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The Intense World Theory and early intervention

In this TED talk, the speaker illustrates a graph where infants with autism seem to be born with a higher developed sense of eye connection than those without autism, and then dips down, whereas infants that are not eventual diagnosed with autism start lower but stay relatively stable.
The Intense World theory is a theory by Makram and Makram that pursues the idea that instead of the idea that people who are autistic were born with an undeveloped sense of empathy and connection towards other people, it is actually the opposite, and that over-sensitiviy has caused people with autism to have natural aversions to other people over time because it causes too much emotional distress.
What do you all think of this theory? The data shown in the TED presentation seems to be consistent with what the theory proposes. What kind of implications would this discovery have on this concept of early intervention?

Topics: autism
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    Jul 21 2012: I actually like this theory quite a bit and I think we should look to individuals with Aspergers to understand more about it. It could be, however that we are looking at two different phenomena, autism and the genesis of Aspergers. Their outcomes are far different so why couldn't their sources also be different? Autistic kids seldom seem different until the onset of Autism, at least many parents feel certain this is so, but many parents detect this sort of hyper stimulation in kids who develop Asbergers. So is it also a function of intelligence?. My big bug bear is wondering why we turn overt and happy Asperber kids into withdrawn and unhappy and silent adults. Who says that they have to be quiet and listen?. We are the adults - we should adapt to them.
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    Jun 24 2012: Many thanks for your question Christopher.

    The intense world theory seems generally consistent with my observations.

    I particularly agree the identification of the dangers of reward and punishment in the autistic - the autistic exists in an entirely different mental continuum - punishment in particular(aka "discipline"). So, whatever you do - don't send an autist to the modern trauma factories that we in the west call "schools" - you will end up regretting it.

    But, I think they missed the function of noise in early development.

    Supercharged neural microcircuits - with or without super-plasticity, would have difficulty developing topological stability. This is because each iteration of the circuit will lead to rapid convergence with stable topology ONLY IF the noise is reduced in subsequent iterations. Hyper synaptic adjustment can potentially lead to inverse topology, or even topological oscillations. If the limbic dampenning is not sufficient, then these microcircuits themselves would lead to sustained neural noise that would serve to inhibit the convergence of other parts of the brain.

    It may well be true that supercharged neural structures might be walled-off over time, but this cannot be equated to a "trapped genius". Any supercharged circuits thus isolated, would remain in their undeveloped state. If they were "un-walled" then development might start again - allowing any latent genius to emerge.

    With early diagnosis: As mentioned in the article, the focus would be on genetic predisposition and identification of environmental epigenetic factors. in short: prenatal diagnosis - beginning with the parents' genomes.
    This does not preclude the role of diagnosis as outlined by Ami Klin.
    The diagnostic community has a ways to catch up - so Klin's method will stand for a while.
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    Jun 22 2012: I definitely think what you suggest is a correct assumption.
    I myself diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome is someone who can communicate and empathise very easy with more similar people. Autistic people can empathise and communicate very well with other autistics. It's just the case they can't as easy empathise with 'normal' people. It's the same for normal people, they can't easily communicate with autistics. The experience of the world is very different.
    If the parents of an autistic child parent the childs like other children, the autistic child can behave very bad on this.
    On the other hand, I think - I'm just thinking - that if you parenting your autistic child not like others but in an other way, I think they won't go in their own world as much. I think their is truth in the intense world theory tbh.
    • Jun 23 2012: Thanks for your response. Indeed, it is natural for people who are more similar to be able to empathize with each other more, simply because it is easier to identify with those that are more similar to yourself; it lays out a framework, common connection.
      On a side note, I'm not sure if the distinction should be made that all people with Asperger's syndrome can't empathize with "normal" people; I'm not sure if we should be so cut and dry: empathy is a very complex part in a person's character, and it's not as though some people have it or some people don't: it's always on a continuum, never on and off. I only mention because I imagine some people who have disabilities may be attacked for having "no empathy", and I think that that assumption may be harmful. What do you think?
      • Jun 30 2012: I, personally, have always thought it important to clearly define the "lack of emapthy" of the autistic mind. It is not an inability to understand that other people are sentient beings with a capacity to think and feel, love, joy, sadness, whatever, but rather, a difficulty in recognizing those states.
        The autistic may know that other people are thinking and feeling beings, but precisely *what* they are thinking and feeling is difficult for the autistic person to discern. This is largely due to the autistic difficulty with tonal and body language cues.
        These cues form a great deal of neuro-typical communication, and it is difficult for a brain on the autistic spectrum to detect and process them. It is not the case that the autistic individual does not "care." It is rather that the autistic individual is missing a great deal of the information being communicated.
        The assumption that autistic persons do not feel or care is a very dangerous one indeed.
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          Jun 30 2012: I already written it down on other posts, but I do it again.
          You think it's important to clearly define the 'lack of empathy' on the autistic mind....
          Are you autistic??
          How can you say that without experience it?
          It's like saying: Animals seems to have a lack of empathy, because it can't understand me!!

