Decoding My Autism

For a long time, I've tried to understand what goes on in my brain. Along the way, I've learned some things and made discoveries that have helped me live a better life.

  • Dan Bell

Verbal or Nonverbal, Communication is Hard

There are many questions in the autism community about what constitutes being nonverbal. I regularly see parents in Facebook groups asking about this. Is it being completely mute, making no sound at all? Making sounds but not words? Saying only a few words but not being about to easily communicate?

The truth is, it can be any and all of these things. There is no sharp divide between verbal and non-verbal, no all-or-nothing definition.

I am constantly learning through this journey, about autism and about myself.

There are many things from my childhood that I no longer remember. As I've talked about this journey and what I've been learning, my parents made sometimes startling revelations about my past.

The most eye-opening thing they told me recently? I was once non-verbal. In my case, completely nonverbal. No words.

I'd known I had difficulty talking growing up. My brother once described that when I was about 3, I didn't say much, but could type out the names of everyone in our family on a typewriter (yes, a typewriter, not a computer - it was the 80s).

But before that, I had been nonverbal. No babbling, no simple words, instead just a wordless, headache-inducing shriek.

At the time, I had been diagnosed by Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). The autism spectrum wasn't a thing at the time, neither was high-functioning autism known, so my diagnosis was not connected to autism, nor was I considered autistic.

By 4 years old, I was speaking with an advanced vocabulary for my age. My family thought that my challenges, and my PDD-NOS, were effectively overcome. Later though, the social aspects of autism caught up with me, and my parents realized more was going on. (They figured out I had autism when I was 11.)

I was able to speak, but difficulties communicating remained. From not knowing how to express myself, to not knowing how to engage in a conversation, my communication challenges continued.

The most persistent communication challenge I had was a kind of stammer. I would start a sentence, say the first few words, then start the sentence over, saying the same words over again and then continuing with the sentence. I did this into my 30s.

As I've talked about before in my post "Finding My Voice", the challenges can come from differences in the brain.

To recap, the speech centers and the motor centers of the brain are connected by a nerve bundles called the arcuate fasciculus (AF). Research has found that in autism, the AF is thinner than it's supposed to be, and that the thinner it is, the more language challenges there are.

Thankfully, there is some help, and hope. I rarely have that stammer anymore. I'm able to speak fluidly and clearly the first time.

What helped make the difference? Believe it or not, vitamin D.

Vitamin D does quite a few things in the body, including helping the body make two important things: oxytocin and vasopressin. Both are involved in social learning, and oxytocin is sometimes called the bonding hormone, because it is released when people bond socially.

Because vitamin D is typically low in autism, oxytocin is sometimes low in autism as well. For those low in oxytocin, oxytocin supplements have been shown to improve social behavior.

Oxytocin also helps different parts of the brain talk to each other, particularly those involved reward and social/learning processing.

Oxytocin supplements can be difficult to obtain, so I recommend supplementing vitamin D to help make oxytocin. It's readily available and affordable.

In my case, I think it has helped me speak better as well. I think it's helped the speech centers of my brain communicate with the motor centers, allowing me to talk more smoothly. I don't start sentences over - I can just say the words as I think of them.

It's been a big help to me, and I think it can help others as well.

And, as always, if you're considering vitamin D supplements, I recommend talking to a doctor about proper dosage.

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