Recently a young mother wrote and asked,
I found your site while researching a particular type of autism and when I read your article on the four autisms, I started wondering. Is there a name for folks who follow their rituals both because of response to physical stimuli AND to deal with mental stimuli?
BTW, it's a fascinating theory and one I can feel has a chance of being proven at some point in the future. Thank you for sharing it via the web.
Thank you for writing. And for your kind words. Knowing I may be helping children (and their families) is why my site exists. Thus kind words like yours mean a lot to me.
As for the nature of physical rituals, or "stims" as many of us have now come to call them, they are, like most things in human personality, a bit of a mystery to most folks. Not so much "that" they happen. Many people self stim. Rather, "why" they happen is the mystery.
So why do they happen? Here’s a bit of a long story which may help to explain.
I have, over the past year, been writing a book on talk therapy. During this time, and in part as a direct result of my having been writing this book, I made a rather significant discovery with regard to what connects the mind and the body. The nature of the discovery? That Descartes was right. That there really is a mechanism through which the mind and body interact. And no. It's not the pineal gland. It's that we have a dualistic sense of time. One sense in the body. The other in the mind.
Can you imagine what this is like for us? If not, try imaging that you are holding two mechanical pendulums, one in each hand. Moreover you have been told that your sense of consciousness depends entirely on their running in perfect sync. In sync means you experience life consciously. Out of sync means you lose your focus.
Not sure what I'm saying? It appears we humans have a dualistic sense of time. Two sense of time really. Moreover it also appears no one has previously mentioned this. Not even the great philosophers including Descartes himself. Albeit Leibniz infers it slightly.
Ironically, this is actually quite easy to witness for yourself once you learn where to look. Moreover once seen, it becomes a tool useful beyond measure in that it explains the psychophysical mechanism underlying most of what we humans struggle with. Everything from where to look for the "cure" for ADD and why medication affects this condition, to the reasons we get addicted to drugs like cocaine, and what leads otherwise smart and motivated people to overeat.
Does this sound hard to believe? Like pseudo science perhaps? If so, I can certainly understand. In fact, I still feel this way myself some days. This aside, in the week following my initial discovery, I went to an Autism seminar given by my friend Dr. John Ortiz. That day, at lunch, we spoke briefly about what I had just discovered. Essentially, I mentioned three things to him. One, that the mind and body each have their own sense of time; that there is a dualistic sense of time in human personality. Two, that we each have a preference for which sense of time we sense life from; from the mind's perspective, or from the body's. And three, that we intuitively desire a holistic sense of life, something we achieve only in those moments wherein these two senses of time run in sync. In essence, the sense of timelessness which we feel in moments wherein we have "aha's."
I also explained where these two senses of time come from. They come from the vertical column extending from the top of the brain to the base of the spinal column. Especially from our two physical brains; the brain in our head and the brain in our gut. Both physiological facts. (If you are unfamiliar with this stuff, try googling Dr. Gershon's work).
In hindsight, I find it no coincidence some pretty spiritual folks have been referring to this vertical column for thousands of years as a collection and distribution channel for what we sense. Including our sense of time. What they have not been mentioning however is that our sense of time stems directly from the height at which you collect physical sensation on this column.
What am I saying? I'm saying that the higher on this column we sense and respond to life, the faster we sense time. And the faster we process life. Conversely, the lower on this column we sense and respond to life, the slower our we sense time. And the slower we process life.
In addition, it appears we each have a default preference for where we sense time. Two basic senses really. Either we experience life as a Mind First person (someone who senses life primarily at about the mouth level of this vertical column) or as a Body First person (someone who senses life primarily at about the diaphragm level of this vertical column).
How does this affect us in real life then?
Well if you are a Mind First person (someone who senses life first through the mind), then you will talk, read, think, eat, and communicate at a significantly faster pace than if you are a Body First person (someone who senses life first through the body). Moreover, rather than these preferences being either good or bad, right or wrong, they are simply a default we each have programmed into us similar to our tendency for handedness; either for right or left handedness.
