By Sinead Kelly
“YOU’RE an adrenaline junkie,” Dr Catherine Demetriades tells me as she analysed my scan using what she calls the SMART (stored memory access retrieval technique’) system she and her partners hope to programme into a robot that will help parents communicate with their autistic children.
Demetriades describes herself as a “fully-functional autistic savant” and her mission is to have SMART, which took her seven years to develop, programmed into a robot named AutiZmo.
After being interviewed by the Cyprus Mail recently, I was curious how it all worked and offered myself as a research subject. The scan took a couple of minutes, the follow-up analysis, half an hour or so, baggage, baggage, baggage.
Almost everyone in the world probably has some unconscious patterns held over from childhood that impacts on their attitudes and behaviours as an adult. It’s psychology 101.
Generally, these run on an unconscious level without even being consciously aware of them until triggered by an outside situation. This is when the automatic reaction kicks in, often bypassing the conscious mind, and rational thought, altogether. Anger, fear, resentment at a perceived slight or injustice can be expressed or internalised as a result of this background programming or mind pattern, while other people’s programming could see them react to the same situation like ‘water off a duck’s back’.
Demetriades, who does not know me as a person, was able through the SMART scan, to track back certain current patterns to a point in time they emerged. Some were more personal than others and will remain so, but the main one would have to go to her observation – or what the numbers were telling her – that the adrenaline addiction was connected with a situation created through a parent.
Of course for almost everyone in the world, certain issues can always be traced back to a parent – common sense 101 – but what was interesting was being able to link a specific memory of a parental characteristic that made you behave in a certain way around them as a child, to current behaviours. This provided the ‘aha’ moment, which is basically what SMART does.
“It’s kind of like bad experiences stick to you,” Demetriades tells me, adding that it appears that as a child 50 odd years ago I was apparently unable to process negative experiences, just absorbed them, still do and never learned how to let go of them. “It’s like that Cypriot expression where people say: ‘I can’t digest this’” she says.
“There’s a heck of a lot of adrenaline stress,” she adds. This apparently comes from constant anxiety and the fear that things won’t get done, which, Demetriades says can carry over into sleep and result in constant lack of restful slumber. Check. As a journalist with daily deadlines, this is relatable to regular nightmares of having several news stories to write with a deadline five minutes away.
It’s pretty basic biology that adrenaline flows when people are under pressure. It’s the flight or fight response but it doesn’t always have to involve being in a life-threatening physical situation. It can also apply to emotional ones, especially if they were significant enough to imprint on the mind of a child. The problem comes into play when your unconscious mind keeps creating situations throughout life where ‘fight or flight’ becomes the norm at work, and in relationships, and you don’t have to be a skydiver to get your fix, according to psychologists.
“At some point, most students procrastinate an assignment until the last minute, at which point, the fear of not getting it done triggers an adrenaline surge, which fuels getting it done, and it can feel good to be pumped up. When, thanks to grade inflation, they get a good grade, school thus has taught them that using adrenaline to get stuff done is okay,” according to Psychology Today.
Demetriades says the subconscious mind keeps recalling the same memory over again and creating that ‘flight or fight’ situation as if it is real in the present moment. “You feel you have hundreds of little things to do and then they overwhelm you, and that brings the stress that leads to the adrenaline release,” she says, pointing out that the more work you give yourself to do, the bigger the adrenaline rush to get it all done on time and the bigger satisfaction when you do. This is true for most workaholics. Eventually however, a constant flow of adrenaline translates into a physical toll on the body, especially on hormones.
While most adults, if they are in any way self-aware, can work out why they have automatic reactions to certain things, Demetriades through her scan, had made direct connection between being that adrenaline junkie and a past event that I hadn’t.
And though there were also other connections made that I had already figured out over the years, shedding light on what drives you unconsciously as a person and more importantly, why, like with adrenaline addiction, brings it into consciousness, which is the part of the mind that can make the necessary changes to break the pattern.
But AutiZmo is not about adults with years of built-up mind patterns. That’s not the mission. Demetriades said scanning children with autism is probably even more effective.
“The younger you are the more straightforward things are. The older you get there’s more complicated stuff in the background,” she says. “Younger people react, cry and get frustrated. The background programme is not there to the same extent. Older people’s experiences are there longer. They have learned to deal with them in their own way.”
“With children, especially autistic children they are screaming and shouting and not hiding anything: ‘I’m angry and I’m going to show you’. It’s much more obvious and straightforward,” she says, to find out through the scan, why they are angry or frustrated.
Demetriades and her team are working with the GC School of Careers to help launch a demonstration of AutiZmo’s capabilities at the end of November.
“And, you,” she adds, “have got to slow down”.