Monthly Archives: June 2014

June 26, 2014

Prevention of Autism Severity Through Conscious Parenting

When we think of autism today and what it has been label as today and what the suspected causes are by the common. One must think more clearly about the grander scheme of what so intended by such challenge in the life experience of a person. Why it is so vastly variant in condition and display from one to another. Is my please to share that I will be launching my first book by years end titled “Lifting the Weifht of Aitism”. The title is a play on words as it relates to my life in the gym and the significance that is for me in this journey and message I bring forth. I collaborated with my dear friend Lauren on the title and must give her due credit there….
The book intends expanding the perceptions of the common into a spiritual understanding of the autistic mind and operations in existence that are not governed by the material world. Yet severely harmed by it and many beings in it. The book intends to give light to parents and friends of autistics purpose and that protecting them is crucial, as well as accepting and understanding what environments and embracing tools in th material plane are of assistance to crate ease and harmony. The autistics purpose is to assist spiritual evolution, and is hope to give a more clear understanding to you in the way of which it is taken by you to evolve yourself higher and in a conscious manner. This book focuses more on individual opinions that are helpful in harmonizing the autistics life and what I have found to assist me. The content doesn’t focus to much on how things became for me and more imptotantly encouraged by this moment of the present. The system understanding and applications in a routine and guided way need to be vastly applied as waves of the crystalline beings continue to incarnate. Application needs to be collective and if parents start in an open minded and embracing position then the ease from early years sets the needed foundation for the autistic to flourish and prevent adversity

June 25, 2014

Autism and Trauma: Calming Anxious Brains

Hannah (1) is 6 years old. She likes numbers and enjoys music. She has started piano lessons and shows an unusual tolerance for the repetition of scales, sometimes sitting at the piano for hours. After her sixth birthday, her attraction to counting and repeating songs has become more marked, and at the same time she has grown more socially withdrawn. Always a shy and soft-spoken child, as Hannah entered first grade she did not make friends, and usually sits by herself during recess, playing counting games and humming songs she plays at home on her CD player as soon as she returns from school. The more Hannah engages in these socially isolating and repetitive behaviors, the more she gets absorbed and withdraws from others. Hannah knew her numbers well at the beginning of the school year and learned computations before any of the other children in the classroom. She gets praise for this from her teachers, but it further isolates her socially. When asked why she likes numbers and counting so much, she says, “Numbers have no feelings”.

At home, Hannah prefers to know ahead of time what is happening in the family schedule and becomes anxious if the routine is disrupted. Recently Hannah’s parents decided at the last minute to stay overnight at a hotel after a late dinner with college friends while Hannah stayed with her grandmother for the evening. Upon hearing of this change of plans, Hannah became so distressed that she threw up, and eventually Grandmother became so concerned that she called the parents and asked that they return home that night.

Hannah has always been a picky eater, and her reluctance to eat has grown more severe. She now refuses to eat most foods except for apple slices and chicken nuggets.

Hannah has difficulty articulating her feelings, and will retreat to her room to draw “number pictures” and listen to music when upset. If pressed, Hannah will shut down and be unresponsive; if pushed further she becomes extremely agitated. She has bitten her own arms almost to the point of breaking the skin when in this state of distress. Only being allowed to return to her room and count and listen to music calms her.

Easy to diagnose, right?
Hannah easily fits a cursory profile of many autism spectrum characteristics. She shows advanced ability in linear thinking and math, but her social skills are lacking. When upset she displays stereotyped motions and behaviors such as rocking, humming, and self-injurious behavior. She self-soothes with socially isolating activities such as counting and practicing scales. She shows marked sensitivity to food texture, is rigid in her eating demands, and handles spontaneity poorly. When overwhelmed, Hannah either shuts down or becomes hysterically agitated.

Here’s the rest of the story. Tyler is Hannah’s 14-year-old neighbor. He began babysitting Hannah two years ago. Tyler began showing her pornographic videos, calling them “grown-up movies”. He gave her treats and made her promise not to tell about “letting her act like a big kid” when he visited, so that he would still get to babysit. At first Hannah enjoyed the extra attention from an older child, and was thrilled to be treated as “more grown-up”. She also responded enthusiastically to “keeping a big-kid secret”. Eventually Tyler persuaded Hannah to perform fellatio on him in front of some other neighborhood children, as the “games” advanced. This occurred a number of times until Tyler’s family moved away and he no longer babysat for the family. Hannah never disclosed what was happening while the abuse was occurring, though she became less excited and eventually extremely reluctant when Tyler came to babysit, an event that used to be greeted with enthusiasm.

Hannah, always somewhat shy, became even more isolated and withdrawn soon after the abuse began. She became increasingly anxious and dependent on routine, becoming overwhelmed with anxiety and fear if routine was disrupted, especially if her parents were absent. Social interaction grew more difficult to manage, and she grew to rely more and more on soothing, repetitive activities such as counting, music and rocking. The more they calmed her, the less she explored other skills such as interacting with others. Expressing her feelings became increasingly difficult, as she felt she could not reveal the most important part of her story-the abuse. Over time it became easier for Hannah to not express any internal thoughts or feelings at all. The less skill she developed, the more anxiety-provoking social interactions and self- expression became, worsening the cycle of isolation and withdrawal.

For Hannah, food and eating was quickly associated with the sexual abuse. Eventually almost all foods became triggering for Hannah. When asked to eat some mashed potatoes as part of subsequent trauma treatment, and to describe how she feels when eating it, Hannah said “I don’t want it in my mouth, please don’t make me swallow it”.

In Hannah’s case, she initially felt comfortable and “special” with Tyler, but these feelings were quickly replaced with fear. As the “games” with Tyler progressed he moved out of a grooming phase, which focuses on befriending the child and gaining trust, and into a more coercive phase, using intimidation and threats to ensure Hannah and the neighbor children’s compliance and maintain secrecy.

