It is very common for people with autism to become overloaded, whether this is a sensory overload, an emotional overload, or a mixture of the two. Depending on what a person is doing in their life this may happen to them every few months, or every day. Once someone has become overloaded it can become impossible for them to do even the most basic of tasks.
An overload will bring on both physical and mental fatigue. This means that however much the person might want to be getting up and getting on with things, they lack the energy, or the capability to perform tasks that normally they might not even think twice about. There is one piece of advice that many people who are experiencing an overload are given by well-meaning people who genuinely believe that this advice will help – and that advice is to do more; to get out more, or to start new activities. So what is the problem with this you might ask? Stimulating the brain can often be helpful in replenishing peoples` energy supplies, but the problem is this; if you don`t even have the energy to do the things you want to do, then how are you meant to find the energy to do things that would be hard for you anyway, such as leaving the house to go outside. Or doing some kind of new social activity. The answer is that you probably won’t be able to find that energy because it quite simply isn’t there. I completely understand that for non-autistic people a low mood can be cured by getting out and about, or trying something different. But an autistic overload is not the same thing as a low mood. It is like being in a video game and having a low energy bar. If you go on to try to complete some task with almost no energy you are going to fail. What you need to do is have a more tactical approach; plan a way of getting your energy up. Take the time to reset and relax and give your mind a break. Cut out unnecessary sensory input, and build up to being able to do the things you would normally do. Then if you are able to do those things you might think about expanding, and trying to get out more and do more. But if you don`t have the energy to do more than go from one room of your house to the other all day, and even the idea of going upstairs and shaving or showering is something you have to build up to over hours or even days, then going out and doing something that even when you weren’t overloaded would be incredibly difficult, is not really a sensible way to make the situation any better.
I do enjoy going out and doing things, getting out of the house and having new experiences. But doing so always leaves me feeling overwhelmed and overloaded. So I have to be in a good frame of mind and a good place to actually be able to attempt those things in the first place. There is a saying that I have never really understood, and that is to fight fire with fire. I am sure I don`t need to explain to anybody reading this how stupid that phrase is. If you throw fire on a fire you end up with a bigger fire. If you throw water on it you put the fire out (depending on the type of fire). It might take a while, and it might be a hard task, but you get a result. If you are overloaded do things that you know will calm you down and relax you. It might be that going out to some places, perhaps to walk in the park or to the cinema at a quiet time of day does relax you. In which case go for it and do whatever works for you. My point is, don’t be surprised if most neuro-typical peoples` response to you feeling overloaded is that you need to get out of the house more, or you need to be doing more things. It is not that the people who suggest this are stupid; this probably works for them, or their non-autistic friends because they don`t experience overloads in the same way that you or I might. Sometimes an overload can appear to be the same as a low mood, or a lack of motivation. But it is not that. When I am overloaded I don’t need a motivational speech, or a meme telling me I can do anything I set my mind to. I need to give my brain a break. It is important to listen to the advice of those around you when you are in a difficult position, and to consider it. But just remember, you don’t actually have to take it. You need to listen to what your body and mind are telling you, and do whatever you feel is best to make yourself feel better.
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