          I notice people can't feel precisely what I think and what I feel...
          That's because we have other non verbal communication...
          and of course than you could say autistic people have difficulty with tonal and body language cues... WOW, you're very intelligent :O...
          But neurotypical people have problems with my non verbal communication too...
          They can't understand when I use my eyes to communicate, other autistic people can understand it. The point is...
          It's a different adaptation of communication not a lack of the neurotypical or the autistic...
          Did you ever studies evolutionary psychology? probably you didn't

          So, should I make a theory?
          theorie of mind lack in neuro-typical, because they can't understand precisely what I feel and what I think?
          I think this is the biggest mistake of today, of course autistic people have problems understanding other people, because they experience the world differently ...
          BUT it works in both directions ...

          I don't want to sound rude or something, but it's very annoying that people like you who don't know anything of this speak about it...
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          Jun 30 2012: And btw, the assumption that autistic people lack empathy is more and more questioned.
          For example the intense world theory is a good example.
          It's even said in this theory that autistic people have overwhelming of empathy.
    • Jun 30 2012: Perhaps I should have stated my credentials up front. I have decades of experience with autism, because I, too, am autistic. My point was that empathy is a very broadly used term and that it is important to be extremely clear what one means when discussing it, for it is entirely innaccurate to say that autistic individuals do not have the ability to see others as people or the capacity to understand that others might have similar thoughts and feelings.
      There is certainly the factor that neurotypical and autistic individuals simply think differently, and that social empathy is greatly aided by similarities between individuals. As you say, in general it is easier for autistics to understand other autistics than it is for neurotypicals and autistics to understand each other. However, that does not negate the fact that, for whatever reason, it is more difficult for autistic individuals to understand non-verbal cues and metaphoric language. Because, regardless of the reason, we *do* have difficulties understanding other people, even other autistics.
      I would actually state some interest in the intense world theory, as it would explain some of my personal experiences as an autistic person. I often feel intense emotional pain when witnessing even strangers in emotional duress. This is often to a degree greater than my neurotypical peers. In addition, I find greater difficulty making eye contact during emotionally intense periods. As well, it is a well know fact that autistic persons tend to have sensory intergration issues. It would make sense that our aversion to other people and the outside world might be caused due to an oversensitivity to such stimulation.
      I have studied evolutionary psychology, actually.
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        Jul 1 2012: "we *do* have difficulties understanding other people, even other autistics."

        Well, I never felt I could not understand other autistics, my girlfriend has asperger syndrome too btw.
        And we have no problem in understanding each other. So it's your opinion, it's not a fact. I'm sure I can equally understand other autistics, even better than neurotypical people understand each other.

        Can you give me some prove please?

        " I find greater difficulty making eye contact during emotionally intense periods. As well, it is a well know fact that autistic persons tend to have sensory intergration issues"

        The fact why I said, did you studied evolutionary psychology was because then you would know the behavior of an autistic is just different from that of a normal person. this is NOT a prove autistic people are defective or something... It just prove that the needs are different.

        If i read evolutionary psychology books I always noticed that we just behave in a completely different way.
        Of course you could find "defective" ways in autistic if you compare the autistic population with the neurotypical population. But this is not science!
        We could say that bonobos are defective in comparing with chimpanzees in some ways, but it works both ways. This is not science and again this is not Falsifiability. The fact is that bonobos and chimps have different adaptations ...

        Evolutionary psychology is studying this:
        A. Survival and individual level psychological adaptations
        Consciousness
        Sensation and perception
        Learning and facultative adaptations
        Emotion and motivation
        Cognition
        Personality
        Language
        Mating
        Parenting
        Family and kin
        Interactions with non-kin / reciprocity
        Evolution and culture

        Autistic people are different in all this adaptations, it's NOT, again NOT, a prove that autistic people have a defect or something, it is just different!

