Archive for February, 2013

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and the highly sensitive

Feb 22 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

I am veering away today from the integrative approach to autism to publish an equally important blog entry focused on fast food. More accurately processed food, which should be called “low cost alternative to food”. This entry is accompanying the conversation started this week by Michael Moss in the NY Times. (http://j.mp/WdMFQy)

I came across a TV ad today that equates cane sugar to corn sugar and jumps to the conclusion that sugar is sugar, and therefore HFCS is “just sugar”. It is customary for the advertising industry to manipulate the truth for profit, but this was flat-out lying.

Cane sugar is glucose, the natural sugar the human body uses to make energy. Corn sugar (HFCS) is fructose, which is NOT the natural sugar your body likes to utilize. Let me start by explaining something about the human body I learned over the past 30 years. Our body is very particular yet very accommodating. It is particular in the sense that it allows only specific chemicals to enter into its metabolic mechanisms. It is accommodating in the sense that it can deal with a wide variety of chemicals, no matter how noxious they are – to a certain extent.

To make the fuel we need for physical and mental activities, our body burns glucose (cane sugar and many other sources). The body uses the energy stored in the carbon backbone of glucose to produce the necessary components for our energy needs. These metabolic pathways involved in energy production are very particular to glucose. They do not accommodate any other sugars, including fructose.

But many tropical fruits contain fructose not to mention corn, a food staple?
You have to make a distinction between naturally occurring fructose and HFCS. Corn, mango, pineapple, plantain and several other fruits and vegetables contain fructose. Eating these food items exposes your body to minimal amounts of fructose, which we have learned to deal with over many generations. HFCS on the other hand, contains many times more the amount of fructose per unit weight than any fruit or vegetable you can possibly consume. As I mentioned in the beginning, the body is accommodating. This means that the body can deal with the occasional exposure to a noxious agent and can detoxify it efficiently. Usually this process does not rise up to your consciousness in the form of symptoms or otherwise. However, when you insist on loading your body with inordinate amounts of a noxious agent on a daily basis, eventually it will come to your attention in the form of unpleasant symptoms and illness.

What happens to fructose when it enters the human body?
Since the energy producing pathways cannot use fructose for fuel, then the body classifies it as a noxious agent. The human body deals with thousands of noxious agents daily. Usually the handling happens in the liver, fat and other sites. The liver takes in noxious agents like fructose and tries to break them down and neutralize their toxic effects.

Why is HFCS harmful then if the liver can handle it?
For most of us, we are exposed to noxious agents sparingly. We might smell household detergent fumes. We may occasionally ingest heavy metals, pesticides, solvents etc… However, in the case of HFCS we are exposed to it in each and every meal. If you shop at a mainstream grocery store or worse, if you eat at fast food parlors and grocery store delis then you are eating inordinate amounts of HFCS on a daily basis. The load of HFCS your liver has to deal with eventually exhausts your liver’s ability to detoxify. In other words if you keep eating HFCS, in 5-20 years it may overwhelm your liver and render it ineffective in protecting you against inescapable noxious agents. This is when not only your liver is failing but also you pancreas (diabetes); your vision is also weakened. Your general ability to cope with stress is significantly compromised too. This is just to mention a few major “side effects”.

What does all this have to do with autism or asperger’s?
A more sensitive body like that of someone on the spectrum is already more likely to classify chemicals as noxious agents and is more likely to respond to them more vigorously than a neurotypical person. Under these circumstances, an autistic person is operating near capacity in handling noxious agents. A daily addition to HFCS might and often will lead an autistic person to decompensate emotionally and physically much faster than an insensitive person. Some of the observed effects of HFCS on autistic children include tummy aches, irregular bowel habits (diarrhea/constipation), aversion to food, temper tantrums, anxiety, regression in social and emotional milestones, headaches etc…

Why is the food industry so adamant on using HFCS?
Well, you want to consider that most food stuffs spoil in 2 weeks or less even when refrigerated. From an economic perspective and “fiduciary responsibility” to share holders, this is an inefficient system that results in lots of waste. Back in the fifties, a chemist in Louisiana was experimenting with concentrating corn fructose and found out that this fructose concentrate extended the shelf life of most foods to about 12-14 months. By the seventies, the food industry was using HFCS for just about anything. Today, over 90% of all food items in the grocery store contain HFCS. Additionally more than 95% of all food items in fast food parlors and delis contain HFCS. Why does HFCS extend the shelf life of everything under the sun so effectively; well because microbes won’t eat it. Critters of all kinds stay clear of food containing fructose concentrate. Nevertheless, we are supposed to eat it without any complaints.

