‘We live in a world where moving smoothly and successfully through typical milestones and life stages, and establishing our place in the crowd seems the norm. Day to day interactions that fit within the box appear easier than being different – but is this really the case?’
As we head towards the end of April and the end of Autism Acceptance month, this post is dedicated to all of us who do things differently – who think differently, who socialise differently, who communicate differently, who learn differently, and who ultimately process and understand the world differently. This post is a personal reflection, on some things that I’d like people to know.
It was 7 years ago that I first stepped into my diagnosis.
Autism had only been at the forefront of my mind for a few years at that stage, but it was quickly becoming my long lost friend – my ‘normal’ as I began my personal journey of discovery and self-understanding.
The years following diagnosis were, and still are, eye opening, at the very least. As I often say to people, my life seemed to come apart a little bit as I realised who I was, but that simply meant that I could put things back together the way that they should be – the way that felt right to me.
Much of what I live personally links and flows with what I teach from a professional perspective, and so this post is about lived insight – these are some things that I’d love you to know:
Sensory processing challenges are real
One of the challenges with managing the sensory system is not always simply about managing the input or output – sometimes it’s about getting other people to understand how real and how debilitating it can be.
If you don’t live with sensory processing differences, it can be difficult to really grasp what it’s like. It’s hard to understand what it feels like when the world closes in on you – with movement or light that seems to burn in to your very being. Or when your body desperately just needs to move – regardless of whatever else is going on. Or when your head feels like it’s going to explode from the noise that creeps in to every part of your thinking and brings you to a halt in all that you’re doing. The sense of being overwhelmed or in desperate need of what your body craves can be scary and isolating if you feel like nobody understands.
So please take a step back when you can. And forward plan for those you support. Build in movement where it’s needed. Build in options for sensory friendly spaces and activities where you know an environment will likely create chaos. Even if you don’t know what it feels like yourself, show that you’re trying to understand and trying to help – it will mean so much!
Having a ‘social game face’ is exhausting
“You seem to cope so well” is the phrase that says it all. But it’s not always the case.
Hence why it’s so important to take the time to understand what is going on below the surface of the ‘game face’. Burn out comes quickly and easily if care is not taken – social exhaustion is real, especially when socialisation isn’t the natural choice.
Being in a box is not the only place to be
Boxes….. neat systems, methods and environments that contain our norms.
At many stages throughout my life, I always worked very hard at fitting in the box. It was the place to be ‘unnoticed’ and the place you had to be in to be sure that you would make a successful life for yourself.
Looking back on my life, and now, I realise how wrong I had it. It brought anxiety, a poor sense of self, and a ‘greyness’ to my world. I realise how debilitating that was for me, and how life-draining that place can be for someone who doesn’t fit the box comfortably, or who would have a more successful life hanging over the side of the box.
I think it’s so important to step back and look at what the boxes that we have established in our world might be doing to people – particularly to people who DO think, learn, communicate, socialise or process the world differently. And ask yourself – how can I open this box up? How can I work towards ensuring that I don’t push people into boxes that aren’t made for them? How can I break some boxes apart so that we as a community start looking at people for who they are and what they need rather than looking at which box they might fit.
Acceptance is the best way forward
Acceptance gives us a chance to grow – to blossom and to be the best version of who we can be. I think that says it all!
So there you have it… just a few things that I wanted you to know.
If there are things that you’d like other people to know, please share them in the comments below – there’s always room for sharing and learning.
Written by Elissa Plumridge