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Misophonia

Sometimes, despite so much incredible progress in brain science, it still seems amazing how little is known about some aspects of brain
functioning. And it’s still too rare that folks consider the possibility that kids’ disruptive behavior could have any possible neurological basis.

That’s why it was so interesting to read on a rather recently recognized and still incompletely understood disorder called “misophonia.” For individuals with this condition, small sounds that others might never even notice, such as someone clicking their pen, footsteps, or most often, “the sounds of other people eating — chewing, chomping, slurping, gurgling — can send them into an instantaneous, blood-boiling rage.”

While few kids we’ve seen may suffer from this—although in retrospect I can think of a few cases where this may have been part of the picture—a careful reading of the article points to some familiar themes for us.  Listen to the discussion of the condition:

“The condition almost always begins in late childhood or early adolescence…’I don’t think 8- or 9-year-olds choose to wake up one morning and say, ‘Today my dad’s chewing is going to drive me insane,’….But that is what happens…’Soon the kid doesn’t want to come to the table or go to school.’  Aage R. Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas who specializes in the auditory nervous system…believes the condition is hard-wired, like right- or left-handedness, and is probably…a ‘physiological abnormality’ that resides in brain structures…‘These people have been diagnosed with a lot of different things: phobic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, manic, anxiety disorders’…“Usually they cry a lot because they’ve been told they can control this if they want to. This is not their fault. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t make it up.”

That’s a choppy excerpting from the piece, but hopefully readers familiar with our approach will recognize some broad similarities to these kids’ experience and that of those we work with: a frequent assumption that their reactive behavior is volitional, the distress and cumulative emotional
harm that such an inaccurate assumption can cause, the alphabet soup of inaccurate or unhelpful diagnoses that may get assigned along the way, etc., but also, thankfully, the emerging recognition that there are cognitive and other brain structures implicated here,.

How much else do we not understand about children’s developing brains and its role in challenging behavior?  While we understand a lot more than we used to, the answer is probably “plenty.”