There was so much great content at Motormorphosis, it would be hard to do an overview. Presentations included research updates, information on trauma, hearing from autistic writers and BIPOC, and much more. Instead of giving you a “scan of the menu”, let me give you a sample taste. I’ll focus on one session that was meaningful to me, which was the talk by Dr. Elizabeth Torres from Rutgers University.
Dr. Torres taught us that in autistic people our sensory feedback is out of sync. “Sensory” involves multiple complex systems including autonomic body functions, temperature, pain, and pressure information from our peripheral nervous system, and much more such as visual and auditory input. We move in response to that input —and that movement itself becomes further input. So there’s a continuing cycle of out-of-synch information going on in our autistic nervous systems. This causes anxiety, which is part of our spiral.
Dr. Torres challenged neurotypicals to look at our movements as “resilient coping strategies” and not as behaviors to be molded as the neurotypical world desires. We are coping and adapting to a different world.
She is working on ways to identify these kinds of differences, which are even found in babies. This could lead to better support for young autistic people.
She gave a fantastic “iceberg” image: Above the water line, people see what’s obvious (our movements and vocalizations). Below it lie the unseen sensory-motor code alterations, a person in pain, nervous system dysregulation, and the need for support. We hope that more people see below the water line.
A practical and moving point in her lecture was when she bemoaned that autistics can be demeaned as “picky eaters”. She reviewed some of the complexities of the cranial nerves and oral/pharyngeal anatomy. She said, “Perhaps this nervous system is protecting itself against food that might cause a gag!” She became tearful talking about this —how amazing to hear from a compassionate neuroscientist who understands and supports our differences!
Dr. Torres inspired me to recognize how scientists can help us in our battle to be accepted and understood. Let’s find our research communities and connect with them! Perhaps a researcher would like to hear our presentation or have us participate in one of their studies. Sign up here and we’d be happy to reach out. “Nothing for us without us!”
James Scannell is a 22 year old unreliably speaking autistic. He started learning to communicate on a letterboard in 2020. He has presented to social workers, OT students, and theologians in various communities and even internationally. He has been active in S&A since 2022. He loves writing, learning anything, being outside, and hanging with spellers.