A Whole New Way Of Looking At Brain Structure And Function...
Anesthesia - Could It Be Causing Right Temporal Lobe Damage?
Secretin Verses Anesthesia - Which One Really Made That Autistic Child Talk?
Could Sensory Input Actually Trigger Functions Previously Thought Unrelated?
As had been the case as I neared the end of my first book, Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism, as I neared the end of this second book, with, literally, only a few hours remaining in terms of final edits, what I believed to be an absolutely critical thought – entered my mind.
I had just finished my morning walk. In writing this book, over a period of just 2 months, I had been getting up at 3:00, 4:00 or 5:00 am almost everyday and working until 10:00, 11:00 or 12:00 each night. Needless to say, as I neared the end of this document, I was completely exhausted, and as I neared the end of this book, even though I had only a couple of small sections to go in terms of doing revisions, I barely had the physical strength to continue. I was completely exhausted. I usually took my morning walk around 7:00 or 8:00 am., and upon returning from that walk, pretty well went right back to work. On this day, however, I was so exhausted that I decided to spend a few minutes on the couch to rest physically.
As I rested there a thought came into my mind. This thought had to do with the subject of anesthesia and the autistic child.
My sister-in-law had read a great many books on autism and spoken to many persons about her son’s issues over the many years she had dealt with this disorder. Her son Andrew was now 11 years old. Christine had long ago told me of the “secretin story”. She had heard someone else basically say that secretin, an enzyme occurring naturally in the body, had come to be viewed as a potential treatment option for the autistic based upon something that had happened to a woman and her autistic son, who had surgery!
As Christine relayed this story to me, sketchy as it was, she basically said “this woman” had an autistic son who was nonverbal, that he went in for surgery and “came out talking”. She went on to explain that the mother, baffled by this had asked the doctors what they had done to her son – because he had “gone in” nonverbal yet “came out” talking. Christine then explained how the mother was told the son had been given an injection of secretin. And, here started the “secretin treatment option”.
From what I knew of secretin, pretty well everything indicated it was a very unproven therapy. As I wondered “why” results varied so much, my thoughts suddenly went to thoughts about anesthesia. I wondered why thoughts of “anesthesia” would enter my mind at this particular time… as I wondered about “secretin”. How could anesthesia and secretin be related, I wondered. I thought about that and within 15 minutes, I came to another theory in terms of this “nonverbal child becoming verbal”… perhaps the thing that had caused the child to speak was not the secretin, but the anesthesia!
Secretin, given that it was an enzyme occurring naturally within the body, may have helped address, not the issues of speech, but rather the natural opiate effect of casein and gluten in the autistic child… or simply helped with better digestion. This certainly could explain why secretin had such inconclusive results in terms of autistic children. Some autistic children were cfgf while others were not! This enzyme, secretin, was secreted at a very specific time during the digestive process to neutralize stomach acid. This enzyme was very much involved in digestion – that fact was certain - but how did that translate to a role in language production? I simply did not see that the two – secretin and language production - “went together”.
Zachary had been on digestive enzymes to break down foods and prevent the natural opiate effect of casein and gluten for over 6 months now. Yet, Zachary’s language production had not really been impacted by enzyme supplements. I suspected that secretin, also an enzyme, could have had some impact in autistic children in neutralizing the natural opiate effect of casein and gluten, but, again, I just did not see how it could have impacted language production. Secretin, from everything I had seen, was a rather expensive option in comparison to the enzymes I used with Zachary. Parents on message discussion boards seemed to indicate that the cost of secretin varied greatly… some saying it was as low as $45.00 per injection, others saying as high as several hundred dollars. If indeed, the effect of secretin was in that it was an enzyme and that its impact was really not one impacting speech development, but rather only one of addressing the natural opiate effect of children, then parents certainly had more affordable options.
In my opinion, the fact that secretin was an aid in digestive processes, certainly made sense in terms of my theory given that digestive functions were controlled within the brain stem – the only truly functioning area during the child’s procedure while under general anesthesia, and as such, secretin, a digestive enzyme, would have been allowed to “do its thing” even under anesthesia!
I wondered about whether or not the effect of secretin could have somehow been tied to a “more focused digestive process” during this child’s operation as a result of the numbing of the senses and thus, the fact that perhaps the body “reacted better” to the secretin and had somehow triggered the language. But, again, this could not have explained the generation of speech in this child – certainly not for any length of time. From what I knew of enzymes and how they worked, they were produced by the body and basically “used up” in digestion. They were not something that could be “stored” or used later. They acted on the foods at the specific time they were needed within the digestive process… and that was pretty well it. So, based on the functioning of enzymes, in general, there could be no long term effects based on secretin alone. Secretin could have only helped this child in matters relating to digestion (i.e., in eliminating the natural opiate effect of casein and gluten). Victoria Beck, the mother of this autistic child who had undergone an endoscopy, herself admitted that the changes in her child as a result of “secretin therapy” were over a two-year period. Although Zachary had not undergone secretin therapy, in the last two years, he too had made significant strides – strides I greatly attributed to his cfgf diet. Victoria Beck seemed to indicate that the initial secretin infusion for her son had been done by intravenous (IV). Secretin was known to stimulate the secretion of bile, the release of insulin, etc. But, again, these were digestive processes and, as such, yes simply in helping with digestive issues, the autistic child could do much better. But, I simply did not understand or see how secretin could be tied to language production – a function within the frontal lobe – where there clearly existed no functions tied to digestion.
