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Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism
Posted on Friday, January 06 @ 12:20:09 EST by
WrongPlanet Tips
Our quirky autistic columnist, John Scott Holman, interviewed Henry and Kamila Markram, originators of the Intense World Theory. Read their compelling and refreshing insights in this Wrong Planet exclusive…

1. The Intense World Theory sheds light on the mystery of autism, and offers fascinating and refreshing insights. This theory may baffle those with a limited understanding of neuroscience. How would you explain Intense World Theory to the layman?

The Intense World Theory states that autism is the consequence of a supercharged brain that makes the world painfully intense and that the symptoms are largely because autistics are forced to develop strategies to actively avoid the intensity and pain. Autistics see, hear, feel, think, and remember too much, too deep, and process information too completely. The theory predicts that the autistic child is retreating into a controllable and predictable bubble to protect themselves from the intensity and pain. The theory originated from neuroscientific discoveries on an animal model of autism and was extended by accounting for previous research on autism in humans. It is a unifying theory because it takes into account and explains the many different results and interpretations from a spectrum of studies on autism.

The brain is supercharged because the elementary functional units of the brain are supercharged. These units are called neural microcircuits. Neural microcircuits are the smallest ecosystem of neurons that can support each other to carry out functions. The brain is made up of millions of these units. These microcircuits are hyper-reactive and hyper-plastic. That means that they react and process information much faster and more intensely, they can learn much more and remember much longer, and they can remember things with much greater detail. The Intense World Theory proposes that having such powerful units makes orchestration difficult – like trying to play a piano with a million run-a-way keys. The microcircuits that are mostly affected will depend on genetics, toxic insults during pregnancy and the kind of environmental exposure after birth. Each autistic child will therefore be unique because different microcircuits are hyper-functional and they dominate the idiosyncratic pattern that emerges.

The theory predicts that there are three factors in the cause of autism; a genetic predisposition, a toxic insult during pregnancy and environmental exposure after birth. Our genes normally switch on an off in a well-timed and precise sequence like the playing of a piece of music throughout life. Autism is a triggered acceleration of this cascade of gene expression during brain development. We believe toxins during pregnancy trigger this acceleration. Many possible genetic mutations can lower the threshold for triggering the accelerated cascade. Environmental exposure that normally accelerates brain development accelerates brain development even further in autistics making the brain too sensitive, too early.

The danger of accelerated brain development is that all the steps needed to complete the trimming down of the connections between neurons is not completed and that some microcircuits that should wait their turn to develop, develop too early and begin to dominate over the other microcircuits driving hyper-preferences, repetitiveness, idiosyncrasies and eventually making unlearning and rehabilitation very difficult.

While it will be difficult to reverse and correct these developmental changes completely, the theory points to many exciting new possibilities for diagnosing, treating and helping autistic children benefit from their unique brain. For example, if the environment can be carefully controlled after birth, then the autistic child could potentially keep the supercharged microcircuits as well as their ability to orchestrate these microcircuits to fully express their genius without the suffering that can come with a supercharged brain.

2. Describe the evolution of Intense World Theory from inspiration to publication.

Our research into autism started in 1998 while Henry Markram was at the Weizmann Institute. Henry has an autistic child (now 16 years old) and was of course motivated to understand him. At that time most researchers were looking at the cerebellum, brain stem and other areas for alterations and very few were looking at neocortical alterations. Henry thought this was odd since most of the symptoms in autism are related to alterations in perception, attention and memory, and such advanced functions depend heavily on normal neocortical functions. In 2000 Henry went on sabbatical to Michael Merzenich lab at UCSF and proposed that perhaps the excitatory-inhibitory balance was affected. Henry first thought that inhibition was impaired and received a grant from NAAR (National Alliance of Autism Research) to establish how the inhibitory system is recruited in the normal brain and in animal models of autism.

This research continued when Henry moved to the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). His student Tania Rinaldi used the valproic animal model of autism, which seemed promising based on the work of Patricia Rodier. They could not find malfunctions in the inhibitory synapses and started looking at the excitatory connections. They found that too many excitatory connections where formed in the neocortex of autistic animals. They also found that the circuit responded much too strongly when stimulated and that the synapses learned much easier than normal about the stimulus.

Kamila Markram, a behavioral neuroscientist working in Carmen Sandi's laboratory, then stressed the importance of also examining the amygdala because autism has a profound emotional component and because previous theories suggest that the amygdala is malfunctioning, that it is hypo-functioning and that autists can't interpret people's feelings and have dampened down emotions. Kamila carried out behavioral studies on the animal model and found that the autistic animals developed excessive fear memories, that these fears lasted much longer and where difficult to undo. She also found that they generalized these memories too easily to associated stimuli (i.e. once afraid of a sound with a certain pitch, they become afraid of all sounds regardless of the pitch). Kamila realized that this could lead to autistic children quickly to becoming fearful of parts of the world for no apparent reason and it would make rehabilitation very difficult. This also suggested that one would need to be extremely careful when exposing an autistic child to the world and especially when punishing an autistic child. They will never forget the punishment and generalize it quickly to a point where they will fear so many things that they not be able to function normally. Kamila then re-examined all previous studies by all major laboratories that studied autism and reinterpreted their results in this new light.

