I believe that those of us who are on the autism spectrum are possibly more susceptible to more traumas on a daily basis. Our intense sensory issues, and if you have synesthesia like I do the sensory world is like being plopped into a whirlwind of emotional and sensory chaos pounding in, through, and out of your body constantly. It can make for traumatic experiences that others would never think of. Even if you do not have synesthesia, sensory processing issues can cause your world to be painful, confusing, and/or scary. Social confusion can cause your world to be emotionally painful, anxiety filled, and scary! Imagine how scary and traumatic this world is when you have no clue that you have sensory issues, social confusion, synesthesia, or that you process very differently from your peers, and others.
It is a little different for those on the autism spectrum because sometimes the tiniest thing could be traumatic. For those of us who feel, and experience intensely because of the way our brain is wired, something that is seemingly harmless to the average person may think our feelings of trauma are senseless. Possibly even made-up, irrational, foolish, stupid, attention seeking, annoying, and bothersome. I could add a plethora of adjectives to this list, but I think you get the point. (A side note here, no one should downplay trauma. Every person is different, the same goes with stress and anxiety, these feelings are real for the person feeling them, whether you believe it are or not. Validate and help, you should not judge and condemn what you do not understand.)
They are none of the above.
They are real, and they can continue to be damaging if a person is not allowed to heal, express themselves, and learn how to find positive coping mechanisms in a safe environment. Dealing with trauma, I will add PTSD as well, require the ability to work through what has happened without judgment, condemnation, and attacks on how these issues affect another person. Such as a parent, spouse, or friend all need to be supportive in order for the person to heal. These issues need to be validated with acknowledgment, not voicing frustrations because of them. (I do understand the need for mutual understanding for all parties, but there needs to be an awareness of how these difficulties could cause that to be a very hard task.)
Being annoyed or dismissing someones painful experience, however, foolish you may think it is does not help.
For me, I am already frustrated with myself for feeling as if I am overreacting because of a reaction I have toward a sound, emotion, or a word. I do not need another person to add their frustrations to it. I need support, and understanding. I can get better with these situations when I feel encouraged. The more encouragement I get the more confident I am. Positive reinforcement helps me to stop the negative self-talk. I will add that it is important not to do positive reinforcement in a condescending tone, making statements suggesting that it is only being done to appease me, I can “feel” if it is not genuine, or treat me like a child because that will just tick me off and I’ll go into defense mode. Trauma is different for every person and how it is processed is different as well.
A loud “BANG!” sound at a carnival could cause years of trauma.
The chaotic surroundings, people, smells, lights, and all of the other sensory input as well as social dynamics will have the person already on defense and filled with anxiety. Even if they want to go, and it was their idea to go, it does not stop the mind from its faulty processing abilities, and social anxieties. Anxiety can be good feelings of complete elation and excitement, and it can be bad anxiety fill with fear, or phobias. When all of the surroundings are intense and all the sudden a loud “BANG!” goes off it could send the person into intense meltdown or complete shutdown.
There is trauma.
1 a : an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent <surgical trauma> <the intra-abdominal organs at greatest risk to athletic trauma are the spleen, pancreas, and kidney—M. R. Eichelberger>—see blunt traumab : a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury
2 : an agent, force, or mechanism that causes trauma
The autistic mind is different when it comes to processing.
The sound I mentioned earlier, it can be physically painful to hear such a sudden loud sound. Certain sounds can make me want to curl into a ball holding my ears – it makes my stomach hurt in a stabbing pain. Scraping ice literally feels like I am being cut with knives on the inside of my body. I have trauma triggers associated with fire drills at school. The unexpectedness and the loud sounds of it would cause my body physical pain. I am not even tapping on emotional processing.
Many times, I had no idea that I had experienced something traumatic.
I only responded with shutdown or meltdown and then, if something happened again I would relive everything. Since I notice patterns, I would (can) relive every single similar thing that has ever happened to me before. There are times when I am experiencing a traumatic situation, but do not know how to explain what is happening. If I feel like I am being verbally attacked with words and I am unable to defend myself, it is traumatic. Verbal trauma triggers can be linked to physical trauma triggers for me.
Many times trauma is associated with abuse.
