Tag Archives: social

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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Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

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, 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?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

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

Is it normal to not socialise?

One of the things I have noticed over the years is how much importance is put on socialising, and consequently, how bad people think it is if you don’t particularly enjoy going out and socialising.  I think everybody knows that a lot of people with autism aren’t particularly keen on socialising.  Often this will cause worry in the parents, who feel that if their child isn’t out there doing everything that neur-typical children are doing, then they must be missing something from their lives.  Of course this is only borne out of wanting to do the best for their children, but ultimately it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and tension.  Some people with autism want to socialise, but just don’t know how, and there are all sorts of ways to help them to do this, which I might cover in a later blog  But for now what I would like to talk about is people who don’t socialise simply because they don’t want to – because they don’t enjoy it.  I am probably one of these people.  At the moment I socialise as much as want to; I talk to friends on-line or by text, and so keep my friendships going, but I only meet up with people once every couple of weeks or so.  This might sound excessive, but for me time alone is important; most people need time to themselves, whether they are autistic or not, but for me personally, and a lot of other autistic people I know, time alone is essential.  It goes back to the point I make time and time again in everything I write – put yourself in the autistic person`s shoes – imagine you are living in a world where the majority of people you spend time with are autistic.  However diplomatic you try to be you will definitely need a break after a while.  I don’t have many good friends who are autistic – not for any particular reason, I just don’t. So when I go out and socialise, I am going out with neuro-typical people, and after a while I do need a break from this.  If I don’t have some time alone I find myself getting very stressed.  Of course seeing your friends is good, but for me it`s not the most important thing in life.  I have a lot of work to get on with each day, and it is hard enough to manage my time without being out for several hours seeing other people.  It is not that I have a problem meeting up with friends – I have some very good friends who I enjoy spending time with.  But because they are good friends they don’t mind that I don’t go out and about that often.  Now, as I said, it is completely understandable for parents to panic if their child prefers spending time alone than with other people, but investigate – find out if it’s what your child wants or not.  If it is, and they are comfortable with their existing social life, then keep your nose out and let them get on with things.

 It is very hard for anybody, autistic or not, to see something from someone else’s point of view.  I am somebody who loves films.  I can’t imagine what your life would be like it you went for weeks or months on end without watching new films.  To be honest I think you would have a fairly boring life if you didn’t watch a film every couple of days, but that`s because I am looking at it from my point of view.  In my life I need to watch films regularly.  In your life maybe you need to go out, and hang out with your friends every day.  For me, it would drive me mad.  There is probably only a handful of people who I could put up with seeing every day; I`m not going to say who that handful are, in case it causes offense.

I don’t think you should ever push your children to go out and socialise if they don’t want to, but I think you should always give them the opportunity.  But do it in a respectful way; explain what something is, why they might enjoy it and what benefits they may get out of it.  Help them to try to understand why they might not want to do it.  Once they understand, if they still don’t want to do it then that`s fine.  People who are quiet or reclusive get a very bad press in today’s society – but don’t be convinced by that.  Keeping to yourself is fine if it’s what you want to do – as long as you don’t let it become damaging to your mental health or well-being – then spend as much time alone as you want to.  But at the same time don’t completely discount any benefits of social interaction – keep an open mind.