Saturday 6 June 2015

Autism - Social Clumsiness not Nastiness

First, if you are able, get to a computer with sound.  Switch it on and turn it up as loud as you can handle.

Second, watch this two minute film about an autistic boy entering a cafe.


That's the world we live in, 24 hrs a day.  A world so 'loud' that our brains are utterly overwhelmed by it.  Autism means that our bodies take in too much information from the world around us.  So much that we are deafened and blinded by it.  So much that our brain wiring literally overheats... and often stops us talking clearly with others.   Eventually, many of our brains will shut down all communication, to try to let the brain wiring cool off.

In the 'bad old days', those behaviours were believed to be deliberate nasty choices by us.  It caused a whole set of myths.  Various baffled psychological types would look over their spectacles... and declare that we were deliberately nasty sorts, who needed to be forced to go into restaurants and other such places.   And those myths grew and grew, and spread and spread.

Thank goodness for modern science that has shown what our world is like.  It's shown the bravery and courage of so many autistic people.  The ones who want to be with you at your event.  The ones who will go into that restaurant, or that busy street with you.  The ones who will attempt to be your friend, amongst that degree of pain and fear. 

We know that if our brain wiring overheats too much, it can feel like an electric shock. And afterwards, exhaustion.  An increasing number of specialists strongly suspect that autism is linked to epilepsy.  So it's been like someone going up to a friend having an epileptic seizure and accusing them of 'attention seeking'.  Just totally wrong.  A complete misunderstanding.

It's fear that drives us...fear of the pain of that sensory/social overload.  And we have a brain that doesn't communicate very well with non-autistic folk.  It's too literal.  We believe what we're told.  So we're often socially naive when with non-autistic people.  We can't see your body language or face expression.  Voice tone can be a mystery too.  We wouldn't know if that waitress in the film was bored, or sad, or empathetic, or angry, or anything else.  There is simply a person with a totally blank face,to us.   We then have to guess her emotion and guess our response.  If we get it wrong, yikes, often people get so angry with us.  Many, like me, can't even recognise who's who from their faces.  The picture below shows what that looks like, to me. It shows a group of people with their faces blanked out.

Imagine being in that cafe, in that much distress, and then complete strangers get angry with you, too. We've done that to too many autistic folk.  We've judged them against a standard that no-one else could possibly achieve either, if they had that brain design.  The person needs to get to a quiet place for a while.  They are genuinely afraid of the pain from the sensory/social overload.

If we're asking for help, it's not manipulation or laziness.  It's not disruption or 'challenging'.  If we have found a way to use words to ask, they might be clumsy. They might be 'annoying'.  But it's a genuine ask.  If we are distressed, it's no wonder.  Let us get to quiet and safety.

Please don't judge us on the basis of the whisperers who tell you nonsense about autism. Or those who only know old myths.  Find out for yourself.  Get to know all the courageous, kind, responsible and caring autistic folk around you.  We're most often lovely people, much misunderstood.