Norio ANDO: Clinical Psychologist
Hodoki Office of Mental Escort (HOME)
in Chiba, Japan
Do you know relaxed pleasure?
Autistic children lack relaxed pleasure. When we elicit relaxed pleasure from them and they come to express it spontaneously, they approach to be normal.
Relaxed pleasure is a feeling of enjoyment coupled with bodily relaxation. There are two kinds of distinctive expressions of relaxed pleasure. The first one is a relaxed laughter, that is to say laughter with the soft and relaxed sounds of “ha, ha, ha...”and bodily relaxation. The second one is a relaxed smile. While a relaxed smile or some other pleasant facial expression is expressed, one breathes a soft and relaxed sigh of relief.
When you learn about different expressions of emotion and consciously observe those of autistic children, you may notice that autistic children show no such emotions. When they feel pleasure, they just smile or they express pleasure through higher physical tension or hyperactivity.
We usually think that when we feel pleasure, our mind becomes exalted and elevated. In this state, we are excited or tense. You might think pleasure triggers the level of activation. But there is also emotion which has the opposite function. It is inconspicuous and you may not be aware of its existence. This is why nobody notices the absence of relaxed pleasure in autistic children.
An example of this is when we satisfy our hunger, we feel pleasure and tend to relax. Or when we climb a mountain with an effort and arrive at the summit, we may feel the sense of attainment and give a sigh of relief. The feeling at the time of satisfaction and attainment of a goal tends to be the relaxed pleasure, that is, feeling of relief.
In the exactly same situations, people can show tensioned or excited pleasure. The expression of emotions is not fixed. In the cases of satisfaction and attainment, people who sometimes express tensioned and excited pleasure are thought to be normal, but people who dominantly express tensioned pleasure or excited pleasure may not be. Their behavior becomes rigid or hyperactive.
Relaxed pleasure has the function of mitigating activation. The level of activation seems to decrease superficially, but relaxed pleasure raises activities at a deeper level. The pleasure enhances clarity of consciousness, deep thought processing as well as the restructuring of stored knowledge and information in our brains. Relaxed pleasure raises the level of activation in a very different sense. Relaxed pleasure enhances soft and flexible energy which consolidates the memory of the situation related to the satisfaction of our desire, and also our demands in attaining a goal.
Of course, even when our desire is fulfilled, some people feel exaltation instead of relaxation. That is not abnormal. Everyone has a specific tendency in emotional expression to some extent. We call the tendency of emotional responses “temperament”. If there is one person who tends to express more tensioned pleasure, another will tend to express excited pleasure more. Each person has a different tendency of emotional responses. It is not unusual, if they are still within the normal range.
In contrast to this, when the expressed feeling of satisfaction always gives way to tension or excitement and never to relaxed pleasure, this is abnormal. Such a person has very rigid personality and lacks flexibility in their daily life. A kind of adjustment disorder may become apparent. We see that abnormality in behavior is created by imbalance among 3 emotions. Aberrant emotional expression negatively influences the cognitive function of children as well as adults.
In development, relaxed pleasure begins to emerge at around 6 – 7 months old. It emerges later than of tensioned pleasure and excited pleasure, and therefore entails more difficulty in expression than the other 2 kinds of pleasure. Also, until relaxed pleasure develops, an unbalance of emotional expressions is unavoidable. Normally, there is a complete lack of relaxed pleasure until it appears at around 6 months of age, which is usually not a problem. Of course a dominance of the tensioned pleasure and excited pleasure exists, but they are usually not extreme and not fixed tightly in body and mind.
One of the functions of relaxed pleasure is of mitigating the effects of tensioned and excited emotions. Due to the constant lack of relaxed pleasure, tensioned and excited emotions tend to become extreme. When a child grows older and demonstrates these extreme emotions, this is when behavioral problems appear.
Relaxed emotion appears after the fulfillment of desire or the attainment of a goal. After continued tension or effort, a relaxation response appears in the form of emotion. When the need for tension or effort ceases, relaxation appears as the release of tension or effort. Relaxed emotion promotes the resting state for reflecting on past events and deepening of interaction with people. Its fundamental feeling is satisfaction which promotes the attachment and gratitude toward the people who provided the satisfaction.
When we feel satisfaction, we relax. It means disarmament, and contentment accompanies the sense of security. The appearance of relaxed pleasure firmly connects with the sense of security. And when the sense of security is connected with a person, we come to feel safe with that person. So, in order to feel safe, the child desires to be with him or her. This is the basis of attachment relationships with familiar people. Intimacy and familiarity come from the sense of security which lessens the sense of caution, making relaxed pleasure the source of attachment bonding, intimacy and familiarity with people.
The emotional characteristics of autism
Although the appearance of autism can vary from person to person and from child to child, their fundamental behavior problems stem from emotional imbalance and delayed emotional development. The features of autistic children vary by degrees along 3 emotional dimensions. The main emotional characteristic of autism is the lack or paucity of relaxed emotion. With a lack of relaxed emotion, autistic children cannot develop attachment relationships with caregivers. Similarly, without relaxed emotion, autistic children cannot enjoy human events and do not develop interest in human interactions. They cannot empathize with other people’s emotions. Their personality cannot be socialized through interaction with others.
