This is going to be a more serious discussion, and probably a slightly edgy one for many, but it’s something that we were coming to eventually, and it needs to be let into the light.
For those of you familiar with autism, you’ll know that we can have a dark side. Everybody does — whether it’s being so terrified of spiders you mercilessly smash ones in your kitchen to oblivion with a boot and not a trace of remorse, or putting your ex’s dirty laundry on social media, or yelling at the top of your lungs and throwing the TV remote when your team doesn’t win the game. So, this is a human thing. But for those of us on the spectrum, it’s heightened.
In our hearts, we are peace-loving and pretty objective and generally wouldn’t hurt a fly (in some cases, literally). Trust me. There is no need to be afraid of us. Even after you’ve seen our dark side.
The major reason we sometimes explode (and it is on parallel with the worst toddler tantrums in history) is because of reaching our limit in over-stimulation.
Imagine this: You are in a very loud classroom or workplace. You go home, to find the kids punching and kicking each other over who gets the last Twizzler. The dog is throwing up on the carpet at the same time that the phone rings, and your spouse or parent announces they’re stuck at the mechanics’ with a flat tire. And then you remember you forgot to pick up a prescription/homework supply/new cloak pattern somebody requested. And at this very moment the neighbor kid kicks a soccer ball into your front window.
We’ve all had this type of day or week. But imagine this being the amount of stimulation your brain attempts to process on a daily basis. And there is no way to shut it off.
So, sometimes, when you’re ASD and have spent all week around uncooperative co-workers or bullying classmates, it just becomes too much. The eruption happens. It isn’t pretty. But it seems necessary. Unfortunately, we won’t feel better afterwards.
When we calm down, the pain settles in. The physical agony of having restrained the anxiety that had been building. The depression at feeling that we failed, again. The sadness at knowing that no matter how much we want to pretend to carry on in the world, we may never be able to.
Sometimes we indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms — cutting, for example, or not eating well, or maybe self-medicating. (By the way, that last one is least likely for a lot of ASD-ers, because of our sensory perception sensitivities.) But none of that is good, either.
So, how do we try to keep our stress levels down so that, ideally, none of this occurs?
(Please notice the word “ideally.” Part of the process of developing healthy coping skills is to learn that realism sucks, and is factual.)
Meditation or deep breathing could help. (I say could because getting us to completely empty our minds and focus only on our breathing is similar to expecting your cat to become a vegetarian.) But try it.
A low-dose anti-anxiety med is a possibility. But, you have to be able to swallow pills (that’s not me), and you need to be comfortable enough with going to a doctor for regular checkups to monitor it (also not me). Again, though, if you’re willing to try it, go for it.
Homeschool or work from home if at all possible. Since it’s not the existence of other people (no, really) that upsets us, but the sheer numbers of them we may encounter in a day to day routine. Having more control over how often we leave the house does help.
Go to counseling if you can (the leaving the house thing). But not because you are the problem — because healthy coping is beneficial. And because we have to teach the “NT” (neurotypical) humans what our triggers are, and get everyone who loves us on the same page.
Build your mind palace as much as possible. Seriously. But physically. Create a safe haven in your house, somewhere you can go to be alone — and tell people when you need some space. If you can, fill that space with comfy sofas and music and books and tea, or whatever makes you feel calm.
And for family members — please, please listen to us. Don’t tell us to “get over it.” Respect our wishes. Grant them. Give us time, and space, and love. And yourself. You didn’t do anything “wrong” that resulted in your beloved being on the spectrum. This is just how we are — it’s not judgement or a curse or the result of eating pomegranates during pregnancy. If you look closely, you might even see a spark of something amazing deep within us.