Here’s what happens in the brain during trauma
To understand some of what has happened in Hannah’s brain during these episodes, we need to understand how the brain works, and we will start with the limbic system. The limbic system, which is made up of two structures, the hippocampus and the amygdala, has to do with emotion, memory and other things we will explore in more depth later. For the moment, we are concerned with one of its functions-responding to danger. The limbic system receives a stimulus; for example, a loud noise. It then has to answer the question, ‘Is this safe?’ The limbic system routes the response process in one of two directions: if safe (the noise is a fire drill) it is going to the cortex to work it out (remember to leave the building through the fire exit, but there’s no need to be afraid, everything is ok). If not (smoke is pouring under the door), the brainstem will react to it by changing the breathing and heart rate and other basic-function systems to prepare for the threat. This also depends on individual perception; someone who has been injured in a fire may still find his or her autonomic systems responding to “danger” , even during a drill. This, in fact, is one way to characterize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: responses that are out of proportion or inappropriate to the situation.

When we feel threatened, the amygdala signals the brain that we are in danger, and floods the brain with adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. These chemicals prepare us to survive the danger by giving us the energy and focus to fight, flee or freeze. Our cortex, which does our abstract thinking and complex decision-making, is slower to respond when the amygdala is activated. Once we have escaped the threat or realized we are not really in danger, the amygdala calms down, the stress chemicals in our brains subside and the cortex becomes active again, allowing us to think more clearly. If this happens only occasionally, the cortex is “off-line” only until the danger is over, and recovers quickly and fully after a few seconds. With occasional repetitions of this circuit, there is little or no change in the brain. If, however, the fear is very intense and happens over and over again, the brain starts to adjust, actually “rewiring” itself and devoting more space to the structures that are used the most. The amygdala and brainstem can become enlarged, and the cortex can compress or shrink. The fear cycle gets faster and stronger, and this makes the fear even easier to trigger and the cortex slower to reactivate. (DeBellis, 2001; Schore, 2003)

If the cycle becomes strong enough, just thinking about the events causes the cycle to start, and over time the cycle can “start itself”. It becomes a vicious circle, as the brain becomes more and more primed to be set off by very little or seemingly nothing to launch the sequence. It’s like an electronic alarm system that is a little over-sensitive and goes off too easily, and soon stays on almost all the time, or in other instances becomes damaged and fails to go off when it should.

Associations with that fear can become more and more generalized, as in the case of “Albert”. In a classic set of experiments, a little boy (given the pseudonym Albert) was conditioned to fear white rats, though he had never displayed fear of them previously. The first time he was presented with various animals, nothing happened. Then experimenters Watson and Rayner paired the appearance of a white rat with a loud noise, startling Albert. Eventually, Albert would flinch and exhibit fear when shown the white rat, even without the noise. Over time, the experimenters noticed that Hans exhibited the same phobic behaviors with stimuli that were increasingly unrelated to the original object. Anything white and furry, like a white rabbit, and then anything white or furry (animals, cotton) caused the fearful response. In other words, over time Albert’s brain expanded the list of objects that caused him to react, or as we will see, the “map” in his brain expanded to include wider territory, including more general objects that now caused fear where none existed previously (Watson and Rayner, 1920).

Even when she is not around Tyler, Hannah’s brain can be easily reminded of the trauma. For Hannah, food is closely linked to the experience of the oral sexual abuse. At first, only foods that strongly evoke the experience trigger the brain response. As her brain gets more efficient with each trigger, “learning” the fear response, more and more neural space is given to the response. Less space is given to associations with food that are neutral or pleasant. Over time, the response generalizes, until almost all food sets off the fear response.

Photo (cc) Flickr

Autism or trauma?
Autism is a pervasive developmental disability that affects communication, social intelligence and processing. Effects range from mild to devastating. Causes are unknown; heredity and environmental factors seem to be the primary elements under study. Is autism a single disorder, or a symptom cluster with many roads? No one knows. In yet another parallel with trauma, autism may also have, as DeBellis, below puts it, infinite causes (or in this case subtly varied combinations of vulnerabilities and stressors) with limited neurological results. Eventually, as science understands more about what is happening in the brain of a person with autism, we will be closer to knowing the answer.

As Hannah becomes increasingly absorbed in the behaviors that calm her brain, she is more socially isolated and teased by her peers. If word is out about her situation, she might even be ostracized or stigmatized about the acts committed against her. The Social Pain Overlap theory postulates that Hannah would experience that social pain on the same neural pathways as physical pain (Eisenberger and Lieberman, 2003, Riva et al, 2011). Essentially, her body would not distinguish between being physically hurt and emotionally or socially hurt. This pain might drive her further into her dissociative, self-soothing behavior, reinforcing the neurological pathways that reward those activities with serotonin, a chemical that produces feelings of calm and safety. This stress-reward pattern can then make her “odd ” behavior more habitual or even compulsive. This behavior in turn increases her isolation, causing social pain, strengthening her urge to self-soothe, and so on and on. A perfect vicious circle develops.

If Hannah does indeed have a developmental disability like autism, research suggests that the accumulated stressors produce the same neurological effects over time as the devastating effects of a trauma such as sexual abuse. In other words, the daily stress of feeling overwhelmed, unable to do what other people can do, “different” or lacking the control over daily choices (where to live, what work to do, what staff and roommates one has, etc.) can create ongoing “small” stressors that, over time, produce effects in the brain (specifically anxiety responses) that look very similar to trauma and in fact may be neurologically identical. In the absence of trauma, these effects can be called “daily anxiety producing life experiences” (Sobsey, 1994). Sensory defensiveness, common in children on the autism spectrum, may increase this level of daily stress and even be exacerbated by trauma (Heller, 2002)

In terms of potential changes in the brain after stress, Hannah’s age matters. We know that the younger the brain, the more devastating the effects of repeated stress (De Bellis, 2001). The extent of the effects of trauma is a complex interaction of genes, psychosocial environment, critical periods vulnerability and resilience.

