Do you live in a vortex? All aspects of your life spin around you at an ever increasing rate? The To Do list sprouts six new tasks as soon as you cross one off the list. Four people need you – NOW. The errands multiply like rabbits? A day turns into a whirlwind and we struggle to keep our feet on the ground?
In the midst of the storm, a nagging little voice says, you must take care of yourself, you need to slow down and learn to relax. Like me, do you might feel like slapping that little voice into oblivion because it is OBVIOUSLY not in touch with the real world!
One thing that I know for sure is that children with autism have a lot to teach us. We may be able to ignore the little voice in our heads but I am pretty sure you have figured out that we cannot ignore the voice of autism!
Given the autistic brain’s challenges and differences with language, sensory systems, cognition and social thinking, it is really no wonder that anxiety and emotional overload play a leading role in the life of many individuals with autism. While we might feel like we spin out of control most days, in reality, our anxiety levels are buffered by positive social interactions, self- awareness and the ability to know when and how to use coping strategies. All of these safeguards are often underdeveloped or non -existent in folks with autism.
To make matters worse, the brain of an individual with autism does not filter incoming stimuli well. In fact, the amygdala is ultra-quick to speed dial emotions (without conscious approval) to alert the body of immediate danger. This is normally a good thing. But, in a brain with autism, the frontal cortex (reasoning area) of the brain fails to do its job of determining whether the emergency is really a threat. The result is that an individual is emotionally hijacked by things that would normally not be deemed, by the thinking brain, as real danger: an unintentional push by someone in line, the sound of a hand dryer, a touch on the arm or a teacher’s instruction to write a paragraph!
The result: FIGHT or FLIGHT. Either way, it’s usually not pretty.
The mental health needs of a child with autism tend to scream for attention; to ignore these needs would be ridiculous and cruel. Kids with autism have taught me that we MUST listen to the voice that tells us to take care of our physical, mental and emotional health.
Choosing to ignore high levels of anxiety may be less dramatic in those without autism – we can usually hold our “cool” for a while. But let’s face it, eventually we all crack! To be honest, I tend to ‘derail’ at home!
This month, let’s take a really good look at what we can learn from those who struggle to self-regulate. Individuals with autism need our help to learn new skills, create safe and productive learning environments and develop habits that will build their resilience and happiness. Isn’t it true that it is in teaching a skill that we stand to learn the most?
We have some outstanding teachers in our students and children with autism – let’s learn from them.
Stay tuned for Directives from the Spectrum – Learning to Chill…Living Now…and more