Zachary had been on TMG for close to two years. This was a supplement made by Kirkman Labs, a company that specialized in supplements for the autistic. Although I suspected this product had initially helped produce speech in Zachary, in our experience, once we removed the TMG, conversation in Zachary began to flourish. This had always puzzled me. Had this simply been a fluke? A coincidence? I had no way of knowing! I knew B12 and folate were both the in TMG. Science had shown that low levels of B12 or folate could actually increase one’s risk of losing hearing when older. Low B12 was also believed to lead to speech delays and permanent nerve damage if the B12 deficiencies were not corrected. Yet, enzymes, such as secretin, were not something you could “accumulate in the body”. Enzymes worked on the foods as they went through the digestive track. A person undergoing an endoscopy would most likely have very little food in the digestive system since substances to “clean out” the digestive track would most likely have been given prior to the procedure. Thus, again, I simply did not see how secretin and possibly “additional B12” could have been “the answer” as to what caused increased speech in this child.
As I thought about this situation, I realized that anyone undergoing an endoscopy would likely have had some kind of anesthesia or sedation procedure to alleviate pain. Although I had no way of knowing the type of sedation given to this child, I truly wondered if the anesthesia or sedation could have somehow played a role. In my totally non-medical opinion, anesthesia gases or the smell of sedatives could be a likely explanation for the actual production of speech.
Gases or sedation liquids had a smell to them – some rather strong - and the olfactory cortex was in the frontal lobe… the area responsible for speech production… and it was a known fact that the autistic were more difficult to sedate than “normal” children. I wondered if stronger sedatives were used with the autistic… or sedatives that somehow impacted the brain differently than most sedatives/anesthetics.
If you looked at the brain’s structure and function, it almost seemed to make no sense in certain cases. Why were specific functions not “grouped” into one area… and why was it that things like the sense of smell were grouped with motor functions and the production of speech, but visual and auditory processing were not? This was all very puzzling to me.
The structure and functions within the various lobes had to be somehow related… in other words, those things that went together, had to be there for a reason – even though, to me, initially, they appeared to make little sense in terms of “how things were scattered” in terms of structure and function. Thus, the olfactory cortex, I thought, simply had to be somehow “grouped with” speech production in the frontal lobe for a reason. If “things” within a specific area were together, and indeed, somehow related, then, if viewed that way, a lot of things did make sense!
The olfactory cortex, for example, was grouped in the frontal lobe, along with motor functions and language production. Anesthetic gas and other sedatives had a smell to them. If I ever tried to introduce new foods to Zachary, as soon as he smelled them, he ran off, literally! He did not simply, shy away or say, “no”, he literally RAN off – a motor response! Smell, I now believed, actually triggered motor activity to a large extent!
I knew that if I breathed in helium that somehow impacted my voice (i.e., talking funny)… the production of language – also in the frontal lobe! Helium, I believed, impacted the vibration – or motion - of the vocal cords. Interesting indeed!
Taking all these factors together, the sense of smell, motor activity, and language production, I wondered if the sense of smell actually did belong with motor activity and speech production in that it literally - triggered it!
If that was the case, could I assume that the location of the senses actually triggered the activity within each respective lobe? I now believed this to could indeed be the case!
If, indeed, this child who had undergone a medical procedure had come out talking, perhaps it had been due not to the secretin, but to the gas(es) or the smell of liquids used in anesthesia or prior to anesthesia. Pre-medication of patients (oral, nasal or rectal) was often done prior to actual intravenous conscious sedation or anesthesia. Given this child was autistic, I can only suspect the procedure had been done under general anesthesia, but I had absolutely no way of verifying that. A local anesthetic only may have been used. Usually, however, conscious sedation was done in order to allow the patient to respond to basic commands or instructions. I did not believe that an autistic child, especially an autistic child who was very limited verbally, would have necessarily benefited the doctors by remaining somewhat awake during the procedure. My guess was that this child had most likely undergone general anesthesia… although this was only a guess on my part. From what I could find on this matter on the Internet, the interview of Victoria Beck by Dateline NBC did show that she asked about everything that had been done to her son… including the dose of anesthesia, but that she felt perhaps the secretin had caused the change in her son – a little boy who had barely spoken in two years was now reading flashcards and using words he had not really used before.
If as I suspected this child had undergone anesthesia – as appeared to be the case given the mother’s comments – I truly believed that anesthesia, not secretin, could have been a much more likely and probably explanation for the production of speech in this child. As I thought of this particular boy, I then began to think of other autistic children whom I knew to have also undergone anesthesia.
My nephew, Andrew, had been born with a heart condition and as such, he had undergone heart surgery at a very, very young age. As such, Andrew, also had undergone anesthesia – and Andrew, at age 11, now spoke “incessantly”.
Persistent talking was an indication of damage to the right part of the temporal lobe!
As with everything in autism, it was always a matters of “degrees” – of “how much” one did something, at least in my eyes.
As I thought a little further about anesthesia and its possible role in autism, I could not help but remember another child, now a young man, approximately 30 years old, who, although not diagnosed as autistic when he was a child now also very much fit into this picture. This young man, although never diagnosed as autistic, had indeed exhibited, throughout his life, the uncanny ability to remember countless facts, had difficulty with social interaction and so on. Since this young man was very, very ill, in order to maintain his privacy, I would simply refer to him as Patrick, although this was not his name. I had always believed Patrick could certainly have been an undiagnosed case of autism – but there was much more about Patrick that now made me wonder about a lot of things – especially in relation to this issue of temporal lobe damage, incessant talking and the possible role of anesthesia!
Patrick had been born with serious kidney problems. He had been ill all of his life and had undergone several operations – including two failed kidney transplants! At approximately 30 years of age, Patrick could now no longer “take in” more than a cup or less of fluid per day. He was constantly exhausted and it took very little, physically, to drain him totally. He only had a very small part of one kidney working. Needless to say, he was a very, very ill young man and he was constantly undergoing dialysis. Indeed, the life of his parents had completely revolved around their son and his dialysis.
