There is research that suggests a potential issue with deficits in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine as contributing factors to social impairments and sensory processing difficulties.
Quote from link:
“Pasca and Dolmetsch had an “aha” moment when they realized the neurons grown from Timothy syndrome cells were making too much of the enzyme most critical for producing dopamine and norepinephrine, which play an important role in sensory processing and social behavior. The realization may offer important clues about what causes the problems seen in autism.”
From a personal perspective, I determined by trial and error, that this was a solution to increasing my ability to connect with others, and focus better, in gaining a religious routine of vigorous exercise at age 12, that I still cannot live without, to date.
Vigorous exercise stimulates beneficial mood and focus increasing neuro-hormones and neurochemicals in social animals.
It is part of Nature's built in reinforcement coming from millions of years of evolution, which intrinsically motivates a species to "move forward" to gain subsistence.
Interestingly, the dopamine gene variant associated with ADHD and the disease of addiction is suggested as one for the risk of non-substance addictions in dopamine stimulating avenues for behavioral addictions including pornography and "extreme" video games.
Quote from the research linked above:
“Not only did the researchers find that the variant was more common among the oldest participants, they also learned that these people were also more physically active than their counterparts who lacked this particular version of the receptor. Having a less effective pleasure-generating dopamine system, the researchers speculate, may cause people to seek greater stimulation, making them more vigorous in the search for greater arousal. Perhaps as a result, these participants were twice as likely to exercise when first surveyed in 1981— and they remained considerably more active than those without the variant when data was collected again in 2003. That, say the researchers, may be the key to their longevity.
When dopamine isn’t regulated properly, it can contribute to a dysfunctional pursuit of good feelings, such as occurs in addictions, or lead to a hyperactive state as in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These conditions are generally associated with an increased risk of early death, rather than longevity, but the latest study suggests that “risk” genes for certain problems in some environments may be beneficial in other situations. It’s not helpful to think of genes as “good” or “bad,” in other words, but instead to consider them as more dynamic.”
Behavioral addictions can result in depressed feelings along with additional "autistic like traits" associated with the disease of addiction. The definition of the disease of addiction that now includes non-substance sources of behavioral addiction as similarly powerful avenues for addiction is provided in the link below from the "American Society of Addiction Medicine", ASAM.
The dopamine gene variant is the same gene often identified as the "Nomad Gene", related in my paragraph describing increased motivation to move forward to gain subsistence.
RRBI's associated with behavioral addiction avenues of high stimulation of dopamine could be integral to this issue among SOME people currently diagnosed on the spectrum, studied and reported anywhere from 30 to 70% identified with ADHD symptoms.
Considering the current high association of ADHD and ASD, along with RRBI's per potential non-substance behavioral addictions like pornography, extreme video games, or any other "high" avenue for stimulation of dopamine, there is the possibility that those two factors are significant contributing factors in what has led to a diagnosis of ASD under DSMIV criteria.
This may have particularly been the case from 1994 to 2000, when an editorial error in the DSMIV associated with PDDNOS technically allowed an individual to be diagnosed with PDDNOS with RRBI's alone, which could potentially be met with a behavioral addiction alone.
The neuro-biological mechanisms associated with non-substance behavioral addiction were not understood well then, and are still yet to be clearly defined in the DSM5, as an actual diagnosable condition. It is still up for review for the next revision of the DSM5.
It is also worth noting and amplifying that introversion is highly associated with a greater sensitivity to dopamine, and a higher sensitivity to avenues of dopamine stimulating activities resulting in satiation, rather than a continued powerful drive for avenues of dopamine stimulation. Introverted personality traits are also highly associated with ASD's.
In addition, approximately 20% of animals throughout the Animal Kingdom have been observed as born "Sitters" vs. 80% that are identified as born "Rovers". There does appear to be reproduction advantage in the caution and other attributes associated with "Sitting" as opposed to "Roving".
This association may be part of the reason one finds some individuals on the spectrum Hyper-sensitive to their environment and some individuals Hypo-sensitive to their environment.
All these factors are subject to change, in one lifetime, depending on one's level of physiological stress in their environment, among other potential factors.
This is also potentially part of the reason, when one is under severe stress for a long period of time, they may develop greater difficulties with sensory processing issues as the stress response and norepinephrine/dopamine production can be altered. Physiological effects from the chronic assault of stress related neuro-hormones and neurochemicals are studied as having a potential association with changes in the structure of the brain.
Part of the benefit in taking anti-anxiety drugs or SSRI's is to inhibit the stress response, as a physiological one that can negatively affect physical and mental health, with appropriate caution warranted for the side effects associated with the drugs.