Michael DeBellis describes three key assumptions about trauma:

there are infinite causes of trauma, but finite responses
trauma is worse for kids than adults, neurologically
interpersonal stressors like abuse are worse than non-interpersonal ones (community violence, natural disaster, e.g.), as they are more likely to be ongoing, and include loss of trust as well as actual traumatic event.
In Hannah’s case, what came first: autism spectrum traits inherently vulnerable to, and made worse by, trauma, or trauma-created, spectrum-like traits? This is hard to say. While more research is needed, many of the interventions address the “finite results”. We don’t need to answer the question of ultimate cause to take action. For Hannah and children like her with suspected trauma, therapists and treatment providers need to put aside attribution for the moment, target reducing anxiety and fear. Then they can work through the “spectrum” barriers to communication, gain trust, and work through the trauma. Only then we accurately assess ongoing needs that may be autism spectrum-related.

Neuroplasticity: Our changing brains
To fully understand the impact of trauma on a growing brain, we first have to understand how our brains develop. Our brains have periods of growth and retreat, just like other systems; trees produce leaves and shoots, then let leaves fall, and then grow them again. There are comparable periods of growth and pruning in the human brain. At birth there are 50 trillion connections between neurons (synapses) in the brain. By ages 3-10 that has grown to 1000 trillion connections. By age 20 there are only 500 trillion connections left (Rintoul, 2005). This period of pruning is an important part of brain functioning; repeated activities are strengthened by multiplying neural connections, literally taking up more space in the brain. The ones that do not get used as much (for example, neurons that respond to speech sounds that do not commonly occur in one’s native language) eventually are pruned away. Literally, if we do not use it, we lose it, as our brain efficiently decides what to keep and what is no longer needed, so that it can use the space most effectively.

We are born with innate receptivity for love and connection. Our brains grow the capacity to understand the emotions of others and to experience pleasure in interacting with others 3 months before we are born (Schupp, 2004). The ability to trust, and the brain chemistry connected with it, begins at one month of age in the amygdala section of the limbic system. The amygdala completes its development at 18 months, just about when we are mobile enough to start venturing away from our parents, secure in our emotional connection to them.

What does trauma do to the brain?
Severe or repeated trauma can re-route emergency systems that are meant to be used only occasionally, and leaves them active, like a switch stuck in the “on” position. This can shrink or damage the part of the brain that thinks and plans, and potentially damages the brain’s ability to feel love and safety in the presence of others.

To deal with this pain and stress, the individual may become more rigid and inflexible in his or her thinking and develop tunnel vision and selective listening. Over time to compensate for the damage done to the short term memory and ability to sequence by continued exposure to our fight or flight response, or allostasis, the individual may develop rituals, become rigid and controlling or “oppositional”, shut down, withdraw, rage, retreat into a special place, or become over-involved in things that help the individual to escape. In Hannah’s case as we have seen, this escape may come in the form of her obsessive counting and, when severely agitated, skin-biting.

As Eliana Gil, an expert in childhood trauma puts it, “Everything an abused child does after the abuse is designed to give them a sense of safety.” We know that much of what a child with autism does is designed to relieve anxiety i.e., feel safe. Behaviors that look bizarre, inappropriate or combative are most likely responses to triggered anxiety, or efforts to make sure the anxiety isn’t triggered in the first place. For some children, we can assume that they rock because they need to block out stimulation and send calming chemicals through the brain-not because they want to look weird or annoy adults or because they “just do that”.

Psychopathology and trauma
Trauma can be a predisposing factor for many forms of psychopathology. Table 1 below contains a few of these pathological experiences. This also illustrates the overlap (and at times mistaken attribution of) of trauma-related psychopathology (Rossman et al, 2000). The right column lists some symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders.

Adults and children who have experienced interpersonal violence may have lower social competence, less empathy for others, difficulty in recognizing others’ emotions, less ability to recognize their own emotional states, are more likely to develop insecure or disorganized attachments. Many of these traits are also shared with autism.

As noted above, autism either causes or co-occurs with many of the behaviors or pathologies listed above, i.e. self-injurious behavior. And as we shall see, in the case of fearful, rigid, overwhelmed children, it may be more important to target the brain system that needs calming than delaying treatment to explicitly identify the cause.

Treatment for Hannah
Therapists working with Hannah first had to patiently learn her “autistic” symptoms; to be with her calmly to establish a sense of trust without entering into power struggles by requiring her to stop her self-soothing behaviors. They began this process by treating her in a day program with a peaceful, calming environment, with a manner that was warm without being intrusive, and above all, consistent. For Hannah, it took about six months to trust the staff enough to begin real trauma work. Clinicians report that this is a typical time frame for children with trauma, and the period may be related to brain change, i.e. the time to build trust is actually time needed for neural re-mapping, i.e. learning to trust (Mary Vicario, LPCC-S, personal communication, 2012).

After they worked on trust and relaxation, clinicians introduced the issue of food, and asked the question about how she felt when eating. This revealed a lot about her traumatic experiences, but more importantly it gave them an idea of what she would need to re-learn; i.e., positive associations with food. While not being overly reliant on “factual” information (this was not a legal inquiry or deposition) they slowly gained access to Hannah’s reconstructed emotional story, the “implicit memory” of the abuse, coded into her right cortex. At this point, having worked past some of the isolating, autistic-looking behaviors that had rebuffed others, the therapists were able to begin the trauma recovery work.

The first of three elements of trauma recovery can be described as re-experiencing the trauma. When this occurs, Hannah is able to process the trauma in a realistic way, experiencing whatever levels of pain, anger, loss, or other emotions are elicited by a detailed memory of the event. With guidance, she can learn not feel irrationally responsible for having caused the event.

The second element is releasing the trauma. At this stage Hannah understands that the experience occurred in the past and does not see or react to the experience as a clear and recurring danger in the present. This is the cognitive part of Hannah’s emerging ability to self-regulate her behavior without acting out.