        If you want a prove of everything evolutionary psychology is studying which is different in an autist, I will do it for you. No space left
        • Jul 1 2012: I do not view autistics as defective. I would agree that we are differently adapted.
          I did not say that we do not understand, I said that we have trouble understanding. It really isn't the same thing.
          I would ask that an attempt be made to at least understand what my argument is before offering a rebuttal.
          Again, I have studied evolutionary psychology.
          As to autistic individuals being differently adapted, no matter how many times this argument is given, my mind cannot be changed because I DO NOT DISAGREE ON THAT POINT.
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        Jul 1 2012: The fact that the adaptation of an autistic person is different from a neurotypical person of course can lead autistic people have problems in understanding the non-verbal cues and metaphoric language from neurotypical people.

        Did you know that people have difficulties with the asperger adaptation of understanding the literal meaning of words? they understand things wrong, they can't see when i'm using literal meanign of words, so can we diagnose neurotypical people by a lack of understanding the literal use of words by an autistic???

        you fail in understanding how adaptations work, it's not that autistic have a lack of understanding metaphoric language, it's that the adaptations are different >.<
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        Jul 1 2012: 1. How can you prove that the metaphoric language is more advanced in an evolutionary scale?
        2. Autistic people use metaphoric language too, and they understand the metaphoric language of each other easy. It's again the difference in language.

        Couple of weeks ago I was having a discussion with a "normal" person about my vegan diet (btw a vegan diet can be healthy too, most research even says it healthier).
        I said, "a diet with meat" sucks because you need to kill animals for the meat.
        Did you know what his response was? "what is the meaning of a diet with meat?"
        I tough their only exist a lettuce diet...
        And I explained him that a diet have this meaning:
        "Is the sum of food consumed by a person or other organism"
        he replied: Oh, I tough it only means losing weight!

        What is your conclusion of this?
        Was I wrong in literal thinking of the word diet?
        or was he wrong with using the common definition of diet?
        • Jul 1 2012: A literal meaning is not the opposite of a common meaning. That has nothing to do with metaphoric language.
        • Jul 1 2012: Well, a brain with a capacity for understanding symbolic language and metaphoric language is necesarily one that is highly complex, so... Yes, the understanding of metaphors could be considered a useful adaption, particularly as it allows for easy, if unnuanced and occationally innaccurate, communcation of complex ideas.
          That being said, it isn't so much more advanced and less advanced when it comes to evolution. It's really more useful and less useful.
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    Jul 1 2012: first reaction you said:
    "sensory intergration issues"

    What you probably meant with that is: a defect of the autistic person
    my reaction was obvious: you don't understand evolutionary psychology

    "I DO NOT DISAGREE ON THAT POINT."
    no but you didn't understand it, otherwise you shouldn't have made the sensory integration issues argument.
    because this is a different adaptation.
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    Jul 1 2012: New evidence shows something total different.
    The intestal flora could be the cause of distorted brain development.
    If young infants are prescribed antibiotics or for different reasons the spectrum of bacterial species is out of balance which leaves room for the dominance of a kind that secretes an acid what interferes with fat tissue in the brain.

    http://gottschallcenter.com/?p=357

    Then what is autism? I find it hard to compare Asperger Syndrome with people that never develop any further the 3 year old.
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    Jul 1 2012: empathy

    [6]For most autistic individuals, their range does not include the neurotypical way of experiencing life. And since the autistic way is a minority, autistic people have to work very hard on increasing their range to reach the neurotypical way of experiencing life. On the other hand, neurotypical centrism states that it is perfectly healthy that the range of neurotypical individuals does not include the autistic way of experiencing life.
    For autistic people, the capability to process large amounts of raw data is a solution most high intelligent autistic people adopt. They collect an almost insane amount of data on the neurotypical way of being and after a decade or two of study they can enter some simple neurotypical social settings.
    After this long study, the range of people who have traveled this path is much larger, even though it might still not include the neurotypical way of being. The interesting thing is that neurotypical centrism keeps saying that autistic individuals can?t empathize with people very well. While the neurotypical scientists only mean that the neurotypical way of being is not within the range of the autistic people who are tested.
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    Jul 1 2012: Empathy

