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Autistic masking – everything you wanted to know about ‘passing’ or ‘camouflaging’ as an autist

Autistic masking – everything you wanted to know about ‘passing’ or ‘camouflaging’ as an autist

We have written a lot about autistic masking, but haven’t dedicated a single article to it – so here it is.

Autists commonly experience difficulties in key areas including communication, socialisation and sensory challenges. (It’s also common for those on the autism spectrum to experience emotional rigidity and repetitive thought processes or behaviours.)

Many autistic individuals, subconsciously or otherwise, end up masking

Looking at the areas of socialisation and communication, it begins to become clear why many autistic individuals, (subconsciously or otherwise), end up masking – e.g. presenting oneself differently in one’s behaviour, in order to hide certain traits, or mimic neurotypical behaviours.

So it is a way of ‘fitting in’ and meeting people’s expectations.

Autistic masking – getting through the day at work, in school, and at home

A side on image of a white female used to illustrate autism articleMasking may sound quite superficial, but it is in fact necessary to get through the day for many autists; for example, earning a wage in order to feed the family; therefore fitting in at work, meeting social conventions and carrying out the required workplace tasks (often without relevant support).

In places of education, this ‘fitting in’ is usually required in order to access the education on offer without confrontation or revealing one’s struggles, as well as to meet social conventions, potentially avoid punishments, and avoid standing out or being ostracised or bullied.

Masking uses up valuable energy units

In everyday life, masking may be required a lot of the time to simply achieve life’s daily requirements; e.g chatting to a cashier at the supermarket, being friendly towards the neighbours, or mingling at a family function. That is not to say that the autistic individual doesn’t want to be friendly, and chat to the cashier, neighbour or family member – just that this very action takes a lot of mental processing, and energy units. 

Autism is after all an issue of processing, so every interaction for the autist takes up energy units. If the autistic individual had a completely full tank of energy units, then chatting to the cashier, family member or neighbour would probably not represent such a problem.

But if most of the energy units have been allocated with daily executive functioning, there’s very little processing data available, making communication of any kind an effort.

Autism – extensive processing effort

Autistic individuals may develop a set of social skills or ‘mask’ that helps them fit in with others,.

Autistic individuals may develop a set of social skills or ‘mask’ that helps them fit in with others,.

Rather than simply seeing Mary the neighbour and having a chat, the energy-depleted autist is likely to be going through a mental tick list as they see the neighbour. ‘Who is that? It’s Mary. I need to say hello to Mary. Should I ask her how her pet is? What’s her pet’s name? Will she say hello to me first?’ 

Each thought process takes mental and processing effort – the autist may even rehearse the conversation in his or her head as they approach, to make sure it sounds appropriate. Remember, they’re doing this for the neighbour’s benefit, not for their own. How exhausting!

The autist’s natural (and probably preferred) state would be NOT to say hello on this occasion, just to go home and recalibrate after the day’s challenges. But in order to meet social convention, the autist will probably be friendly, and try to ‘pass’ as a neurologically-appropriate individual.

(Hence why autistic masking is also known  as ‘passing’. In clinical terms, it is also described as camouflaging.)

Interacting with other people can be draining

Multiply this effort dozens of times each day, and we see that due to the autist’s differences in processing and communication, interacting with other people can be draining. Hence a ‘mask’ is used to appear neurotypical, or to simply pass as a functional individual who’s following social convention.

Two men walking, to illustrate autism articleRemember, this isn’t a reflection on the autist’s desire to interact with the other person – the autist may very much want to communicate with them – it’s simply relative to the amount of mental processing required to do so, when the energy bank is already depleted from processing everything else in the environment that afternoon. (E.g the bright sunlight, the din of background noise on the bus, and the busy neighbourhood.)

Being the best version of one’s self

Autistic masking doesn’t just take place with non-family members – autists may mask around their close friends, spouses, parents, children and other family members too, not because they can’t be themselves, but because they love their close friends and family members so much that they don’t want to cause concern and make the family member worry that there’s something wrong. Maybe the autist, if feeling low, anxious or tired, just wants to appear as the best version of themselves? Like maximising your appearance, putting on a smarter outfit, or putting on make up.

