Fearfully and wonderfully made…

The San Francisco Chronicle recently informed me that the blood of autistic kids (autism being a diagnosis currently skyrocketing around the Bay Area) tends to show an inadequate level of immunity. The article I read made no philosophical reflection on that fact, made no attempt to point out a psychological parallel of the autistic person’e2’80’99s lack of immunity to the merciless stimulation of the world around them, but the parallel is there.

However, it connects’e2’80’94somewhat indirectly, I know, but this is a blog, not a graduate essay (hi, Zoe! now get back to work) ‘e2’80’94with a book I read recently by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, called ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION. Grandin is an autistic woman who has become a renowned expert in animal behavior. The book is fascinating not simply because of the insight into the way animals think, but because she is a person who treats animals and human beings with precisely the same attitude. A born Buddhist.

Anyway, she talks (page 106) about the hormone oxytocin. Nursing mothers know oxytocin, or its manufactured substitute syntocin, as the hormone that stimulates the let-down of milk. Without the let-down, the infant would starve, but it is also a pleasurable experience for the mother, since it does double duty as one of the hormones of sexuality.

Grandin writes, ‘e2’80’9cOxytocin is essential to social memory: oxytocin is the hormone that lets animals remember each other.’e2’80’9d Patting a dog raises the oxytocin level in both dog and person; it ties together the two species for their mutual benefit. Oxytocin also kicks in a physiological boost for the act of motherhood, and for the state of monogamy.

God, truly, is in the details.

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  1. Anonymous on May 13, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    In which case, what about the bottle-feeding which was so prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s?


  2. Anonymous on May 13, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    One more thing – I rather like the explanation WIRED Magazine gave for the prevalence of autism in California. With some of the blanks filled in, it went something like this:

    (1) Silicon Valley gave geeks a place to thrive and get rich – and gather together.

    (2) Feminism and modern views on women’s careers made sure both male and famle geeks were so gathered.

    (3) Mother Nature and the sheer delight of finding someone who thinks the way you do gave an edge to the possibility that they’d breed.

    (4) Now suppose you’re looking at something like manic-depression, in which a small dose is good and a double dose lethal? I could run on about the evolutionary advantage and likelihood of that happening here, but it’s fairly obvious.

    (5) so – we’re seeing the feects of the double dose of the ‘geek genes’. Sadly.

    Pat, again

  3. Rebecca on May 13, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    There was an article about Temple Grandin and her book in Discover Magazine recently, and it sounded interesting.

    I’m no expert on autism, but I do have some freakishly smart friends (like, perfect SAT scores, and spending their spare time studying dead languages), and from my small experience it seems that really, really, really smart people tend to function a little like high-functioning autistics. The movie Rain Man always reminds me of the friend mentioned above, and other friends have noticed this about him, too.

    I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

  4. 2maple on May 13, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    God is in the details’e2’80’a6 Which is why I can never fathom the fury over evolution’e2’80’a6the simplicity that allows life to continuously adapt and improve’e2’80’a6despite four billion years of whatever being thrown at it’e2’80’a6like oxytocin, a variation that occurred along the way that allow life to be more successful’e2’80’a6.it’e2’80’99s too perfect.

    One of the disturbing issues about autism and a whole host of other childhood issues that have also increased is that of vaccination against acute diseases increased susceptibility to chronic disorders such as asthma, arthritis and ADHD in those individuals with a genetic tendency’e2’80’a6they all have an auto-immune aspect (the immune system mistaking self tissues for non-self and mounts an inappropriate attack).

    So we mess with the design’e2’80’a6and, like a computer, life responds ‘e2’80’a6garbage in, garbage out.

  5. Anonymous on May 15, 2005 at 5:22 am

    Laurie, Your blog entry re autisim and the chemical involved in breast feeding is fascinating. We’re all such amazing miracles of chemistry, evolution, individualilty, and God knows what. It’s good to know some sophisticated and literate people are alive and well in our society which seems to be regressing too fast and too dangeriously into tunnelvisioin thinking about science and religion.
    Peace and Creativity to all of us trying to be most truly human.

  6. Anonymous on May 15, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    I have heard that Bill Gates is border-line autistic.

  7. Kaylene on May 16, 2005 at 1:22 am

    One of the juniors at my school is autistic. He’s a very interesting person, and likewise is his art. (It’s an art school…) One of my teachers was talking about how interesting it was to see his art, because he sees the world a lot differently than most of the other students there; you get to see something from not only another person’s point of view, but another frame of mind.
    Everyone at my school is very supportive of him, and we’re always trying to help him with what he’s doing. It’s nice to see that compassion… Anyway, he’s made it through the year, and has become a lot more social and independent over it, and it was interesting to see the progression.

    On a completely unrelated topic, Laurie, what are your policies on art based on your characters? (Kate Martinelli, Russell…)

  8. beadtific on May 17, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    I felt the same way when I discovered that the position leaves and petals on flowers can be predicted by fractal equasions. Don’t ask me how; I don’t know nothin’ ’bout higher math, but I do remember the feeling of awed glee.

  9. Elle on December 14, 2005 at 1:13 am

    Hello. I am a recently delighted new reader of your work.

    Regarding this article, I believe the technical name for high functioning autism is referred to as Asperger Syndrome. There is an informative article on Wikipedia if you and your gentle readers are interested.

    Please keep up the excellent work!

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