Hannah no longer feels devastated by the memory of the event. This is the element of Hannah’s emerging emotional self-regulation; she becomes less dependent on compulsive ruminating on numbers or other isolative techniques to manage frightening or painful feelings.

The third element is reorganizing one’s life. Hannah now begins to live her life without feeling compelled to relive or repeat the traumatic event either consciously or unconsciously. She can also define her life without the trauma being the central organizing piece of who she is, and how she lives her life; consciously, unconsciously, and chemically.

Hannah’s implicit memory is of critical importance here. Implicit memory includes sensory (visceral or body), emotional and procedural (picture) memory. The majority of our memory is implicit. This is often called “early memory”. The most important social and emotional lessons occur during our earliest years, so we have little or no explicit (picture) memory of these events, because our hippocampus is not yet mature.

Implicit memory has more input from the amygdala, which enhances memory storage by stimulating the release of and glucocorticoids in negative emotional situations. (Quirke et al 2003, Pare et al 2004). “Implicit memory processes are faster, automatic and guide explicit memory and conscious experience. By the time we are consciously aware of someone our experience has been shaped by past experience.” (Cozolino, 2006). It takes our brain 400-500 millionths of a second to bring sensations into conscious awareness, but it takes only 14 millionths of a second to implicitly react to and categorize visual information.

Explicit memory is language-based. As a child matures, explicit memory starts and is woven together with implicit memory. Our implicit “early lessons” when woven into explicit memory become “facts of life” belief systems that we seldom think to question. It is these implicit memories that often must be addressed in trauma therapy.

Why work from the inside out?
When working with behavior, we often assume it’s important to shape the behavior rather than address internal forces, which may be hard to imagine or predict. However, a purely behavioral approach in these cases is misguided and ineffective. Redirecting or controlling behavior without addressing the feelings or thoughts that cause it is a temporary solution at best; when the feelings and thoughts recur, so will the behavior, or it may be replaced with a worse one (Harvey, 2012).

Particularly in the case of people who have been traumatized, it’s imperative to avoid aversive interventions. While they can be effective for a short time from a behavioral standpoint, there are significant problems with them from others. Leaving aside the ethical considerations, aversive interventions, even mild ones, can release corticosteroids that shut down dopamine. When dopamine is depleted, the brain may respond with a dopamine craving which may be met through bad behavior, which is often a source of excitement or attention for the individuals we work with (Schore, 3003).

This does not mean that modalities that use aversive interventions should be abandoned, but merely that they should be expanded to take into account the neurological basis of learning and rewards, perhaps exchanging the aversive intervention for a different strategy. This is true for Hannah, whose brain has been altered by trauma, but it is true for everyone else too. Humans learn better, in a state of focused attention, when learning is associated with positive emotion (Rintoul, 2005).

Many teaching methods use a repetition-and-reward pattern that exploits the brain’s natural tendency towards change though positive association. A good example is Sesame Street. When introducing a new letter, they repeat it several times, then do something to make their young viewers laugh: a Muppet appears, or someone throws a pie. The rush of dopamine accompanying the laugh may prime the brain to retain the information better than simple repetition on its’ own. Some psychotherapeutic models such as the Teaching-Family Model use a similar ratio of positive interactions to corrections to teach (Wolf et al, 1976). It’s important to remember that “learning” does not mean merely new factual information, like a new number or letter. It also means new coping strategies and, in a broader sense new responses to stimuli. The brain learns better when it is not hijacked by the amygdala, and retains new information better when it is bathed with dopamine and other neurochemicals associated with connection. The better the sense of connection, the better the learning. The better the learning, the more connected one feels-each loop of input strengthens and deepens the other). Experiences that strengthen connection are:

frequent, regular and predictable
occur in the context of a safe, warm, supportive relationship
are associated with positive emotions (fun, humor, excitement, comfort)
involve several senses
are responsive to an individual’s needs, interests or initiative (Rintoul, 2005).
If people learn better with these associations, and aversive interventions can actually increase negative behaviors in attempts to replace dopamine, then it is nothing less than common sense to reframe some behavioral approaches. For children with developmental or other disabilities, occupational therapy has an arsenal of techniques that sooth the limbic system, including light and deep pressure, joint compression, large-muscle movement and rhythmic movement. These interventions, by calming the amygdala and creating feelings of comfort and safety facilitate connection, which enhances learning and neural re-mapping.

The opposite of traumatic damage is resilience. Studies of resilience factors in children have identified 5 major components to resilience in the face of chronic or overwhelming stress such as Hannah experiences. These factors are:

Autonomy (what I have control over, and how I make things happen)
sense of self: likes and dislikes, values, qualities
sense of self-worth: when you feel loved and valued
sense of self-efficacy: how do I affect change?
External support Systems (can be people, a pet, a fantasy)
Affiliation (connection to and identification with a cohesive supportive group: church, volunteering, scouts)
Positive experiences with people outside a stressful environment, especially people in authority
To better understand what helps with preventing or mitigating the effects of traumatic stress, it helps to look at the emerging understanding of recovery from trauma, or “Post-Traumatic Growth”. Post-Traumatic Growth suggests that trauma survivors, rather than merely healing from the injuries, can actually integrate the experiences in a transformative way that changes them for the better; they may experience greater feelings of resilience, self-confidence, self-awareness and a wider range of coping skills than they might have without the obstacle of trauma to overcome. This is not to say that trauma is good; merely that even after trauma, good things are possible.

Using approaches that emphasize creating positive experiences and building trust may be an effective way to systematically introduce growth-conducive goals into existing supports for children with autism. Authors Jones and McCaughey suggest that such methods (in their example, Gentle Teaching) can be integrated into Applied Behavioral Analysis (Jones, McCaughey, 1992).

