(Cross-posted on A[Squared] – Life with Autism and Anxiety )
One of the most painful things that I’ve learned living with autism is the misnomer that neuro-typical people think that people with ASD can simply control their symptoms. The psychological and physical outbursts that stem from having autism are somehow controllable in the minds of a majority of the neuro-typical masses.
As a young child, I remember being yelled at for never looking my father in the eye, for someone that was neuro-typical looking each other in the eye was a way to show that you were paying attention, or so I thought. For me, keeping my head down was a way to focus on what was being said rather than allowing the extra visual stimulus to distract me. Of course, when I was a child I couldn’t explain why I always kept my head lowered, and if I was trying really hard to pay attention, my eyes were usually closed. Anything assault on the other senses I have led me to lose focus on the words and my mind was sent racing down hundreds of paths at once.
Even now, that I’m an adult, if I’m in a strange location that is filled with noise it’s overwhelming. The input of noise, and bright lights, or just the shadows of people (I must be actively paying attention to an individual for them to be a person to me rather than a figure of a person.) it all becomes too overwhelming and reality around me begins to melt together like crayons on a sidewalk during summer.
Imagine that for a moment.
Every flicker of light, shadow in the room, any variation of color catches your attention, but not in separate instances. It’s all at once, you see everything around you in all it’s glory at the same time. While your brain is trying to process that, you hear everything as well. There is no background noise, every conversation of every person around you assaults your sense of hearing. Any music, child crying, the sound of footsteps, it’s all at once. While your mind is trying to process all the extra input from sight and sound, you still have more senses forcing information into the space between your ears. The smell of anyone that walks by, deodorant, or the lack thereof, perfume, foods, the last cigarette someone smoked, the distinct odor of a pet owner that doesn’t clean up after their animals like they should, it’s all crammed into your being at once. Compound that with the sense of touch, and it is truly as if you are locked in a hell from which you can’t escape less you run away from all the sight, sound, smells, etc. to some place that is safe.
For me, that is somewhere as far away from people as I can get where I am able to wear soft clothing and have no extra input to my senses other than what I allow. This is one of the reasons that I cannot live in a city, the noises that a lot of city-dwellers find comforting I find overpowering to the point where I can’t function. I quite literally lose my ability to function when I am in a city for any extended length of time. I stop being able to speak in a coherent manner, I lose the words for items. There are even times when I can’t speak in English, but rather have to use the German words that I’ve learned for things. It gets so frustrating to know that I know what an item is called but I can’t force myself to say the word. There are times when I forget to eat, because it just wasn’t on my mind. I will sit in a seat, locked in the hell that is my mind trying to remember why I am somewhere, or what day it is, or where I am. All because the stimulus my mind is receiving is too much to process and I can’t just filter it out.
When the level of frustration reaches high enough it causes me to be angry and lash out. I can’t help it. I cannot control it, no matter how hard I try. The inability to communicate with people around me, or express my needs or wants reduces me to a childlike state where I have to point at things until I’m nearly in tears. The more the stress, the worse it is.
I can’t speak on the phone, I can’t go out in public by myself without having a panic attack, I can’t be alone most of the time. This is my world, and it’s nothing that I can help. Counseling doesn’t do any good, because therapists expect you to be able to change your way of thinking to something akin to the neuro-typical way of thinking. It’s like expecting a iMac to run the same programs as a PC without any help.
It’s this way for countless people around with world with autism. We are expected to change the way we think and act, because we “aren’t normal” in the eyes of society. Perhaps, rather than expecting us to change, society should work to embrace us and help us find a place in life rather than shun us, and laugh at our meltdowns.
We are human just the same as neuro-typical people, we have feelings, needs, wants, and dreams just like everyone else. Expecting us to act and function like neuro-typical people is expecting to control the uncontrollable.