While I do have abusers from my past, I believe there is another dynamic that plays out in the autistic mind. We carry memories deep in our psyche, we are unable to process our emotions rapidly, we can lose our ability to speak, or we are unable to explain ourselves properly. We can feel intense emotions of others and have no idea what is happening – these emotions can linger for years. Anxiety and confusion can make us feel hopeless or in a constant defense mode. Everything I have shared reveals that we feel vulnerable, uneasy in our environment, disconnected from our social situations, and we are also trying to process intense sensory input.
It goes into a deeper type of trauma when we feel attacked in an environment that is supposed to be safe.
It can cause serious looping, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, among other things. I have heard several of the recorded abuse that has happened to autistic children from recent media outlets, and it is beyond infuriating. The poor children who are unable to communicate clearly, or who are unable to tell their parents that they have been bullied by these adults is horrifying. I hear these adults purposely triggering these kids into meltdowns, later these children are labeled as uncontrollable, or worse. These teachers/aides are well aware what triggers these children have because they are part of their IEP’s.
They have been given the information handed to them to be a perfect manipulator/bully/abuser.
I personally do not understand why anyone would want to cause such trauma in a child. I cannot fathom doing such a horrendous thing. However, it does not only happen to children. There are adults as well those who are lower functioning and high-functioning. (I hate these terms, but I do not know how else to word it.) There are people, even those who claim to be supportive who when are under stress, or who are angry will use the triggers to stir some sort of emotional response.
I do not understand this and I cannot articulate what I feel about it.
Maybe they are loving and supportive the majority of the time, which could cause even more deep-rooted trauma for a person on the autism spectrum. When we give trust and it has been violated, or abused in some way it is devastating. I have read that many of us tend to forgive and forget, and can fall into repeated patterns of being manipulated/abused/bullied. We tend to doubt ourselves and get jumbled by social confusion, or intense desire to want to be accepted.
I have been reading quite a bit about relationships for a while.
I have learned that people lash out in emotional states and say things on purpose to be hurtful. Apparently, many people understand that you are supposed to let those moments go. Whatever was said in the heat of the moment is not supposed to be taken seriously. That works for people who do not rely heavily on words to define their world. It works well for those who are able to process emotions easily, or at least able to understand that the emotions are speaking. For those of us who have experienced abuse, bullies, and manipulators it can be traumatic. For those of us who are unable to express themselves, or even know how to connect their emotions it can be traumatic.
It leaves lasting scars, confusion, and triggers.
It can leave lingering anxiety, and fears. On a positive note it does not have to stay that way. The mind is changeable, ever learning, ready to be transformed, and always seeking. In this area it seems that the more mindful and aware we are of our triggers, whether emotional or physical we can help mold them in a positive way. We can take hold of these things and learn from them. We can take our negative experiences and conform them to new strengths. We can learn what our triggers are and use them to help us prepare, or work through painful experiences that have been holding us back. Some things we will not be able to change about our minds, but we can learn to make our life much easier to understand. If we are able to explain ourselves, and not feel outcast for our feelings we can improve.
We can change, grow, and be productive and proactive.
We can help others, and share our experiences. We need a safe, judgmental free, and caring environment to do this. It doesn’t have to be a lot, many times the slightest bit of genuine encouragement can change a whole lot of things. I think it should be a goal to teach those on the spectrum how to encourage themselves, and gain the tools to have and keep confidence. It is hard to keep it in a world that is constantly attacking differences or things it does not understand. Learning to how to encourage oneself, and learning how to eliminate much of negative self-talk can change someone really quick! We need positive scripts to cast down all of the negative ones. Those words can be for anyone not only those on the autism spectrum. I am making friends with my triggers because they are helping me become friends with myself.
Sound cheesy? Well, I am kind of a cheesy person. Zoinks! :-)
Friday Video – Janet Treasure (Great quick video talking about eating disorders and autism.)
I have been speaking from an Aspergers perspective, but I understand that there are parents who feel trauma, possibly even PTSD raising an autistic child. As I have mentioned all throughout it is different for everyone. The first three to four years with Daniel felt very isolating, confusing, and at times traumatic. We can still have our days. I had my intense reactions, but completely unaware what was happening to me. I felt so helpless and distressed some days. If you are a parent not on the spectrum I understand that you have your own ways of processing and need to feel allowed to speak too. I found this article that may help you. It did help me too.