What about drugs? The issue of psychotropic medication for children is fraught; the maxim that “What fires together, wires together”, suggests that mood and anxiety disorders should be treated aggressively to prevent adverse mapping for depression and anxiety. On the other hand, over-medication of children is a concern in all areas of pediatric psychiatry. With trauma, one particular form of medication must be examined closely and warily. Children may be at risk for being given antipsychotics, especially if their behavior is disruptive and bizarre. Some brain researchers speculate that When children with traumatized brains are given stimulants, their brain may be kept in a dissociative state, never allowing the system to recalibrate itself, causing more lasting damage (Vicario, personal communication, 2012). To prevent the effects of trauma or chronic high levels of stress, we must first reduce the stress. To do this, we must first understand two important things. First, many things cause “toxic” levels of stress, especially for neurologically fragile children. Don’t assume that because a child hasn’t (to anyone’s knowledge) been physically or sexually abused, trauma is not a factor. Learn to think in terms of frequent, “little t” traumas or stress-causing conditions that accumulate. Second, when protecting children from danger, look in the right places. Children are far more likely to be abused by someone they know than by the archetypal “stranger in a van”. Child abusers very often are known to the child and are charged with some level of oversight or responsibility for him or her (Oesterreich and Shirer, 1998; Delaplane and Delaplane).

While data are inconclusive, researchers suggest that having a disability may make a child more vulnerable to abuse (Howlin and Clements, 1995; Ammerman, Van Hasselt and Hersen, 1988). This may be due to limited mobility, limited ability to speak and report, less likelihood of being believed, greater social gullibility, and greater reliance on a greater number of people, many of whom may change jobs frequently and not have thorough background checks. Finally there is the looming issue of bullying. Remember, if the social pain overlap theory holds true, then the body registers social pain on the same neural pathways as physical pain, then daily emotional bullying has the same neurological effect as daily beatings.

What does research need to do next?
The theory of neuroplasticity and “regionalization” of the brain is ushering in a new era of neuroscience. Psychiatry is becoming ever more biologically based. There is no need to state in this article the need to continue this work, or the imperative to apply science to clinical interventions: with children who have been traumatized, with children on the autism spectrum, and of course with children who are both. One thing to consider, however heretical it may sound, is how hamstrung policy funding can be by insisting on “evidence-based” practices when funding projects and services. Evidence-based does not necessarily mean most effective; sometimes the practices and approaches with the most studies behind them are the ones most easily quantified and “countable”; this may be one factor in the overwhelming preponderance of behavioral approaches in disability services in the U.S. If we had relied only on “evidence-based”, fully documented and perfectly known practices, antibiotics would never have been developed.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon efforts to establish which approaches work and which ones don’t. It just means that we should widen our scope to include reasonable trials of promising approaches (the science makes sense that it would work), consensus-based (clinicians are experiencing success using it) as well as evidence-based, evaluate often, consider taking elements of mixed results to strengthen the whole, and see what emerges.

There are other problems in terms of integrating a neuroscientific, trauma-based orientation to autism services. I do not propose to address the controversy around ABA and other models; I believe that there are many paths to the same destination. Rather, as noted above, it makes sense to consider existing approaches in light of neuroscience and trauma studies, and to find ways with which to enrich them, as we noted above when we suggested adding neuroplastic techniques and amygdala-calming strategies to an ABA approach, for example.

Some children with autism also have “Big T” trauma. Some traumatized children look autistic, but aren’t. Autism can be stressful and traumatic in itself. Not all autistic symptoms represent Big T trauma. Not all traumatic symptoms will mimic autism spectrum. However, we know there is overlap in how they appear, because they are related to the same systems in the brain. We know that interventions that calm a traumatized brain will calm (or at least will not harm) an autistic brain. We know that some individuals, whether by virtue of their autism disorder or not, will actually experience abuse and other traumatic events. Finally, we know that having an autism spectrum or other developmental disability creates everyday stresses and anxiety that can cause the same cumulative effects.

For all these reasons, we need to assume that every child on the spectrum carries some load of toxic stress. We should make trauma-informed interventions a universal precaution. In healthcare settings, universal precautions translate to simple steps: treat everyone as if he or she has a communicable disease. Wear gloves, clean bodily fluids with bleach and so on. If the patient is sick, these precautions keep others safe, and if he or she isn’t sick, these measures won’t hurt them or interfere with other treatment. Trauma-informed care should be used the same way. Treat every child as if toxic stress is a potential factor, and that feeling safe and in control are of paramount importance. For children overloaded with stress, this will be critical; a child who does not have significant levels of stress will still respond well and not be harmed in any way.

Finally, we should offer children with suspected significant trauma treatment that takes into account the autism symptoms that may be idiosyncratic or off-putting in typical treatment settings, and work through the autism symptoms to address the trauma.

Is Hannah on the autism spectrum, or were her symptoms and odd behavior caused solely by the trauma of the sexual abuse? When treatment began that question was impossible to answer, and as we have seen, was not really the point at the time. Helping Hannah learn to calm herself more appropriately, to express distressing memories and to repair a sense of safety and trust were the priorities. As her trauma symptoms subside, she may still have symptoms severe and persistent enough to qualify her for a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Or, she may have some residual traits and behavioral habits reminiscent of autism, but they may be so mild that she does not meet the criteria for a full-blown disorder. Finally, she may no longer “look autistic” at all. Clinicians who work with children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and traumatic stress have seen all three scenarios at different times (Vicario, personal communication, 2012).