As I thought about these three children – my son Zachary, my nephew Andrew and this other child, Patrick - and their common characteristics, the possible role of anesthesia in their lives, troubled me!
Zachary, my own son, had undergone general anesthesia for a broken arm at the age of four. He had fallen off a table and had broken both bones in his left arm. Zachary had only been under the influence of general anesthesia for 15 minutes or so. Although I had wanted to go with local anesthesia only, the surgeon had insisted that for Zachary, he should be put “completely under” – that for young children like this, it “was best to put them under”. He felt this was moreso true given Zachary’s autism. I had always wondered about whether or not this was “accepted practice”, but, at the time, I had been so concerned about the fact that Zachary had broken his arm and the pain it had caused him (he cried incessantly), I just wanted it fixed with the least amount of stress and pain possible – but I certainly had raised my concerns and desire to have him only get a local anesthetic. In the end, however, I went with the “experts” and agreed to the general anesthesia. Since we had no health insurance, that simple broken arm ended up costing us over $5,500.00 – unbelievable! Zachary had only in the last two months started to show more conversation (the anesthesia had happened over a year ago).
Andrew, due to his heart operation, at approximately age 5, had also undergone general anesthesia – for a much longer period than had Zachary. Andrew spoke incessantly (a sign of right temporal lobe damage). He also had greater difficulty in remembering certain things than Zachary did. Andrew was now 11 years of age and other than being autistic, physically, he could now run, play, and live the life of a very active child. His mother could not recall exactly when speech “took off”, but she did state that she did not feel it was right away after the operation. She had been told that better cardiac capacity could result in improved speech.
Patrick had undergone the most anesthesia as a result of his two failed kidney transplant operations. He also exhibited the most “incessant talking”.
As I considered these three boys, their autistic characteristics, and their exposure to anesthesia, a few things became very troubling.
My sister-in-law had been told that “more talking” was the result of the heart working better. But, was it? I suspected, in my “non-medical” opinion, that it had less to do with heart functioning and more to do with temporal lobe damage.
Patrick had undergone several operations. He was a fighter and I truly admired his determination and will to live. Over the years, however, Patrick had become weaker and weaker. An extended conversation was now enough to make him very tired. He was very, very pale (with almost transparent like skin) - to me, indicating a poor circulation - and as such, a badly functioning heart. Although dialysis was also tied to “the blood”, the simple fact was that dialysis did not change the color of the blood… the blood was red when it left the body and it was still red when it reentered the body. So dialysis alone, could not change Patrick’s overall skin color! Patrick’s “skin color”, in my “non-medical” opinion, was due more to his poor circulation than his kidney impairment. Given the fact that it now took very little to completely exhaust him, I could only suspect that his lungs were very, very weak also. Any physical activity totally exhausted him. Yet, Patrick, the boy who had undergone so much anesthesia and who had the weakest heart of all, did the most “incessant talking” of all three boys – again, a sign of right temporal lobe damage.
Zachary’s skin color, by far, was the best of all three boys! He had the best working heart, but still spoke the least of the three boys ! Granted, there were age differences, but, again, this was truly a matter of “degrees”… and the simple fact was that the boy who appeared to have the weakest heart and lungs spoke the most – to me, indicating that “more speech” was not necessarily a function of better lung or heart capacity!
As I started to consider the possible role of anesthesia in the lives of these three boys, I really wondered just how it could be that “anesthesia” could cause “better speech development” from a better functioning heart, as parents had often been told, “was a side effect” of surgical procedures. In relation to the experiences of the three boys above, this could not be the case.
So, why was there “more conversation” in Andrew than in Zachary, and in Patrick than in Andrew? Even when in his early teen years, Patrick had also been much more talkative than had been Andrew. The boy with the best lungs and heart spoke the least and the boy I believed to have the weakest lungs and heart spoke the most! In my “non-medical” opinion, I truly suspected this had more to do with temporal lobe damage as a result of undergoing anesthesia!
Given my theory of the brain and how it worked, this too, in my “non-medical” opinion, would make sense.
If you thought about it, general anesthesia had the effect of making one “insensitive” in that “when under” your senses basically did not work – you could not hear, smell, see, touch – and I suspect, not taste either. At least, so I thought. Thus, sensory input to all lobes was impacted as it simply “was not experienced”! Or was it? Hence, the age-old question… if a tree fell in the forest and no one was there to hear it fall…what impact did that have from a sensory perspective? Likewise, if a sound, or say, a smell was there during surgery, but the senses were somehow numbed, did those sounds and smells have an impact on the brain anyway? I now suspected that the sense of smell may actually still be active even while under general anesthesia. As I researched this the topic of brain structure and function, I soon discovered that the thalamus, the part of the brain that acted as a gateway between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, was involved in sensory relays for all senses, except the sense of smell. This was very interesting indeed, especially given the fact that I was convinced the thalamus was somehow involved in autism… as did I believe was the corpus collosum. As stated earlier, the corpus collosum was the area of the brain often “cut” to help alleviate epileptic seizures. Yet, for patients with epilepsy, the onset of an epileptic seizure was usually accompanied by a warning – an “aura” – a smell that indicated a seizure was coming. All this was truly very interesting! I could not help but wonder what happened with the sense of smell when one was under anesthesia. Was the sense of smell “still working” even though all other senses were “numbed” under anesthesia? I now believed that this, indeed, was a strong possibility!
Both auditory and olfactory processing occurred in the temporal lobe – the very lobe associated with “incessant talking”. The olfactory cortex was located in the frontal lobe… the very lobe associated with the production of speech! What happened to the senses while under anesthesia now became an intriguing question to say the least!