Kamila and Henry then came up with a unifying theory that accounts for the facts and first called this the intense world syndrome hypothesis. Further experiments in their lab on how genes and proteins are expressed as well as an even deeper analysis of past studies culminated in the Intense World Theory.

3. Many members of the autistic community have embraced Intense World Theory, claiming it to be an accurate reflection of their own experiences, and a radical departure from the outdated and socially stigmatizing disease models of the past. Why has it taken so many years for the scientific community to draw a conclusion which autistics themselves find to be quite obvious? What prevented Intense World Theory from emerging years ago?

The main reason is that historically autism has been classified as a form of mental retardation. Biologically, mental retardation results from malfunctions in genes, proteins, cells, synapses and circuits and so most researchers were just looking for evidence of malfunctions because scientists mostly look for evidence to support current theories and hypotheses. Autism is still today classified as a form of mental retardation in the bible of brain diseases, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This superficial classification has led to scientists looking for malfunction, hypofunction, and deficits at the biological level. So the research has become messy and confused and many mistakes have been made in the interpretation of experimental results.

The second major mistake is that scientists have reasoned that because every autistic child is so unique that there are many different causes of autism. The consequence has been that each researcher has made localized interpretations of their data and proposed their own isolated theory of autism ignoring “the other forms" effectively hiding behind “the spectrum". We can see the result – today there are dozens of fragmented theories of autism that each focus on a specific aspect of autism.

The third major mistake has been the belief that autism is primarily a genetic disorder. There is of course good reason for this because the second twin of identical twins has a much higher chance of having autism than in the general population, but this has led researchers to hunt only for the genetic malfunction while ignoring the fact that the twin of an autistic child that has the “bad" gene(s) does not have autism – this also proves that autism can be cured if we understand it. The hunt for bad genes has also led researchers to play down toxins as triggers of autism and injected confusion when it comes to whether the incidence of autism is increasing. Together this has resulted in researchers ignoring how genes can lower the threshold for autism triggered by a toxin or to such a low level that the probability of that autism can be spontaneously triggered without a toxin, is significantly increased.

There are many other reasons such as strong prejudices in how autism must be studied. On the one hand, some believe that one can only study autism in humans. Humans are mammals and what makes us mammal special is the neocortex. The microcircuitry of the mammalian neocortex is very similar. There are small variations in each species, but far more is preserved than changed. It is therefore illogical to say that autism can only happen in humans. This assumes that some gene or protein only found in humans must be the cause of autism and there is no evidence of that. A related community has argued that since it is a human disorder the closest relative, the monkey must be used in the studies. This led to one of the biggest detours in autism research where the amygdala was lessoned in monkey. When the amygdala was destroyed in monkeys, they also withdrew and showed no emotionally driven behavior. Scientists then thought that this proves that autism is a disorder of hypofunction of the amygdala. This was a relic of the theory that autism stems from malfunctioning systems that started with the refrigerator-mother theory many decades ago. On the other hand, there is a community that believes that autism is genetic and the only relevant animal model is the mutated mouse. The problem with this line of research is that they mostly still look for malfunctions.

More recently, these studies have also started testing for hyperfunctions so it is a good sign that the Intense World Theory is starting to change the field. Since hundreds of genes can be involved in setting the threshold for autism, these studies will however have to go to the next level rather than try to prove one gene at a time. What is really needed is to understand how the gene expression cascade is altered starting as early as possible in development. Epigenetics and behavioral studies after birth will therefore become central to the research into autism in the future.

4. Intense World Theory has been widely accepted by supporters of the Neurodiversity movement. Were these sociological implications foreseen in early development, and if so, can their influence be found in the published text?

This was not a factor in the discovery of the Intense World Theory. The theory was triggered bottom up from neuroscientific studies and the real changing point for us was when we found that fear memories were so quickly acquired, lasted longer, where difficult to erase and over generalized. This put all the results into context because the neocortex could render the world intense, highly fragmented and overly specialized while the amygdala would dial up the emotional component of the intense world making it potentially extremely painful and aversive forcing the autistic child to take refuge in a secure bubble. If they don't succeed to take refuge through repetitive behavior, routines, rocking, and other types of behaviors, then they may display self-injurious behavior – like ants crawling all over your body. The diversity comes from the fact that we are normally diverse and if you add hyperfunctional circuits to that then naturally each autistic child will be even more different from each other. It is like taking all our normal differences to an extreme. This challenges society to accommodate autists, but diversity is the key to social evolution and so it is a good challenge.

5. How does the alternative cognitive style of the autistic mind prove beneficial or detrimental to autistic self-advocacy?

Autistics could be at the pioneering edge of human brain evolution. Society should embrace and support this exploration into the extraordinary. According to the Intense World Theory, if autism can be identified at birth, then a well-structured and filtered environment could allow the sequence of brain development to unfold normally while preserving the hyperfunctional microcircuits. This does not mean the environment must be impoverished, in fact it should be a rich and diverse environment, but presented in a gentle and predictable way. Great care should be taken since any surprising event could be traumatic and potentially trigger a cascade of development that is difficult to reverse. Behavioral treatments that apply strong negative and positive reinforcement could have serious adverse effects according to the Intense World Theory, especially at a very early age. Such treatments are better suited to mental retardation or to older autists that have passed through the critical phases of brain development. The idiosyncratic behavior of autistics should be respected as they can make a unique and highly valuable contribution to society. Autists should fight for the way they believe the next generation of autistic children should be raised – those that succeed to free their locked up genius can help free the next generation. Society should compensate and help families with autistic children.