These distinctions about cause and effect will be important for Hannah and her parents as they meet ongoing challenges and plan for her future. They should matter much less to the professionals we treat children like Hannah. What it all comes down to is this: Calm the brain. Use interventions that stimulate connection and associate limits with safety and comfort. The more positive associations, the larger the neural map allowing for those associations to take hold. The more negative interactions, the more efficiently the brain will set off the ‘alarm system’ and the agitation/acting out/shutting down sequence. On this level, it almost doesn’t matter why the brain is over-reactive. Trauma or autism; triggering, toxic stress or sensory overload: an anxious brain needs to be calmed, to feel safe and in control. When the brain is calmer and stress responses are manageable, other diagnoses will emerge, if they are present, and can be addressed accordingly. If a diagnosis has already been made and treatment has begun, these approaches can be woven into existing treatment. Science cannot yet tell us if the brains of autistic children are more, less or equally plastic as the brains of non-autistic children. In the absence of evidence suggesting otherwise, we should proceed as if they are equally so, with neuroplastic interventions at the forefront. We don’t have to delay to start tapping into the potential of the brain to redirect its energy from anxiety to growth. Hannah and children like her, whose developing brains experience chronic, damaging stress, can’t afford to wait.


(1) This case example is a composite and does not refer to any actual individuals living or dead. For this composite, as well as help with source material, the author gratefully acknowledges the assistance and expertise of Mary Vicario, LPCC-S.

By Lara Palay, Senior Fellow
Posted October 5, 2012
Ammerman, R.T., Van Hasselt, V.B., Hersen, M. “Abuse and Neglect in Handicapped Children: A Critical Review”, Journal of Family Violence, 3, 1988.
Corzolino, L.. The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. Norton and Co, 2006.
DeBellis, M., MD. “Developmental Traumatology: The psychological development of maltreated children and its implications for research, treatment and policy”, Development and Psychopathology, 13, Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Delaplane, D. and A. Delaplane. Victims of Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, Elder Abuse, Rape, Robbery, Assault, and Violent Death: A Manual for Clergy and Congregations. Special Edition for Military Chaplains. Office for Victims of Crime archive, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D. “Why It Hurts to Be Left Out: The Neurocognitive Overlap Between Physical and Social Pain”, Department of Psychology, University of California, 2003
Harvey, K. Trauma-Informed Behavioral Interventions: What Works and What Doesn’t. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 2012.
Heller, S. Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What To Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World. HarperCollins, 2002.
Howlin, P. and J. Clements. “Is it possible to assess the impact of abuse on children with pervasive developmental disorders.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities. 1995 Aug; Vol. 25 (4), pp. 337-54.
Jones, R., McCaughey, R. “Gentle Teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis: A Critical Review”, Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 25, 4, 2012
Oesterreich, L. M.S.; Shirer, K. (Iowa State University), “Sexual Abuse of Children”, National Network for Child Care, 1998
Pare, D. Quirk, G.J.; Ledoux, J.E. “New Vistas on Amygdala Networks in Conditioned Fear”, Journal of Neurophysiology, 24, 2004
Quirk, G.J. ; Likhtik, E. Pelletier, J.G. ; Pare, D. “Stimulation of Medial Prefrontal Cortex Decreases the responsiveness of Central Amygdala Output Neurons”, Journal of Neuroscience, 23(25), 2003.
Rintoul, B. Bridging the Social Synapse, presentation (2005).
Riva, P., Wirth J. H., Williams, K. D. “The consequences of pain: The social and physical pain overlap on psychological responses” European Journal of Social Psychology, 837, 2011
Rossman, B.B., & Ho, J. Posttraumatic response and children exposed to parental violence. In R. Geffner, P. Jaffe, & M. Sudermann (Eds.) Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: Current Issues in Research, Intervention, Prevention, and Policy Development (pp. 85-106). New York: The Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press 2000.
Rossman, B.B., Hughes, H.M., & Rosenberg, M.S. Children and Interparental Violence: The Impact of Exposure. Michigan: Edwards Brothers 2000.
Schore, A. Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self. Norton and Co, 2003.
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June 23, 2014

Healing Singing Bowls

Invoking sound healing through singing bowls and that connects soul sound. Emits waves of healing energy and a subsequent release and calm. Combining intuitive voice work with singing bowls creates an experience of peace and refreshment.

Playing Crystal Singing Bowls for each of the seven chakras, the music moves through your entire body. In some settings where people want to join in, songs and/or chants, chosen to nourish the spirit, are used to help the audience engage in singing from and connecting with the soul.

Crystal Singing Bowls have been scientifically shown to help us reach a deep state of relaxation through the stimulation of Alpha brain waves, during which we are able to releasing tension and outmoded mental-emotional patterning at its root.

The sounds of the Crystal and Tibetan Singing Bowls help to bring deep relaxation and lifting of blocks in the mind body and spirit
Benefits include
Reduced stress
Improvements to relationships
Improved physical and emotional resilience
Improvements in physical conditions
Strengthened relationship with Self

Sound healing is a holistic means to assist the body in healing and into state of deep relaxation through the penetrating sound of singing bowls. In energy sound healing the delivery of the healing sound tone and bowls provides a deeply soothing meditative and healing experience. Many people have experienced deep.
It has been well recognized that illnesses often occur after some kind of emotional stress or trauma. Emotional traumas that are not released, remain as emotional blocks and we react to each other out of them, which contribute to misunderstandings and challenges in relationships. Unhealed events settle into the physical body chronic illness.


The best way to ground is to return with nature. When we see an autistic on their toes.
(even the new children whom are not autistic) whom are walking on their toes. Clearly exudes showing an ungrounded state. This high vibrational beings are clear to spot and continue to incarnate into this world. They need kindness of the aware and the ones whom support and care.  A simple way to ground can be as simple to go and sit out in the grass. Connect. Return with nature and the vibration of self. The autistic is a fifth dimensional being and beyond into higher dimensions. Autistics are in need of a facilitator to assist in the grounding process. It is as simple as holding into the wrist of the autie and anchoring the energy body into the ground. There are many healing modalities. They all work. A powerful measure is to remove from the harsh energies of city energy fields.  I live near a very large city of millions of people. I am used to very large cities. The importance of harnessing good energy and grounding into a place to connect with earth is much easier to accomplish in an area that is clear of the city. In order to shift and heal is very hard and even more challenging after a very difficult journey. Surroundings of nature, peace, and the organic elements in life and stillness profoundly aid in the grounding and healing of autism. Immediately upon leaving the large city I immediately had a sense of calm and peace. I encourage any effort to find a tranquil space to harness and ground the energies whether you are autistic or not. Find an area to ground and designate your sacred power energy source location to connect, ground, recharge and heal

June 20, 2014

How Exercise Heals The Brain

While the myriad benefits of physical activity have long been acclaimed when it comes to the general population, less attention has been given to the power of exercise to transform the lives of people with atypical brains. The term “autism spectrum disorders,” or ASD, describes a range of pervasive developmental disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS, that differ in severity but generally share deficits in social functioning and communication. In addition, individuals on the autism spectrum tend to exhibit restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior or interests.

