A Day in My Life on the Autism Spectrum
Whenever I divulge my autism diagnosis to someone, it is usually replied with a puzzled look and the person exclaiming, “Really?” At first I was annoyed by it and a little offended, but now I laugh. I laugh because I feel free and I feel like my freedom is used to educate others. I’ve also educated myself on autism. It has helped me become self-aware.
No one has asked me what it is like being on the spectrum. I don’t mind the question and I’m not sure why no one has asked me. Maybe because I talk about it all the time that I already answer the questions. So, I have asked myself “Self, what is it like being on the spectrum, now you know that is what it is?”
For me, being on the spectrum is like being on a computer. I look nice, and presentable, just like any other computer. No one knows I’m any different. It isn’t until you start interacting with me that you notice I’m a bit slower than the other computers. All the other computers can handle several tasks at a fast pace, without freezing. My program takes a while to load, can only handle one task at a time, and if you attempt to make me multitask, I will freeze up, shut down, and will need to be restarted.
I have a few tips on how to avoid a meltdown that work for me. But I am also learning what exactly triggers me and sometimes meltdowns can’t be avoided. So, I will also give you some tips on what helps me calm down from a meltdown.
I should probably explain what a meltdown looks like for me. Just like autism itself, my meltdowns have a spectrum. Sometimes they are subtle and sometimes they are extreme. Usually in a subtle meltdown, I’m aware that I’m in a meltdown and can talk through it. When it is subtle, I just look like I’m in a bad mood. If needed, I can fake a smile but it looks forced. Body language will be off. If it’s too loud, I may cover my ears. A medium meltdown usually has some tears and snot. I’m not a pretty crier so it’s always snotty tears and loud sobs. Often times there will be yelling as well. A major/extreme meltdown, luckily, doesn’t happen often for me. I don’t really want to explain it because it’s embarrassing, but I’m trying to be honest. An extreme meltdown will have screaming, crying, rocking back and forth, and sometimes I end up under the bed or in a closet or something. Let’s not dwell on the bad times!
OK, so to avoid a meltdown, I have a few items on hand.
1. Ear plugs.
Life on the spectrum is loud. I have songs, conversations, and a plethora of other things going on in my head. So, my head is already loud enough as it is. I haven’t figured out why, but I’m also more sensitive to sounds. Environmental sounds are louder to me than they probably are to you. For instance, when I am at the grocery store, the radio is loud and it feels like it’s screaming in my ear, I can hear every single cash register beeping even if I’m across the store, the employees have radios on and talk to each other, people are being paged over the intercom, there’s a screaming child the next aisle over… you get the picture. I get physically exhausted by the time it is over. With ear plugs, I still hear everything but it is so much quieter and I can pay attention to my shopping list.
2. Fidget Tangle.
This toy is way more subtle than those fidget spinners. I use this tool mostly when I’m at church. Sacrament meeting is a quiet and gentle service and sometimes my mind wanders. I have a hard time keeping still and this tool allows me to get my wiggles out without being a distraction. It also helps me think more clearly and stay focused. You can find a fidget tangle here.
My mind is always filled with thoughts and songs and conversations and I need to “walk it out.” Whenever I get information overload or am in a loud environment, I have to walk around. It helps clear my mind.
4. Say something.
Even if it’s just as simple as “I’m stressed out,” no one will know I need help unless I say something. Sometimes it’s easier to say something to someone I really trust, such as my husband. The reason being because I feel embarrassed by how little of a situation can make such a big complication for me.
5. Reusable grocery bags.
Yes, this silly thing has helped me avoid a meltdown. I cannot stand clutter. I will easily get stressed out and feel guilty after grocery shopping if I come home with a million plastic sacks or paper bags. Reusable bags don’t make that crunchy sound, and they are pretty stiff so I can look directly into the bag. Believe me, this subtle change in my life has become a tremendous miracle.
I’m still working on my list; it’s ever-changing and ever-growing. Some things need to be tweaked. Also, it’s important to note that no matter what tools you have on hand, sometimes the situation placed before you is a bigger issue than any reusable grocery bag can handle! Sometimes I have to face those meltdowns.
Right now I have found that routine is best when it comes to settling down.
1. I notice that the one thing that overwhelms me is clothing, accessories, and hair. I need to change into comfy clothes, take my jewelry out, and put my hair down or at least out of my face.
2. If I have time to shower or take a bath, I will do that. A lot of autistics say water physically hurts them and they can’t stand to take a bath or shower. That idea is totally foreign to me and I have an opposite experience. Water always takes the pain away, helps me focus, and is just nice.
3. Next, I go into a cool, dark room. If I’m at home I lay in bed. I also make sure to have some DoTerra Lavender Essential Oil in my diffuser. This stuff is amazing for a meltdown. I do straight lavender. I’ve noticed that using blends, such as Serenity, are too much of a sensory overload for me; I need to use just one, simple scent.
4. I love to utilize my library’s OverDrive app where I can either listen to audiobooks or read eBooks. Usually I listen to an audiobook when it comes to winding down. I also listen to something simple. Right now my go-to is anything by Janette Oke. Her books are conservative and a little cheesy but I find that simple and conservative help me when I’m dealing with a complicated issue.
5. I know that medication can be a good thing, and I am on it myself, but sometimes I like to go a more natural route sometimes. If I need a little more help to settle down, I use Calm. It is a magnesium supplement drink. It comes in different flavors or you can purchase it unflavored. My mom and I found a variety package at our local health food store so we could try all of the flavors offered. The flavor I like best is Raspberry-Lemon. It almost tastes like Crystal Lite. This drink settles me down and also makes me a bit sleepy.
6. Lastly, it’s important for me to get a lot of rest in recovering from a meltdown. I try to listen to my own body to determine how much rest I need. Sometimes it’s minutes, hours, or days. It can be super annoying, especially if I have things scheduled to do. But I know it is important to listen to my body and what it needs.
Before I was diagnosed, I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself because I became overwhelmed easily and would shut down from the outside world. In the past, I shut out a whole sorority of girls when I was in college because I didn’t know how to handle the social aspect of being part of a sorority and the general drama of being around a huge bunch of girls. I wish I would have known then what I knew now about myself — I wouldn’t have closed off some good friendships I had going for me. However, I now know which signs to look for, and I mostly know how to handle myself before I go into meltdown mode.
Looking back, I wish I could fix mistakes I made, and in true Aspie fashion my mistakes give me anxiety today. But I now know myself, I laugh at myself, I learn from myself, and I try to move on to a bigger, better, brighter future.
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Thinkstock photo by Dragon Images.