Tag Archives: advice

Autism and the stress of a simple walk

I have written a lot about sensory overload, and the impact this has on me and other autistic people, but there might be an idea that to get this overload I have to go somewhere busy, or noisy. This is not the case. In fact just the act of walking my dogs in the streets for fifteen minutes can be full of so much sensory and social stress that I become overloaded by the time I get back home. I would like to use this blog to explain how even something that sounds so small can be so full of stress. So let’s use the idea of walking the dogs as an example for now – the point being that I don’t have to go anywhere; I am not going shopping or to a meeting at the end of the walk, in fact I am just walking around and and then going home. So why is that stressful?

  1. Build up: There is still the build-up to going out even if I am only going on a small walk. I have to decide when to go, plan for it, get myself ready, and know that I will have to deal with all the stress that I encounter when I am out there. For some things you might be able to go out early in the morning, and get them over with, but other times you might have to wait and the longer you wait the more the anxiety about having to go at all builds up. It can get to a point, for me at least, where if I am not able to go out until the early evening – even if it’s for something I want to do and something I know will hardly take any time at all – I have had so long for the anxiety to build up that I would do almost anything not to have to go.
  2. Noise: The outside world is noisy: be it birds, cars, planes or people, almost anywhere you live someone or something is making noise. These are just the background noises of life, but sometimes, depending on how I feel, even they can be too much. In the course of walking down one road with my dogs I might have to contend with the sound of drilling, of a plane going over head, of people walking by talking, of music coming from cars and the sound of the cars themselves passing by. Because for non-autistic people these sounds just fade in to the background I think it’s easy for them to forget just how much noise there is outside on a normal day, and how quickly that can build up in terms of sensory input. It’s worth pointing out here that a lot of autistic people deal with this by using headphones, with or with out music playing.
  3. Crossing the roads: I have not had the chance to talk to a lot of other autistic people about this one, but I know that it is a real issue for me. Over the years I have known some autistic people who did not feel a sense of danger, and would just run out in to the road (some of whom have even been hit by cars/buses) but that is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the awkwardness of crossing a road. When I get to a road no longer can I walk with my head down, not looking at anyone. I can’t stay lost in my own thoughts, blocking out the world around me. No, I have to come fully back in to reality. I have to look up and be aware, stop blocking things out, look around me and try and pick out the sounds of cars approaching from the noise all around me. I have to think and make decisions on the spot; do I cross now or do I wait? But it’s not just making that call, it’s all the things going on around me as I make it. There might be other people waiting alongside me; are they crossing? No? Why not? Is it wrong of me to try and cross now? Yes, they are crossing? Should I go too, or wait here? Should I have gone then? If the road is busy do I just stand here and wait, or keep walking and cross later? What should I be doing now? Am I doing the right thing or not? OK, you might say that is being silly, that none of it matters, and that if you’re unsure what to do just wait till there are no cars and cross – staying safe is all that matters. Fine, but that’s not so easy when you have a brain that will overthink everything without giving you much say in the matter. Then when you do get to the point of crossing the road there is the interaction with the drivers. Cars come to a stop and you have to look at the driver and work out what they are trying to communicate to you. It’s hard enough to read what someone is saying via non-verbal communication when your face to face and have the time to think about it, but trying to do it from a few feet away through a pain of glass when you`re in a situation where you are expected to move quickly (at least by the waiting driver!) it becomes even harder. You have to work out if they are slowing down to let you go or not. Are you waiting too long when they are letting you go? Are you misreading what they mean and stepping out when you should not be? Again the main question for me is am I doing something wrong here? And again the answer comes back, who cares? It’s not like the interaction with the driver means anything; it comes and goes and everyone moves on with their lives. I don’t care in the long run what the people in the cars think of me, and I know that even if they did think anything it would be forgotten in the space of seconds. But that’s the point, it’s not what I know to be true in my head that has the impact, it’s the way my brain over thinks that brings on stress from even these seemingly meaningless interactions. Overthinking brings on more stress and anxiety, so much so that it can get to the point where the worry about crossing the road sets in before I even get to them, no matter how much I know on logical level that it is a silly thing to worry about.
  4. Walking past people: Another point that relates to overthinking is when you pass someone in the street. There is little to no interaction with them; perhaps they might smile or say hello as they pass, but that’s about it. But if like me your anxiety makes you over-think things you will find that as soon as you see someone walking down the road in your direction you will start to worry about what to do. Should you look at them? Will that seem as if you are staring at them? If you look away will it look as if you are avoiding looking at them? As if you think there is something wrong with them, or are passing some kind of judgement? If you look away then look back up will it look strange? At what point do you step aside to let them pass if need be? Does any of this matter? The answer to that last question at least is a simple one. No. The chances are if someone walking down the street notices you at all they think nothing of you, and if they do it’s not like you would ever know or be able to guess. But again I must go back to the fact that just understanding this on a logical level does not do anything to lessen the impact that it has. It’s all about what’s in your head, and the fact is that unlike noise from the outside world, you can’t do anything to shut it off.