The Good News about ASD and Exercise

While people with autism spectrum disorders tend to be less physically active than their neurotypical peers1 (even when they are sufficiently capable of performing the motor tasks involved), recent research has uncovered some remarkable benefits that can be attained by ASD individuals participating in regular exercise.

A 2010 review by Lang et al. that examined physical activity interventions for ASD participants noted significant decreases in stereotypy, aggression, and off-task behavior among the 64 participants.2 In addition, participants showed improvements in on-task behavior, academic engagement, and appropriate motor behavior following vigorous exercise. A similar review by Sowa & Meulenbroek also found improvements in social functioning when participants were provided with an individualized exercise program. 3 The above findings, combined with what we know about the ability of the brain to transform itself in response to physical exercise, are not only great news for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families but for scientists and caregivers as well: They can teach us more about how the autistic brain functions when considered alongside some recent anatomical and functional discoveries.

How Exercise Heals the Brain

Some studies have found that, in people with ASD, the amygdala and hippocampus are reduced in size compared to the total brain volume, and this likely reflects the underdevelopment of the neural connections of limbic structures with other parts of the brain, particularly the cortex. 4 Exercise, on the other hand, has been associated with increases in hippocampal tissue and encourages the growth of new brain cells by boosting BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the prefrontal cortex. 5 While we won’t know with any certainty until further studies are conducted, it may be possible that the growth of new cells in the hippocampus and the modulation of existing connections in the prefrontal cortex—an area heavily involved in attention, planning, impulse control, and even empathy—is responsible for the improvements in function exhibited by ASD individuals who exercise.


One specific area whose structure and function seems to be altered in autism spectrum disorders is the anterior cingulate gyrus, which helps the brain shift its attention and adapt to change when needed.6 Given the restricted, repetitive behaviors of many autistic individuals, as well as a general resistance toward change or unexpected circumstances, the involvement of this area is indeed likely. Changes have also been observed in this area in response to physical exercise, which may help confirm theories of involvement in ASD.5

In addition to the fascinating functional data that can be obtained, interventions and perhaps even social skills training centered around a regular exercise routine can have a profound positive impact on the lives of those affected by autism spectrum disorders. No such program currently exists on a large scale, but as we uncover ever more fascinating ways in which physical activity can transform the human brain, medical practitioners and therapists alike will be sure to increase the emphasis they place on exercise as a critical component of their patients’ treatment.


Magnusson et al. (2012). Beneficial effects of clinical exercise rehabilitation for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 15(2).
Lang et al. (2010). Physical exercise and individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 4(4):565-576.
Sowa & Meulenbroek. (2012). Effects of physical exercise on autism spectrum disorders: A meta-analysis. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 6(1):46-57.
Aylward et al. (1999). MRI volumes of amygdala and hippocampus in non–mentally retarded autistic adolescents and adults. Neurology 53(9):2145.
Amen, D. (2010). Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers Press. New York: New York.
Haznedar et al. (1997). Anterior cingulate gyrus volume and glucose metabolism in autistic disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry 154(8): 1047-1050.

June 17, 2014

Autism Beacon


On behalf of my friend Lyrica I would like share with you a very defined look in her words to describe autism from a unique and rarely found expansion in the comprehension autism truly is. Rarely, beacons of autism in the true sense of what a beacon of light means is found.  People feels the energy when in the presence of the being that chooses to hold this frequency. And those of us upon earth who do carry this frequency have a very unique understanding, and perspective of life.  How we navigate  through and within this world is profoundly auspicious in it’s own right.  Upon a great conversation with my dear friend Alexa (whom is one of the few who saw me for me, and knew I had not had a positive supportive hand in most life who is very special to me) today about what my frequency. What that is for others in the rarity it is and how I can navigate what this frequency intends for the expanded understanding of the expression autism. I would like to share with you that,upon really finally having a point of reference of myself, with myself after many hard years coping end due to the fact that I did not grow up with a support system. For me the relief in the end of the constant struggle, to my life threatening, paradigm-shattering, belief-altering experience in life that eventually became autism burnout in what became a health crisis! Might I share with you, for me it didn’t have to be this way. Had I had support in earlier years, it wouldn’t have gotten to that point. And in saying this. It is because I am not alone, I am many, and more of me exist. Nothing will test you more … no other experience will require so much of yourself. Relentless suffering, pain, heartache, isolation, fear, daily challenges, incomprehensible decisions. It can either break you or make you … I chose my will, and people showed up for me, that inspired my will. A greater understanding is needed, more people like me, need people like Alexa, and the others who have become apart of my life in a genuine and open way, and like you. We need you to understand two very distinct differences about the frequencies that Autistics choose to hold in the experience of their journey. Thank you very much