Two females talking _ to illustrate communication between NTs and autistics: ASC ASDIn an ideal world, no masking would be required around loved ones. A family member, knowing their autistic loved one had just done the school run, returned from the office, been shopping or had generally had a tiring day, would knowingly stick their thumb up with a smiling, enquiring face, to silently question, ‘Are you ok?’

And the autist would smile and stick their thumb up to reply, ‘Yes, I’m okay, thank you for understanding and pre-empting my mental exhaustion, spoon depletion and social hangover, but I’m just not up to talking right now, or at least not taking about non essential things.’ And all would be well. But families aren’t all like that, are they! It’s simply a matter of education and awareness, however.

(It’s important to note that young children don’t have that awareness of their parents’ sensitivities, as described above – so the autistic parent is likely to mask, so as not to concern their child.)

Hence, the autist masks to make their families feel happy, often at their own expense, not because they’re unhappy about being themselves, but because they care.

Childhood autistic masking

Three girls are shown to illustrate that echolalia can be an early sign of autism.

It is thought that autistic girls ‘mask’ more than boys.

It’s worthwhile mentioning childhood masking, specifically. Autistic women mask more than men, and it would seem that autistic girls mask more than boys. Masking is a way of navigating reality – remember, it may be subconscious – and for autistic girls, it’s a valuable tool to fit in with peers. But successful masking can lead outsiders to be so convinced of the individual’s ‘typicality’ that their autism goes unnoticed. Additionally, it’s common for a child (of either gender) to ‘mask’ at school and ‘let it all out’ when they return home to the safety of their own surroundings, and people who ‘get’ them.

The website Spectrum News, reporting on a study, states: ‘[Researchers found that autistic boys] might be overactive or appear to misbehave, whereas girls more often seem anxious or depressed.’

It is also interesting to note that masking can include the hiding of self-stimulatory behaviours (stims), like fidgeting or tapping. The autistic individual may bite their cheek, clench their fists or flex and relax a muscle – all things that probably go unnoticed, but help to self-regulate the autist.

Masking – good or bad?

In summary, autistic masking in small measures is maybe not bad thing, to help one’s self esteem, and feel like less of an outsider. However, too much masking, which can occur long-term when the autist is not yet diagnosed as being autistic, can be hugely depleting; it is also associated with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. Once autism diagnosis occurs, it does also throw up the question, who’s the real me? And too much masking can lead to social hangovers, shutdown and autistic burnout. 

It could be said that getting the balance right between self-care and being true to one’s autistic-self, and fitting into a predominantly neurotypical society and masking along the way, is the eternal holy grail for most autistic individuals.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!

Why not also read our blog on autistic communication differences:

Talking Taki-Taki – discussing communication differences between autistic individuals and neurotypicals; and why NT’s find autists ‘different’ (Asperger’s / ASD /ASC)

The autism chasm – medicalised words versus neurodiversity concepts; and dated paediatric processes. When will we reach a level of understanding?

The autism chasm – medicalised words versus neurodiversity concepts; and dated paediatric processes. When will we reach a level of understanding?

It’s no surprise there’s some confusion and frustration between the neurodiversity proponents and the parents of autistic children going through assessment.

As an autistic adult who supports the neurodiversity concept, and a parent of a neurodivergent child, this author regularly witnesses a gaping chasm.

black and white graphic to illustrate black and white thinking styles for autism blogThe neurodiversity supporters, who are often autistic adults, or parents whose kids ALREADY HAVE a diagnosis of autism, are sometimes further along their journey of education and awareness than many parents of children undergoing assessment. That’s because the language of the clinicians and ‘experts’ in the parents’ lives (e.g. school SENCOS, teachers, Local Authority spokespersons, paediatricians, etc) is DIFFERENT and DATED.

