Autistic resilience: talking up competence.
February 25, 2017 § 18 Comments
(Work in progress on the theme of resilience, © Sonia Bouè 2017)
This week has been rocky. I want to talk about anxiety.
Anxieties collide sometimes don’t they? Stuff can accumulate and escalate. World events, a health glitch, a seriously upset neurotypical (NT) friend.
(For the sake of clarity. I should stress here that my friend was not upset with me but rather shared their distress with me).
For an autistic person this can rapidly begin to feel ‘disproportionately’ dark.
What I mean is that for autistics the confluence of events within a short time frame is often what proves disorientating, and I’m trying to analyse the cause. I think that probably some of our anxieties are related to what I think of as imperfect information in the moment. I find this a useful phrase when applied to autistic styles of perception in a neurologically biased world. It’s the difference between playing poker or chess – in the former the cards are concealed during play and in the latter the whole state of play is visible throughout. In an NT world we’re playing poker.
I’ve added ‘in the moment’ to my sentence signalling the potential to disentangle events in time. We are not incapable and we are not helpless – with enough space (and/or support) to do so we can process life’s social and emotional vicissitudes in our own ways.
Autistics process sensory data and social interaction in a multiplicity of different ways from the majority neuro-normative population. This (logically) creates a very different bank of information from which to draw inference and make decisions for autistics. The world hooks up differently around another set of priorities.
But its even more complicated for us than just this – as this majority population is (of course) made up of individuals. Result? A mountain of permutations of ‘missing’ data for autistics to deal with in ‘real time’.
A literal mountain, which I’m going to call Mount Blank. Yes.
And it really is a BLANK until processing kicks in. This can feel like a dense fog laced with school girl dread. But I find that it’s often possible to simply push the feeling away and move on. We can be resilient like that. Perhaps we underestimate just how hard we’re working everyday to keep afloat in a world which does not support our divergent neurologies – and it is this effort which exhausts us.
But back to Mount Blank. Standing at the bottom can make you feel terribly small (echoes of my school days again). Perhaps this is why a series of unfortunate events within a short space of time have the potential to crush the soul – you are a child again. As the mountain of imperfect information grows it can feel as though you’re shrinking before it.
World events overshadow all out lives at present, but I think that for autistics it’s often the ‘micro’ incidents which stack up without us realising their impact.
And the causes of our confusion are not sensory or perceptual alone, they also lie in never knowing if people are saying what they mean – rather than just being polite, trotting out platitudes or worse. These habits of neurotypical obsfucation add to the scale of Mount Blank. Worse still (I might add) is being versed in this culture as an autistic. Oh the tangles! As you venture your polite falsies (as I’ll call them) and tie yourself in lying little knots.
And because no-one quite tells social ‘truths’, when things go wrong or just feel wrong (in the moment) there’s a tendency to self-blame. Which is especially debilitating. I think this is the point at which self-compassion must intervene. Imperfect information flows from the majority game of choice and not the individual. Withdrawing from play (taking time for processing) and/or researching* the other player’s hand (many ways to do this including talking things over with an autistic and/or NT friend) are strategies I would consider next time I hit Mount Blank.
But unpicking and thus identifying this pattern* has got to be one hell of a route to resisting it’s effects. Resilience is often knowledge plus practice.
The road to resilience is all about talking up competence – and this begins with me.