I hope that the points listed above give you some insight in to why even a short work with no big social interactions such as going to the shops, or going to work can be a stressful and anxiety provoking experience for autistic people. It’s not to say every walk will be like that, or that every autistic person feels the same things I do, but it might be that some of you out there understand how I feel. For me what can be so hard about the whole thing is knowing that apart from the noise, the rest of it is in my head. People are not judging me as I walk down the street or try to cross a road, and even if they were I would never know. But when your brain is pushing you in to thinking certain things and feeling anxiety and stress it can feel like there is not much you can do about it. When you add that to the noise that surrounds you as you walk down the street, and the stress and anxiety that is a part of the build-up to going out you can see how even a small walk can lead to a sensory and emotional overload.

It’s worth keeping in mind that an autistic person does not have to be in a room packed with people talking at the top of their voices to become overloaded. Something as small as walking the dog can be so full of anxiety and stress, and lead to so much overthinking that it can bring about an overload that might come as a surprise to the autistic person, and those around them. And yet when you break down what goes in to even a small trip outside you start to see that for a lot of autistic people it is not so small after all.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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Autism, and the confusion around receiving gifts …

Sometimes being given a gift can be awkward for anyone; they might be given something they don’t like and have to try and pretend that they do like it. But for people with autism even being given something they do like can be awkward: knowing how to react, what to say, how you should look, and things like that is not something that will come naturally to most autistic people. So why can receiving a gift feel awkward? And what can you do about this?

What do you do and say if someone gives you a gift? This might sound like an easy question to some of you – you just say thank you and then open it. But the fact that you are meant to say thank you is one of those unwritten rules that can be so hard for people with autism, and they might just not think so say thanks. This might be even more likely if the gift is not given on their birthday, but is a random gift. They are not in the mindset of being given something, and it will take them by surprise, and saying thank you just might not occur to them. That’s not because they are being rude, it`s just because saying thank you is not something that is automatic to them as it might be to someone who is not autistic. I know that when I was younger often I would not think to say thank you without being prompted, and once someone had pushed me to say it I would often feel embarrassed, and try and get out of saying it.

But even now that I do know to say thank you I still find it hard on Christmas morning to know if I should say thank you after each gift, or just once at the end. Should I say thank you after a big gift, but at the end if its just a few small things? Would it be odd to thank someone after each gift if you are sat next to them and opening the gifts one by one? Or is it rude to not say anything? Does it matter? I genuinely do not know.

I tend to say thank you at the end. I open anything I happen to get and then thank whoever gave it to me once everything is open. But even then I feel unsure. How long should I look at each thing for? I am going to spend a lot of time looking at them in detail later on, but is it OK to just turn something over in your hands once and put it to one side after someone has spent money on it? Even if you plan to look at it later on? Again I am not sure. I tend to do this, but I do not know if it’s the right thing to do or not.