Why can the food industry use such a wide array of chemicals in our food?
The food industry is using an expanding list of chemicals that are added freely to our foods. None of these chemicals is subject to any sort of human testing before introduction to the grocery store. There are simply no laws or regulations compelling the food industry to prove that the unsanctioned chemicals in our food are safe for human consumption. There is a reason chemists are not doctors. The pride of any chemist is to discover or make a chemical that performs a specific function no other chemical can do. Can you say super glue? However, it remains to be seen which of these chemicals is safe for people and which is not. Unless and until we subject the food industry to a rigorous process that prevents them from adding any chemicals to our food unless this chemical is properly tested on animals and humans, then our food will continue to be a major source of illness. The collusion between eager chemists and profit hungry stakeholders is literally a deadly combination unless we force its regulation.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 17: Gender Exclusivity

Feb 19 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 17: BEHAVIORAL Requirements for Growth: Gender Exclusivity

Gender Exclusivity in Raising Children:

Most living adults today were raised locked in gender roles. Most of us were raised exclusively based on whether we were born with a penis or a vagina. While this type of one-dimensional thinking may work for the insensitive children who are able to suppress who they are in favor of what society wants them to be, it certainly is too elementary to work for a sensitive child. Sensitive children have to be fully in touch with who they are in order to have a fulfilling life. One of the numerous gifts of Carl G. Jung to humanity was his public realization that every person has both a male and female side to their spirit regardless of their physical gender. At the risk of sounding condescending, I will be explaining the obvious since this idea faces tremendous resistance every time I bring it up. It is understood that if I was born to the union of a man and a woman, then one-half of each of my cells came from a woman, although I am biologically a male. This is a tremendous burden I have to carry all my life. I can ignore this fact, at the risk of feeling uncomfortable with my assigned role my whole life. Feeling uncomfortable with one’s assigned role means repetitive bouts of depression and anxiety and limited potential in life at large. The bicameral [who one is as opposed to one’s assigned role] system can be intolerable and seriously damaging for a sensitive person. Knowing and feeling that one is made of equal parts male and female yet having to be trapped within only one gender is one of these things we have to grapple with as a society until we dissolve the bicameral in favor of total unity with the inner self and freedom from arbitrary social roles. There is nothing wrong with raising a boy capable of shedding tears for a stranger’s suffering if that is who this boy is. There is nothing wrong in raising a girl who grows up to be a bulldozer driver, if that is what she genuinely wants to be. The bottom line is the role of the parent who truly holds their child’s best interest at heart is to let the child simply be and encourage them to be themselves. This is a much healthier tack than constantly feeding appropriate and inappropriate behavior based on the “immutable” penis or vagina rule. All behaviors are appropriate for both genders except those that hurt other people. Peaceful self-fulfilling behaviors are gender-neutral. The parent’s reptilian brain assigns gender to behaviors on an anecdotal and completely unscientific and unnatural basis. If you are an insensitive parent of a sensitive child you have to be very careful in punishing or discouraging behaviors only because you were brought up to believe these behaviors were not considered gender-appropriate. There is a reason you want to keep an open mind on this subject. Suppressing your child’s natural behavior has a high psychological cost, and you will end up paying by watching your child fall behind in developmental milestones.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 16: Curiosity

Feb 18 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 16: BEHAVIORAL Requirements for Growth: Curiosity

Curiosity:

The most curious people on earth are the most sensitive. This defies many misconceptions about autism. As always, the pseudo-scientists observe autistic individuals during their crises while they are too over-stimulated to show any interest in their immediate environment. Then they come out and write in medical journals about the absence of curiosity in autism. They obviously cannot explain the autistic savant breakouts except by saying “a million to one, a million to one!” Being a sensitive person myself, many favorite four-letter words come to mind right now. However, let us transcend all that to examine the sensitive personality at an intellectual level. Sensitive people are plagued by the need to figure out everything in their environment. Most of us figure out at some point or another that understanding the intricacies of the world around us helps in accepting the world and tolerating life in it. No matter how alien the social, psychological, economical and personal concepts commonly propagated by mainstream people feel, knowing these concepts and understanding them helps us tolerate life and join its happenings. Accruing broad and thorough knowledge about a vast array of subjects is not only instinctual for sensitive people. It is in fact therapeutic. The best anxiety medicine for a sensitive person going to have dinner with strangers in a restaurant they have never been to before is to learn everything there is to know about the culture, food, tradition and ambiance of this restaurant. There are an infinite number of personal and professional examples of stress relief through accruing knowledge.
“How do insensitive people do it?” you may ask. Well, they pick up on subtleties in body language and speech of others and catch on to understanding novelty very quickly. We on the other hand cannot do that as well. We have to learn it systematically until we can feel familiar and comfortable. It breaks my heart every time I meet a sensitive person who has been convinced that he or she is only as good as their clumsiness and social awkwardness. They keep hearing those negative comments from people far and near and they get convinced they are inadequate and then they give up. They label themselves boring and inadequate and refrain from exploring their potential. Down deep somewhere, they know they have the potential but they cannot get themselves to access it. Maybe they erroneously think they do not deserve to access their full potential. If they ever attempt to access their potential, they feel that the faster they walk toward uncovering their abilities, the farther away these abilities become. This perceived inadequacy is based on being put down for years by people close to the sensitive person. It is the parent’s responsibility to inject a sense of ability into their children early in life. The sense of ability can be developed later in life once one gains insight into the realities of their personality. However, it gets harder as one goes on. Not that it hasn’t been done! The great Anthony Hopkins was convinced that he was only an actor. It took a loving marriage at age seventy for him to realize he is also a painter, a writer and a director. I encourage any sensitive person who needs some motivation to follow the progress of Hopkins in his eighth decade on the planet.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 15: Little Justice Big Justice

Feb 14 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 15: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Little Justice Big Justice

Little Justice vs. Big Justice:

Most autistic and sensitive people are born with a keen sense of justice. Sensitive people may be afraid of many things but are certainly not afraid of expressing their sense of justice. In fact, most of them cannot help themselves. They are honest, too honest. They just have to say it as it is, regardless of the consequences. I had a chance to examine the stories of several whistle blowers from the twentieth century and I was able to detect some degree of a left shift on the personality spectrum everywhere I looked. To the average insensitive person they sound like high rollers, gambling with their life by questioning overwhelming powers. Of course, the pseudo scientists consider learning to lie a milestone in the development of a sensitive person. With that comes all the rationalization of why people for example are advised to lie if asked by their partner whether this outfit looks good on them. This is very unfortunate to say the least. I am not suggesting that offending those close to us is a good thing. However, learned behavior regarding the need for honesty or lack thereof should be approached from the perspective of screening for what matters and what does not. This could be a lifelong training process for many sensitive people.

There are five relevant questions to be asked about every injustice we encounter:

A) The first question is not whether something is right or wrong in absolute terms. The question is whether what we deem to be wrong is hurting anyone, or could potentially hurt self or others. If the answer is no, then a sensitive person would be well advised to let go and move on. It takes a lot of training to get there but it is an honorable and beneficial goal.

B) Another relevant question is, “Will ‘calling it as I see it’ now right the wrong or will it cause more suffering to some of those on the receiving end of the wrong?” There is a time and a place for airing grievances and little injustices. Sometimes, this time never comes and we have to let go and move on. Sometimes, we have to displace airing grievances with silent effort aimed at overturning the injustice. As a teenager, reading The Catcher in the Rye I came across an argument, which I failed to understand at the time. The argument was (paraphrasing) that it is better to live humbly for a cause than to die bravely for it. Here is an illustrative example. A man sets out on a trip from Canada to Brazil hoping to walk through the wilderness until he can discover nature’s wisdom in its entirety. However, every time he encounters two feuding dogs he has to stop and fully observe the fight and make sense out of it. He does not realize there are feuds worth getting into and others not worth his time. In fact, he does not realize that sometimes random, senseless violence (physical or emotional) occurs and there is no point in dwelling on it. He does not realize that stopping to engage in every senseless event distracts him from reaching the Amazon and gaining wisdom and enlightenment in a finite lifetime.

