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  • Kristy Forbes

When I can't make my voice cooperate

Updated: Feb 25


Do you know that many people on the autism spectrum really struggle to carry out basic tasks when they feel or know they’re being watched? . We can be highly skilled at something, or have carried out the very same task thousands of times without difficulty, but the minute a person is paying attention, we feel that ‘pressure’ and our cognitive ability and executive functioning is greatly impaired. . This explains why many of us really struggle with exams and tests when they’re timed, or any task that has time limits attached to them. . It doesn’t matter how much we’re reassured, when the pressure is on, the pressure is on. . Pressure creates panic and when panic is active in the autistic brain, most of our rationale and ability to process thought leaves the building. . So much is said about sensory input, yet not enough is mentioned about our hypersensitivity to the energy of other human beings. . We are extremely ‘people’ sensitive. Even when others aren’t speaking to us or directly engaging with us, we can still sense their energy-stressed, happy, fearful, panicked, relaxed, sad, all of it. . But mostly, their presence. We are hyper aware of it. . For me personally, the presence of others (their energy) can be very loud and stop me from being able to concentrate on anything else and my entire focus becomes about them. . All my life, when I was in a comfortable situation with others I knew, I could not stop myself from talking, performing, acting silly. I would be moved away from others to allow them to learn or removed from the classroom completely. As a young adult, I was often spoken to by employers for talking to others far too much and stopping them from getting their work done. . In actual fact, what I was doing in all of that silliness, jumping around and chatting was REGULATING. . I was regulating the anxiety that comes with being around so many other energies (people). . In my teens and as a young child, I was very talkative. If you’ve read my posts, you’ll know they’re often very long-lots of thoughts, lots to say, always..(My analytical autistic brain). But whenever I was in the company of a new person I wasn’t familiar with, I would shut down completely. I had no defense against this and as much as I wanted to force my words out, sometimes they wouldn’t come at all OR they’d be extremely quiet. I would be asked repeatedly to speak up which made the situation much worse because the more that was asked of me, the more my body and my ability to communicate would retreat. . There was nothing I could do about it, it was incredibly frustrating and I felt very angry with myself. . It wasn’t until I was able to know the person, understand their intentions, motivations and energy that I would be able to engage with them freely as myself. . Autistics navigate their world largely through quiet observation: of people, places and things. . My ability to even look at others I didn’t know well; even in their direction, was completely thwarted. I would stare into space and pretend I was tired or disconnected. After a while, my vision would become black from staring so hard in order to avoid being present in a situation I wasn’t sure was safe for me to be myself and be accepted. . When spoken to by someone I did know in the group, I would have to pretend I didn’t hear because I knew that whilst a new person was in our midst that I wasn’t sure was a safe person, I still could not get my voice working and would have to find ways to remove myself from the situation. . It was painful. It was lonely. It instilled a belief in myself that there was something very wrong with me. . And yet all the while, I was popular, had many friends and was always considered more confident than others. . In fact, I am just very sensitive to the energy of other people, like many on the autism spectrum. . When we ‘mingle’, it is a juggling act of energies for us. We take on the energies and feelings of others as though they are our own and they do become our own internalised experience. . This is often referred to as being empathic. . Not all of us on the spectrum share this experience, but many of us do. . This can be absolutely exhausting and take days, sometimes weeks to recover from.. . Just after a simple gathering. . Sounds crazy right? . This doesn’t make others wrong or bad for who they are or what energy they bring, it’s just something that we struggle with as people on the spectrum that is not spoken about enough. . It’s important to try and remember this when our autistic children, partners and other family members or friends need recovery time-after school, after events, after work, after uni. . Our brains have a natural AUTISTIC innate wisdom-our brain KNOWS what we need to be able to manage and work through these challenges and we must be allowed to tap into that natural wisdom and intelligence. . Down time is crucial. Solid, alone time, engaging in whatever it is that brings us calm and joy, whatever regulates us again, brings us back to our state of equilibrium.. . Balance. . This might be gaming, reading, watching television, sleeping, engaging in any of our hobbies or passions. . These things have very important purposes for us. . They help us cope, survive and carry on. . They are often referred to as ‘special interests’ or obsessions as though they’re something that we can’t pry ourselves away from and are unhealthy. . In actual fact, when we stop comparing autistics to non autistics, we might learn that our passions and interests are normal. . Normal for us. . And actually, an imperative function created by nature specifically to assist the function and survival of the autistic brain. . Now, as an adult, I AM confident. I have a very healthy , rock solid sense of self. . This came with a diagnosis of autism, understanding myself and knowing my ‘normal’. . Our difficulties can become manageable with unconditional acceptance and love.

Image: Amy Judd.


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