Saturday, 7 July 2018

Roundabout Hypothesis - a Guest Blog by Chris Memmott

A white man in his mid twenties, with a beard, smiling, wearing a black sweater.


Hi.  I'm Chris, and I work as an autism consultant through AM Consulting, and with Autism Oxford.  After a Degree in Psychology & Counselling, I spent almost two years working with autistic young people in schools. My work includes respite care, training, conference speaking, environmental accessibility, and writing.

As we know, there are a lot of theories about autism.  We also know that none of them really explain it, as yet. I have major sensory processing challenges.  My brain takes in too much information from the world around me.  When I'm training people, I explain it as 'Roundabout Hypothesis'.  Let me explain:

A roundabout without much traffic on it

The picture shows a roundabout.  There isn't a lot of traffic on it.  Incoming traffic has room to think, to plan, and to get round the roundabout without too much hassle.

Most human brains work the same way.  There's incoming information from sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, hunger, thirst, balance, etc etc.  The brain accepts it, processes what it needs, and sends it round the brain's 'roundabout' and heads it in the right direction.  It works well, and can keep working for hours.

But, what about if your brain takes in too much information at once?  The second photo shows a roundabout where there's too much traffic happening from all directions.  Gridlock.  Now, nothing can get through.  (Well, maybe cyclists.  They can always get through somehow.)  But the rest of us, stuck, overheating, beeping horns or collapsed in a heap of despair, going nowhere.  Some autistic brains take in so much information that they can't get any of it processed and sent on its way.

A roundabout with a lot of traffic, gridlocked

When it happens, our brains simply have to wait for the 'traffic' to clear.  Just adding more traffic to it won't work.  More 'traffic' might be chatting with us, or trying to put a hand on a shoulder without our consent.  Or shouting at us.  Or making us stay in a busy, noisy place where the queue of 'traffic' waiting for our brains to process it just gets longer, and longer.  It might be more 'traffic' from our brain trying to work out how to speak, or how to understand non-literal language.

We need the traffic to stop arriving.  Noise cancelling headphones help me.  Sunglasses help, too.  A quiet room without bright artificial lighting also helps.  Wearing comfortable clothes so that there's isn't a constant traffic jam from the, for example, 'Your socks are hurting you' lane. 

Find out what helps us reduce the 'traffic'.

It makes sense to me. I hope it helps you.