C) A third relevant question is whether what we perceive as injustice is actually injustice, or does it reflect states of being we have not experienced yet? Additionally, does it reflect higher goals we cannot comprehend at that particular stage in our lives? This last question is mostly applicable to sensitive teenagers and young adults who may not fully comprehend the harsh requirements or the magnitude of adversity it takes to achieve great goals. I always take a lot of heat when I suggest this last one. Many people like to think that life should be a perpetual series of pleasant and gratifying events. While this is not realistic, it is also very destructive to think this way. Overcoming adversity is a necessary component of achieving any meaningful happiness and gratification. How else would a person take charge of her affairs if she has not experienced being on the losing side personally, socially and professionally, struggling until she can manipulate her environment in her favor? Until someone shows me how this can be done without experiencing adversity, I am sticking to this point. To put it in simpler terms, gaining physical stamina requires walking, stretching and aerobic exercises. Improving the definition of a bicep requires dumbbells, pushups and lifting weights. If anyone knows of a way to sit on a couch and still achieve stamina or defines her abs, please come forward and speak up. I am all-ears. I am sure there are people whose life stories begin with a mansion on a beach on a tropical island, goes through dating all the supermodels and riding on private planes. I am sure these same people are so rich they never have to think about work or a means to achieve anything in their life, and later they become celebrities or senators at a time of their choosing. I am sure there are people who are so over-privileged in this life they do not have to experience any adversity in order to learn to take charge of their affairs. I am also sure everybody else would like this life. It is not realistic to compare the bulk of sensitive people to such a lifestyle or to feel entitled to it by birth or association. The only privilege I know of is that of growing and evolving through overcoming adversity. It saddens me to know many sensitive people never get the chance to do even that since the adversity they face is too overwhelming for them to ever have a chance to learn from it.

D) The fourth question to ask is: Where is this injustice coming from? Is it coming from a stranger, a sworn enemy, or is it coming from a loved one or an ally? If the injustice is coming from a stranger, then one has to consider the possibility this is a misunderstanding or misguided effort and try to clarify the confusion. If the injustice comes from a sworn enemy purposefully aiming to hurt you, then you have the right to defend yourself and teach the offender a lesson. However, if the injustice is coming from a loved one or an acquaintance, then one has to prioritize taking the direct-discussion-and-questioning route first before assuming anything or making any judgments. Talking it over with a loved one as a first step clarifies intentions and motives or absence thereof and often has the effect of self-correcting for errors. More often than not, your sibling, spouse or friend may be hurting you unknowingly because of ignorance or occupation with self.

E) The fifth question to ask is whether the injustice is an expression of hostility towards you or of hostility emanating from the other because of internal turmoil on their end. This is a very important point. Sensitive people, often feeling socially responsible, have to keep perspective of who is being unfair as an expression of their inner conflict. Figuring out this aspect of injustice may allow sensitive people to take on their ultimate role in society; helping others heal and gain peace by embracing their failures, mistakes and shortcomings as a window to their inner being. A common example is an acquaintance at work or at the gym who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and has found out that she was cheating on him. This guy may easily develop a negative attitude towards women and may act out that attitude. Many people will fight this person and react to his hostility tit-for-tat. A sensitive person, however, may choose instead to show this person that the world is still good and generous and that he will meet another woman who will appreciate him and be truthful with him. This is often done best by acting out a transparency in communication which sensitive people are typically very good at. If we don’t take charge and do that, this guy may go out and date someone new and do to her what was done to him. Then the negative energy builds up exponentially. Meditate on that for a moment, please. No one gains anything by reciprocating hostility with hostility. “Getting even” a glorified concept in today’s world, is the single most destructive force and the main reason for misery across the globe. The world already has so much violence and suffering. Our society already has an unfathomable divorce rate and marital discourse and we are going through an all time low of friendships. No one gains anything by fueling further separation and intolerance of others. Think mercy and understanding and have these questions in mind before reacting to injustice. Gandhi liberated India without a single act of violence. The history of pacifism and loving others to heal them runs deep in our society. We just have to dig a little deeper than our initial impulse to react in order to find the happy and graceful healer inside.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 14: Attention Span

