Awareness of autism – expressed along a spectrum of experience and characteristics – is at an all-time high. Most people who find a diagnosis of some form of autism feel some relief and sense of clarity, reporting that it seems to explain so much of their experience, socially and sometimes sensorily.
While we used to think of autism as a set of severely limiting symptoms and behaviors – the kind that would usually be treated in a highly restrictive setting – we now understand that a person can be affected by neuroatypical characteristics without severe symptomology. In fact, sometimes the neuroatypical person is the only one who notices that there is a difference between how they and many others seem to experience life.
Other times, the person with neuroatypical presentation will be unaware of any such difference, but others notice the characteristics.
As with anything, awareness is valuable. It’s nice to know where our expectations and assumptions differ from those of others, and where we may have blind spots that determine gaps in our ability to relate to others, or their ability to relate to us.
In children, there may be behaviors or deficits in perception that can be addressed by schools, with the proper diagnosis. Accomodations and skills training may be important. Self-awareness may be difficult in one area or another, often noticeable as social difficulties. Most importantly, ASD characteristics can lead to a certain amount of chronic loneliness that a person simply assumes is ‘normal’ or inevitable. People with any degree of ASD may also experience a tendency to orient toward or away from unpleasant stimuli in a black-and-white way (“preferred/not preferred”) without realizing there are gradations of responses and that unpleasant experiences – whether sensory or other – pass and/or can be tolerated to differing degrees. This sometimes leads to a deep-seated belief in one’s own fragility.
As with much of the loneliness we experience, getting to know it is half the cure. Exploring distress tolerance is useful in expanding resilience. For children, information and skills acquisition (through repetition and systematic guidance) can be crucial.
In families, a common problem is that often more than one family member is affected by some form of sensory intolerance, and if one of them is a child, that child is likely to have ‘meltdowns’ at times such as transitions, or to refuse to do certain tasks. The limited ability to withstand internal dissonance (“I don’t want to but that’s the best choice available to me now” or “I’m focused on this and feel I can’t change my focus”) often results in screaming – which then is intolerable to a parent with ASD-related sensory distress – and the parent-child relationship is repeatedly damaged, in addition to the chaos in the household presented by the reactivity of a neuroatypical child.
I provide initial screenings for ASD (as it is currently termed) and therapeutic support for children and adults. Contact me to discuss details.