How I'm Working Towards My Full Potential as an Autistic Student

For people like me who have autism spectrum disorder, meltdowns and shutdowns are usually either part of mental or emotional overloads. “Overloads” are when the overstimulated brain
of the person receives too much stimulation to actually continue processing incoming stimulation, causing the person to panic, have a meltdown, “shut down,” etc. As I stated earlier, this can happen either mentally (due to outside stimulation like movies, videos, music, light patterns, strong smells, too much bodily contact, etc.) or emotionally (too much social interaction at once, or too much emotional response at one time). Sometimes it is a combination of both.

As a child who has overloads “gets better” at handling information, it is not necessarily because they are better at handling the stimulation itself, but it happens gradually as they are slowly exposed to more stimulation over time. Some people are better at handling the information because they have trained themselves to quell the reaction, but the reaction is often still there, just unnoticeable due to its small size. If the over-stimulation continues for too long, the person may gradually (or sometimes suddenly) increase the severity of their reaction.

As an example (using myself), I can watch action-packed 2D animated (such as anime) movies, like “Castle in the Sky,” but have a really tough time when watching movies acted out with real people or realistic animations, like “Avengers,” “Spiderman” or “Batman,” or even documentaries. However, I can play non-gore video games with complex controls, movie clips, and dialogue with very few problems at all.

Also as an example (still using myself), I often became non-verbal in response to emotional over-stimulation, which made me a target for bullies, because I couldn’t speak up for myself when they lied about what happened, nor could I tell the teachers what had pushed me to the point of
over-reaction. Once I received a suspension for my behavior because I was only able to tell my parents what had happened after the fact. Because of the elementary school’s inability to revoke punishment or revisit an offense and their need for instant information about the incident, they never heard nor bothered to think that the other child was at fault for attacking me repeatedly before I defended myself. So I had one of the worst elementary school experiences. I even switched schools in grade 5, but to no avail, as the new school had the same amount of (if not more) bullies than the previous elementary school.

After a lot of training, mostly involving written exercises and social scenarios and whatnot, I was finally able to control/redirect my reactions, and was able to tell the principal about the repetitively mean bullies. The school eventually put “bullying” on those children’s permanent
records, and they began to leave me alone (most of them, anyway). But that was after I had switched schools, gone to multiple ASD social group sessions, and was past grade 6, where there was no possible seating plan available without a bully sitting next to me. Not only that, but there was still very little support for ASD in elementary school.

High school was a lot better, as there were support programs in place, including IEP, a reserved resource room for program participants, and class presentations that informed the class about autism. Better yet, the teacher of the resource room became a personal role model of mine, having me pushed just past my limits in the classroom before pulling me out to the resource room to “simmer out” the overload. He had a good analogy for this, too. A soccer coach puts his player on the field, then only pulls him off when he knows for certain that he will not be able to play, because the player cannot be put back on the field afterwards. In other words, they have one shot at participating in the classroom each day, and if they are able, they need to participate, but if they are unable, they will need to be “benched” for a while.

He also provided exercises including examples of situations I had trouble with and a lot of long or hand-drawn answer spaces. After completing an exercise, the teacher would go over my answers with me. He actually became one of my best friends in high school, as did the other ASD students in the program. The teacher would also explain why I had to do the stuff I did, and why I was being pulled out of class, why I had to do the exercises, and also explained how to do things properly in social and other circumstances.

However, there are a lot of people with ASD without a positive role model in their lives. If anything, there are many people with ASD who either have no role model other than themselves or have a negative role model in their life. There was another part of the program in high school that got our classmates/peers involved in helping us. That helped a lot, as we began noticing our own limitations and set expectations upon ourselves to improve.

Some parents worry throughout elementary school so much that they are afraid of what might happen in high school. To those parents, one of the best thing that can happen is finding a support system your child is OK with, and is supportive of both their future and self-advocacy. I desperately hope that the support systems that have helped me throughout high school and college will spread through the chain into both adults with ASD (getting used to budgeting, finding work, running a household, paying bills, etc.) and children and elementary schools with ASD (helping protect from bullies, as well as teaching social skills, finding help from teachers, educating classrooms and teachers about autism, etc.).

There is too much unaided autistic need in today’s society for many to live up to their full potential. Even I have not reached it yet. But now I at least know I need to keep trying, altering my method and process as I go along, finding as much help as possible, until I succeed.

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