What happened in terms of the sense of touch, as surgeons worked? Although, clearly, one had no sensory input “felt” from touch while under anesthesia, did that mean the brain had not somehow “captured” that input anyway? These were all very interesting questions. Touch perception existed in the parietal lobe – the lobe responsible for sensory integration and somatosensory processing. It was a well known fact that anesthesia could result in issues with somatosensory processing. Many women who had been given local anesthetics during childbirth often loss control over bowel movement.
In this artificially induced sleep, only your brain stem activity, those things vital to life, continued, apparently, to work – so we thought! But, did the brain continue to “capture” the sensory information as well? I had absolutely - no idea! If it did however, what would happen to that information once a person “came out” of anesthesia-induced sleep?
In normal sleep, all sensory input was still very much working and still very much being integrated. The simple fact that I could heard a fire alarm or smelled smoke, and awoke as a result of sensory input, clearly showed that sensory input, integration and processing (relaying of information) as it related to vital functions and motor functions (making me open my eyes, get out of bed and out of the house), still worked while I slept. Yet, if a fire alarm went off or I smelled smoke while under anesthesia, I highly doubt I could awaken and leave the building on my own given sensory input, integration, processing and relaying were being blocked in terms of reaching my brain stem, so necessary to life functions and sight/sound reflexes. Interestingly, olfactory processing was in the temporal lobe (the lobe also associated with incessant speech) and in the frontal lobe (the lobe associated with speech production) – and the thalamus, the gateway for sensory information between the central and peripheral nervous systems, from what I could find, was not involved in the relay of olfactory information. Yet, sensory information as it related to the sense of smell also had to play some role in the parietal lobe (where sensory information was integrated), in the thalamus, and corpus collosum (the body’s two gateways) and possibly in the pons as well – that part of the brain that linked the medulla and the thalamus.
From what I could see, there were therefore, three gateways, the corpus collosum, the thalamus… and the pons – the pons being the critical gateway involved in sensory and motor functions to the brain stem – where all life functions resided! Interestingly, the thalamus was involved in all sensory processing EXCEPT for olfactory (smell) processing. The olfactory cortex was located in the frontal lobe and olfactory processing was believed to occur in the temporal lobe!
As such, anesthesia, by actually numbing sensory “perception” was a very different “sleep” in regards to “sensory input” than was normal sleep! But, did that mean that sensory input was not somehow “captured” anyway by the brain even while under anesthesia? I was beginning to think that olfactory input was indeed at play here and still somewhat active even under anesthesia.
Although this was simply my “non-medical” opinion, I had to believe that somehow, the corpus collosum , the thalamus, the pons and the temporal and parietal lobes – again – had to be “at play”. The corpus collosum, thalamus and pons seemed to all act as “gateways” in terms of sensory information, and the parietal lobe where integrated sensory information resided, but where also, somatosensory and touch processing seemed to reside and finally the temporal lobe, where auditory and olfactory processing resided – all had to play a role.
Visual processing – although not an issue with anesthesia, was located in the occipital lobe.
The “anesthesia-induced sleep” did impact overall functions as they related to life functions much in the same way they would be impacted in normal sleep, reducing the rate of vital functions to life. Its real impact, however was much more as it related to the flow of sensory information – either eliminating it completely (in the sense that input to the senses was not even “perceived” by the brain or numbing it completely (in the sense that even if captured by the brain, it was not being integrated and relayed)! Thus, it appeared the impact of anesthesia was only mild in terms of the brainstem life functions, but clearly impacted the functioning of the corpus collosum, thalamus and pons much more seriously.
I now also wondered, how longer exposure to anesthesia impacted both the parietal and temporal lobes in terms of sensory processing, integration and relaying of information.
Given what I knew to be true in these three boys, and the known structure and functioning of the brain, I now believed in my totally “non-medical” opinion, that, “incessant speech” possibly resulted from damage to the temporal lobe as a result of anesthesia gases inhaled – or smelled - during surgery. The case for incessant speech, indeed seemed stronger when viewed from a “sensory perspective” in terms of what was going on with the senses during anesthesia than it did from a purely life function enhancement perspective.
The fact was that with sensory input that had entered the four lobes via the central nervous system or with incoming sensory input from the peripheral nervous system, by the time either form of sensory input (from central nervous system or peripheral nervous system) had reached the pons, it had already been integrated by the corpus collosum or transferred to the thalamus to then be relayed to the pons in relation to life functions. Thus, this sensory information was no longer simply “raw sensory data”… it had already undergone extensive integration, processing and relaying functions. If “raw data” was not entering the brainstem via the pons, how could “raw data” leave the brainstem to flow “backwards”. I did not believe that occurred at all. There was no “raw data” from a sensory input perspective in the brainstem. As such, I wondered, how increased heart functioning, possibly caused greater speech? In my “non-medical opinion” all that was happening in such things as heart surgery, was “something” related to life functions themselves… heart beat, breathing, digestion, swallowing, reflexes, regulation in body temperature, blood pressure, alertness, sleep and balance. I just could not see how any information could flow backwards to lead to “better speech” given these functions were isolated within the brain stem and the fact that no raw sensory input necessary to speech was present in the brain stem. Yes, you needed to breathe to speak… but there were plenty of speechless people who breathed too! As such, again, I simply did not believe that “life functions” were related to “speech functions” any more than they were related to any non-vital functions to life.
If the theory that increased speech was due to better functioning of say the heart and lungs were true, than, many more functions should also be better… but, clearly, that was not the case. A deaf person undergoing heart surgery remained deaf even after surgery. A blind person, undergoing heart surgery remained blind even after heart surgery. A paralyzed person undergoing heart surgery remained paralyzed even after heart surgery. A mute person undergoing heart surgery, it was believed, remained mute even after undergoing heart surgery. So, how had a nonverbal autistic boy gone into surgery without the ability to speak, yet two weeks later was very verbal? How long did anesthesia really impact the brain? To “come out” or awaken from anesthesia, the blood had to process the gas to make it leave the body via the lungs, but did all anesthetic gas molecules leave the brain? I truly wondered!