Monotropism and autistic inertia

Neurodiversity proponents use concepts and language like ‘monotropism’ (atypical patterns of attention that describe issues that doctors would call hyper-focused interests, or obsessions – source: www.tiny.cc/DMurray); ‘autistic inertia’ (to describe issues that doctors would state as including executive function); and words like ‘traits, aspects, facets’ etc, to describe common autistic features; meanwhile, Drs, use medicalised words like ‘symptoms’. Most famously, neurodiversity proponents describe a ‘neurology’, or at worst a condition, while Drs use the word ‘disorder’.

Autism pity memes or ‘warrior mom’ memes

Head on over to social media, and neurodiversity groups discuss issues like monotropism and autistic advocatism. Meanwhile, on the parents’ support groups, families and carers may post about how their son’s ‘strange noises’ are irritating; why their family dinner was a disaster because the child was ‘unbearable’ (read: overwhelmed); or a ‘pity meme’ or ‘warrior mom’ meme about bringing up an autistic child. (The two groups aren’t mutually exclusive – there are many, many parents learning about neurodiversity on these groups and pages, and many, many helpful individuals who support the neurdiversity paradigm helping out the parents on their support group pages, e.g. with info about supporting the kids in question.)

The thing is, we as parents can’t get away from the medicalised language. It’s how our kids (and ourselves) are diagnosed with autism. It is clear why parents at the start of their journey follow the terminology that their (often outdated) doctors use. It’s not only all around them, it is a REQUIREMENT to understand it, and use it when conversing with the so-called experts surrounding a child. No matter how many neurodiversity articles you read and absorb, the dated phrasing is around you at every turn, if you’re within the NHS assessment system, or British social and local authority pathway (UK-centric).

Woman- to illustrate that Autistic burnout - Burnout is a physiological symptom of system overloadAutism asssessment

In the course of just two days, I recently had a couple of enlightening experiences (again, this is UK based). A paediatrician told me he could only recommend onward neurodevelopmental assessment for a child if indicative signs were pervasive across all periods, and were witnessed by him at the child’s FIRST paediatric meeting. Have these doctors not heard of autistic MASKING? Literally 10 minutes (which is the time the Dr spent with the child directly, as opposed to with the parents) in a room, and a Dr can decide ‘no signs of autism are apparent’ in a child, and discharge the child, when the parents have waited many, many months to be seen? It is non-sensical.

(Families, remember – these stickler NHS paediatricians usually need to see two examples of ‘autistic behaviours or traits’ to recommend onward neurodevelopmental assessment. If the school aren’t witnessing anything (which could mean the teachers in question aren’t experienced in the field, or don’t realise that what they’re seeing represents autistic processes and traits), and the paediatrician doesn’t see anything at the first meeting, you WILL likely need further evidence. This could include private diagnosis, or presumably could even include supportive letters and evidence from other adults that are responsible for the child, e.g. group leaders or tutors. It is NOT FAIR that a paediatrician can choose not to refer a child on for assessment just because insufficient signs of ‘pervasiveness’ were apparent in the tiny window you were granted on that day.)

(Read more about children’s autism diagnosis HERE).

Haven’t they heard of AUTISTIC MASKING?!

There’s clearly a massive skills gap with some paediatricians who are generalists (e.g. don’t specialise in neurodevelopmental conditions), or have more experience of individuals that ARE autistic, but also have support needs, e.g. who present differently, with less masking. They NEED to know about autistic masking, and that not all autists display all their traits at once – and they need to stop relying on questions like ‘Does he/she hold eye contact?’ and ‘Does he/she line toys up?’, as if these are the key factors that would allow forward assessment for an autistic child.

The second experience I had in the space of those two days was that a local authority representative mentioned the ‘levels’ of autism, e.g. 1, 2 and 3. (This describes, at level 1, someone with so-called mild symptoms, who doesn’t need much support. Those with level 2 or 3 autism are said to have so-called moderate to severe symptoms, and require more substantial support.)

Autistic functioning labels

Using these descriptions (and the word ‘symptom’) is fine medically/diagnostically, as it relates to the (American) DSM-5’s description, which advises diagnosing clinicians to use the broad term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for diagnosis, with numbered sub-categories as described. BUT, no autistic adult uses these sub-categories. Neurodiversity advocates campaign for ALL such functioning labels (e.g. also including ‘mild autism’ and ‘severe autism’) to be disbanded.