6. Disregarding social and ethical implications, do you believe an autism cure is a scientific possibility? Why or why not?

The Intense World Theory predicts that all autistic children have exceptional talents that are locked up. The challenge is to free talents and to make it possible for them to integrate in society. We do believe that autism can be turned into a highly beneficial “disorder" if we understand how to help the autistic child harness their genius rather than suffer from it. The route is to understand the epigenetic alterations so that we can make better and earlier decisions on the direction of therapy. We also need to understand all the different ways that we can raise the threshold of epigenetic alterations so that the progression does not become so severe as to lead to a social handicap. We have to be prepared to develop a custom treatment for each autistic child. We have to be prepared to create special environments for the early stages of life of an autistic child. If this is all done, most autistic children could pass through the critical periods of brain development quite normally and emerge from it with their full genius intact.

7. Do you believe the direction of autism research must be dictated by a governing social conscience, or does such a conscience corrupt scientific objectivity?

A social conscience must always govern all kinds of scientific research not just for autism research. Scientists cannot just do anything in the name of science. It must always be justifiable at all levels of society and actually understandable to all people. Co-evolution of science and society makes for a healthy planet.

8. "Unraveling the Paradox of the Autistic Self," by Michael V. Lombardo and Simon Baron-Cohen, states that "neural evidence provides a key clue that an 'egocentric' response in the brain (i.e., Self = Other) is actually the result of an impairment in self-referential coding of information." Do you believe an elusive sense of self is a universal autistic characteristic? Does Intense World Theory account for this impairment?

Well, we would not agree with their analysis and theory. This is just another theory that is a relic of the theories of mental retardation. It is contaminated by older theories that there is a deficit in the ability of the brain to develop a theory of mind, the ability to see and respect others thoughts feelings and emotions. This archaic theory has also led to gross misinterpretations of the mirror neuron discoveries. According to the Intense World Theory, autists could actually be seeing much deeper into the minds, thoughts and emotions of themselves and others, which triggers active avoidance and lock down behaviors. It also requires the ability to simulate others as if you where them and to extrapolate to where their thoughts and behaviors are leading them. Seeing into the minds of others can be extremely disturbing. Even if autists don't feel this is true for themselves it is because their brain has developed strategies to cope with this extreme insight leaving them seemingly isolated.

This theory of a deficit in self-referential coding or theory of egocentricity is also likely to be incorrect for another reason. Self-referential coding is the foundation of human consciousness. To be conscious of yourself and others requires you to have to be able to localize yourself in space and time. If you enter an isolation tank, anesthesia, or deep meditation you can lose track of yourself, where you are, who you are, what time it is. So impairment in self-referential coding will also mean that autists are barely conscious and living in peaceful state of diffused consciousness (pain is based on a sense of self, locality). It is most likely the exact opposite of autists. They are in an extremely localized state, extremely aware of themselves, extremely aware of others and in a battle for their life to hold back the intensity and pain of it all.

9. Intense World Theory proposes that autism is "hyper-functioning of local neural microcircuits, best characterized by hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity." Does this mean that savantism may be a universal, though not always objectively measurable, autistic characteristic?

Absolutely. In fact the Intense World Theory predicts that severely autistic people that cannot speak or interact at all have locked up abilities even greater than savants. In other words, those autists classified as severely mentally retarded by the psychiatrist, may be the greatest savants of all. Savants as we know them are just lucky that they retained the ability to express themselves. The Intense World Theory predicts that the amygdala is less affected in savantism so the pain of the intense world is dialed down making it easier for them to cope with what they see, hear, feel and think, and allowing them to express themselves. There is so much potential lying behind this wall of pain and fear.

10. Do you believe Intense World Theory will endure the test of time, and have a long-term scientific and sociological impact? Predict the legacy of Intense World Theory.

Scientific theories probably never last indefinitely. However, we do believe that the Intense World Theory will replace all existing theories because it is the only unifying theory of autism today. Other theories are piece-meal theories accounting of a selective set of observations and mostly based on a paradigm of autism as a form of mental retardation. Nobody likes one to come up with a unifying theory that explains all the facts. It will take time for scientists to embrace it and they will argue that it does not explain their corner of the facts because they like to interpret their facts in a certain way, they will use the fact that it is based on rodent brain changes to avoid the theory for as long as possible. The hyperfunctional theories such as those of Laurent Mottron have gone in the same direction. Rebellion and criticism is part of every scientific revolution where the paradigm is turned upside down.

The Intense World Theory predicts so many exciting completely new directions for autism research, for autistics, and for society that we believe this theory will last a long time.

For research, we will isolate various agents that can induce epigenetic insult of the genome and may even learn how to use these agents to guide evolution of the human brain. We will learn which sets of genes are predisposing – lower the threshold of epigenetic insult during pregnancy - so that we can be better informed on nutrition during pregnancy and get ready to raise an autistic child if necessary. We will learn how to gently guide the development of the brain of an autistic child through the critical irreversible periods and avoid traumatic moments that could spin the brain development into a nightmare configuration and preserve the hyperfunctional microcircuits allowing autists to cope with the intensity and pain and express their genious. Nutrients, drugs and other treatments such as brain stimulation, will emerge that can dampen down selectively some uncontrolled hyperfunctional components.

