Friday, May 8, 2009

Autism and Trauma: Part one

I know I've mentioned before that traumatic events are harder on autistics, but why is that? First lets take a look at what constitutes a traumatic event:

Fear: We actually have a very sensitive startle reflex that others have trouble understanding. They say, "why is it so easy to scare that guy?" and confuse it with a personality flaw. Depending on how hard we get startled we can face two-fold trauma of what startled us and public embarrassment.

Bullying/Abuse: Asperger's children are highly susceptible to bullying and can run into abuse situations easily as well. Since I am a survivor of both I can cite some definite examples. For one, since my behavior simply was not like any other child, I carried a large bull's eye with me every where I went. Even though I changed schools often, the outcome was always the same. My reactions made other kids laugh and some got downright cruel to get those reactions. Children without proper diagnosis, with parents that are frustrated with them and don't understand what is really going on, can submit a child to abusive situations, even if unintended. The trauma of feeling worthless or unloved still takes it's toll heavily.

Crime Victimization: Becoming the victim of a crime is highly traumatizing in it's own right. Add the oversensitivity and black/white thinking of an autistic and it's pure chaotic terror. Loss: Losing a family member, friend, way of life or even an object can induce traumatic effect.

Sensory Events: This often rides hand in hand with the startle reflex, however, can be harsh on it's own as well. Loud sounds that cause pain or discomfort (or other sensory effects of the same outcome) can create longlasting memory.

So, why are these so much harder on the autistic? Simply put, we are typically very late in developing the defense mechanisms to protect ourselves and cope with things around us. We find it hard to let things go even if they seem small to everyone else. Our needs of routine, sameness and predictability are as strong as our need of food, water, and shelter. It takes years of practice and learning to be able to handle some of the most basic changes in our lives. When you take someone who is so sensitive to their surroundings that moving and object two inches upsets them, what do you think the effects of moving into a new house will do? To a neuro-typical person, this is pretty commonplace these days and you can "get over it". To an autistic, it's destruction of everything they know.

So traumatic events can start with smaller events than would affect a typical person. With the impaired coping mechanisms, it may be impossible to let go of events that occur for much longer than typical. How, then, can we help with trauma of such a sensitive scale? With early intervention and constant support techniques. With Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autistics, it is possible to help get past some forms of trauma. It takes constant practice and reassurance, but it can be done. Take my son, for example. He had the misfortune of a dog biting one of his little fingers. He's now terrified of dogs. I take every opportunity I can, to introduce him to friendly dogs that we meet. Sometimes he'll touch and pet them, sometimes he won't. In either case, he gets to see a friendly dog with others, like me, petting it and getting positive reactions.

Naturally there's a lot to be said for timely counseling and interventions. Especially with bullying but that will be another blog. In my next blogs, I am going to go into each area of trauma and tell you how to handle them. So stay tuned, part 2 is in production now.

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