Added to that for me – and I am sure for other autistic people – is the fact that it can be hard at times for people to read my face, and tell how happy or not I might be about whatever they have given to me, and even when I speak my voice may well be flat. I might look up with a blank face and say in a none-too-excited voice that I am very happy with what I have been given. It would be hard to blame someone if they though I was lying about that. Lots of autistic people say that they find it hard to put emotions in their face or voice – that’s not to say they will not be there from time to time, it`s just hard for us to force emotion to be visible.

There is also the fact that once someone has given you something you are no longer in the background; you become the centre of attention for a while as people watch to see how you will react. This in turn makes you think more about how you react, and makes you doubt and second-guess yourself more.

Like everything in life there is an unwritten etiquette to being given gifts, and like all unwritten rules they can be hard for autistic to people to understand. What I tend to do when I am given a gift is to say thank you once I have been given it, and again after I have opened it. If it’s a birthday or Christmas I will open them all then say thank you after that. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, and it`s hard to really ever be able to tell; as with a lot of things you just need to do what you think is right, or what comes naturally to you. Being given a gift is meant to be a fun thing, and whoever is giving it to you most likely would not want to think of you being worried about what you are saying or doing in response.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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AUTISM: when you plan for a change that doesn`t happen …

It’s a well known fact that change is hard for people with autism. If we are going to cope well with it we need to spend time planning for it and be ready well in advance. But what if the time comes and in fact things do not change as we thought they would? Is that a good thing, and can we just get on with our old routine as if nothing has happened? I cant speak for everyone, but for me the answer to this is No. If I have spent days or weeks planning for a change, and going over it again and again in my head, and then the moment comes and I am told it is not happening that will throw me even more than the original change would have done. I can give you a recent example of this, and attempt at least to explain why it impacts on me in the way that it does.

Last month my Mum was due to go in to hospital for surgery. She would have been in for a few days but then after she came out she would have needed looking after for quite sometime. Things would have been very different; I would have been doing a lot of the jobs, we would not have been getting as much writing and ASK-PERGERS?social media done, and my Dad would have been coming around more. While none of this is bad in itself it would have been different, and therefore I needed time to plan it and get used to the idea in my head. We talked it over a lot, planned what time I might get up, what time I might do the jobs around the house, how we might still get some writing and editing done, what I might make to eat, and just about everything else. We knew we had to plan otherwise we were leaving ourselves open to things going wrong. As far as we knew we had everything planned and set up to deal with the change that my Mum going in to hospital would bring – only she ended up not going in.

I should point out that we did know her operation might not go ahead, and in fact I was not at all shocked when I got the text from her a few hours after she had gone to the admissions unit telling me there were no beds, and she had to come home. It’s just one of those things that can happen, and has been happening more and more lately. But even though none of us were surprised at this change of plans it did put us in a strange place. We were all ready for things to change; for the normal routine to be put on hold for a while and a new routine to take its place, and now none of this was going to happen.

So what is meant to happen in this or similar situations? Are you just meant to wake up the next day and get on with your normal routine – that thing you have been telling yourself for weeks you wont be able to do. For me it does not work like that; it has been a month since my Mum was meant to go in to hospital, and I don’t think we have really got back to any kind of normal routine with work, the house, going out or anything since then. That’s not to say we have not done anything productive, but we have not done it in a routined way. We spent so long getting in to the mindset that our routine was going to change that we have been unable to change back, and get in to our old routine when there was no need for change.

I don’t know about anyone else with autism, but I can`t plan for two possible outcomes in a situation like this. I can plan for the change of routine, but that takes so much planning, and so much time to get used to I don’t have any space left to make a real plan for what will happen if that change does not take place. Just looking at this one situation, how can you make a proper plan for something that is so uncertain? It’s OK to know in the back of your mind the change might not take place, the operation might be cancelled, but what then? When will it be rearranged for? A week? Two weeks? A month? Will there be a set date for it? Or will it just be when ever they can fit it in? All these things would need a plan of their own, but we have no way of knowing which one we would be planning for until after the operation was cancelled. What about things that we decided not to do as Mum would be in hospital? Do we plan to do them now that she is not going to be in? Or would it be best to just leave them?