For autists, they will learn how to nurture rather than lockup the deep insight and how to contribute these insights to society. We will learn how to help the next generation of autists cope and express their individual genius.

For society, we will learn how valuable the autistic community is for society. We will adapt the planet to embrace rather than lockup autistic people. Normal people guess at the world, while autists process information completely, comprehensively. This feature would not be good for survival in the jungle, but in human society, we can nurture these individuals and they can make a fantastic contribution to society. We will begin special compensation to families with autistic children as if they are potential Olympic athletes of the world.


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Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by NicoleG Friday, January 06 @ 15:09:54 EST
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I was planning on researching lack of inhibition as a side project, so hearing that it's already been tested and ruled out is very exciting to me. This theory also explains other "deep" black and white thoughts that are hard to displace that are positive in nature, beyond the negative fear ideas mentioned here. For instance, children are first taught to always be honest, and only later taught to think before they speak and to take other people's emotions into consideration. If the former is latched onto strongly, the latter will have little room to fill in the gray area gaps. Essentially, there are no gray area gaps to be filled!

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by jarm Friday, January 06 @ 19:49:12 EST
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Thanks for featuring this interview. Intense world theory is a very interesting proposition. If any readers happen upon, or are aware of, critiques of this theory then it would be great to hear them.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by Awiddershinlife Friday, January 06 @ 20:01:17 EST
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This theory explains a lot about me in the world. I go into sensory lock down to avoid things that are overwhelming; I prefer my "bubble" to all other environments. However, I have no savant abilities, so I must be misdiagnosed. I would like more info about how Intense World Theory explains language development, which is universally affected across the spectrum even if as the savant skill frequently seen in aspergers. It will be good to let go the MR association with autism, this absolutely came from very short-sighted researchers. Likely, throughout history autistics were responsible for every major breakthrough on this planet.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by SpatialEd Saturday, January 07 @ 01:40:02 EST
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Now, this is my first time posting here, I only found this site this morning before work (Mailman, lots of walking :}). I am writing a novel I have been working on for some time. The protagonist (one of them) has Asperger's syndrome. But in that world, in that nation, Asperger's is hailed as a positive boon. Our Hero is the (for want of a more concise term) Shogun of his country. He is, like me, a very high functioning Aspy. Go figure. He, and others before him, were chosen for their abilities, their absolute black-and-white perceptions, and lack of ambition for ruling. Very special Aspies to be sure, but no neurotypical could possibly perform to the standard required by the General Staff to execute The Plan. The Intense World Theory, from my perspective, is so spot on that I believe it will come to exclude all other theories very shortly. This will be due most likely to Autists and Aspies acclaiming it. What other theory has been embraced by the community at large? This one seems so right, so logical, so fitting of the many manifestations of the brain deviation. I can't call what we enjoy a "handicap". It came as quite a shock to me to discover so many Autists and Aspies suffering from depression. Why? Are we not superior to neurotypicals in almost every human way? So our motor coordination may not be to the highest standard. Monkeys are coordinated, O'possums have opposing thumbs. Our social skills are suppressed? Baboons are social, often more so than humans. What makes humans what they are is the functioning of these magnificent brains. And do not ours outperform the vast majority of those around us? Revel in your superiority! Embrace that mental abilities are like seeing, and while "they" see only dim, gray shapes, we see colors beyond the rainbow in blinding light! Why are you depressed? Haven't we developed defense mechanisms for blocking the unpleasant? Use them to your advantage! Block the pain, block the distressing memories! Do you think, or not? If you recall disappointments, can you not recall triumphs? The world awaits you, and it really doesn't have a clue what you're really capable of. Remember this, also. The neurotypicals' make it up as they go along, too. They understand less of the real world, math and physics, than we do of their emotional tornados. We may not be able to baffle them with bullshit, but we can dazzle them with brilliance. Dazzle them! Push fear aside! What could happen? They won't understand, they'll look at you funny? Unlike when, exactly? It's fun, and it gets easier. They're scared most of the time, too. Your mileage may vary. Results not typical. Offer only available with qualifying purchase.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by ediself Saturday, January 07 @ 07:55:02 EST
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I'm going to need some precisions on what "toxic insult during pregnancy" means.... Is it a different way of saying "exposure to a toxic product"? I don't mean to be snarky but, I can not believe that you seriously mean "insult". As in "verbal abuse". This is too irrational.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by halfaspieguy Saturday, January 07 @ 12:04:57 EST
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This is exactly the kind of information that can lead to a better understanding of who we are as people who often feel like we have been born on the wrong planet. Since we were born here instead, we should make the best of it. One day we may be able to choose to adjust our own wiring to improve our functioning in certain areas while retaining who we are. For example, the fact that I have not had the ability to "read people" has left me at a severe disadvantage in life. It would be great to be able to put on a customized "thinking cap" when I go out in public so that I could be more aware of what kind of people I am interacting with. I might need a different cap to wear when I am trying to organize my desk and yet another when I want to take my wife on a date. In my case I would always want the option to return to my original self and just go fishing. I understand fish just fine.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by rondeau Saturday, January 07 @ 13:45:39 EST
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WOW...I didn't ever think I would live long enough to see someone who had caught up with me, but better than me, can explain it in less than 5 thousand words...LOL. So I would sign off on this theory to be sure.

