The Autism Gauge


Children with autism lack what I call a “gauge”. Yes, that’s right, a gauge because we all have it. And right now, you’re probably wondering what I am even talking about, which I am more than happy to explain.

But first, what is a gauge?

A gauge according to the dictionary I use, a gauge is a measure; a standard of measure; an instrument to determine dimensions, distance, or capacity; a standard. The image above is an image of a gauge.

Alright, but what does that have to do with autism, or anyone for that matter?

You’re probably asking. Here’s how this fits in. first, I want to explain how a gauge works using a flushing toilet as an example before I can transfer this example to us.

When you flush a toilet, water comes into that big bowl immediately and once water reaches a certain level it would automatically stops coming in, right? But how does that happen because when we flushed no one opened the tap first so that water could come in and no one closed it either? Am I correct? Yes, I am. I know I am.

But here’s what happened

In that whole toilet-flushing process, there’s a gauge that measures water. The gauge knows how much water should be in that bowl and it knows when water has reached that level, and when that happens it activates and cuts the flow of the water same time. The tap is still open outside or wherever it is. Matter of fact, the tap is always open – day and night but the house or toilet won’t be flooded because the gauge has cut the supply and flow.

What could happen if the gauge were to be broken, damaged, or whatever?

Water would pour non-stop. That toilet bowl would be filled to capacity and water would start flooding the whole toilet first and then the entire house if it was inside. Why is that? Because the tap is forever running outside and the guard (the gauge) who is supposed to prevent this from happening is either sleeping on the job or is absent and didn’t even call in sick or send a sick note.

Can I make another example just to make sure everyone follows?

We all know how an automatic washing machine works, right? One of the best inventions by the way but we’re not there, we’re here. When you’re about to do your laundry, you’ll add your detergent, fabric softener, and of course – your laundry. After you’ve done all this and fiddled with a few buttons and selected the level of water according to the size of your laundry.

Water would start pouring into the machine and once that selected level is reached, right there, automatically the water-pouring process stops. Who stopped it? You? No. The gauge in that washing machine did. I hope now we all understand how the gauge works.

Okay, back to our topic

How does this work with us God’s mortals? And how do we get to have a gauge when we’re not a flushing toilet or an automatic washing machine?

Here’s how

When you eat (doesn’t matter what it is), who tells you that now you’ve had enough? Or when you drink (also, doesn’t matter), who tells you that there’s no more room in your stomach even though you feel like continuing? Is it your mama maybe, your spouse, or perhaps your children? It’s your GAUGE! Yes, correct, and I am going to say it again louder and clearer. IT’S – YOUR – GAUGE!

How does this process go?

There are major two of the many hormones that participate during our: feeling hungry, eating, and feeling full’ process. And our bodies – stomachs to be more precise produce them. I can picture someone saying “okay, go on”. The names of these hormones are GHRELIN and LEPTIN.

Here’s how these hormones work:

When you’re hungry your stomach produces and releases ghrelin (aka hunger hormone) to signal your brain that your stomach is empty/ or that you are hungry. Your brain then causes your body to act “hungrily” like feeling tired, irritable, etc. What ghrelin also does is increase your food intake or appetite. Hence stuffing your face when you’re too hungry. And you will eat according to how much you’re feeling hungry, right?

Whilst still eating,

Leptin, the other hormone starts strutting around like a peacock, slowly beginning the process of decreasing your appetite. As you continue to eat, you begin to even reduce the speed at which you’re eating. You started off eating like you’re in some hot dog eating contest because you were hungry but as you continue you slow down. That’s leptin at play right there – your gauge, and once the tank is full, leptin signals the brain that now you’ve had enough.

But children with autism don’t have it.

Or rather let me put it like this – because that’s how it is. It’s not that they don’t have a gauge but the problem here is that an autistic brain is wired a little differently from yours and mine. Remember I said autism is a life-long complex neurobehavioral condition that starts and ends in the brain. What this means is that this brain has a disability in understanding certain information and can’t tap into some parts of itself where information is taking place naturally.

Now, here’s how I learned this

My autistic son used to eat and drink a lot (except alcohol). No, wait. Not a lot but excessively. Nah, excessively is not the right word either, abnormal does suffice although a little. This happened for a few years – two or three at least, and at first, we used to think that he had a gigantic appetite and gave him more food, but we soon realized that appetite had nothing to do with it because he just didn’t stop. He couldn’t help himself.

