And am hoping the most important thing my son remembers about our conversation is that I don’t condemn his feelings and I understand. I trust you now see the connection between all the information above — and if nothing more, walk away with that.