Still not convinced? Know this is all very easy to test for and usually takes only minutes. How? Well one test for mind body preference is to simply ask someone to simultaneously give you oral and written driving directions. Mind First people will speak far ahead of their writing hand. Body First people will write far slower than their spoken directions.
Even easier still, simply sit with someone and deliberately slow down the speed at which you are speaking to them. Body First people will experience a comfort and clarity they rarely feel, while Mind First folks will become increasingly uncomfortable the slower you talk.
What causes this to happen?
Mind First people literally become unable to process their thoughts when in the presence of too much physical stimulation. Thus listening to someone speak slowly causes Mind First people to experience higher than normal amounts of physical sensation. The physical sensation of sound. This increase in physical sensation then literally makes them go out of their mind and into their body. Why? Because the amount of body stimulation they experience quickly exceeds their capacity to process, causing them to become unable to process thought.
Want to see this happen for yourself? Here's another quick test. Ask a Mind First person to take a mouthful of water and hold it in his or her mouth. Now ask this person questions while he or she monitors his or her ability to think. What will you see? You'll see the main cause of overeating. The idea that when Mind First people have food in their mouth, it interferes with their ability to think. Thus they swallow quickly in order to get rid of this interference.
What’s happening here? In essence, these folks are intelligent people who, when they eat, experience eating from a Mind First perspective. Thus they experience the physical sensations present as a distraction to their ability to think. In fact, the better food tastes to them, the more they are distracted. Thus the tendency to feel urges to eat better tasting food in a hurry rather than to savor it.
The point here is, Mind First people experience the physical sensations of eating as distractions. And these distractions then interfere with their ability to think. Including their ability to mentally manage their eating.
The result? Mind First folks, more times than not, eat unconsciously and at a more than healthy pace. Moreover the source of these symptoms lies not in any psychological defect. Rather it lies entirely in the distracting imbalance created between the person's normal mind body preference. In other words, eating food physically stimulates these folks in ways which interfere with their ability to think. This makes eating literally as distracting to a Mind First person as learning is to a Body First person.
In a way then, we could say that Mind First people have "body ADD," in that physical sensations literally distract them, impairing their ability to think. And conversely, Body First people have "mind ADD," in that thoughts literally distract them, impairing their ability to sense life physically.
What am I saying? I'm saying that folks who get distracted while thinking, those once said to have ADD, are all Body First people who are trying to sense life through their body. Unfortunately our educational system is biased toward a Mind First world. Thus to them, mental stimulation acts as an unbalancing agent to their normal preference for sensing life through the body and interferes with their ability to learn.
Said in other words, thoughts interfere with the normally good physical focus of Body First people. Just as the physical sensations of eating food interfere with the normally good mental focus of Mind First folks. Hence the stereotypes for that athletes are physically adept but "slow mentally" while mental wizards are quick minded but physically inept.
Obviously all this would be meaningless were I to have no pragmatic results. And while it is far too early to offer wide ranging proofs, what I can say is that I am well on my way to curing ADD in several adults. Two have had it almost reach the point where it is all but completely gone. And yes. I said, “curing.”
As for how all this applies to your question about physical rituals, after briefly speaking with Dr. Ortiz about all this at lunch that day, we returned to his seminar. And within minutes, he was describing to the audience cases wherein folks stim themselves.
At one point then, he was describing a little aspie girl who stimmed herself whenever her mind raced. And as he was saying this, right in mid sentence, he and I experienced an eye to eye simultaneous aha. Stims are an attempt on the part of the person to use physical stimulation to balance the speed of an overactive mind by speeding up the pace of the body.
In other words, stims are a natural human defense built into personality. Moreover, the nature of this defense is simply that it is our countermeasure against living with the discomfort of having a significant imbalance between the speed at which we think and the speed at which we feel. Between our mind's sense of life and our body's sense of life.
In a sense then, with stims, we are using repetitive physical stimulation to bring our body's sense of time more in line with our mind's sense of time. And by making this stimulation repetitive, we quickly overcome the distractive qualities present in this physical stimulation and temporarily sped up our body's sense of time while at the same time, slowing down our mind's.
Anyway, hopefully this will provoke some possibilities for you. And thanks again for writing. Also, know I'd be glad to discuss this further should you wish to write back.