Feb 12 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 14: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Attention Span

Attention Span:

This is not one of the problems autistic children and adults faces. This is a problem of insensitive people. Essentially one of the perks of sensitivity is the ability to concentrate endlessly on the topic(s) of interest to them. In fact, most immerse themselves in their passion for a subject absorbing every aspect of it. However, when faced with a topic alien to our brain or outside our circle of interest, then we cannot stand one minute of concentration. When you see the irritability or rage starting in your child, know immediately that the topic he or she is trying to read is simply not from within their realm of interests.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 13: Semi-automatic Brain

Feb 11 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series. Today Part 13: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Semi-automatic Brain

Semi-Automatic Brain:

This is probably the most amazing feature of the autistic personality, from which the term SAVANT comes. Anyone will concede that the time it takes to raise a child (eighteen to twenty-five years), is very long period. This concept of time until maturity takes on a completely new dimension in autistic children. Because of our thorough and broad interest in subjects of passion, we spend inordinate amounts of time indulging our senses in these topics as demonstrated above. Many of these preparatory years may be spent in silence or little interaction by an autistic child. Once the preparation is complete, many autistic children grow to become outspoken experts on certain subjects of interest to them. In fact, many become unstoppable experts on the subject of interest. At a younger age sometimes, they may out do established authorities on the subject. Long years of preparation lead to giant leaps in knowledge or skills in a particular area of science or the arts. The most significant component of their seemingly sudden surge from solitude and oblivion to expertise is not that they amaze others but that they amaze themselves the most. They realize at some point in their development that they possess, by light years, more intelligence and mental capacity than they thought they possess. They also constantly amaze themselves at the solutions they come up with to complex problems. They solve these problems often without any conscious efforts. The solutions seem to just come to them in an almost prophetic way and they feel responsible to spread the word about their findings and discoveries. Many report their inability to suppress the flow of the bright ideas in their head. If these ideas are used in the right ways, this is when an autistic person sets on a track to big things in fulfillment of their passion. The medical establishment has known about these instances in sensitive people, and they promptly gave them a medical name. They call these instances mania or manic-depressive, since this person is likely to be melancholic and withdrawn at other times. Of course, today, mania and manic-depressive are labeled as diseases by the establishment requiring treatments by heavy-duty, personality-altering pharmaceuticals. In years past, these individuals were “treated” with debilitating electric shocks and by intelligent-life ending lobotomies before that. I contend the medical establishment is afraid of people like that and their potential to change life on earth.. You can think of an autistic person emerging suddenly with a feat of genius like a polar bear emerges from hibernation, full of life and innovation. Coincidently, these feats of genius also happen more often in springtime all over the world.

Having said all that please understand that while every sensitive child has a special talent to be explored, not every talent is supposed to be at a genius level or to be accompanied by the surge of energy necessary to change the world somehow. Just like functionality is on a spectrum, the degree of the talent and the associated energy that comes with it are also on a spectrum.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 12: Sense of Purpose

Feb 08 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 12: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Sense of Purpose

A Sense of Purpose:

Nourish the innate sense of purpose in your sensitive child. One of the most valuable perks of autism, and being sensitive at large, is an innate sense of purpose. I believe every sensitive person is born with an exceptional talent for a specific area in this inexplicable creation we call the universe. Those on the far left of the spectrum may have difficulty uncovering their purpose while being constantly overwhelmed. It is the privilege of a loving and observant parent to try and bring it out through providing exposure to the possibilities. A potential conflict to be avoided here is that most adults have ideas as to what they would like their offspring to do or to excel at. Unfortunately, more often the talent of your child may not look anything like the parent’s pre-conceived ideas. It is the responsibility of the parent to keep an open mind, explore, embrace the child’s talent, and nourish it. It is the responsibility of the parent to allow the talent to steer its own development and to flourish freely. When the talent development begins, you may notice your child (or spouse) spends many hours indulging in a chosen activity. If you think they are missing out on life, take solace in the fact that for sensitive people, there is truly a time and place for everything. A sensitive person immersed all day in the one thing they enjoy most is not missing out on life. They are just getting ready for life. Without being immersed in that purpose, they will not be able to branch out later and be more thoroughly involved in life when the time comes. Moreover, when your child is spending hours staring at the wall, not moving, take solace in the fact that she is processing and integrating data from multiple sources to form a complete picture in their mind. This may be a conscious effort in older children. It may also be a subconscious effort: the mind is so fully occupied with this processing effort the person seems completely idle. In simple terms, you may think of this phenomenon like a computer on which you have opened several programs simultaneously and started multiple processes in each. Every now and then, the computer may freeze allowing the microprocessor in it to make sense of and figure out an order of execution to all these processes. When your child (or spouse) seems like they are in a world of their own, be assured they are only taking time out in their own world to prepare for entering this world.

Rami Serhan, MD
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 11: Suitable Bedroom Environment

Feb 07 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues the 3-Step Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 11: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Suitable Bedroom Environment

Designing a suitable bedroom for your sensitive baby:

During the first six months of life, babies do not need a separate bedroom, nor should they have one. It is very important the baby shares the same bedroom and ideally the same bed with the parents. This supports the baby’s ability to cope with being a separate entity on earth for the first time. A sensitive baby should never lose sight of her mother and ought to feel the mother’s warmth during sleep too.

The longer parents can maintain this system the more emotionally and psychologically stable the baby is going to be in the long run. After the initial period of habituation to an independent life, the baby can eventually be moved to a separate bedroom. This should happen after the first six months and preferably not until the baby is two years old. When the time comes to give the baby a separate room parents tend to enrich the baby’s room with all sorts of furniture, drawings and toys. Parents naturally want to do the best they can for their child, and some feel pressured to out-decorate their friends. More furniture and décor means more distress and longer period of habituation by the baby. A sensitive baby’s room should contain only the minimal basic furniture and amenities. Anything not actually needed for the baby’s comfort should be removed. Anything placed there for the convenience or vanity by the parents should also be removed. Anything that makes noises, flickers, or smells should also be removed. The parent’s sense of what looks good or what fits in with the rest of the house is simply irrelevant here. Sensitive children need a minimally stimulating uncluttered environment to thrive. They do not thrive in a crowded or noisy environment. Sensitive children also need an environment into which they have ample input in order to thrive.

Moving your child from your bedroom to her bedroom should be a gradual process with multiple short exposures done over a couple of weeks. The child should spend an increasingly longer time in the new bedroom while the mother is in sight. The room should consist initially of a bed covered with simply designed sheets of not more than two colors. No patchwork, stripes, flowers or busy prints.. The room should also consist of a small table, chair, non-intrusive chest of drawers for essential clothing and maybe another piece of furniture such as a toy box. The walls and ceiling should be painted with a light yellow color or a variation thereof. Bright colors or a confluence of colors can be very stressful. The room should be farthest possible from the street and living room and other noisy or stimulating situations. Windows should be fitted with opaque drapes to produce absolute darkness during sleep.

This is not a soviet-era Russian prison for babies. It is not too depriving either. It is a comfortable and level starting point upon which one can build later. Once the baby settles in to the room, other furniture, toys or amenities can be gradually added. The additions should come as a means to meet growing needs and more importantly only as they meet the approval of the primary occupant of the room. Alternatively, the additions should meet the requests of the occupant. Admittedly, a sensitive baby may not develop a sense of her needs until later, but exposing her to possible additions inspired by her cousin’s bedroom or a model at a furniture store may help awaken her senses. In addition, exposing a child to the possibilities may help her point to things she needs but could never put into words in the past. Allow your child to have determining input into everything about her room. Never impose your will or sense of style or fashion. Always ask for your child’s input before making changes. And whatever you do, never ever move stuff in her room that she put there. Another note, some sensitive children may have a problem handling too many choices at once, in this case, parents are advised to narrow down the choices to two or three for the child to choose from.