Given I now believed the sense of smell could possibly actually trigger motor function as it related to speech production, this could certainly explain why the autistic child who entered surgery mute, later became verbal. I suspected gases used in anesthesia or some other olfactory input in the form of a pre-medicating nasal or oral prep for sedation - an olfactory input to the frontal lobe - had been responsible for the production of language and played more of a role in this child’s recovery of speech than did the secretin injection – especially given the fact that I knew helium, also a gas, affected the vocal cords! I now suspected that although a patient did not “perceive” sensory input via the four lobes while under general anesthesia, that sensory input, somehow still was captured by the four lobes and triggered some sensory response – in this case, the sense of smell, could if my theory were true, surely have triggered the production of language given both the olfactory cortex and the production of language were located in the frontal lobe and the thalamus was not involved in the processing of sensory information as it related to the sense of smell!
The brain stem involved functions vital to life only – heart rate, breathing, digestion, swallowing, reflexes, regulation of body temperature via sweating, blood pressure, alertness level, sleep and balance (vestibular issues). Better life functions, in and of themselves did not result in better sensory processing… the blind remained blind… and the deaf remained deaf… those paralyzed as a result of spinal cord injury remained paralyzed…only the sense of smell could possibly have played a role in the recovery of this autistic child’s language!
In my opinion, the effect of sensory input was virtually non-existent in the brain stem with the exception of sight/sound reflexes! As such, damage to the senses, truly, as expected, would have very little impact on one’s life functions! One could be blind, deaf, paralyzed as a result of nerve damage or a spinal cord injury, etc., and still be quite alive!
I could only conclude, in my very “non-medical opinion” that “improved life functions” did not play a role in the generation of speech, although they certainly could play a role in the capacity of speech (i.e., better breathing leading to better enunciation). However, generation and capacity were two very separate issues!
In view of my theory, I looked at it in terms of how it related to these three boys and possible temporal lobe impact as a result of anesthesia! I use the word “impact” here, because, I do not necessarily know that all impacts could be “bad” or “negative”. In my view, some of these impacts were definitely bad, others, perhaps enhanced certain functioning. The temporal lobe was responsible for auditory and olfactory processing, memory acquisition, emotion, understanding language, categorization of objects, and some visual perception. Current research indicated that if the temporal lobe was damaged, one could experience selective attention in terms of sight and sound, difficulty understanding spoken words, issues with interest in sexual behavior, short term memory loss and interference with long-term memory loss, emotional issues (i.e., increased aggression), difficulty in face recognition, categorization issues and the persistent talking! Once again – how interesting!
In comparing Zachary and Andrew, my son and that of my sister-in-law, Zachary definitely did grasp math concepts much, much more easily than Andrew had. At age 11, Andrew could barely add numbers higher than the sum of 10 and he was very dependent on visual and motor input in doing math. For Andrew, there appeared to be less ability to process an auditory input – a math question verbally asked. Yet, Zachary could often give me the answer to basic addition based on a question alone. Andrew was much, more aggressive than Zachary. Overall, Zachary was a very mild child. Although there could be simply age related factors there associated with the fact that Andrew had experienced so many more frustrations than had Zachary simply based on age alone, I could not help but wonder! Zachary had also been cfgf for over two years now. Andrew had never been placed on a cfgf diet. Zachary had been on digestive enzymes for just over 6 months now. Andrew only started to take digestive enzymes in September of 2002.
Andrew’s emotions, generally, I found were more difficult to control than Zachary’s… and there definitely was the fact that Andrew had the persistent talking, whereas Zachary was, overall, a much more quiet child – talking and answering some questions, but certainly not showing any signs, at least not yet, of incessant speech!
Patrick, as long as I had known him, and that was well over 10 years, had always been a very mild, non-aggressive person. He was very calm and easy going in spite of his overwhelming medical condition. Undoubtedly, the need for dialysis, from early on in life had taught him patience. All three boys had a fantastic ability to remember facts. From an auditory perspective, Patrick understood the most in terms of answering questions, then, I would say Zachary, followed by Andrew if those questions had to do with math. In terms of questions related to other activities, I believed Patrick would again be first, then Andrew, then Zachary… in terms of overall language comprehension. Given the great variance in age – 30, 11 and 5 - that alone, however, I felt could be the reason for this variation among the boys. This was as much information as I could really provide in comparing these three boys at this time in terms of functions within the temporal lobe.
My limited observations of these three boys, in relation to one another, certainly opened entirely new areas of interest. Yet, as limited as these observations had been, they certainly were completely in line with this theory that language in the autistic child who had entered surgery mute and become verbal could have been solely triggered by an olfactory sensory input, based on brain structure - this certainly seemed plausible.
Could the “smell” of anesthesia actually awaken us to new possibilities in terms of brain research and possible treatment options while still keeping in mind the effects of temporal lobe damage? - effects that were very serious indeed! Yet, there were other issues too that now had to be considered! How many women who had autistic children had undergone anesthesia (C-section) when that child was born? What about epidurals? The simple fact that 10,000 people per year died from anesthesia alone should have awakened us to the fact that this was “no simple procedure without risk”. Perhaps many had lived through anesthesia only for us to discover later that they had possibly suffered temporal lobe damage. Again, the implications of this, for society, I knew were huge! All this was but a theory, but, from a “common sense” perspective, it certainly appeared that this could be quite probable – that anesthesia could play a role in temporal lobe damage and result in incessant speech.