Read more here – https://spectra.blog/news-views/autism-labels-and-language/

So, the parent trying to find their way along a journey where (they hope) that an autism diagnosis will allow their child support, are barraged with medicalised jargon and dated views on autism. Yet, as they try to self-educate about modern concepts of neurodiversity and neurodivergence, they are faced with yet more language that is confusing, and is the opposite of what their so-called experts use. (Remember, the experts are bound by law and the jurisdictions of their diagnostic manuals.)

The neurodiversity proponents have it right

What’s the answer? In this author’s opinion, the neurodiversity proponents have it right. Their concepts about supporting difference (not disorder), and of celebrating the benefits of neurodivergence along with recognising the challenges it may bring, are no-brainers. Of course it makes sense. But the educators and ‘experts’ are still on their own journey. They’re surrounded by medicalised textbooks and training courses. Some had next to no training on autism in the first place, and may not have had much exposure to autistic individuals who have little in the way of support needs. So education is KEY. But alongside this, it’s important to educate ourselves about the WHOLE PICTURE – the diagnostic guidelines, the medicalised jargon we can’t bear, the dated paediatricians who have no obvious understanding of what it’s like to experience the world as an autistic person.

I wrote the book ‘Autism from A to Z’ to address some of the issues touched on here. I wanted a tome that helped experts and professionals (as well as families and carers, and autists themselves) to understand some of the finer points of modern-autism thinking, from an #actuallyautistic perspective. But equally, I needed to outline the diagnostic facts, for individuals at the start of their journey. It isn’t available yet – it launches on 20th March 2020, at a UK-based SEN event (The Autism Apprentice’s Special Educational Needs (SEN) Information Day at The Appleyard, Sittingbourne, Kent on 20th March 2020).

(#autism #autismawareness #SEN #Kent). The book will be available to purchase thereafter.

Here are a few reviewer comments:

‘Autism from A to Z is full of information that people new to the autistic world would find extremely helpful when either discovering themselves, or supporting a loved one or client.”

EM, Kent Autistic Trust

The book Autism from A to Z by Kathy Carter“Autism A-Z is easy to digest – I love how its compartmentalised in alphabetical order to find areas easily. The content is the most up to date inclusive of diagnostic changes. Autists are amazing and unique and this book consolidates information and experience supporting this view point. Autists, Parents and Professionals will benefit from having a copy.”

TH, Independent Cornwall Autism Network

‘I recommend this book for anyone new to autism. Autism from A to Z  is refreshingly free of ‘politics’; it simply states the facts and points the way towards further study. It is a very positive book, which promotes self-care and mutual respect for differing views. It’s a very good starting point for further study, and is written by someone with personal experience; I found myself hooked.’

LA, autistic adult

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 

 

 

Exploring what being ‘authentically autistic’ means

Exploring what being ‘authentically autistic’ means

Woman with eyes closed _ to illustrate article on communication between NTs and autisticsI read the recent psychology article on being ‘authentically autistic’ with interest. The current climate seems the most accepting to date, in which to be authentic in this way. The current ‘#bekind’ movement, the increasing acceptance of minority groups, and the increasing awareness of autism as a neurodivergency, certainly means this is the most accepting era that autistics have experienced, to date. But of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There is a LONG way to go, in terms of autism education and awareness, although great steps have been taken. (For example, with the recent news about the UK’s NHS mandatorily training of their staff in autism and learning disability. (Isn’t it surprising that this wasn’t in place previously!)

However, alongside this positivity, there is a flip side – for example – there are a great many individuals supporting behavioural therapy to suppress their families’ autistic traits; plenty of people who (inaccurately) describe their autistic children as ‘vaccine damaged’; and a large, ambivalent group whose paths do not cross with autism, who are unsurprisingly uneducated about the neurology.

Examining this author’s ‘authenticity’, I was diagnosed in my 40s, and as an autistic adult, my friends and family know about my diagnosis. In my professional capacity, of course I present as an actually autistic person; but it’s not something I shout about on a day-to-day basis, and yes, there are many people on the peripheries of my social experiences – e.g women I nod and smile to at the school gates, friends of friends – who do not know I am autistic. (Read about the author HERE).

