Many autistics chew or suck things constantly, and some of these things aren’t very good for us. Many of us also won’t wear hats, headbands, earmuffs, or anything else that sits too tightly around our heads. There are some reasons for this.
When we’re autistic, we tend to have neither a good gut-blood barrier (so the gut leaks all kinds of nasties into the bloodstream), nor a good blood-brain barrier (so the nasties from the gut and blood are getting into the brain). Toxins which make their way into our bloodstream, whether from the airways, the gut, or the skin, therefore get into autistic brains much more easily. Because many of the worst toxins are fat soluble, and the brain is the largest accumulation of fat in most bodies, these toxins then lodge both in the brain tissues, and in the membranes surrounding, and intended to cushion the brain.
These toxins then cause brain inflammation, which is really, really unpleasant. All through my life, I have had what I call a perma-headache. This headache never entirely goes away; it’s sore, it’s aggravated, and it’s hot. It’s also as though there are cicadas constantly going in the background in my ears. Sometimes the discomfort or pain gets really bad. The pain moves up and down on the discomfort scale, but it never entirely goes away. This perma-headache is a constant in my life, and in the lives of many other autistics.
When that headache gets worse, chewing and sucking do something really magical. Imagine having shoes that are five sizes too small, or that gradually shrink on your feet. You wouldn’t keep those shoes on for very long, would you? If your skull feels like it’s too small for your head, you can’t take your skull off the way you would a pair of shoes. When we chew and suck, this gently tugs on the tissues the muscles in the jaw and tongue attach to, and some of those are membranes inside the skull. Every time you bite down and use your tongue, you’re gently pulling on those membranes inside the skull, and you’re slightly easing off the pain of the headache. So chewing, biting, and sucking are very helpful coping mechanisms.
Now, when you’re experiencing that kind of compression on the inside of the skull, the sutures of the skull, or the places where the skull plates link up, can ache a lot, too. Anything which puts any pressure, even very light, on the outside of the head can aggravate the pressure inside the head, terribly. I’ll often notice babies and toddlers taking clips, elastics, headbands, and hats off just as soon as their parents put them on, and wonder how much brain inflammation they’re experiencing.
If you see this kind of behaviour in someone, you know that brain inflammation is an issue for them, and can take action to bring down inflammation in the body overall. While my headaches have backed down a lot as I improve the underlying health challenges which cause the symptoms of autism, there are still many days when I cannot wear a hat because the compression is too uncomfortable.
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