Could anesthesia explain the 10% of cases known as “infantile autism”, those cases where autism was present from birth? I knew in my heart that Zachary had issues from very early on. I, myself, had never undergone anesthesia. I did, however, have a mouthful of silver fillings – mercury – and I suspected some of those could have “leaked” into my system and caused the damage – as could have the booster shot I received well before getting pregnant. From what I had read in the US Autism Ambassador’s book, Autism and Vaccines The Story A Closer Look, there seemed to be research indicating that vaccinations could trigger illnesses several years away. I had also discovered that many nursery lamps also contained mercury. Surely, as these lamps heated, there could be the possibility of mercury fumes being emitted above infants in maternity wards.
There were now so many issues potentially involved in autism – vaccinations, mercury fillings and now, possibly – anesthesia and nursery lamps! Given some of the research I had read, vaccinations and mercury fillings were definite possibilities. In speaking with the US Autism Ambassador, she mentioned that anesthesia, in her opinion, could definitely also be an issue based on research findings she had seen as they related to autistic children and the fact that many of them required oxygen at birth. My sister-in-law had undergone anesthesia. Andrew had been a very difficult birth, and after 30 hours of labor, the decision was made to go with a C-section. All these things now went through my mind!
If anesthesia could be somehow involved all children were now at risk – and anyone undergoing surgery, potentially, could be risking temporal lobe damage resulting in possible memory loss, emotional issues, etc. Would the medical community be allowed to simply “sweep my suspicions under the carpet”? The pharmaceuticals, were, after all, those who provided products used in anesthesia. How could parents, and indeed, society, trust an industry that appeared to have so failed the public in the past in matters of trust in its refusal to allow for the proper investigation of a possible autism-vaccination link. How could we allow these issues not to be addressed given what we knew of brain structures and functions? Although I knew the medical community would be quick to criticize my thinking, let us not forget that my theory was based on brain structure and function and it certainly did seem to “fit together”. Surely there were those in the medical field, those in neurology, who could see that. It was after all, neurology that had provided for us the “mapping of the brain” as it related to brain structure and function. Would neurologists now deny the validity of their own discipline in these matters? In my opinion, these issues simply had to be investigated.
Although an autistic child had been made to speak, if that speech had indeed resulted from anesthesia, as I now suspected it had, the implications could result in both excitement and apprehension – excitement in what this could mean in terms of brain research, apprehension in terms of what this could mean in view of potential brain damage.
The effects of temporal lobe damage included: selective attention in terms of sight and sound, difficulty understanding the spoken word, issues with interest in sexual behavior (increased or decreased), short term memory loss and interference with long term memory, emotional issues (i.e, increased aggression), difficulty in face recognition, categorization issues, and persistent talking). So many of these things were so common in the autistic.
Yet, if indeed the senses within a particular lobe could “trigger” function within that lobe, as I suspected smell had triggered language production in the frontal lobe, then, I wondered, what about other areas and other senses?
The sense of touch was located in the parietal lobe. Also found in this lobe, were somatosensory processing, spatial processing, visual attention, manipulation of objects and goal directed movement. Again, a sensory trigger, here, for the sense of touch , certainly looked like an option! Many parents had reported that visual stims such as spinning and the moving of a pencil in front of one’s face, very quickly, were activities they often saw constantly in their children.
If you thought about this in terms of the potential “trigger” of an activity by a sense, it was plausible, again, that this was true. For example, the very act of holding a pencil, involved the sense of touch. As the autistic child “touched” this pencil, was visual attention actually triggered – could this indeed explain the quick motion some autistic children engaged in with pencils?
Could this be why the sense of touch also resulted in constant object manipulation? In Zachary, the most obvious example of this, was something he did that absolutely drove me insane. For as long as I could remember, when Zachary went to sleep, he always wanted to hold on to my hair and twirl it – to the point that it drove me so insane, I cut my hair length so that it was no longer at the center of my back, but very, very short – so that Zachary could no longer grasp and twirl it. If touch triggered object manipulation, this too, now made sense, because, the more the autistic child “touched” an object, the more he would manipulate it. This also helped explain why spinning could be so intense in Zachary. There were times when it was slow, but, I had always suspected that there was more to spinning than a visual stim – and indeed, that “something more” may have to do with the sense of touch also (in addition to the other interesting things spinning provided – like the completion of the whole – the doing away of the parts to the whole – as explained in my section on Spinning). So, if touch triggered object manipulation, it made perfect sense that the more Zachary spinned, the more he would want to spin! Yet, if I took away the object, often, Zachary was completely fine with that and made no fuss. Sure, some times he did fuss, but, usually, I could take things away and he was fine with it. The sense of touch, once broken, obviously no longer triggered object manipulation.
Also, this certainly could explain why I always walked with my head down when seriously thinking about something… if visual attention was related to the sense of touch, the only “touch” my body could perceive as a walked was that of my “feet on the pavement”. Walking, looking up, just did not appear to be something we did inherently – at least not for me. :o) Certainly, you could train yourself to “look up”, but, it would be interesting to observe where young children looked, what the focus of their visual attention was when they walked!
This also would make sense in terms of sexual behavior. The sense of touch was certainly involved in visual attention and object manipulation in sexuality also. It also would explain why touch worked so well for goal directed movement – why techniques such as “hand –over-hand” worked so well with these children. With Zachary, I just had to make him “touch something” and he would complete the task or goal! Again, it made perfect sense in view of what we saw in the autistic child.
It would thus seem that to stop some of these behaviors, you should simply prevent “touching” from happening in the first place. Well, given my recent finds in terms of “potty training”, that too made sense – when I had removed the diaper, and Zachary could no longer “touch it”, he had peed 5 times into the potty with no prompting on my part whatsoever. I also suspected that removing the diaper would be key to potty training in terms of stools too!
