Filed under: asperger's syndrome, autism, disability | Tags: anger, AS, asd, asperger's, asperger's syndrome, autism, disability, emotions, information processing, meltdowns, sensory processing
I do not know what it is to be an autism parent in the face of their child’s uncontrollable anger. I don’t know what advice to give to parents faced with such anger. However as someone with Asperger’s, I do know what it is like to be in the grip of that anger. Perhaps my experience may be of some help.
When the anger hits it is too late to control it, it takes over my whole body, but trapped inside my body I am screaming, only the words I want to say can’t reach my mouth. To a great extent it is because I have lost my speech that I hit out. I hit out because otherwise I would explode, I hit out in the frustration of not being able to express what I feel. I hit out because I can’t make sense of what I feel, the pain of hitting a solid object helps, sometimes, to pull me back into my body. I say, “back into my body” because to a great extent I feel like a spectator to the anger, as if the monster is someone else who has stolen my body. The best I can hope for is that the rage will exhaust itself, exhaust is the right word, because afterwards I will sleep.
There is no one thing that brings about an explosion, it is a combination of several. Tiredness or feeling unwell is often my starting point because I am more sensitive to environmental stimuli, while, at the same time, less able to process my feelings. Often an accumulation of sensory inputs is a major factor, too many sources of simulation coupled with too intense sensations, can bring me to a place where all my nerves are screeching. My eyes burn, every inch of me experiences sensations so intense you would probably describe them as pain. My skin crawls and every place where my clothes touch, itches. My ears ring.
Because of the intensity of physical sensations, making sense of what is happening becomes impossible as I lose the ability to separate one input from another. As confusion sets in, it becomes impossible for me to translate my apprehensions into coherent thoughts, there is an awareness that I know what is happening, but I cannot get that awareness to take a shape that I can recognise. I think this is the final point of possible intervention, where the removal of all stimuli may allow a gradual return to calmness. You may wonder, quite reasonably, why I don’t take action myself before I explode. I do, and my outbursts are far fewer than in my youth. However I do not always realise how close I am to boiling point. Sometimes I may press on in the belief that I can complete what I am doing before I reach the point of no return.
So after all this, do I have any advice for the parents of autistic children? I think, yes. Learn to recognise the steps in the build up of your child’s anger. Whatever he is doing, remove unnecessary stimuli, but be aware sometimes what you feel is unnecessary background noise, for example, may be being used for a reason, just as I use music or a fan to block other noises. I suggest that if possible discuss what has happened and explain your concerns. What he doesn’t need is to be punished, he probably feels bad enough and your upset will only make his next outburst more upsetting and stressful for him. Try to find positive solutions to which he can agree. My wife has become quite adept at removing me from situations that are upsetting me, often before I have processed and become aware of the upset I’m feeling. Awareness is the key.
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