Emotional processing #autism

October 22, 2016 § Leave a comment





Selfie with my Arts Council Funded work for Through An Artist’s Eye.

This post is about one insight into autistic processing from a very personal perspective.

I’m beginning to learn a little more about my own emotional palette, and perhaps why my responses may not be quite so ‘in-tune’ with non-autistic people’s. This is one of the mismatches in experience, which can make a person feel remote from ‘the crowd’ or ‘outside the norm’.

Recently I’ve been showing some publicly funded work and rolling out a series of events relating to it. In all cases the work has been extremely well received and “public engagement” has been high. This is arts funders speak for people really getting and liking what you’ve put out there.

I should be happy and at the very least relieved. But I’m neither. Partly because it’s been hard to generate a wider buzz off all this good feeling about the work. My last blog post¬†is about my sadness about not reaching more people. This is frustrating even though it’s completely understandable. Competing demands in an overwhelming world make dissemination of new material a real challenge.

But also (and probably mainly) I can’t feel great because I’m exhausted. More than this I’m numb. Behind the scenes I think I’m probably just processing but I feel empty – emptied out.

Like a sudden glimpse of yourself in a mirror, yesterday I caught a flash of insight as to why this might be more so in an autistic person. The sheer physical effort of managing the extreme demands on mental and physical resources is what gets in the way. Working on the principle that we have to work double – due to our sensory and processing challenges – just to keep up with neurotypicals, imagine working four or five times as hard when you have an extra heavy workload.

It is also the case that when we give our focus to a project we’re likely to give over and above the norm. Due to an unusual ability to focus on one thing at a time we probably go deeper often.


Although feeling happy is natural, accessing or even processing emotions demand resources, which in the moment we might not have because we’re all done.

There may be an understandable delay, by which time the moment has gone. Emotion disconnected from source is hard enough to access, let alone decode and then express to others. The joy might never arrive or be conveyed. A vital component of positive feedback lost.

It’s distressing or a least puzzling when you know you ‘should be’ feeling something but you’re not.

I wonder if this is why neurotypical observers have interpreted autistic people as being characterised by ‘flat affect’. No – we’re probably just keeping it together in the moment. No – we’re having to work hard most times, that’s all. And then we’re probably having to deal with the aftermath of dealing with…

This goes further in explaining the so called ¬†differences in “autistic motivation” which may be partly to do with perspectives on the world. But I begin to realise there’s much more to it than that. A thing has to be truly worth doing to expend such vast resources on – there have to be significant gains when exhaustion is the end point AND you won’t necessarily feel the joy of feedback in the moment.

I wonder too if the delay in and sometimes disconnect with our emotions is why we need to replay events (almost on a loop at times) until we get there – if we’re lucky.

Right now all I can do is trust that joy, or it’s good friend relief may be round the corner.



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