Why are autistic people characterised as robotic and unfeeling, emotionless? Over the last few months our lives have been conducted according to big lad's emotions. As soon as he walks through the door I know how he is feeling, in fact, sometimes it seems like he is drowning in his emotions!
Far from failing to feel, he appears to feel too much. Autistic people tend to express their emotion in a different way and can have problems identifying feelings but anyone who lives with an autistic person will tell you that they do feel, passionately!
Emotions are often described as the things that make us human, so Isn't it time we stop dehumanising autistic people and challenge this unhelpful stereotype?
The six basic emotions are; happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. There are over 600 words in English to describe them and apparently we use over 42 muscles in our faces to express them. It is no surprise then that many people need support in order to identify emotions.
Through therapy and time the big lad has learned to give examples of his feelings e.g. I feel happy when I play on the computer. We have played recognising emotions games, on the ipad, made crazy emotion photographs of the big lad and we have perfected the sentence; I understand you are feeling sad/cross/frustrated/etc so that he is beginning to identify these emotions himself.
But he still gets confused sometimes!
He needs to learn techniques to help him work through his emotions. His therapist gave us an emotional thermometer tool, to use at the end of the day, which helps him unwind and sleep as he has filed his emotions away.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy established the concept of the "wise mind," It is having the ability to step back from our emotion and reason with it or use reason to calm emotion down. However, in an argument many neurotypical adults loose the ability to reason.
Who hasn't wished they could take back a comment made in the heat of an argument? Are emotional problems triggered by our stress response?
I am a mum not a psychologist but I am certain that there is a link between stress levels and inability to reason. The big lad describes it as his head being full and at these times he either over reacts or shuts down and refuses to acknowledge his feelings.
During 'meltdowns' he can not think logically. We have learned not to try and reason with him at this point but to give him time to calm, to allow his emotions to fade before we talk things through. What is certain is that it is his response to not feeling safe; not really understanding what is expected of him, frustration at missing the point or at experiencing new emotions that he doesn't know how to explain.
Neanderthal man depended on his emotions as responses to danger, they kept him safe. Have the emotions in autistic children failed to develop beyond the cave mans fight or flight level?
At this moment helping the big lad understand his emotions is one of the biggest hurdles that we are facing. He is the polar opposite of the stereotypical robotic autistic person. Instead he appears to have a kaleidoscope of emotions.
We hope that he will begin to pause and use reason more but it takes a lot of time, patience, love and understanding.
I believe that it is not the feeling of the emotion that is missing in my autistic son, rather the ability to reason with or explain it.