Autistic People Are 3 Times More Likely To Have Hallucinations


Autistic People Are 3 Times More Likely To Have Hallucinations

Do you ever hear a sound when there is nothing around to explain it? Or perhaps you have the feeling that someone is nearby when they’re not? Some people have a lot of these experiences. Others, hardly any. Certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, can cause them, but unusual perceptions also happen in people who don’t have mental health problems. A new finding from my research group suggests that autistic adults are particularly likely to have these kinds of experiences. The Conversation

In our study, autistic and non-autistic adults were presented with a list of unusual perceptions and asked to indicate how many they had experienced. Autistic people reported three times more of these unusual experiences than non-autistic people. For example, we found that 63% of autistic adults answered yes to the question: “Do you ever feel that someone is touching you, but when you look nobody is there?” compared with only 7% of non-autistic adults. Similarly, 47% of autistic adults answered yes to the question: “Do you ever see shapes, lights, or colours even though there is nothing really there?” compared with 14% of non-autistic adults.

Until now, scientists didn’t know that hallucinatory type experiences occur in autism, although we’ve known for a long time that autism is associated with more sensitive hearing and sight.

However, unusual hallucinatory perception is different to being sensitive to particular stimuli. Some of the items in the questionnaire asked about changes in stimulus intensity which we might expect to be increased in autism, but other questions focused on strange or distorted perceptions, such as “Do you ever experience unusual burning sensations or other strange feelings in or on your body?” and “Do you ever hear your own thoughts spoken aloud in your head, so that someone near might be able to hear them?” Three times more autistic adults than non-autistic adults responded yes to both of these questions, indicating that our finding doesn’t just reflect more sensitive perception.

Different levels of certain chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) may explain why some people have more unusual perceptions than others. Migraines, for example, are often preceded by hallucinations, such as seeing lights and shapes that aren’t there. Similarly, epilepsy can be associated with strange perceptions.

Both migraine and epilepsy have been linked to changes in levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. Within the brain, some neurotransmitters have an excitatory role and stimulate neural activity, while others have an inhibitory role and serve to reduce neural activity. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Reductions in GABA levels can therefore lead to overactivity in the brain causing both visual disturbance and seizures. Altered GABA levels have also been implicated in autism.

Not the only culprit

The link between unusual perception and autism may not come just from innate differences in chemicals in the brain, however. Recent work suggests that negative experiences, such as being bullied or socially isolated, may lead to hallucinations.

Unfortunately, many autistic people suffer social isolation and bullying, and these negative events may contribute to the development of unusual perceptions. A recent article in The Conversation described how people who face discrimination, such as immigrants, also have more hallucinatory and paranoid feelings than people who are not discriminated against. Similar mechanisms may be at work in autism.

As well as finding that unusual perceptual experiences are much more common in autism, we found that the experiences are much more distressing in autism. And it’s important to consider what can be done to limit this distress. One of the first places to start is with understanding and acceptance.

If someone with autism has these experiences then knowing that they are quite common in other people with autism can help to reduce their worry about it. Doctors may not always think to ask people with autism about unusual perceptions, but our research suggests that this could be an important area to discuss in the clinic so that methods can be introduced to help people cope with it when it happens.

Perhaps most crucial is the importance of developing a better understanding of autism in the general public. More and more people are being diagnosed with autism, including a growing number of people who don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood. Often only small changes are needed to help people with autism integrate more fully into society. These small steps can go a long way to reducing social isolation.

If social isolation and bullying do contribute to the development of unusual perception in autism, then reducing the distress caused by these unusual perceptions is one of many benefits that would be brought about by the creation of a society where autism is more clearly recognised and understood.

About The Author

Elizabeth Milne, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience, Director of the Sheffield Autism Research Lab, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books:

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband

behaviorAuthor: David Finch
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
Brand: Unknown
Studio: Scribner
Label: Scribner
Publisher: Scribner
Manufacturer: Scribner

Buy Now
Editorial Review: The warm and hilarious bestselling memoir by a man diagnosed with Asperger syndrome who sets out to save his marriage.