Here is Lyricas passage and meditation
The AWEtizm Toning Meditation was made available during teleconferences early this year to those individuals who desired to be a beneficial presence and felt strongly that they are here to raise the consciousness of the planet.
Since January this small, yet growing group has toned every two weeks which has solidified a powerful foundation to move into the next phase, which involves what Lyrica refers to as Autism Spark Activation.
All autistics hold the Autistic Spark and many, though not all will choose to “embody” more. The purpose of embodiment is to bring about the truth and reveal autism’s role on the planet. Since the Autism Spark (or the Light of Autism) is such a high frequency gift, it’s too high for most people to receive, and this is why Lightworkers are needed.
Lightworkers can hold the Autism Light and during the toning meditation they can help anchor it into the physical earth plane which will support the creation of a template for all to evolve.
Our toning meditation group consists of Autistics and Lightworkers, and many have already experienced shifts. Participants call (or Skype) from all over the United States, from the east coast to Hawaii, and an international involvement is growing. While some autistics join toning teleconferences in the physical, a huge soul group joins in the nonphysical, through soul traveling.
Gayle and Lyrica have received heart-warming notes from parents of autistic children who share positive experiences related to the toning and are more hopeful than ever before. Additionally, several educational professionals have revealed a sense of enthusiasm and hope, and are relating more authentically to their autistic students and families after reading AWEtizm and joining in the toning practices.
Lyrica has embraced an inner knowing that she walks this planet to assist in humanity’s spiritual evolution. She and her mother have two missions: to bring to light that autistics are higher vibrational souls, and to help birth the Christ consciousness in humanity.
To do so, we need your help.
If you consider yourself an old soul, Wayshower, Lightworker, Starseed or an Indigo child join the AWEtizm Toning Meditation teleconferences, where there is never a fee and always the payoff of raising the frequency of the planet.

June 16, 2014

Acceptance and Openmind

I met up today with a new friend of mine. We shared different things about our life journey and how that journey had brought us into where we are in life. My new friend learned a bit about me today, my journey, and what that has been beyond what I generally open up about. For me the aspects of maintaining positivity and surrounding myself with genuine people, interested people, and those with direction and purpose is whom I surround myself with, and I rarely go into anything that isn’t in or of this moment. Most of what I have learned about what the truth of life for most autistics hasn’t been friendly in the expression. My journey from many early life years was so very different, hard, amd involved a lot of pain that took me into autism burn out. I am an extremely deeply felt person ( most don’t think this of autism) and impacted profoundly by the expressions in the experiences I have. I am profoundly impacted by harsh environments and words and actions of other people. And even more impacted when those who I care about are separated from me, in my world this is an absolutely devastating experience. Many autistics don’t do well with separation, I am one of them and I can attribute that there are no words to describe the traumatic internal despair that ignites. That’s another topic, and the point of this post is to mention that we are all different and have different ups and downs in the journey of life. Stay on the positive note, and what I have to say about my new friend today,
With complete interest and intrigue in what my life is now, why, and in this moment what it is…. I got an inviting text later on that read ….

” I just really like you and want to spend more time with you!! I think you are a really amazing woman and I have a lot to learn from you.”

Upon reading this and in knowing what was spoken of today. The warm welcome this was is the fuel that gives me a place in my world and the expression that it is and with what I have to share about how I understand it lives.

Encourage another and listen. Even if it is different and even if you don’t understand right away. Remember the universe is always on time and people show up unmistakeably. In this I feel ease to speak about what my life has been for me. And to continue to speak into what it’s intended

June 12, 2014

Big Question

imagePeople ask me, How did this all happen for you?

It is a largely complicated answer with layers and layers.
More importantly I will share that it. Isn’t what happened that’s important it’s the direction of importance that I am heading into
I chose to eliminate any aspects in my life that were unhealthy for me and I turn replaced all of what that was with the following

Devoted myself to allegiance with myself. Knowing that if I had that from within everything would align accordingly with the synergistic frequency ( like attracts like) I had to learn to stay in positive environments and with people who were loving and supportive. I decided to surround myself with people who were participants in life and from a mutual understanding of common regard and higher level of humanity than what I’d known in earlier years.
Creating a different life, not a deprived life or a life where those who were around me ridiculed me and alienated me for being different and forced me into positions and situations not healthy for me
Loving my qualities and each aspect of my uniqueness Awareness and understanding of authentic self Forgiveness of the past and finding allowance in letting go of the adversities in life we have NO control over and moving forward in truth
Accepting Loving who you are completely and without guilt and regardless to the words and actions of others and what that might be
Act as your body’s own health expert and give it what it needs from a responsible position. You are an expert to your body’s needs Trust in your body’s ability to heal without prescription meds and given the proper inner guidance and patience it needs. Commit to the healing journey with a focus that does not waiver the success available in complete restoration of health and in the waves and time that it is needed to be in Staying involved with like minded people in community that you believe in and make a difference collectively Providing new perspective opening steps to change the way one views the world Acting s role model to bring forth support and inspiration to empower another and establishing positive actions and with an open heart embracing love and friendships with an open mind!
Staying engaged with surrounding that nourish my soul and spoke to my spirit is where I vowed to myself that I would land, and anything beyond cultivating positivity in life, any judgement or criticism of or by another is what I chose to remove from my life journey and continue with what is right for me. That’s when things changed for me

Be true to your self. Who you are, And love life as you are. Love and be loved

Rise To The Occasion

As the second part of this year has arrived the excitement is back. I am delighted to say that I’ll be back on stage this fall!!! So please stay tuned for the events schedule coming up!! I’m kicking it off here in Houston TX with a little warm up for all my local supporters and fitness enthusiasts



By years end I plan to have my first book ready for Amazon in light of supporting others with autism and family members with autism tools I figured out for myself in order to heal so that they can be empowered in their own healing journey!!

I have a lot of exciting new work changes coming forward in assimilating others in their understanding of the new earth and higher conscious living. The applications intended to support the betterment of the community are so very important for people to come into a higher and expanded way of being from a comprehensive understanding mind, body, spirit.

I will be joining other speakers on many spiritual topics and providing my perspectives from the high light vibration that we are universally extending into moment by moment.

Fitness is my contribution to inspire others. Coming back after injury and insult and rising to the top proves it can be done !!! Do it your in your way. Live in your light!!!
Be Inspired!!! cherish, support, understand and accept unconditionally !!!