    [5]Another basic flaw in how autism is being described and tested has to do with the concept of empathy. This concept is viewed from the perspective of the neurotypical way of being, with all of its neurotypical centric applications.
    When we let go of neurotypical centric and any other kind of centric view the result would be the following: The range of being an individual can communicate with also entails a range of being with which this individual can empathize with. This range is usually limited to what the individual trying to understand how another might feel, would feel himself in the situation the other is in. This of course has the basic flaw that the variation of ways to experience a situation is much larger than the range of feelings any single individual will experience within that situation.
    The solution is to try to understand the way the other individual?s way of being works, and to do this in the terms the other uses, letting go of all your own experiences for that situation.
    For the neurotypical way of being this is almost impossible. The neurotypical way of being starts out with how it itself would feel in any situation and then ascribe those feelings to others. This works for all other neurotypical individuals and this is a successful strategy in those situations. However, this strategy utterly fails when trying to empathize with someone outside the neurotypical range, for example an autistic person.
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    Jul 1 2012: [4]The mistake made by the majority is that they impose their way of communicating upon others. Their values, their ideals, their ways of communication, everything gets imposed upon the minority. And those who do not fit the profile set by the majority get labeled as being defective. And from the viewpoint that to differ is to be defective, this is correct.
    Viewed from science to differ means just that, to differ. But since the neurotypical way of being has the tendency to give emotional value to everything, the neurotypical way of being has difficulties using objective language and thought. And thus it sees defects. And defects usually require a fix.
    It is the view of me and my fellow Aspergers that this is a shortcoming in the neurotypical way of being. Some Aspergers view this shortcoming with the same judgmental normocentrism that many of neurotypical people view the autistic way of being.
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    Jul 1 2012: [3]It is merely that the neurotypical population far outnumbers the autistic population which causes the neurotypical ways of social conduct prevails. It is this outnumbering that is the root cause for every problem that is experienced by people that fall outside the ways of doing and being of the majority. Be it autistic, be it extremely intelligent, be it a more complex worldview, be it left handiness, be it sexual orientation, it doesn't matter how an individual differs. To differ means there's a gap both sides have to overcome.

    To apply this on the individual level: Every person has a certain way of interacting with others that is natural for that individual. Also each person has a certain range with whom she/he can interact. Of course the range varies from person to person. But if the natural ways of communicating between two people are far enough apart, having a huge range can still mean the two of them have trouble communicating, or are even unable to communicate. Both will interpret the reactions and behavior of the other in ways that is comprehensible to themselves. And this is by definition limited, and does not always include the way the one giving the reaction will interpret it.
    If the natural way of being between individuals differs only slightly, communication is much more fluent. This is so simple and obvious that hardly anyone seems to realize this to be at the root of communication between people. Communication difficulties as well as success depend on the differences between the natural ways and the range both can reach.
    Just to make the most obvious point so far: if the group is autistic, the differences are small, and thus even a small range is more than sufficient. The same goes if the group is neurotypical, or extremely intelligent, intuitive, non-verbal or any way of being that anyone can think of.
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    Jul 1 2012: [2]And here is why I say so. Within Mensa I have a few friends who are also autistic. We have our own set of nonverbal communications, our own set of social "rules" and we have even tested them in a wider context. The most interesting observations happened when there was a large group of autistic people with only a couple of neurotypical people. In this setting the autistic way of communicating was used by almost everyone, and those who did not "speak" our social interaction were left out. This of course meant the most hardcore neurotypical people. They were unable to join conversations, they were unable to get any contact whatsoever, and in the end some of them just left the conference. If we apply the term normocentrism, in this setting it would mean that the autistic way of communicating was the norm and those who have not mastered the autistic way of interacting were socially inapt.
    I have also been to several meetings for aspergers, in that setting it is easy for all of us to join conversations, to engage in social contact, etc. etc. because we all speak the same social lan
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    Jul 1 2012: [1]I think I'll take the term normocentrism as a starting point. An interesting idea to give this a name, but this term clouds the readers from what for me is the underlying issue. The underlying issue in my view is that every individual has the tendency to experience his/her own way of feeling, seeing, hearing, and experiencing the world as being valid. This makes it a small step to view one?s own experience of life as the only one, or as the majority one. This also makes it hard to understand other ways to experience life, other ways of thinking, feeling, dealing with situations, etc. etc.
    If we were to start from the term normocentrism, Mottron uses this to differentiate between autistic and non-autistic people. If the term is truly intended to only point at this distinction, it should be neurotypical centrism. Make the term fit the limited distinction between autistic and neurotypical people.
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    Jul 1 2012: @Joel Pigeau

    "I did not say that we do not understand, I said that we have trouble understanding. It really isn't the same thing."