Am I being unauthentic by not sharing it widely? I do not think so. I see some autistic individuals who must have quite extrovert personalities, and seemingly ‘put it out there’ at the first opportunity, e.g. chatting to random people in a queue, or letting staff members at an event or facility know they’re autistic. It’s admirable, and it helps raise awareness of autism, particularly the fact that autism is everywhere; we’re your friends, teachers, friends’ spouses, colleagues, etc.

woman in black and white - to illustrate autism article re black and white thinking stylesHowever, that level of sharing does not come naturally to me; I’m not the sort of person to disclose personal info on a whim, unless it is relevant. And frankly, with the large group of people in the world I mentioned who are still uneducated, I don’t want to have a quick, superficial conversation with them about my own autism when I am buying coffee, or travelling on public transport. I don’t want to wear a funny T shirt with an autism slogan. I don’t see that it promotes acceptance – awareness maybe, but of what? Awareness without understanding isn’t necessarily useful. I’d welcome an actual conversation and will gladly help to educate them if they’re open to this; but a quick, transitional encounter isn’t for me.

With the people in my outer periphery of associates, of course I would discuss my autistic needs at the appropriate time, but I don’t put it out there for no reason; does this make me less authentic? Some people would say so. Likewise, I don’t advertise lots of other personal details to other people, for example my age, my religious tendencies or gender identity. I feel this situation or choice regarding sharing and over-sharing is more to do with extrovert versus introvert, then authentic autistic versus non-authentic autistic.

Here’s how I believe I am being authentic. To this author, being authentic means that the people who need to know, know about my autism. I’ve for example started an adult education course, and of course I am open there about my autisticness, which is very liberating. Although I work for myself, if I were to apply for a job within the workforce, I would definitely disclose it to bosses and colleagues. I definitely prioritise autistic self-care, and if that means not going to a social engagement, leaving a family event early, or explaining to family or friends that I am feeling overwhelmed, facing shutdown or am ‘peopled out’, so be it. As a late diagnosed autistic, I masked for years (unintentionally), it’s what we do to fit in. But now I am conscious of not masking, as much as I can, as it’s too depleting.

Picture of an angry woman. Asking: Are autistic mums enrared at Tony Attwood’s disparagement humour? Is it Good-natured fun, or bullying, exploitative and offensive?One of the problems with being #authenticallyautistic is that this means showing our true feelings and emotional states, as they relate to autism; and if we are late diagnosed, this is not something we are likely to have done previously. The fact we are late diagnosed probably means we have been camouflaging or masking for years, and these behaviours are entrenched. One of my biggest challenges regarding not masking is for example simply keeping up the expected levels of social courteousness when I am overwhelmed or tired. It’s usually strangers; for example the clerk on the end of the phone at your bank; the fellow dog walker; the shop assistant; the bus driver; all of the people we engage with regularly, and sometimes engage in pleasantries and small talk with. Being authentically autistic would sometimes mean I would be seen as being incredibly rude; e.g. not smiling, not looking at their faces, and refusing to talk, if that’s what my emotional state made me want to do. That’s not kind, so I ‘mask’ with them, not to make myself fit in, but so as not to upset others. So in this example, I am not being authentically autistic and showing my true feelings and emotional state, as this may upset others, and spoil their day.

To summarise, I think we should all be as authentic as possible, whatever our neurologies. Some days, that may be more authentic than others! We can only ever do our best.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 
A Thousand Souls – a poem about autism

A Thousand Souls – a poem about autism

A thousand souls – a poem about autism by Kathy Carter of spectra.blog

 

In a lifetime we’re privileged to meet eighty thousand souls.

Around a thousand have autism; still with dreams and goals.

On the autistic spectrum, processing is a chore.

Not necessarily ‘impaired’; nor diseased to their core.

Educators, practitioners, families and friends

Lacking understanding, yet on them the autist depends.