The reason for the lack of relaxed emotion may be delayed or incomplete emotional development. Emotional development in autistic people may remain at the level before relaxed emotion appears. There is also a possibility that dominant tensioned emotion suppresses relaxed emotion.
Some autistic children may show a complete lack of emotions. In this case, they tend to be inactive and appear vacant-minded. Social interaction is not possible, while emotional development remains at the imaginary first level where no emotion exists. This kind of autistic child is very rare.
One sub-characteristic of autism is excessive tensioned emotion. Tensioned emotion promotes concentration and maintenance of posture for maintaining attention, which causes a narrowed range of attention, preventing the capability to think about disparate events as one whole. With excessive concentration, autistic children can see only the few things they are interested in, and cannot understand multifaceted ideas. As they only notice one aspect or part of an event, they cannot understand the whole pictures of what is happening. Their attention focuses exclusively on what they like, and they ignore what others say. The dominance of tensioned emotion also causes a rigid body and rigid way of thinking, making the children inflexible and stubborn. So, because of their rigidity, autistic children become obstinate and inflexible. They want to keep things in the external world as they are in their mind. They resist change.
The reason for the overabundance of tensioned emotion is delayed emotional development. Emotional development in autistic children may remain at a level in which tensioned emotion is dominant, including the stage before relaxed emotion appears. Relaxed emotion plays a role in mitigating both tensioned and excited emotion. Because relaxed emotion is very weak in autistic children, tensioned emotion cannot be mitigated and becomes dominant, and for this reason appears excessive.
Some autistic children express strong excited emotion in addition to tensioned emotion. This also includes their level of development before relaxed emotion appears. They swing their bodies and jump when they feel happy. Excited emotion is often expressed in a mixture with tensioned emotion, making autistic children move excitedly but also rigidly.
Emotional Development is important for autistic children
Fundamental role of relaxed emotion: Relaxed emotion appears after the fulfillment of desire or the attainment of a goal. After continued tension or effort, a relaxation response appears in the form of emotion. When the need for tension or effort ceases, relaxation appears as the release of tension or effort. Relaxed emotion promotes the resting state for reflecting on past events and deepening of interaction with people. Its fundamental feeling is satisfaction which promotes the attachment and gratitude toward the people who provided the satisfaction.
Developmentally speaking, tensioned pleasure appears at around 1-2 months of age, excited pleasure at around 3-4 months, and relaxed pleasure (feeling of security) at around 6-7 months. From this last one, attachment relations are formed between mother and baby.
Autistic children tend to express tensioned pleasure which promotes a rigid mind and narrow range of consciousness. And they lack relaxed pleasure. They cannot feel relaxed pleasure and interact with people in a relaxed way.
Treatment methods for autistic children are very easy and effective.
We treat autistic children by repeating a cycle of tickling and resting (or relaxing). Through making easily this cycle, we can make a cycle of tension raising and relaxation with pleasure. At first, we make a cycle of tensional change by using bodily stimulation, then by visual and auditory stimulation and lastly interaction with social meaning. By repeating a cycle of tension raising and relaxation, we facilitate the appearance of relaxed pleasure which promotes security feeling and sharing of emotion with people.
An example of the treatments
Tickling and arm swinging: Once it becomes easy to elicit pleasure from the child by tickling, we should swing his arms in order to enhance shoulder relaxation after pleasant excitement. If we are able to swing the two arms at the same time, then we should do so from the beginning because it will relax him more effectively than swinging only one. But if it is difficult because he is somewhat rigid, we can start by swinging one arm and then later work on swinging both together. Swinging the child’s arms after tickling will elicit relaxed pleasure, which we can connect to the feeling of satisfaction. When we approach him with the intention of tickling him, we can elicit his expectation if being tickled, and then we make him laugh by actually following through with it. The pleasure of being tickled comes from the realization of what he anticipated. Fulfillment of anticipation tends to lead to a sense of satisfaction supported by pleasurable relaxation. Essentially, this latter feeling helps to elicit the former one. By establishing the feelings of anticipation of pleasure, enjoyment of pleasure and satisfaction after pleasure, the child becomes able to enjoy events which contain preceding stimulation and a result. If we look at the tickling game, approaching the child is the precedent stimulation, while tickling is the result of the anticipation. Relaxed pleasure deepens the feeling of satisfaction at an anticipated result, while satisfaction from an event facilitates learning about it by encouraging a review of the past events. In this way, the child’s interest in human events increases as relaxed pleasure increases.
You may be surely interested in my book named "Emotional cure for autism.
It expresses entirely new ideas about autism and the treatment methods which are very simple, easy and effective because they relevantly solve the real cause of autism (lack of relaxed pleasure). Do you know relaxed pleasure? It greatly contributes to healthy socialization of children.
Autistic children lack relaxed emotion, preventing the development of social skills. If tensioned emotion is excessively dominant, they will focus very narrowly and rigidly only on a very limited number of their favorite things, which is also how they will tend to think. At first, this behavior will appear together with tensioned emotion, but after enough repetition, the rigid and narrow state of mind will start to occur without the emotion. In order to dissolve this state of mind, we should transform tensioned emotion into excited and relaxed emotion. The elicitation of relaxed pleasure is particularly important for improving the autistic state of mind.
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