Sensory Flooding and the Roundabout Hypothesis

“New research finds that #autism isn’t just about the brain. If you dampen the overexcitement of tactile sensors outside the brain, suddenly the brain doesn’t have to deal with that flood of incoming signals. It helps anxiety & social too.

Source: AspergersAutismNews on Twitter

What’s even more interesting is that once this over-ramping of incoming signals happened, it directly led to an increase in anxiety. That makes sense. If your brain is dealing with lots of additional input, it’s being stressed. Second, that over-ramping of incoming signals also lead to social issues. Again, it makes sense if the brain is already swamped with sensory signals that it doesn’t have extra time to deal with facial expressions and relationships. So everything here is related.

Source: Tactile Sensitivity Autism and Neurons – Aspergers Autism News

But, what about if your brain takes in too much information at once?  The second photo shows a roundabout where there’s too much traffic happening from all directions.  Gridlock.  Now, nothing can get through.  (Well, maybe cyclists.  They can always get through somehow.)  But the rest of us, stuck, overheating, beeping horns or collapsed in a heap of despair, going nowhere.  Some autistic brains take in so much information that they can’t get any of it processed and sent on its way.

When it happens, our brains simply have to wait for the ‘traffic’ to clear.  Just adding more traffic to it won’t work.  More ‘traffic’ might be chatting with us, or trying to put a hand on a shoulder without our consent.  Or shouting at us.  Or making us stay in a busy, noisy place where the queue of ‘traffic’ waiting for our brains to process it just gets longer, and longer.  It might be more ‘traffic’ from our brain trying to work out how to speak, or how to understand non-literal language.

We need the traffic to stop arriving. Noise cancelling headphones help me. Sunglasses help, too. A quiet room without bright artificial lighting also helps. Wearing comfortable clothes so that there’s isn’t a constant traffic jam from the, for example, ‘Your socks are hurting you’ lane.

Find out what helps us reduce the ‘traffic’.

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Roundabout Hypothesis – a Guest Blog by Chris Memmott

People with ASD commonly experience aberrant tactile sensitivity: a seemingly innocuous touch, such as a gentle breeze or a hug, can be unpleasant or even painful (1, 2). In fact, sensory overreactivity is so common that it is now a diagnostic factor for ASD (2).

We therefore sought to determine whether somatosensory circuits were affected in ASD, and whether altered tactile sensitivity might contribute to other ASD traits. Our goal was to focus on tractable symptoms-somatosensory abnormalities-as an entry into these complex, heterogeneous disorders.

Together with a growing body of other research (_3_, _4_, _16_-_18_), our work highlights that peripheral sensory neurons have a major role in ASD and that selective treatment of these neurons has the potential to improve some developmental and behavioral abnormalities associated with ASD. We are moving toward measuring touch overreactivity in humans with ASD and pursuing modulation of peripheral neuron excitability as a potential clinical therapy.


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