This system should carry a baby throughout childhood and into puberty and the teenage years. I remember as a child I had a little white table full with glitter and stars and various colorful shapes in my bedroom. I actively hated it. But I could not manage to get it out of there because I never knew how to dispose of it or to get someone else to do it for me.

The fact that a toy has been sitting there for six months and your child has not touched it yet does not mean she never will or that she does not like it. It only means she will get to it in time. However, if your child expresses in any way discontent with an object or a piece of furniture, it is time for this thing to go and disappear from the house for good. On the other hand, many sensitive children have a hard time letting go of old toys or worn out clothes or furniture. As a parent, you are well advised to respect that. Sensitive children often develop attachments to objects. Commonly known as ‘security blanket’ these old toys or clothes that do not fit anymore are very important for your child’s emotional stability. Your child should be allowed to decide on her own the time when to let go of these objects. In fact, holding on to archaic objects maybe a sign of an insecure mother-child bond. The insertion of a sense of danger into the bond leads children to look for safety in objects.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 10: Eye Contact

Feb 06 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues THE 3-STEP Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 10: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: Eye Contact

Making eye contact:

What is so difficult about making eye contact that many sensitive people have a problem with it? It is a fair question by someone who has not experienced real depression or is not often overwhelmed by surrounding events. People who have experienced depression will tell you that making eye contact is too emotionally demanding. During overwhelming moments, many sensitive people prefer to avoid eye contact for the purpose of being able to evenly carry a conversation. When a sensitive person is over-stimulated, he or she prefers to retract to a more comfortable zone in order to ease the burden and maintain some sort of stability. The safety zone for someone who has difficulty connecting with others is usually within themselves. A person failing to make eye contact when meeting someone is trying to avoid further sensory overload. It takes a lot to figure out facial expressions and body language. It is too taxing emotionally, and sensitive people learn to avoid it when the input exceeds their ability to process it.

Well-intentioned professionals are teaching parents to force their children to make eye contact by withholding attention or basic needs until the child makes contact. This is plain ignorance and makes mothers a source of danger when they are supposed to be an absolute source of comfort and safety to a struggling child. Giving someone an order to increase their social intelligence quotient by ten points just because “you said so” is not going to cut it with sensitive children. They are not making eye contact because they have unmet emotional needs. These emotional needs have to be attended to first, and then they will make eye contact naturally. Forcing eye contact is only going to stress your child even more. The solution in my opinion is to suggest eye contact to the child only during relaxing cozy times when it may be an easier thing for the child to achieve.

Some children learn that to avoid adversity they have to maintain eye contact at all times despite their best judgment. They end up literally maintaining eye contact. If they have to look into someone else’s eyes, then they will look only at the eyes and ignore the rest of the face and body. This piercing eye contact can be uncomfortable to the recipient and even scary if they have not seen it before. As you can see, treating the symptom by giving a command is medieval at best. We have to be open to examining the signs our children are giving us. We have to understand the signs and to act intelligently upon them. These non-verbal signs are very tricky and we will make many mistakes deciphering the signs a little boy who cannot express himself is giving. Learning from these mistakes will bring you closer to your child and will aid in their improvement. We have to do this or we lose out on this new frontier. The price we pay is sending drones of otherwise bright, lively and promising children into oblivion. One dad once told me that he used to see such a spark in his son’s eyes. He said one day he could not see the spark anymore and it has been a source of distress and guilt for him ever since. The poor guy is fighting an uphill battle using all the “recommended tools” and not getting anywhere with his boy.

Nothing in the world replaces loving hand-holding through scary experiences. Many eager professionals teach techniques, which force children out of their comfort zone. One common example is forcing a sensitive child to make eye contact when he or she feels overwhelmed. The reason a person does not make eye contact is they feel too stimulated and overloaded. Forcing them to make eye contact creates a higher level of over-stimulation, which eventually leads to greater aversion to eye contact. A wise parent chooses the moments to trick the child into making eye contact. This typically has to be done while the parent is with the child in a low stress environment, preferably in the child’s room and while the parent is being affectionate to the child. This is one example of trying to bring children out of their inner world and into our world by loving them and choosing a comfortable, low-stimulation time to entice them out of their shell. It is not entertainment. It is loving, gradual, repetitive exposure.

