Those of you who read last week's entry on Oxytocin might be interested to know that this ending of the Cell Danger Response and the opening of the door to the intellect, all done through rocking and balancing movements of the pelvis, is just the beginning when it comes to unlocking the autistic (or indeed any other) brain.
Back in the very early 1990s, when i was still just a young lad trying to find my way in the world, I fell in love with Iva, a girl from the Czech Republic, or Czechoslovaka as they called it then. She showed me her world, which had just opened up to the West - the Gothic mystery of Prague, the deep forests of Moravia, the farmlands of Bohemia where people still worked the fields with horse and wagon as our forefathers did. It was entrancing, as are most things Bohemian and Czech. It wasnt just the physical beauty of the place however that struck me - it was a certain inquiring, independent, questioning, ultr-creative outlook that the people had. There's a reason why we call creative social rule breakers Bohemians - independent thinkers.
Little did i think this would end up massively informing my and my son Rowan's adventure with autism, many years later. Read on, because there is valuable information here.
Iva and I went our separate ways but remain friends to this day. But years later the Czech theme re-entered my life in a completely different way - through a scientist called Mr Purkinje.
Mr Purkinje, way back in the 19th century, was one of the first guys to discover brain cells by looking under the then most powerful microscopes available. It seems incredible to think that Mr Purkinje, over 100 years ago, should have been able to find brain cells, but find them he did. Very big ones. They looked like trees, or seaweed with long branching fingers reaching out to touch whatever they could. He gave them his name - Purkinje cells.
Where he had mainly found them was in the Cerebellum. If you feel around the back of your head just below your main brain (the blonds among us - myself included - have to try a little harder to find our brains) , you;ll located your Cerebellum.
It used to be thought that the Cerebellum controlled only motor skills - ensuring that when you go to the loo you don't hit yourself in the eye when trying to wipe your bottom, or that you don't accidentally punch your date in the eye when trying to open up you napkin in a restaurant. Useful skills indeed.
More recently, however, studies on the Cerebellum have shown that far from being limited to motor skills - vital as they are - this clever little semi-independent part of the brain, also helps control social skills.
And it does this via those cells with the funny Czech name - Purkinje. Because what the Purkinje cells do is act like a communication network within the brain, getting the different parts of the brain to talk to each other properly.
Which brings us to autism - social skills and communication between the different parts of the brain. Hmmmm.
Dr Temple Grandin was one of the first people to talk to me of Purkinje cells and to point out that autopsies of adult autistic brains often showed a strong deficit of Purkinje cells along with the over developed amygdala we talked about last week.
Could it be, she and other scientists were beginning to ask, that autists, lacking the requisite number of Purkinje cells, therefore often lacked social skills and might this be a clue as to why one part of the brain developed normally, even better than normally, while another did not - e.g. being able to remember all the football scores for 10 years but not being able to use the toilet, or having incredible maths skills but terrible social skills?
Now here is the most interesting part.
It turns out that the same rhythmic rocking and balancing movements we had first discovered on the horse, and then had reproduced on play equipment, our shoulders, in wheelbarrows etc in order to produce oxytocin also cause the Cerebellum to produce scads and scads of....you guessed it: Purkinje cells.
Suddenly the different parts of the brain were communicating with each other properly!
And with the communication networks in the brain operating more and more functionally we were getting more and more logic, reason, planning, delayed gratification, perspective taking from our kiddos. Why? I posed the question to neuroscientists like Alysson Muotri and Robert Naviaux at the University of California San Diego, Laurence Schneider (who some of you know as a Horse boy person) from the Institute Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, and others. What they came back with was that this boosting of Purkinje cell production through these kinds of movement found on the horse when in the right collected rhythm, on play equipment and so on was opening uo the communication channels to the Pre Frontal Cortex - which handles all the cool executive functions of the brain.
Figuring S#*t out and handling you S&*t - jolly useful skills if you're going to be alive on planet Earth.
The cultivation of the inquiring, functional mind - the Bohemian mindset that created scientists like Mr Purkinje in the first place. Our kids were not just learning Rowan began his own web based TV show (endangeroussafaris.com). Other kids we worked with were starting small businesses, All had been so severe before we had started working with these kinds of movements.
Our Czech friend Mr Purkinje had done us all a favor indeed.
And of course this isn't limited to autism - the brain is the brain. The more all of us use these rocking, balancing kinds of movement int he course of our day, the more of these Purkinje cells we all produce and the cleverer we all become.
So climb into the saddle, get on that trampoline, climb that tree, take your kid on your shoulders, put both your kids in a wheelbarrow and go for a walk in the woods. Do this not just once in a day. But three, four times, Make it your culture. you'll get fitter;. you'll get cleverer. Mr Purkinje and his inquiring, Bohemian mind wont let you down.