Issues with touch also explained toe walking. When a child walked on his toes, there existed a heightened sense of touch through the feet. Given the touch and somatosensory processing both resided in the parietal lobe, toe walking could also be explained by the sense of touch and the fact that it triggered certain somatosensory function perceptions.
If you looked at the senses in the temporal lobe, again, it seemed to make sense that the senses within that lobe could actually trigger the activities within that lobe. For example, auditory and olfactory processing were both in the temporal lobe… along with memory acquisition and emotion. Indeed, when one “smelled” something bad, be that an object, or even a person, an immediate emotion was produced… the same was true with sounds and explained why music could have a calming effect, yet a loud, obnoxious sound could produce a very negative effect. Sound could certainly explain the magnified emotion people seemed to have at concerts for example… the intense rush so often associated with “being there” as opposed to just watching on tv. The sounds, overall, in social situations, provided much greater variety.
If you looked at the occipital lobe, only the sense of vision was there. If damaged, it had often been observed that blind persons tended to develop better functioning in other sense. Again, this too made sense. Just as the autistic brain attempted to adjust to its world, so too would that of a blind person!
This was all very interesting indeed – especially if considered in terms of how the brain stem fit into all of this also. For example, undergoing general anesthesia seemed to basically “numb” incoming sensory input. This procedure somehow put a person to sleep and made it such that the sensory input was completely blocked – except perhaps olfactory input – unlike “normal sleep” where sensory input could still get through.
This was all very interesting indeed – especially if anesthesia, not secretin, may have played a role in helping a nonverbal autistic child to talk. Although, it appeared speech production in this autistic child could have resulted from anesthesia given the fact that incessant speech was associated with temporal lobe damage to the right part of the lobe, I also knew that close to 10,000 people died each year from general anesthesia and that it was a serious procedure to undergo. Yet, I somehow felt that anesthesia may hold some critical keys.
The fact that it somehow blocked sensory input during an operation, yet allowed for it to return upon “waking up” from that anesthesia, made me wonder how anesthesia provided the apparent “rebooting” for certain brain functions as a person “came out of anesthesia- induced sleep”. If a “reboot” was indeed going on, could that concept be used to “reboot” autistic children as well in several key areas, such as language production, without the secondary effect of temporal lobe damage? Damage to the temporal lobe could certainly result in more than just incessant speech – as clearly indicated above.
The brain stem controlled all key “life functions”, including “swallowing – another key area of difficulty for autistic children. There appeared to be no real “sensory input” in the brain stem (other than sight/sound reflex). Balance and vestibular functions were located there, however, as was the function of sleep. This certainly explained why family members were often told to “talk” to coma patients since it was believed that although they could not respond, they could hear. Although many coma patients had undoubtedly suffered serious physical, structural brain damage as a result of actual injury to the brain, perhaps, in some, if olfactory processing was tied to motor function, there may be a way to “wake them up” too, via anesthesia – a procedure that definitely impacts both sleep and sensory perception. Could anesthesia, in some of cases, “reboot” their systems too? I truly wondered.
Anesthesia definitely had an impact on the senses… everyone knew that… but, in addition to stopping sensory input, could it also be used to “start” sensory input functioning, too! Although I had absolutely no medical training, I wondered how anesthesia impacted the corpus collosum, the thalamus, the pons, and the parietal lobe…all areas I felt could very much be involved in the impairment of all sensory processing and information relay.
As mentioned earlier, the corpus collosum, the bundle of fibers between the right and left hemispheres of the brain allowed communication between the two hemispheres. Likewise, the thalamus acted as a gateway for information between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (involved in somatosensory functioning, etc.)… and somatosensory functioning was after all – in the parietal lobe!
It was also in the parietal lobe that sensory information was integrated in order to understand a single concept – where the parts to the whole – were put together!
Autistic children could now break the code to so much. Many of them were diabetic, had epilepsy, Down’s Syndrome and a host of other disorders that could now much more easily be studied as well. It was certainly easy to get carried away thinking of the possibilities. Yet, the reality of any implications of anesthesia as a possible treatment option, necessitated that adverse consequences also be kept in mind and as such, surely, a great deal of research would be necessary.
The issue of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was another issue that came to mind as I researched vaccination issues. These were deaths where an autopsy failed to show the cause of death in infants. Most statistics I could find as they related to SIDS really only went back to approximately 1970. That in itself was interesting. Did we not have an issue with SIDS prior to 1970 – especially given families were much larger back then? Did that - in itself - not seem “odd”?
A website founded by persons concerned with the safety of childhood vaccinations provided invaluable information on this topic: http://www.909shot.com/Articles/gnssids.htm. According to information on this site, most SIDS victims died between 2 and 4 months of age, with more boys being affected than girls (just as was the case with “autism”) and although the government was quick to say SIDS was not caused by diphtheria, pertusis, tetanus (DPT) or other immunizations, according to articles posted on this website (http://www.909shot.com/Articles/gnssids.htm), National Vaccine Injury Compensation (a federal program to compensate families of the vaccine injured) provided to families in the 1990s, 86% of claims compensated included an assertion that DTP was the cause of death, with 43% of deaths having been specifically files as “SIDS”. Also according to this site, http://www.909shot.com/Articles/gnssids.htm, was mention of a second database, this one maintained by the FDA over the 1990s, in regards to infant deaths where children had died within 3 days of receiving the DPT shot – in this database, 58% of the deaths had been listed by physicians as “SIDS”. One truly has to wonder why these deaths had not been more clearly associated with the DPT vaccination by physicians but were instead listed as SIDS – an “unknown” cause of death! In my opinion, one could not help but wonder: Was the cause really “unknown” – or, did the government simply not want it “known”?