 

How many of this thousand that we’ll meet, have diagnosis?

Many are still unaware; yet we share symbiosis.

Without autism, computers, smart phones, tech are less enduring;

Pioneers forging ‘aspie’ paths: Tesler, Gates and Turing.

So, what’s the difference in these souls, the thousand that we’ll meet?

Maybe sensory challenges, to light and sound and heat.

 

A difficulty blending in; socialisation quirks.

Different communication styles; a trait that sometimes irks.

But at their core, a simple truth –  differences in processing.

A brain speed sometimes fast or slow – constantly assessing.

These souls, often creative: scientists, artists, writers.

Musicians, sculptors, poets, whose creations still delight us.

 

Many leading figures; Michelangelo, Warhol, Mozart

Are thought to have been autistic – perhaps it drove their art.

Yet those with autism don’t want reverence; handling with kid glove.

Just inclusion, acceptance, and a healthy dose of love.

Much less ignorance: ‘Well. We’re all autistic aren’t we?’

No. And while we’re at it, that young autist isn’t naughty.

 

Another irk. ‘You must be high functioning’, peers say.

It’s called ‘autistic masking’, to get one through the day.

So, these one thousand souls, that we’ll meet throughout our life.

They’re our bosses, neighbours, workmates; a husband and a wife.

The literal thinkers, loyal peers, problem solvers great.

The listeners, grounded cynics, the friends we truly rate.

 

Their daily struggles are unseen. Until the curtains close.

Their difference in processing results in crashing lows.

So education, acceptance and awareness are our goals

To understand autism, and embrace these thousand souls.

Autism and anxiety – if A is for autism, then it is most definitely also for anxiety

Autism and anxiety – if A is for autism, then it is most definitely also for anxiety

Anxiety and other similar problems are rife in the 21st-century, but for many people the issues are episodic or caused by an obvious external factor.

(Anxiety UK reports that anxiety disorders are very common, with 1 in 6 adults regularly experiencing some form of ‘neurotic health problem’, and the most common neurotic disorders being anxiety and depressive disorders. More than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life, reports the organisation. Source – www.anxietyuk.org.uk)

Anxiety can really be considered to be part of your autistic DNA…

A man is shown in shadow to illustrate an article on autismHowever if you are on the autistic spectrum, for many individuals, anxiety can really be considered to be part of your autistic DNA. There is very little in the way of hard and fast stats and figures to indicate anxiety levels among autists. (The National Autistic Society states that autistic children and young people can experience a high ‘base level’ of anxiety every day. ‘Autistica’ advises that anxiety is ‘common’ in autists.)

Spectrum News reported that the reason we see ‘classic things’ like social phobia and generalised anxiety [in autists] is because people on the autistic spectrum have unique, distinct ways of perceiving the world. They reported in 2017 that Psychologist Connor Kerns, assistant professor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, USA, is working with others on new ways to measure both ordinary and unusual forms of anxiety in autistic people. There are links to hers and others’ studies on anxiety and autism HERE.

Is a degree of anxiety an inbuilt factor for someone who is autistic?

But through this author‘s communication with other autistic individuals, and from collating information, it seems that a substantial degree of anxiety is an inbuilt factor with autism.

Many autists would for example describe their anxiety (on a scale of 1-10) at being at five, just as a baseline. Just getting through the day with all of the run-of-the-mill, usual challenges can be very stressful for autists; it is as if our neutral state is to have a certain level of anxiety.

If you know about autism, then the reasons for anxiety are obvious

Tony Attwood’s disparagement humour. Good-natured fun, or bullying, exploitative and offensive?If you know about autism then the reasons for this anxiety are obvious. Probably a major factor is social masking – trying to fit in with the world, and say and do things that others consider appropriate – which can be exhausting and stressful.

If you are an undiagnosed autist, there is the constant feeling of being different and not fitting in, or failing at being your best self. Very stressful! If you are a child, this is compounded by all of the developmental issues, and social and educational expectations.

Just the neurological differences for autists, in terms of elements like executive function, memory, sensory issues, emotional calibration and communication, can bring about a sense of anxiety. And this is without all of the usual stresses concerning finances, places of education, workplaces, relationships and so on.