I Am So Proud (Score: 1)
by Tambourine-Man Saturday, January 07 @ 17:49:45 EST
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I am so proud to have had the opportunity to interview the Markrams. This theory is revolutionary - an absolute game changer! It supports all the ideas I've had about myself since long before I ever realized I was autistic. This interview makes a profound and decidedly neurodiverse theory accessible to the layman. I hope it will spread like wildfire and drastically alter the mass perception of autism. I found Intense World Theory when I was first diagnosed, and it was a breath of fresh air - a radically plausible and refreshing explanation of my existence. John Scott Holman

But they add unnecessary baggage to the theory. (Score: 1)
by AardvarkGoodSwimmer Sunday, January 08 @ 17:09:03 EST
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For example, they preach this pap that the child with autism is "locked in." So now, the parent's going to expect a miracle, like any day now? And lurch from one dramatic, abrupt theory to another, and at times these theories can be borderline abusive to the child or even flatly abusive. And this is the opposite of establishing the gentle, predictable environment for the child, which they also advocate ( and on this one they're right). Or, the parent learning to recover graciously from inevitable mistakes. A brother of an autistic boy wrote, maybe what you see is what you get. My brother is sometimes sweet, sometimes angry and can grab your hair, he likes to play with string for long periods. Why do you assume there's another brother in there? And nowhere do Henry and Kamila say, these are promising results, but this is a long way from actual help to actual patients/clients. And the fact that they don't say this also makes me suspicious. Yes, I do often experience things intensely, which rather than painful, I sometimes find confusing or overwhelming, which is why I need copious down time to process. And I think we can take it from here and do better than Kamila and Henry. John, you've done a real interview, and for that I thank you. This is a subtantial interview, which also brings to light parts I disagree with.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by pensieve Sunday, January 08 @ 22:47:07 EST
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This was such a great interview, so detailed and informative. While there are some things that hit home like the excessive fear memory (I usually say my brain is especially plastic to fear) I still have no answers about my childhood hypo sensitivity. These days my hypersensitivity feels different and the way I interact with the world is different than what it was before. Perhaps it really was the ADHD Inattentive/SCT symptoms that made me so underwhelmed and incurious. I had the usual reactions children had to loud noises but most times I was unaware of sounds. My physical hypersensitivity to pain is still intact. I think a better word for toxic insults would be 'complications' in the womb either by toxins going into the body or by a toxic-like environment in the womb which is something I went through. Or maybe an interruption of brain development. I may need more convincing before I believe there is a single cause to autism. I do like the idea of this theory though especially since I have learned a few more details.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by jortor5 Monday, January 09 @ 10:05:24 EST
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Very good read and close to spot on. This is very close to how i always felt about it and it makes me happy that some are finaly starting to grasp it better. It have been abit depressing to read all previous "theories", and it have been depressing and almost comical to listen to the doctors i had and there lack of insight in what they are supposed to know stuff about.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by smiffy47 Tuesday, January 10 @ 06:19:23 EST
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Quite interesting. I think the toxic pregnancy thesis is suspect. I think a genetic link more likely. There is a theory proposed by Jared Reser, (Conceptualising the Autism Spectrum...May 2011) that autism has an evolutionary darwinian explanation where solitary members of hunter gatherer tribes gathered information that proved useful in the continued 'success' of their group.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by AsteroidNap Tuesday, January 10 @ 17:07:29 EST
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After reading the opening question, I had that light bulb moment where I felt myself being described to a tee in print. Before I my diagnosis, I'd often expressed to friends that I felt my heart, my soul was like an exposed nerve to the world. I experience things so intensely.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by techstepgenr8tion Wednesday, January 11 @ 17:05:02 EST
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Hypersensitivity has always been seen as a major component and, aye, I've expereinced it. Interesting to see this now get wrapped around something solid in the brains mechanisms. Previous to hearing more about this I felt that the grey/white matter theory explained this effect well (my analogy was that I felt like my brain was a 700W pair of speakers running on a 50W amp) but it could just as easily be that there's overdevelopment in certain areas hijacking functionality rather than a lack of communication wires running the brain ragged and rendering the cell's unstorable supply of ATP inadequate for 'normal' function. Thanks to the Markrams for this theory and I hope it does come down to the nurturing and utilization of these talents as its heartbreaking (and clearly backward/wasteful) to see any individual gifts laid to waste.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by Matt1988 Wednesday, January 11 @ 19:42:18 EST
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It's a very interesting theory and for the most part it seems to fit the bill. The point about autistics feeling things more intensely in particular resonated, but I had to think about it for a while! Here's my take on it - another autistic giving me a pat on the back and a smile gives me the same feeling of being cared about that an NT seems to need a whole evening of hugs and reassurance for.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by fraac Thursday, January 12 @ 11:47:18 EST
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Looks like another crackpot rat model that beats the other crackpot models with its superficial appeal. I suppose it sells better if you overreach wildly. "Intense World Theory has been widely accepted by supporters of the Neurodiversity movement." I had heard of it but not read up on it, and I'm pretty smart, so I don't think that's accurate.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by jennica Thursday, January 12 @ 13:30:31 EST
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As a parent, I have deep concerns with the implication that parents will be made responsible to protect their child from developing autism. As a person who is very environmentally aware, to the point of being obsessive during my pregnancies and my children's babyhood's about what I bring into my body and allow to go into theirs, I can tell you that reducing toxins is an impossible road to travel. There are toxins in our bodies, there are toxins in our food and water supply, there are toxins in breastmilk, there are toxins in formula, there are toxins in our bedding, there are toxins in our clothing, there are toxins in our homes, there are toxins in our cars, there are toxins in our cosmetics and body care products, there are toxins in the air we breath, there are toxins in the water that rains on us, there are toxins in our oceans, lakes and rivers, there are toxins in our soil, etc. There is very little that a parent can do to reduce these toxins from their children's environments. Also, I happen to be associated with a group of people who are very concerned about environmental toxins. Many in this group did everything from not having prenatal ultrasounds, to giving birth drug free at home, to delaying umbilical cord clamping, to breasteeding until age 3 or 4, to minimizing or not vaccinating, to eating all organic foods, to dressing their children in organic cotton, to otherwise minimizing environmental toxins in any way possible, and guess what? Some of their kids still have autism. I think this article introduces a promising theory. However, I really caution the people interviewed to please not place the onus on the parents, but to place it on the corporations and government that have allowed our environment to become so filled with toxins that the attempts of parents to remove those toxins are fruitless. I fear the implications of making parents responsible for their children getting autism. Will pregnant women who smoked be blamed? Will women who get induced or have an epidural during labor be blamed? Will parents who can't afford organic food/clothing/mattresses/furniture/etc. be blamed?