    Well, I would say I have not more trouble with understanding my girlfriend for example than other relationships in neurotypical people. And I do not think it's very significant if it were true that we have more trouble of understanding even other autistic people. I think it is studied in a biased way. See my next post why I think so
    [5][6] empathy
    The interesting thing is that neurotypical centrism keeps saying that autistic individuals can?t empathize with people very well. While the neurotypical scientists only mean that the neurotypical way of being is not within the range of the autistic people who are tested.

    "I would ask that an attempt be made to at least understand what my argument is before offering a rebuttal."

    Sorry, but I'm sometimes annoyed by people who don't know anything of autism and make sweeping statements about autism. Sorry my fault. I do not have difficulties with empathy, and i think the research on empathy and autism is been manipulated.
    [1]-[6]

    "A literal meaning is not the opposite of a common meaning. That has nothing to do with metaphoric language."

    Okay, you're right it was a wrong example. But still, their are many examples were the literal understanding is better at some occasion than the metaphoric.

    "Well, a brain with a capacity for understanding symbolic language and metaphoric language is necesarily one that is highly complex, so... Yes, the understanding of metaphors could be considered a useful adaption, particularly as it allows for easy, if unnuanced and occationally innaccurate, communcation of complex ideas."

    I don't think it's more useful tbh and again autistic persons use metaphoric language too (see point 2).

    Can you prove me the 'more trouble' of understanding other autistic people in an autism-autism relationship compared to an neurotypical-neurotypical relationship? f u can I believ
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    Jun 24 2012: Well, based on what I've seen(I go to school with some autistic kids), I have to disagree with this theory. When ever I see an autistic person at my school, they always seem to be in their own world.
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      Jun 24 2012: The theory is not in conflict with the "be in their own world", it's even a predection of the theory.
      Because the world is so intense they go in their bubble, to escape of pain.

      I don't think you have read the intense world theory/hypothesis...
      Here is a simple and understandable interview about the intense world theory.
      http://www.wrongplanet.net/article419.html
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    Jun 23 2012: "empathy is a very complex part in a person's character, and it's not as though some people have it or some people don't: it's always on a continuum, never on and off"

    Well, I'm not sure about everything I'm saying. I'm new in the field of evolutionary psychology. I'm 17 so I do not have really much experience. But I think it's OBVIOUS that empathy doesn't exist in the common definition. Empathy is just reading other minds emotions and reflecting your own on others. This is the reason why recently in psychology friends and lovers have the same kind of genes (or more common), and have a similar view of the world. They can understand each other easy. You chose people to be your friends because they let you the person you want to be. So it's necessary that they are almost a mirror of yourself.
    Assortative mating theory if a good example of this. We search ourselves in other.

    But please read the comment of 'Jasper van Haasteren'. I think he found something very important which many researchers are ignoring. The fact of the bad fitting is probably the most important factor of the bad social contact of autistic people. I have a girlfriend who've got asperger and I can relate very easy with her.
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    Jun 23 2012: "On a side note, I'm not sure if the distinction should be made that all people with Asperger's syndrome can't empathize with "normal" people; I'm not sure if we should be so cut and dry"

    Okay, you're right of course it's not black and white. What I just wanted to say is that it's harder to empathise/communicate with people who are very different from you. And it can be even so difficult that you can't join a group of different kind of eye-contact, communication, to talk with. [1]

    "empathy is a very complex part in a person's character, and it's not as though some people have it or some people don't: it's always on a continuum, never on and off"

    I'm really skeptical of the common assumption that "empathy" most people show actually exist.
    I think empathy can have 2 defenitions:
    1. A very hard way to empathise with someone by reading everything of the person and react in the way that is seeing polite in the eyes of the person. This is almost impossible if you differ in culture for example. You can't know how that person will react if you know what I mean.
    2. Putting your own experiences on other people, this is what most people do in their normal life.
    When they meet new people, they can't be aware of how a person thinks or experience the world.
    They just reflect their experience of the world on other people.

    (2) This is the kind of empathy I criticize. Because minority in the populations always have difficulties with this kind of empathy. Because majority think differently the communication is very noisy between both sides (but because of conformity-> minority lose.
    The problem of autism is probably the second defenition of empathy. However, I do not really think it's something wrong with the brain, just a different experience of the world, and thus the reflect their experience more wrong on others than normal people do.

    [1] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v479/n7371/abs/479033a.html
    read the comment of "Jasper van Haasteren"
    (2011-11-08 07:22 AM)