The pressures are anxiety-inducing to an autistic child

For a school-aged child, or more specifically a child who is educated at school, the pressures of fitting in and completing school work when you have issues like executive function difficulties and possibly other comorbid autistic conditions can be immensely stressful and anxiety-inducing.

It is no wonder that unexplained anxiety is often one of the first things that parents of undiagnosed autistic children notice. And it is no surprise that so many children hold it together emotionally at school, and let out their emotions at home, leading to unhelpful third party comments like: ‘Well, he / she doesn’t seem to be very anxious at school.’

Personally speaking, e.g. from the author’s own autistic experience, I can say that my anxiety never goes away, but it is manageable. However, this has only really come about with an autism diagnosis.

Talking therapies, mindfulness etc can help, but really the key is perhaps to know your own autistic spectrum. (See our blog on this subject below).

Aspie-superpower days – why autists may be on an ‘autistic spectrum within a spectrum’? We look at the different ‘autistic’ days…

Know your own autistic spectrum

Two men walking, to illustrate autism articleSo what do we mean by this? We mean, what triggers you; what overloads you in a sensory or social capacity; what external factors cause frustration; anger or upset; what sensory challenges affect your mood? What activities that you are engaged in (whether this is social activities, or within the educational action setting, workplace etc) make you stressed? Which family members, friends, associates or workplace colleagues are drains or fountains? (Drains being the people who drain you of your emotional energy, and fountains being the people who replenish it).

Would it be feasible to stay away from the drains to a degree, no matter who they are?

Or is there a way to educate the people around you further about what you need to do to reduce your anxiety day-to-day, in a self-care capacity?

Targeting anxiety as an autist

There are of course age-appropriate medications available for anxiety, in addition to therapies, dietary and exercise interventions and natural remedies as well, which individuals or their parents can discuss with the relevant healthcare provider.

But let’s look at it simply – if you had a severe allergic reaction to a type of animal or a plant, would you constantly be in close proximity to the animal or plant? Would you take a job in that field? it would be inadvisable, for your health. Yet many of us on the autistic spectrum continue to do things that cause an unpleasant reaction to our bodies.

Anxiety is a psychological response which can have physiological consequences. Noticing one’s triggers, or the triggers for a child, is a massive step on the road to managing anxiety.

Man on bed to illustrate that Autistic burnout is a physiological symptom of system overload

Autistic burnout – Burnout is a physiological symptom of system overload.

Anxiety that builds up is a factor for an autist heading to autistic shutdown, autistic meltdown or even autistic breakdown or burnout. Stories abound of young autistic adults reaching key developmental stages in their life, for example the start of high school or the start of university, and then having a complete emotional breakdown.

 Noticing one’s own anxiety levels can be immensely helpful

Noticing one’s own anxiety levels can be immensely helpful in preventing these incredibly detrimental occurrences. For example, noticing: changes in appetite or interest in food; an increase in harmful repetitive processes (including thoughts), and self stimulating behaviours that are detrimental; general apathy and lethargy; a lack of patience with people and reduced capacity to socialise to one’s usual capacity; and even a change in one’s heartbeat, if you use a health / activity tracker.

In children, are they ‘acting out’ a little more (behaviour that challenges is often a big ‘red flag’ sign); or having more meltdowns or episodes of sadness?

Are they finding it harder to regulate their emotions; withdrawing into themselves; exhibiting more self soothing stims; having difficulties in their place of education; becoming more controlling of their environment, or experiencing increased levels of perfectionism?

Mother and son - illustrating an article stating - If you are the parent of a child that you think may be on the autistic spectrum, you will almost definitely get asked the question: ‘But why would you want to give him or her a label?’Helping autistic children to identify their own responses could be very useful.

If a child is experiencing any significant number of the above signs, it could be time to reduce their sensory challenges and level of socialisation, reduce the demands put upon them, and do whatever is needed to help them recalibrate in a safe place, with plenty of downtime that meets their needs.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism.

The information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

We’d also love your feedback on our posts!