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by budgenator Thursday, January 12 @ 18:59:03 EST
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I'm afraid that people will be taking the phrases the pain of the intense world and wall of pain and fear way too literally, I've sometimes described it as "like a Migraine but without the pain". NT's seem to be able to understand hyper-sensitivity issues better with that phrasing.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by so_subtly_strange Saturday, January 14 @ 02:13:08 EST
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I like this for the most part, and think it a good way of helping people understand some principles behind where us autists are coming from, but I take issue a bit with their assertion this is THE theory, and segments such as Nobody likes one to come up with a unifying theory that explains all the facts. It will take time for scientists to embrace it and they will argue that it does not explain their corner of the facts because they like to interpret their facts in a certain way, they will use the fact that it is based on rodent brain changes to avoid the theory for as long as possible. The hyperfunctional theories such as those of Laurent Mottron have gone in the same direction. Rebellion and criticism is part of every scientific revolution where the paradigm is turned upside down. firstly, 'scientists' is very vague, there are many many different scientists that study different things. Their 'embracing' of any idea, depends upon how it stands up to scientific inquiry and the scientific method. as we really don't understand the brain all that well, as far as exactly how everything works together, you really cant make sweeping statements about anything neurological. Yes we know much more than we ever have, we know different structures inside the skull, their basic functions, but what i mean is it is not like math or physics. The equation is too complex. Also I think the term 'hyperfunctional' is chauvinistic and simply not all that accurate. For all of our strengths there is a cost, and corresponding limitations. Hyper-plastic neurons form many more connections, but somewhat at the cost of the strength of any particular connection. Thus our need for routines and reinforcements to compensate for the aspects of our neurology that are fragile. I could go on and on so i think i will stop now. Also I have to realize, there may be parts of the theory that were oversimplified for the sake of the interview, which may be more comprehensively expressed in their published works on the theory

myth that kids on the spectrum are ‘locked up’ (Score: 1)
by AardvarkGoodSwimmer Saturday, January 14 @ 14:51:03 EST
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I currently made this post, "myth that kids on the spectrum are ‘locked up’" http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt186756.html on our general discussion board. Frankly, I think they are being reckless in making this claim and it's something that we need to discuss.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by DW_a_mom Monday, January 16 @ 14:32:10 EST
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Watching my son grow up, I started to theorize that certain aspects of his condition may have been reactive to triggers, overload in the same type of way eating chocolate too young can trigger a chocolate allergy. As an infant he was intensely drawn to things that later became sensory issues. So, the the title of this thread really spoke to me. Not as the cause, but as a factor, definitely. The detail of the neurology behind it interests me a lot less than the pragmatic observations. There is definitely more than one thing going on.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by Comp_Geek_573 Sunday, January 22 @ 19:08:40 EST
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This article is fantastic! It provides me insight into both my own mind and how to describe Asperger's/autism to the rest of the world - the latter being a way of propping up my social deficits to boot! I've always thought there were a few specific, but unverbalizable, abilities I had that were one of the top 100 in the entire world. This should become the mantra: Autism is caused by parts of the brain working way TOO well.