The deficit in the stress response that can come from chronic severe stress, and the inherent genetic propensity toward "dopamine sensitivity" or "dopamine avenue seeking", can make this issue a complicated one, as to whether one needs a neurological "brake" or "accelerator".
This includes GABA associated anti-anxiety medications; SSRI's, drugs that affect Serotonin and dopamine/norepinephrine; and stimulatory drugs that impact dopamine/norepinephrine per ADHD related drugs, and others.
Vigorous exercise did the trick for me, for the most part of my life.
It is worth noting, for those that may have the dopamine gene variant, ADHD symptoms, or a propensity toward the disease of addiction, sitting still with a "high avenue" of dopamine stimulating non-substance behavior, has similar physiological effects as vigorous exercise, per dopamine/norepinephrine, in raising heart rate and stress chemicals. Physical exercise is often required to "burn-off" the stress chemicals circulating through the body in the blood stream.
This physiological process, over time, can be a substantial source of anxiety or panic attacks, as the stress response eventually may become compromised.
If an otherwise professionally assessed medically healthy person is noticing their heart racing more than before, when sitting still doing a physiological stimulating activity, it is a sign to get up, move, and burn-off the stress chemicals.
This is also potentially part of the reason that borderline type two diabetes is now measured in a third of school age children. Humans overall, are evolved to move for subsistence.
One can fool “Mother Nature” for a while, but one's nature that comes, in part, because of millions of years of evolution, is not something one can easily escape in avoiding the built in intrinsic rewards of nature or the real consequences in living a life one may not be well "suited".
If a person is getting substantially depressed after any potential dopamine-stimulating avenue for behavioral addiction, chances are there could be a problem with a non-substance behavioral addiction.
If one's heart starts racing when watching a "scary" TV show and one cannot slow it down, it is probably time to, at least, take a walk if one can, or if one cannot, move to a less physiological stimulating activity, instead of ignoring one's body that will provide ample caution if one remembers they are human and subject to physiological limitations in stress of all kinds.
This does potentially include activities one might believe were once beneficial, including vigorous exercise, when the stress response has become compromised with chronic unrelenting severe stress.
Moderation is one answer, but it is not always an easy one for an "adrenaline junkie", which is often a way of life for those with the dopamine gene variant associated with ADHD.
The good news on the dopamine gene variant, as suggested in the study I linked above, is individuals with that gene variant are studied to live longer, if they can avoid accidents that are also associated with ADHD, in research.
All animals are limited in a level of chronic stress they can endure, before succumbing to the effect of "general adaptation syndrome", as described by Han Selye.
All these factors are vital to homeostasis and a healthy body, including the physical structure of one's brain, per health and overall wellness.
Organic issues with the brain can be associated with how one feels. This is in addition, to factors one might come to observe "outside" of physiology in the assessment of the origin of their discomfort, whether it is physical or personally assessed as mental discomfort.
Finding a balance in life, overall, per these issues is likely as challenging; if not more than it has been in the last century, as there are so many potential avenues of chronic stress and "high" dopamine avenues of stimulation.
It is best to seek the advice of a health care professional as well as a therapist, if one is having trouble in these areas one cannot adapt to on their own.
The important thing about all these details is a doctor or therapist can more adequately help a patient if they are in touch with their physiological response to the environment. It can be hard to put that into words without some type of human instruction manual, which sadly, they did not provide in school, not even in a degree in Health Science for me.
I hope that has changed since then, particularly considering the wealth of information that can be found on the internet if one stays with reputable sources of information. The tricky thing about Autism, is there is no stereotype of sensory or physiological response that is equal across the spectrum.
The DSM5 ASD criteria identifies that in reference to those who are hypo or hyper sensitive to the environment resulting in associated described and observable RRBI behavioral impairments. The DSM5 does not describe the real physiological dangers of stress, as that is an issue that everyone deals with to some degree.
I think it is worth a mention in the diagnostic features in the text, which may eventually make its way in the text in coming revisions, with additional research over the life-span of people on the spectrum.
Neurochemical and neuro-hormonal "balance" is integral to avoiding what is described as “Autistic Burnout”, over the course of the lifespan.
Non-substance behavioral addiction is associated with what is described as "Autistic Burnout", and not an issue specific to only Autism, ADHD, or the identified Dopamine gene variant, per potential association with "General Adaptation Syndrome", which is a detailed look at the general process of physical burnout, I link in my "Autistic-Burnout" blog post above.
Autism, the Internet and "Ideological First Identity", a Collection of Thoughts: