Wednesday, May 1, 2013

#Autism & Self-Acceptance

I posted a pretty long post on my FB page about how I process emotions after I yet again, took something too seriously that my husband had said, and made a bigger deal out of it, than it really was.  This is something that always happens to me.  When I say always, I mean at least a few times a week.  It doesn't help that I have a hubby that I swear has ADHD, and everything is a joke to him.  My autistic brain is literal, and I often feel like he's making fun of me, when he is just interpreting the world in the way his brain is wired.  Anyway, this is what I wrote:

"Emotional regulation issues, and autism/asperger's. I find that I get irritated, and anxious by minor issues often, only to realize later while looking back that the thing that seemed so upsetting, or anxiety provoking really wasn't that big of a deal in the first place. I sometimes am embarrassed about my overreaction to seemingly insignificant occurrences, and the anxiety about how others might view me in light of my meltdown, or the anxiety about it happening again will keep me from trying new things, and socializing, if I let it.

As I have gotten acquainted with ASD, and what it's all about I have become aware of the reasons behind this phenomenon. One big one is weak central coherence (inability to see the bigger picture) and the other two are executive functioning issues, combined with difficulty in detecting, and describing emotional states. It's hard for me to see the bigger picture when I see something that goes wrong in my mind. I lose sight of how to get it back on track, and struggle with understanding how to deal with mounting emotions.

The last, but least of these triggers is, the deep down fear that I am being judged harshly by others, and won't/don't measure up. I think this reason is one that most, on or off the spectrum can relate to, but for those of us that seem to get things wrong so often, self-doubt is often a big obstacle to overcome when trying to regulate our emotions. I can lash out defensively, as if I deep wound has been ripped open, because in some ways, for me it may feel like it has. Learning mindfulness, and lot, and lots of opportunities to learn self-acceptance has helped a lot."
Then someone asked a million dollar question: How do/did you learn self-acceptance?  Can you give some examples of that?
 That is a toughie, to be sure. I am not even sure that I am there, yet.  I will write what I know has helped, and what hasn't, even if I don't fully have the answer, yet.  
I think the foundation of self-acceptance (not self esteem, because I feel that is totally different) is childhood.  This is why I am so picky about people understanding my boys, instead of seeing their ASD symptoms as problematic behaviors that need to be fixed. Realize that an ASD child will respond well to the right environments, and that ALL kids do the best with the skills they have. 
 Kids need lots of opportunities to be right.  This is not to be confused with getting their way, or not having boundaries.  What I mean is, in a world that is confusing, and built on skills that ASD people struggle with we need to be sure there are plenty of opportunities for ASD kids to shine. They need to know that they have talents, and traits that others valueIt may seem that they will get this feedback naturally through life, but it's not always so. A lot of the characteristics that our society tends to celebrate aren't the ones that introverts, and austistics possess.  That means that it may always feel to us like we are not as good as others, because it seems we are not getting the compliments, and attention others often do for their accomplishments.  
Everyone has something they're good at, and with us it sometimes takes a little more digging to find it, and figure out how to use it productively.  My son is good at Minecraft, and other video games.  This game has become very popular at his school with other boys his age, and they often come to him to ask how to do things. I overheard one boy tell him that he owes all his knowledge about MC to Bubby, because he is who taught him to play it. Bubby also, is very good at telling jokes.  He goes on youtube (where he spends most of his free time) and looks up jokes. He loves comedy, and memorizes jokes to tell his friends.  This has also garnered him a lot of positive attention.  A lot of his jokes aren't what most moms would find appropriate,but they are socially age appropriate for 11-12 yo boys, and I'm logical enough to understand that, and not interfere.  I know that finding peer acceptance is worth it's weight in gold when you're an autistic preteen.  My son is well liked by his peers, and that really adds to his own positive self-image.  When we feel likeable, we tend to see ourselves as likeable.  
Another way to help foster self-acceptance is tell us when we do something right in social situations.  I think that in some ways it's a bit unnatural for people to tell other when they do the right things, but we certainly remember to say something about social missteps.  A lot of the time, we can really feel like we're floundering around in the dark when it comes to socializing.  It's nice to be told when we get something right, so that we know to repeat that in the future.It also helps to build confidence when we know we got something down.
Another part of liking ourselves is accepting parts of our autism that we might not like, but accepting that they're there, and not going away.  Things like sensory issues , misunderstandings, and emotional regulation issues.  This is where the mindfulness   and cognitive behavior therapy can be helpful.  When I stopped fighting some of my demons, and started learning to accommodate them, my life became so much smoother.  I quit trying to change myself to fit into what I thought was 'normal' and what I thought  had to. I learned that there was option B, which was accommodating my sensory issues, and realizing that I am okay, even with my differences.  I am always going to hate loud parties, and hate my routine messed up.  Those things are always going to drive to the edge, and possibly over of a meltdown.  My emotions are not the enemy.  The more I get to know, and understand my own emotional landscape the better I will handle certain situations, but I have had to accept that for the rest of my life I am going to have some issues regulating my emotional state, whether the upset that often comes over me is the result of an overwhelming sensory experience, or because I felt emotionally overwhelmed.  I have been trying to explain it to my son, as well.  He says he has a bad life, because he gets so upset at school (which is partly their fault, but that's another post).  I have to teach him that his life is not bad, because of a small moment in his day is less than optimal.  I also have to get him to understand that it is more than likely that for the rest of his life, he will need extra supportsI hesitate to speak on behalf of all autistics, but I will say that most of us, if not all will always have trouble regulating our emotions, and will always have moments where we might overreact to certain things, as well as have longer periods of time where we fall into depression, and the like. Anxiety, and depression often travel with autism, and I have had to practice radical acceptance of that.  It knocks on my door, and I let it in, instead of fighting to shut it out, which disprupts my whole life.  I see it, examine it, and remember to calmly address it, instead of seeing one of those two things show up, then freak out trying to get rid of it.  It's part of what it is to be me, and I accept it, because I want to accept me.
 The other area of what I was talking about, the accepting that I might need a different path, and different supports is crucial. Different, doesn't equal bad.  Needing supports, and accommodations isn't bad, and getting myself to a place where I could accept this was a turning point for me, in self acceptance.  This is another area where parents must be vigilant. The issues that I have with Bubby's school is 90% because they refuse to allow him the supports he needs, and the principal actually considers him a burden.  I don't care if 80% of his needs are being met, and if we have a good starting point for an IEP process.  I have been trying to get this going since 1st grade, and I will not ever tolerate anyone treating my child like they are 2nd class, because the person in question does not want to bend to accommodate his disability, because he sees my son as a drain on his resources. He sees my son as not worthy. The things that that principal has said to him, and in front of him I am positive, has damaged his his self-image.  They will stay in the back of his mind for the rest of his life, as that little critical voice that nags at us when we are having a moment of doubt.  We have to shield our kids as much as possible from being exposed to situations like that, even if we feel beat down, and powerless.  Those kinds of bullies tend to make even us, well adjusted adults back down, because they even make us feel threatened, and intimidated.  We absolutely have to keep those sorts of people away from our kids as much as possible.
Another thing that I often see parents do that I think may be doing more harm than good, is using their child's favorite interest as leverage.  This is a sticky issue, but from my own personal point of view as an autistic person, and mother of two... actual punishment in this house is rare.  I run such a structured, rouitne autism friendly environment that there is more opportunity to be good, than bad.  We tend to take punishments very personally, and will see them as a reflection of who we are as people.  Generally, if autistic kids understand rules very clearly we will follow them. We're not usually rule-breakers.I don't put time limits, or withhold special interests.  As long, as chores get done, I let my kids do what makes them happy.  Being happy= positive feelings towards self,.
 Above all, remember that a child will project back inside themselves what is reflected from the outside world.  This is true for any child, and any person, young or oldProvide an environment that is full of praise, love, accountability, and character, and keep out the negative as much as possible, then you will have done well to foster a positive self image. 
Please, feel free to add any tips you might have to this list in the comment section! 


  1. Totally illogical given that I'm older than you, but I wish you'd been my Mum. Of course, Mum didn't know I had Aspergers (my own daughter and grandkids are better off in that respect), but I am so glad your son has friends at school! It makes me very happy to hear that, I don't think I really had one single friend in the whole of Primary Schol. You're right about depression, a battle I have fought and still fight. I really enjoy your blog and FB. Simon Hugh Villiers Maynard.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I went to your blog to follow it, but can't figure out how to. Is there an option for that on there that I'm not seeing? I'd like to add it to my blogroll.


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