Obviouslly (Score: 1)
by CreativityOverload Friday, January 27 @ 01:24:50 EST
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Great info. I have thought about this idea before but never seen it mentioned from researchers. To me this theory us 99% more likely than any other of the wild guesses that is proposed. It explains most of the behaviour. For example info overload gives shy away from too much info and focus on the relevant one no eye contact, looking another way sensitivity routines, not too much new info to analyze prefer calmer activities walking style, ( no noise, dragging feet, soft walk, not too many excessive movements) problem in schools and other noisy environments creative, does not sort out too much stimuli or already categorized one can see the same "stuff" from a different perspective instead of hardwiring it into the brain, learnt once - never change etc etc

  • Re: Obviouslly by CreativityOverload Friday, January 27 @ 01:31:48 EST

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by rdos Saturday, January 28 @ 04:31:16 EST
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I don't find this a theory of the cause of autism at all, as it doesn't explain why autistics are born different, but instead presumes the difference is just an injury (exposure to toxins), just like all the other theories of autism. OTOH, I find this theory interesting in regards to why autistics have all the problems in society. It very well explains why autistics become mute, how their (natural, inborn) sensory differences turn into overload and isolation. I believe this part of the theory is correct, but it is all about what happens when you put a sensitive individual in a too "intense" world. Additionally, this is not the only unifying theory of autism, it is not even a theory of autism as it cannot explain why autistics are born different. The only unifying theory of autism is the Neanderthal theory of autism, but I suppose the creators never heard about that one.

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Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by tthrs Thursday, February 23 @ 07:26:42 EST
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I think the theory is largley incorrect apart from where it plays upon the things autistics already know and have been saying for years, but it puts them across in a way clearly coming from an NT who doesn't properly understand them. It also plays on something already widely known - that environmental toxins plus genetic predisposition can cause things diagnosed as autism. I believe there is no unifying theory for autism. I have written what I think the truth behind autism is here - http://www.wrongplanet.net/postt190790.html

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by VioletRain Friday, February 24 @ 16:01:42 EST
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This is such a wonderful and MUCH needed study! I have two children on the autism spectrum and these findings really resonate with what I've witnessed over time while spending 24-hours a day with them for years. I feel they have always been hyper-sensitive to their environment and can easily hear things others never notice. If I'm talking to someone several rooms away, the kids can hear every word we say. They notice the slightest change in environment. And most of all, they easily pick up on the feelings and emotions of others around them. It's difficult to ask a young child to be present when they are being bombarded with emotions that aren't their own (which they might not realize) and for which they have no name or frame of reference. I spend the most time with my kiddos and have noticed a change in their behaviors if my mood changes (even if im showing no outward sign of positive or negative mood) as well as a change in their stimming behaviors when my husband arrives home from work after a stressful day (even if they haven't spoken with him, or interacted with him in ANY way). I've known for so long that our children are so special and very gifted. My son once told a little girl in his kindergarten class that he liked her 'because of her clean heart' - if that doesn't give some insight as to just how much these beautiful souls can see into and feel others, I don't know what dose. The way the government agencies and public schools are trying to 'support' our children is totally wrong. I believe (especially after reading the full findings of The Intense World Theory) that parents should trust their instincts and that this is one situation where 'tuff love' is NOT the solition! Our children and friends on the spectrum need our support in allowing them to be who they are, allowing them the space and the time to explore THEIR interests, assisting them to find what they excel at intellectually and being present with them when they share the excitement of their findings. Forcing them to fit into the socially acceptable box of what is 'normal' is doing a dis-service to everyone involved...and could potentially suppress new ideas, inventions and the learning of acceptance and compassion of those who, potentially, could create a better world. We owe much to Henry & Kamila for coming out with this new theory... I'm so thankful I found their information!

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Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by Clickie Wednesday, April 11 @ 17:18:04 EDT
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I think the Intense World theory is very analogous to what we've bred pointing dogs to do. I have two English field setters, and one of them is what is known as "intensely birdy." She is a strange dog in many ways, but probably the best way I can describe it is that she's constantly listening to, seeing, and reacting to everything in the world that moves. A windy day will drive her crazy, and dog training in the outdoors just won't work for her: she won't pay any attention to you AT ALL. When she gets really agitated, her reaction is to neurotically lick objects, like walls, fences, her bed, her leg, for HOURS. It seems to soothe her to do it. When people see her pointing and frozen at the dog park, they seem to attribute intelligence to her behavior: that she is seeing something exceptional that others can't see. In most normal circumstances, people would consider her to be a very stupid dog, because she doesn't seem to be able to listen to commands or figure things out. My other setter, while birdy to some degree, is much more interested in interactions with humans and dogs, indoors or out. He can be distracted by birds and moving things, but not to the point of exclusion of other inputs, and is capable of listening when we're outside. I think that probably his behavior is more along the lines of what was intended in the breed, and my extreme dog is an extreme version of this phenotype. I think it makes a lot sense to analogize this "birdy" sense in hunting dogs to something akin to Intense World autism in humans. She's not a dumb dog, she's just usually too overwhelmed by sensory input to do anything about anything. I wonder...would it be possible to use dog breeds to model human neurology? Setters and pointers are clearly bred for a fairly extreme phenotype that is useful to humans and parallels a phenotype that exists in humans.

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Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by freddo Thursday, July 04 @ 13:23:25 EDT
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So good to read that the disease / deficit / retardation model to explain Asperger is being challenged. I have been trying to cope with the environment constructed by the social majority for 63 years - and to survive the overwhelming "wrongness' of its rules and expectations for someone like me. I want to suggest an idea that supports and adds to the "Intense" theory: the symptoms of intense fear and the need to escape are normal for any wild animal, especially when caught or confined in what for it is a dangerous and abnormal environment. Modern social humans (the 99%) are arrested in a juvenile state necessitated by the crowding together of humans during the agricultural / city-building period. Just as other animals were domesticated (compare dogs) Homo sapiens self-domesticated through sexual selection for "tamer" individuals, a type which became the majority. People with Autism-Aspergers likely have a sensory-brain system more like our wild hunter gatherer ancestors and Neanderthals. Heightened senses, an alert fear response, depth of observation of signs, signals and an intense interest in how the environment works would be normal in a wild environment. Modern social humans, whose processing of sensory information has been necessarily reduced because of urban density, are focused on other people, and almost entirely ignore the vast amount of information that is ever-present for an Autism-Asperger brain.