One time I caught him with a 5L of water that was two or one and a half liters to go. And by then he was around 3 or 4 or 5. He struggled to walk and even breathed like a pig because he was all swollen up and bloated but still helped himself. I was so freakin’ puzzled.

I kept wondering what was wrong with him, but no one knew, not even the doctors. One Sunday lunch I was dishing his food and while busy I realized that even though he “ate” a lot, this was too much but decided to leave it and gave him later. We sat down. Remember, I said realized after I’d dished up that the plate was just too full but was lazy to put some of it back and resorted to leaving it in bowl instead.

Now, follow me closely. I fed him because he couldn’t feed or eat by himself. And as I was busy doing so, I was counting the spoons to make sure I was giving him enough. And after my sure measurements, I pulled the bowl away from him and was about to stand up when he pulled me by the arm.

He pushed me down on the chair to sit and I did because I was curious. As I sat down, he also sat, took my hand, placed it on the spoon, and said his Morse code, remember the kuka term? At first, I refused because the tummy looked like there wasn’t room for one more spoon, but he wanted to eat, nonetheless.

I tried to refuse but he started crying and grabbed me by the clothes until I had no choice but to surrender. He finished the whole bowl, took his big water glass, downed it in one go, and went for the coke next. I was so shocked you could pick my jaw on the floor, but I was also very worried now.

Then one time I decided to put a stop to this binging spree of his. I wasn’t going to allow him to eat so out of control. So, I dished a small portion of food in his bowl, sat him down, fed him and that was it. I waited to see if he would want more but he didn’t. He didn’t look like he wanted more. He looked fine, content even. I took the same big water glass he drank with every day and poured him a quarter and he drank it and put the glass away. Again, he didn’t ask for more.

What did this mean?

Right there I realized that his “gauge” wasn’t working. His body did produce it that’s for sure. And it did go to the brain and told it to send the stop-eating signals. But his brain can’t interpret the message or signal from it, therefore, can’t tell his tummy that it is now full. This meant I had to be his gauge, be the one who controls how much he eats and drinks. And I’ve been doing that to this day, and it’s helped me help him a great deal.

What this also meant is that

An autistic brain as we know by now, it functions and operates differently from ours. A child will keep eating and will be full once the plate or bowl is empty. But so long as there is food, they eat no matter how plenty or small it is. Remember an autistic brain is rigid like that. If your child eats abnormally like this, now you know where the problem is and how to fix it. Control how much your child eats and drinks for them.

This very informative guest blog post about autism was written by Lunga Mhlongo who has a blog called The Autism Wall. Her purpose for the blog is to spread more awareness about autism. If you are interested in reading more about autism or are interested in reading about her experiences as a parent of a child with autism, check out her blog by clicking here.

For more guest posts please click here.

To read more posts about mental health related topics please click here.

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43 responses to “The Autism Gauge”

  1. Is this about executive dysfunction (not a medical term) or a lack of a filter and being blunt? I’m a little confused.😅

    1. I think she means they sometimes don’t know when they are full and need to stop eating/drinking. Hope that explains it:)

      1. Oh ok ok

  2. That was quite informative. Actually autistic people can have gifts that most of us don’t have. I’ve seen a news item where an autistic person was taken up in a plane to get a clear view over London then asked to reproduce what he saw and he did that with the finest detail in a painting. They can do mathematic problems most of us couldn’t solve without a computer and other unusual things like that. In their own way autistic people can be most creative and smart.

    1. Yes, I’ve read about that too. I think they often are very gifted at specific things.

  3. I have a daughter with autism who is 26 years old. We’ve seen many doctors, most holistic/integrative/functional medicine. The gut is key, often called “the second brain.” Functional medicine is the future, and this little article barely touches the tip of the iceberg: Yes, they may eat to self-soothe like any anxiety ridden person who uses food as an outlet, but possibly gastro dysfunctions, like exotoxins from gluten and dairy that act like opiates in the brain, so an eater wants more and more: (scroll down to Discussion). Another possibility is yeast overgrowth in the gut or Candidiasis, which makes for a sugar and carbs craving: I wonder if your son is eating any of these foods. I wrote a book about what changing her diet did for my daughter but more so, how it cured my depression and anxiety: Thank you, just another thought, hope it helps.