Note: Rest assured there is nothing wrong, medically, with a sensitive child’s vision. Good scientists have examined the eyes of many sensitive and autistic children and found nothing wrong per se with their eyes or neural pathways connecting the eyes to the interpretation centers in the brain. The evidence is included in this chapter’s references section.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
(206) 659-1ASD (273)
Email
Psyche-Smart Autism book
Integrative Autism Blog
Youtube Channel
Autism Screening
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The Integrative Approach to Autism part 9: What about Smiling

Feb 05 2013 Published by under ASD,Asperger's,Autism,Highly Sensitive Person,HSP

This post continues THE 3-STEP Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 9: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: What about Smiling

What if your child does not smile at you?

The concept of the rewards of motherhood grows from the baby’s approval to the baby’s preferential treatment of the mother, and it keeps changing as the baby grows up. Later, the child showing selective affection to the mother not shown to other people becomes part of the maternal reward. During social childhood and beyond, the achievement of milestones including independence and excellence in social and/or academic life represent some of the ultimate rewards every parent looks forward to. Many psychologists rightfully believe that central to a mother’s ability to take on the daunting task of raising a child 24/7 is the reinforcement she gets from the baby’s response to her actions. Relatively early on, usually at about seven to nine weeks of age, babies gradually show facial and bodily features that indicate approval of the mother’s presence and actions. These changes gradually grow into overt smiles more selectively directed toward the primary caregiver (mother) than anyone else around. This is a tremendously important part of the rewards of motherhood and the consolidation of the emotional bond. However, some highly sensitive children may not display the expected signs as early as the average insensitive child does. In addition, many sensitive children may display signs of approval of the mother that are not easily discernable or that might look rather bizarre. This happens with many sensitive children. The delay is part of being sensitive. It simply takes more time for sensitive children to reach certain emotional and expressive milestones than insensitive children. Comparing the progress of a sensitive child to that of an insensitive child should only be done through comparing milestones without regard to the time needed to reach these milestones. The thorough way by which sensitive children process the world makes it more difficult to reach the expected milestones. Therefore, it is natural for a sensitive child to take a longer time.

In addition, some children may display unorthodox gestures and facial expressions to show approval of or affection toward the mother. This is simply part of learning. It only means the mother should limit access to the baby by strangers and strive to always show the same type of smile and the same type of facial expression until the baby eventually learns it. As a mother, look in the mirror, make up your mind for your best smile, and display it every time your baby wakes up. Variations can be too confusing. Strangers making faces in front of the baby can also be confusing. None of this means the child “does not have emotion” or the child may have a “low level of emotional intelligence.” These are only myths propagated by ignorant doctors who are looking for superficial explanations for mothers seeking guidance.

Whether it is a delay in interaction or a non-orthodox display of interaction, a mother is often dismayed, especially if she witnesses more orthodox mother-child interaction in other families. Many mothers often experience a decline in self-confidence and begin doubting their own nurturing competency. Some may try to distance themselves from the baby to avoid getting hurt any further. No matter what the mother’s reaction is, it may make it more difficult for a sensitive child to continue bonding and developing further skills. Mothers of sensitive children are well advised to understand that this type of situation can be one of the earliest signs indicating the baby is highly sensitive. Mothers are also well advised to continue to be close to their baby. If there were anything in the world that can brighten up a baby’s interaction with the rest of the world, it would be the mother’s consistent love, affection and care. In fact, the non-responsiveness should not become a source of panic or distance. The non-responsiveness is the best evidence a sensitive baby gives out for the need of more intense and more prolonged care by the mother. I know how tough this can be in real life but as adults sometimes, we have to substitute our rewards by ones we get from other places. This is essential to provide continuous and consistent care, which will eventually lead to the favorable response the mother is looking for. Bear in mind it may take several more months than the neighbor’s baby.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
(206) 659-1ASD (273)
Email
Psyche-Smart Autism book
Integrative Autism Blog
Youtube Channel
Autism Screening
Google Profile

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