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by mtgrl Saturday, May 31 @ 20:48:56 EDT
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What I find interesting about this study is that if applied it could also explain some symptoms of ADHD in a similar model. If over stimulation causes the brain to shut down in autism, the same may be the reason why those with ADHD become inattentive. I have heard many explanations of ADHD that people with ADHD don't have an attention deficit-rather, we pay too much attention to everything. So much unfiltered information entering the brain at once would cause a child to learn to block out certain things to attempt to focus on one thing to avoid overwhelm, causing the inability to pick up cues and shift attention, and to be oblivious to their surroundings. Thus the hyperfocus as the flipside of distractibility. Applying the same concept, it would also help explain a recent study that theorized that people with ADHD process information at a quicker pace than others and experience time faster, but respond slower-in a similar way that autistic individuals may withdraw and block out input to avoid overload from an intense world, perhaps ADHD individuals tune out or linger to deal with the faster pace of life they are experiencing. Kind of like trying to keep up with shooting ducks in a row that are going twice as fast as the others. That would also explain the similarities in symptoms between the two disorders. The 1/f noise theory of ADHD: http://austin.culturemap.com/news/innovation/10-09-11-17-14-kids-with-adhd-not-inattentive-after-all/ I hope they do more research on the Intense World theory and find out more details. It is an interesting theory that should be further investigated and possibly applied to explain other disorders, like ADHD and aspects of bipolar disorder. Excerpt from http://www.addresources.org/i-have-add-sometimes-known-adhd "Actually, people with attention deficit disorder may pay too much attention to their surroundings. One or two things are commonly going on in our minds at any given time. Most of us are actually gathering (and attempting to process) far more information about our surroundings than normal people do... As a result, we may have so much data in our heads that it becomes difficult to sort it out. If you were to strike up a conversation with me on a busy street corner-assuming you are a normal person-you would probably expect me to shut out everything else and pay strict attention to you. That is truly a totally unreasonable expectation to place on an ADD person. I would be listening to you, but I'd also be listening to traffic noises, chirping birds, barking dogs, as well as the conversations of people around us. But that's not all! I'd be looking at what you are wearing, your gestures, clouds in the sky, displays in nearby store fronts, billboards, street signs, cracks in the sidewalk, grass growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk, an ant climbing through the grass, the leaf the ant is dragging, and the hole in the leaf. You've just finished telling me about your Aunt Gertrude's appendectomy, and I respond with, "I never realized an ant could carry anything that big!" You probably think I'm crazy and wonder if I really think your Aunt's appendix was that swollen, depending on how you and I pronounce "ant" and "aunt.This example may present at least an inkling of what is happening much of the time in the heads of those of us with ADD. You see, it really isn't an attention "deficit." It is more like an attention "excess." Maybe, in that respect, we are hyperactive. Even though our bodies don't always show it, our minds are in overdrive. Then another thing sometimes happens to those of us with ADD-we become hyper-focused. Again, this is not a lack of or shortage of attention. Hyper-focused is highly concentrated attention. When we go into a hyper-focus state, we may ignore you when you speak to us. It's not intentional, but we may be concentrating so intently on one miniscule source of data that you could put an air horn next to our ears, blast it for three seconds, and we genuinely would be totally unaware of your presence. It's just that some subject, some object, some project has grasped and held our attention so powerfully that we become unconscious of anything else in our surroundings until we are completely through dealing with it."

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by TypOriginal Saturday, September 06 @ 06:08:10 EDT
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Henry and Kamila Markram: "Autism is a devastating (?!) neurodevelopmental (?!) disorder (?!) with a polygenetic (?!) predisposition ..." Is there any substantial evidence to support that claim? I do not experience any devastating-ness, never have, to be honest. Do you? Also, I don't feel disordered and the effect of genes is probably hugely exaggerated, because there is more to this existence than just matter. Why is it relevant for people who themselves do not experience what they call autism, to be creating definitions of what is called autism? The dominant majority can usually only look at "autism" in terms of: it is bad, unwanted or undesirable, but why would that be relevant or actually true? Usually people only use the word autism when things turn out differently than expected. You are rarely being called autistic when you make a great discovery. Does one need complete strangers to know who or what one is? Do you go to so-called autism experts to hear from them who or what you are and what you should do to become happy? Why would the default concept of happiness or joy apply to what you call autistic people? Maybe it is possible for people to be perfectly happy without the usual status, material wealth and ego that are so highly valued by most other people. Do you also investigate why people or not autistic?

Re: Interview: Henry and Kamila Markram about The Intense World Theory for Autism (Score: 1)
by lindal Sunday, October 19 @ 21:41:22 EDT
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This theory is more in line with what I have observed in my daughter. The theory of mind asserts that an autistic person does not have empathy. What I have observed is that it may appear that way to someone looking at it superficially. However when I later explain it to her, she has intense empathy. Thank you.

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