At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the @#!% is wrong with my husband?! In David Finch’s case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis explains David’s ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, but it doesn’t make him any easier to live with.

Determined to change, David sets out to understand Asperger syndrome and learn to be a better husband with an endearing yet hilarious zeal. His methods for improving his marriage involve excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, the Journal of Best Practices: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies, including “Don’t change the radio station when she’s singing along” and “Apologies do not count when you shout them.” Over the course of two years, David transforms himself from the world’s most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest. He becomes the husband he’d always meant to be.

Filled with humor and surprising wisdom, The Journal of Best Practices is a candid story of ruthless self-improvement, a unique window into living with an autism spectrum condition, and proof that a true heart can conquer all.

An Exceptional Pupil: Teaching Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Children

behaviorAuthor: Angel Griffin
Binding: Paperback
  • Used Book in Good Condition

Brand: Brand: Wheatmark
Studio: Wheatmark
Label: Wheatmark
Publisher: Wheatmark
Manufacturer: Wheatmark

Buy Now
Editorial Review: In an entertaining synthesis of personal experience and scientific investigation, Angel Griffin describes effective methods for teaching the exceptional pupil, the Aspergers child. As she and her son travel his road to actualization through home education, her understanding grows with every problem they solve. Using the latest scientific findings to inform her teaching, she makes practical sense of what professionals know. With clarity and precision, her writing demonstrates the elegance of her essential principles. A book about cultivating whole-brain thinking, it never shrinks from the big picture-what connects the features of autism and what this tells us about teaching our children. Angel Griffin grew up in an academic atmosphere, yet she struggled throughout childhood and into college with the undiagnosed learning disabilities of dyslexia and faulty visual field perception. Despite these handicaps, she pursued her interest in literature, technical writing, and science-particularly cognitive development. She attended Prescott College, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Scripps College of the Claremont Colleges in California, where she earned an honors degree in comparative literature. When her son was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, she decided to school him at home. For nine years she and her son worked together to ensure that he acquired an excellent education in liberal arts, mathematics, and the nuances of social interaction.

In My Mind: A Journey Through My Life With Asperger's/Autism (Volume 1)

behaviorAuthor: Alex Olinkiewicz
Binding: Paperback
  • Dr. Richard O'Connell

Studio: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Label: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Manufacturer: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Buy Now
Editorial Review: What is unique about this book is the depth of understanding and the analytical skills Alex has brought to this task. As Alex says, “There are varying types of Asperger's and young people cannot all be squeezed into having the same diagnostic symptoms. But what they do have are some correlation to the symptoms laid out by Hans Asperger." ( Please note Asperger's may now be described as the lower end of the Autistic scale.) In his book, Alex takes each of eight symptoms and comments how these symptoms are pertinent in his life. In so doing, the reader will find similarities to those children with Asperger's that they know and will be able to reflect with new insights on what Alex is talking about. In addition to the above, Alex shares many experiences in his life that reflect his Asperger's condition from not being able to drive, social development, repetitions, panic situations, holidays, family, movies, relaxers, etc. Alex has augmented his insights with graphics that even more clearly clarify his Asperger's symptoms and sheds new ways of seeing the Asperger's condition. In reading this book, the, reader will clarify in his/her mind the characteristics common to the children that he/she knows. Along the way Alex is brought to tears in recounting the unpleasantness of his experiences. At the same time, there are moments of great hilarity in the retelling of episodes that have a sense of the comedic in them. The second part of Alex's book is a re-counting of his life experiences, explaining why he can't drive, how he relates to his family, his school experiences, the things that relax him and those which may cause him near panic. From each experience the reader will assess the lessons learned and how it relates to the children he/she may know. In the addendum, significant family members and friends assess Alex's Asperger's diagnosis. This is extremely helpful in to the reader in that many of the problems in dealing with children with Asperger's/Autism are similar to Alex's. Every child with Asperger's has some gift. Alex's gift is his ability to penetrate to the core of his Asperger's Syndrome and then is able to articulate his response in such a way as to enlighten the reader. Added to this is a great sense of metaphor, which is highlighted by multiple graphics in the book.


follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email


follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email