Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


A couple of digressions are needed here. First, any bodily tissue can react as if it is allergic. The allergic response merely involves inflammation (swelling with fluids) of the cells in the affected area. This kind of inflammation is the first part of the body’s immune response by which it protects itself from ‘dangerous’ material which enters it. That is, the body reacts to the allergen (the material which stimulates the allergic response) as if the allergen is a real ‘danger’ to the body’s health – the body treats the allergen as though it was a foreign body with which it has to deal for its own protection and survival. The thing that makes an allergen different from other kinds of poisons, infections or foreign matter is not the way the body reacts to it. It is the fact that the allergen is not a real danger or threat to the body – evidenced by the fact that other non-allergic people do not produce the immune response to an allergen, and do not suffer any illness or other harmful consequence from it. Thus the allergic response is an unnecessary immune reaction to an unreal danger.

One kind of bodily tissue which, like any other, can respond with the (immune) inflammatory allergic response is nervous tissue, or the nerves – particularly those in the grey matter of the brain, which are not insulated by the myelin sheath (protecting the nerves of the peripheral nervous system). Does alcohol act as an allergen and produce the inflammatory response in some people’s nerve tissues? Almost certainly not. Certainly not in Larry’s case. He could drink all sorts of alcoholic beverages with no effects at all on him. What the alcohol probably did in Larry was mainly to serve as a ‘transmitter’ substance to hurry itself and its allergenic contents through the blood stream to get its contents to the ‘target’ organ – in this case, the ‘drive centre’ in the old brain.

A second digression is necessary to explain how nerves work to produce and conduct their electrical charges. Nerve cells perform the task of a ‘sodium pump’. Sodium chloride, or salt, in the nerve is ionized, or separated into its sodium and chloride ions (or parts). The ‘sodium pump’ pushes the sodium ion out of the nerve to the outside of the nerve’s membrane. The nerve is now ‘charged’ and ready to transmit a signal. It waits for a stimulus. When a suitable stimulus contacts it, the membrane’s permeability or penetrability is increased, allowing the sodium ion to re-enter the cell and de-ionize its chloride partner. The de-ionization creates an electrical current. This current serves as a stimulus to increase the permeability of the surrounding membrane, allowing the next sodium ion to enter and de-ionize its chloride partner. The succession of de-ionizations passes along the nerve fibre and creates the electrical charge transmitted along the nerve’s length. This is what happens under normal conditions.

But if something happens which interferes with the ability of the membrane to become consistently penetrable at all points, some of the sodium ions may not be able to re-enter the same cell. They may then pop over to visit neighbouring cells, de-ionizing some of their chloride ions and starting current passing along the lengths of neighbouring cells. This amounts to a short-circuit, or epilepsy. [The short-circuit itself is not, I would contend, the epilepsy. Epilepsy, “seizures,” would only result from out-of-control or runaway short-circuits. RR]

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