The government was quick to say that no link to vaccinations was shown to cause SIDS. Yet, I kept coming back to the fact that our largest families existed prior to 1970… why were there basically no SIDS cases prior to the 1970s, when we had the greatest numbers of children? In 1970, there were 20 deaths per 1000 infants, according to the CDC. In 1992, that number had dropped to about half. By 1999, the number was said to be 7 in 1000 infants. The large drop in 1992, according to the government, could be attributed to the “Back To Sleep” campaign, a public health awareness campaign whereby parents were encouraged to make their children sleep on their backs. Yet, again, children slept in various positions prior to that, surely we should have “captured” more SIDS statistics prior to 1970s if “sleep position” was really the issue. I suspected the drop in SIDS death was probably more likely due to the fact that a specific vaccination was no longer being produced by that time.
In my opinion, the “back to sleep” program could simply not have, alone, caused this decrease in SIDS deaths and I suspected that perhaps the decrease had more to do with the fact that certain vaccinations may have been discontinued. It would certainly be easy enough based on the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) database to determine which vaccines seemed to be the most often associated with vaccine injury reporting and to quietly remove these vaccines from the public. Of course, given the VAERS database was not available to the public for research, I had absolutely no way of confirming my “suspicions” on this subject. Given there appeared to be virtually no long term studies as they related to vaccinations, most studies lasting apparently only a few days to a few weeks one could not help but question how it was that the government could be so sure no such link existed. Likewise to say that SIDS happened more with young mothers was also misleading. Young mothers would themselves have been exposed to more mercury via their immunizations and dental amalgams.
My theory that there existed improper communication among the various parts of the brain and the body would certainly also help explain SIDS. The brain stem, specifically, the medulla, controlled vital “life functions” such as heart rate, breathing, swallowing, sleep, etc. If this part of the brain was not properly communicating with those parts of the body it regulated, such as the heart and lungs, then, yes, I could certainly see that there could be a lack of a heartbeat or lack of breathing, or inability to swallow properly. Perhaps placing a child on his back while he slept helped alleviate some issues with breathing and swallowing, but there had to be more to SIDS than simply “sleep position”.
The autistic child, once a forgotten child, now held the keys to so much!
In closing this section, there was another area I felt the need to touch on – the area of truth and spirituality – undoubtedly a “touchy” subject for so many in science, yet a topic, I felt was also very much in need of discussion, because, there were, after all, scientists also involved in that area of functioning as it related to the brain, too! For those involved in studies of spirituality as it related to the brain, the only information I could provide was in telling you that as my relationship with Christ grew stronger and stronger, I came to understand much, much more. It was always soon after I had prayed or taken a walk to talk to God, by myself, that I had had another huge insight. Indeed, when I was close to 300 pages in the writing of this book, I thought I was very close to being done. Yet, as I wrote, more and more information surfaced within me… to the point that now, I ended up adding an additional 160 pages to this work… all those pages relating to insights on the complete failure to integrate sensory information and the relaying of that information, and the information in this section in terms of senses actually, possibly triggering functions within each part of the brain – all that, I had come to understand, as I had progressed through the writing of this book – all that, within a matter of about 10 days. The more I searched, the more I asked God for answers, the more I felt He provided them to me. Each night, I prayed that God guide my hands as I wrote, and He did. I suspect I was far from having hit everything “dead on” when it came to issues surrounding autism, yet, I felt there were truly many that had to at least be “in the ball park”.
So many times, insights, literally happened in the very section where they belonged and at times, exactly where they needed to be provided for the reader! As difficult as the task of writing this document had been from an emotional and physical perspective – to complete this book in a matter of 2 months - from a spiritual perspective, it had been a rewarding journey. At each turn, there was often emotional devastation as I came to better understand the overwhelming impact autism had had on my son, yet, at each turn, with that emotional devastation, often came new insights providing new hope.
The bible states that Christ is the way, the truth and the light… and I honestly believed that as He revealed more and more of the truth to me as I grew spiritually! Did the key to finding “the truth” lie in spiritual growth? In my opinion, it did!
Spirituality was indeed one of those very “touchy” subjects for science, yet, I believed, that “spirituality” may in fact be the only “thing” that helped keep man “in check” when all else failed. Having a sense of right and wrong still went a long way. Man had not been able to identify the true “location” of the spirit within the body. This area of “spirituality” was indeed quite lacking from my basic “brain overview” as provided in this document. Yet, the fact that a person could experience an intensely spiritual experience from any of the senses, made me believe that perhaps, “the spirit” was, truly, everywhere within man and that to indeed “tap into” the spirit, to seek God, truly was the way to the truth and the light, the truth to the whole! In my personal experience, when all else had so failed around me, the spirit within me, and my relationship with God, indeed, was so often what kept me going! Those of you in research in terms of issue of spirituality, would also find the information in my final section, Putting It All Together, most interesting!
Surely, there would be many who would laugh at my views on spirituality. Yet, I suspected I had provided enough in this document, even for those laughing at issues of spirituality, to give my “theory” some rather serious thought! Those in science could easily discount issues of “spirituality”, as I had experienced them – discounting this theory, however, and all that it explained in the autistic, would prove a little more challenging! :o)
The autistic child – once a forgotten child – now the key to so much!
Autistic children worldwide - once so forgotten and thought to be so “un-teachable” in so many ways - could now, teach the entire world so much, about man himself!
Parents of the autistic - whose voices and observations had for so long been ignored - now held within them observations and the keys to understanding so much! Observations once considered worthless, by many, were now among the most valuable of all! This, indeed was, truly, an ironic twist of fate!