For me it’s too much to think about and too uncertain to plan for. I can plan for a change to my routine – even though that is hard enough – but I cant make any real plans for a change to the change. I just have to deal with that as and when it happens. But that is not easy to do; not knowing what is meant to be happening or when tends to lead to nothing or not much getting done, and the stress of this added to the stress of the change can lead to meltdowns. This has been the case over the last few weeks, and I am not to sure what we could have done to prevent it. As I say planning for something so uncertain is hard to do, and there is something of a feeling that with so much change back and forth meltdowns were bound to happen.

You can find my book here http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why are we still hearing that more Males than Females are Autistic?

Women and autism has long been a controversial topic. For years many women were diagnosed as schizophrenic, depressed or just ignored instead of being given a diagnosis of autism. But now a lot of these women are taking matters in to their own hands, and forcing the world to look at autistic women and girls in a new light. You only have to spend five minutes on Twitter looking through their stories to see the common thread. They had a child/friend/husband with autism, or just read up on it, and felt that perhaps they were autistic, and then went to a professional to have that confirmed, and were either flat-out refused, or were told that they could not be autistic because, they had friends, children or could talk to the Dr/psychologist, and sent away again. A few years down the line the strain of living with undiagnosed autism, while trying to act and live like a non-autistic person, becomes too much, and they have an autistic crash. There are a lot of cases of late diagnoses or self-diagnosis, and as I say most of the stories follow a similar path. It should by now be clear to us that women and girls are autistic too, and that we need to take notice of this, and make sure that they can get the acknowledgement they need earlier in life. But there is one statement that is still thrown around far too much in my view, and perhaps it is one of the things holding us back.

`There are far more autistic males than females`.

Think about that for a second. It’s something I can recall hearing years ago, before anyone worked out a female profile for autism, and before the boom in autistic women coming out, and making the professionals sit up and take notice. But why do I still see it so much today? We know now that autism does not just present itself in one way. Now I don’t believe in a female/male profile per-say, as I know some men who would fit the so-called female profile, who therefore went undiagnosed themselves for years. That’s not to say that the female profile has not been a huge help and that a lot of women do not fit in to it, it’s just to say that we want to keep learning more and changing our ideas, instead of getting stuck in a whole new ridged way of thinking about things. There are a lot of autistic women out there now who would never have been diagnosed without the `female profile` though, and what it does show us is how blinkered professionals have been when it comes to giving out diagnoses of autism. When you think that we have known about autism for less than one hundred years, it seems strange that we should set such clear, unmoving statements as `There are far more autistic males than females. `

Let’s look at it this way – we hear some people in the media talk about an `autism epidemic` and about how `there was no such thing as autism in the past. ` We know that this is a silly argument. We found out what autism is, and the more we learn about it the more we can notice it in people. Therefore more people are being diagnosed as autistic. It’s not hard to work out.  And I think the same goes for the statement about more men being autistic than women, or boys than girls. We might have more males on the books diagnosed as autistic than females, but I would be willing to bet that this is only down to the fact that most of the women or girls who are diagnosed have to fight for years to get that diagnoses. It’s as if the system said “Women and girls cannot be autistic.” and then made sure it was so, and that fact would remain true by refusing to diagnose them for years. When we look at the amount of women who have been forced to the point of having an autistic crash, and losing their jobs, as well as suffering from related mental health issues due to this, it is clear that something must change.

Perhaps the first step in this would be to stop saying that more males are autistic than females, and just stop worrying about those numbers. Assess everyone on their own, and not as a male or female, and see if they are autistic.  Don’t let their gender play a part in your thinking.  We know that autism can present in different ways: sometimes in outbursts, sometimes in being quiet, sometimes in being unable to understand emotions, sometimes in being too empathetic to others to the point of neglecting yourself, and these points, along with other things, are what we should think of when we think of autism. Not one set idea that only applies to one small section of society.

You can find my new book: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34253.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Autism, Overload and Bad Advice.

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.

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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