Autism and Alzheimer’s

The two are not related. Not in any direct way other than both being disorders (not diseases) of the mind. Yet there are certain characteristics of both which share a kind of commonality, although in inverse terms.

It’s surprising how many young people I know with Autism and how many old people I know with Alzheimer’s. Disturbing, perhaps. Trying at times. Who better to sort out such conditions than someone who is part engineer and part psychologist? A better term would be “sort through” as “sort out” implies finding solutions and so far no one has, including me.

First, Autism. We know it is a disorder wherein neural connections are not “as they should be”. This is Atypical Neural Physiognomy, and is related to conditions like as synesthesia and Turrets Syndrome. The “re-arranged” wiring is not unusual, as these variances are what make us individuals; giving us our particular skills – or lack thereof. So yes everybody is “on the spectrum”; we wouldn’t be human if we weren’t. We only tack on the Autism label when the changes are such that they make functioning in society noticeably difficult. The severity can range anywhere from mere ‘trouble fitting in’ to ‘can not function on own’. All because when a synapse fires the signal goes to the wrong place – multiplied out by however many are required to produce the particular characteristic.

Now consider the victim of Alzheimer’s. Here there is a ‘normal’ brain (although there is nothing to absolutely prevent an Autistic from developing this later-life condition, as far as anyone knows) whose synaptic function is interfered with by ‘plaque’. Instead of a neuron firing to produce a predictable result it fires and produces none. The brain’s response to this is to find an explanation for the dysfunction. Manifested as consciousness, this means Alzheimer’s patients construct fantasies to explain the reality that isn’t making sense.

Autistic people often have similar trouble: the ‘normal’ world with its hosts of arbitrary rules doesn’t make sense. They either find ways to cope, or they don’t cope. Put the two conditions side-by-side and see that the quality of the coping mechanism determines success of failure for both. The difference is once the Autistic has found a solution they can keep on using it. The Alzheimer’s sufferer is not in a stable state, and as the condition progresses they are destined for failure.

This is another example of the inversion: the Autistic will get better at dealing with their condition over time, and eventually present as ‘normal’ to the rest of the world. The Alzheimer’s patient may appear ‘normal’ in the early stages but inevitably will not be able to maintain that front as the condition worsens.

At the neural level we can see the ‘solution’ for both: all we have to do is fix the connections between nerve cells causing the problems. Just change the wires around. Just remove the unwanted insulation. If only it were that easy. Maybe someday it will be, but not now.

This musing isn’t going anyplace in particular. It’s just observation; a missive about the connection between two unconnected brain conditions which are about connections.

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