  4. My 19 year old grandson has lived with my wife and me for ten years. He is diagnosed as mildly autistic. He reads at a second grade level and cannot do Math to the point of ever being trusted with money but amazes me with his memory for details he chooses to focus on. I have to ask him for help on technology devices, he can recall what everybody ordered at a restaurant two years ago and that the waiter was rude, he can recite dialogue verbatim from movies he has seen. Amazing how different minds work. And how we so often base the entire value of a person on narrow scales like Math SATs or reading levels.

    1. That’s amazing. And you make a very good point. Often we think of intelligence as how well they do at school but the truth is there are so many other ways someone can be gifted and talented. His memory sounds really impressive.

  5. Fascinating, riveting guest post. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

  6. An interesting view.

  7. Very informative. Thank you for sharing. 🙏🤍

    1. Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Hi Lunga Mhlongo,

    This blog post is an excellent explanation of the occurrence and impact of the people’s suffering with autism.

    Congratulations for starting “The Autism Wall”!🎉🎉✨
    Stay happy, healthy and mindful.😊

  9. An informative post by Lunga Mhlongo

    Well written and great amount of info

    I will definitely check out their work.

  10. Absolutely brilliantly written. Fan of yours now 😅

  11. So interesting. Never knew autism affected people on that way. I guess if you don’t have the gauge, how would you know when to stop or start, except through habit and experience …

    1. I didn’t realise this could be an issue for people with autism either.

  12. Brilliant

  13. This is so terrible. Anita

  14. I did not know this! Interesting!

    1. Glad it was informative!

  15. Thanks for this post, Lunga and Pooja… I learned a few things about autism.

    1. Glad to hear that!

  16. great post but for awhile I WAS like.. wait Pooja.. son, what son! 😂

    1. Lollll 😅😅😅

  17. I think this must be a WP bug. In this post and a previous post of yours, I see the picture aligned to the left side, and a grey outline of half a square on the right side. It never happened before and I guess WP is doing its “theme” modification again and sometimes it can cause alignment issues on webpages. By the way, the grey outline only shows up in WP readers and doesn’t show up in the webpage itself.

    1. That’s so odd. I don’t know why WP keeps messing with the Reader so much. All their updates do is create bugs and glitches. Hopefully this issue will go away soon.

      1. So true. At first, I thought an internet ghost was haunting me since WP features just come and go, come and go. It is very strange.

        1. It may be a glitch, try clearing your cache and history. That’s what I do when stuff like that happens and. it helps.

  18. My son is 14 and he has autism. He goes one of 2 ways. If he is doing something that he is fixated on , he can go hours either out eating, drinking or going to the loo. He’s fixated and that’s that! If he isn’t doing what he is interested in he literally eats everything in site. It’s like his body can’t help it. He will eat a pack of yoghurt for example, have 2 man size bowls of cereal and still want to eat. I have had to monitor him and now we can just about manage it. This was a fascinating post.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s interesting that like the writers son he seems to have a similar issue with food and not knowing when he is full.

  19. Thankyou Pooja for sharing. Autism is a subject that is very important to me and my family as my 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with the condition when she was 3 years old and came as a complete shock at the time as she was learning and was on the verge of talking then everything completely stopped. I know first hand how challenging it can be raising a child with autism and I fully emphasise with those who may be finding things difficult but I want to assure them there is support in teaching and learning to understand them more it just takes lots of research to find what your child and family are entitled to. As you say Autistic children may be wired differently but more often than not these kids are brilliant and it is just of case of finding what they love doing and to start working on it.

    1. Yes, I can imagine how challenging it must be but it’s true these kids are often very talented in their own way.

  20. You really used your creativity with this one, I loved your examples to allow us all to fully understand what gauge is. Incredible how you explained the autistic brain when it comes to eating and drinking, I never realized this even though I have a son with autism.

  21. Very interesting and informative post! I only know very few things about autism, so I’m glad I learned something new today! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m glad this helped you learn more about autism!

  22. That was a good post and it makes sense. Autism is a challenge for those who have it and those who take care of someone with it. It is also very complex and doctors still don’t have all the answers as to why some are born with it and some are not. I know a family who has four children and only the second oldest is autistic. Nice young man, but he is in his own world usually. Prayers to Lunga and her son, that she will continue to learn and notice things about her son that will help them grow together.

    1. Yes, I think the hardest part is not knowing the cause. Like many mental issues, there isn’t much information yet.

      1. Yes I agree. It’s one of God many mysteries.

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