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"I Don't Hate You" - Autism and Withdrawing


Posted by Shanti Roy on February 10, 2011

 There can be many reasons why someone with autism withdraws from people a lot and at times can become frustrated or angry for seemingly little to no reason.

The most important reason is because their brain is simply not wired for communication with another person. It may not apply to all with autism. People with Asperger’s syndrome do want to make friends but don’t know how. The lack of a need for friends is closer to a classic autism trait but it is not true for all with classic autism. The whole lack of eye contact thing really can be an empathy thing. Even so, there are autistics that can make eye contact but with me I get nothing from eye contact. I sometimes equate it to looking at the Sun but I could look at the Sun longer than make eye contact with another human being. I think of it as having too much empathy. Usually the people who I find it hard to make eye contact with I know have their own sort of issues to deal with like anxiety or depression. And those I can make eye contact with are warm friendly people and their eyes seem rounder than the sharp edges of those I can’t look at.

There are two different types of personalities: extroversion and introversion. Usually autistic people are introverted and feel most comfortable on their own and become stressed and tired easily around others. There are also others factors to take in like sensory issues, illness or just being in a bad mood but I’ll touch on those subjects a bit later.

What I want to talk about now is change. People with autism usually cannot stand any minor change. It can either be a slight discomfort to a meltdown or just shutting down completely. Usually when a sudden change happens I will become instantly frustrated, so instant I’m confused why I suddenly had this mood shift. But then it becomes clear I’m not adapting well to change.

I rarely have a huge Earth shattering meltdown because I can recognise when one is coming on and I can make myself avoid it from happening. But I still stay angry or become easily frustrated with people when a moment ago I would have been talking to people or feeling content.

Something else that happens is that I will have a shutdown. Shutdowns also come in various forms. You can have depressive-like exhausted symptoms, you can appear to become more autistic or you can lose speech and movement for awhile. The latter is similar to a seizure and I firmly believe shutdowns are a type of autistic seizure. I’ve had a lot of these regression-type shutdowns in the long term. My depressive-like shutdowns happen after a lot of social interaction or something happened that I dwell on for far too long. I even had one over the cancellation of Stargate Universe – one of my special interests.

Having extremely sensitive senses especially to noise and visual stimuli can make me withdraw to my bedroom and not come out until I’m certain I’m the only one left in the house. This is when noise and even being in the same room with people I’m usually comfortable with is excruciatingly difficult. If I was any younger and less aware of my symptoms I probably would have a violent meltdown.

I do have meltdowns. Usually I get yelled at because they seem to go off at the most irrelevant times. For example for a week or two many things were bothering me and then when it rained and I had to bring in washing off the line I just reached melting point. Or I should say ‘went critical’ to better describe it because once a nuclear reactor goes critical there is no stopping the meltdown. My reason for this meltdown was that I really wanted to go into town and the rain ruined my plans. At that moment I was incapable of articulating what I was really upset about. Even when it rains which is a form of change to adapt to I don’t do well because I have actually been caught in a severe thunderstorm more than once and I have had the more panic/crying type of meltdowns. And when not in a familiar environment it gets worse for me. The worse thing was in both situations I couldn’t ask anyone for help.

I usually have panic attack type of meltdowns or a panic attack accompanying a meltdown when I’m in the city on my own and a sudden change happens. I’m angrier and tend to have more difficulty calming down because I’m not in my safe house or even the usual outside environment I’m usually in.

There have been many times when I have been yelled at for having a meltdown. Sometimes I’m told to not overreact as much as I do and other times I made to feel like it’s my fault. Autistic meltdowns can reach a point where you cannot stop them. When this happens I either run away or if I’m at a concert I will stubbornly stay until it’s too late or I might hold it in and have a shutdown, or in other cases a seizure. Stress can lower the seizure threshold and those feelings before a meltdown are definitely stressful.

I can’t but help think that sometimes people must think I really hate them when I get snappish when I just don’t feel like I have the energy to explain what’s going on with me or won’t tell them because they would probably say I’m overreacting. And then when I go into my room they might think I don’t want to see them at all and I do sometimes just want to be left alone. But there are a whole lot of things going on in my brain. One it’s sensory or I could be feeling a bit ill or I could be dwelling on something upsetting or I could just be really reaching breaking point and need a quiet spot to recover in.

I get ill quite a lot. One day a month I get primary dysmenorrhoea and usually have a week before that of cramping. What I eat really affects me too. When I see people shoving a lot of junk food or energy drinks down their gullet I’m mortified. Junk food has an adverse reaction on my stomach and on my executive functioning skills, especially thought and focus. I also can have such adverse reactions to sugar and caffeine that mimics hypoglycaemia which causes really serious health problems in me. And when I do get ill I am of course in the type of mood where I snap or just want to be on my own. It’s when people talking and laughing are no different to nails on a chalkboard.

Sometimes when things bother me and I’d rather not tell people I can become angry and withdrawn and of course people around me wonder if it’s anything they’ve done. I sometimes get stuck with playing the same scenario over and over in my head, either a past one or one completely imagined by me but because I have such intense and uncontrollable emotions the imagined one feels no different than the real one. I do wonder that one day I will fall completely into fantasy and not be able to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. But that has not happened yet. The only thing to get me out of these ruminating thoughts is usually a distraction in the form of a special interest.

Other reasons for my bad moods around people could be that they don’t seem to grasp that I have such difficulties. People that know me do see a high functioning individual, that may talk a little bit too much about their special interest but is intelligent and independent enough. The truth is I don’t really like to tell people about the other me that comes about after a lot of stress. The one that feels insulted by sarcasm; that breaks down over noises, light and too much visual stimuli like crowds or patterns; the one that doesn’t know what to say after greeting you; or the one that flaps their hands and seeks out textures to calm down from being in a stressful environment.

I know people just want to treat you like a normal person as a compliment but when they do I can’t help but think they forget that I really have any issues and when they come about I’m looked at as though I’m exaggerating or faking these randomly occurring symptoms. And at times they think I may be incapable of understanding or doing something when I can do it. Oh well, it’s a learning process for both of us.

I think one of my hardest things to deal with is that I have poor social skills yet I’m encouraged to do it. I still do it and sometimes I do ok and other times I can’t get away and return to my comfortable life fast enough. What really bothers me is that I’ve accepted that my social skills are as good as they’ll ever be and I’d prefer to be doing something practical and enjoyable like reading, writing or practicing my artistic skills. And I’m only ever able to put all my attention into one thing at a time. When I socialise a lot I start to forget about all I’ve learnt about physics or astronomy. I even lose my grammar skills. So I want people to understand that and I think most of my anger toward people comes from being encouraged to act like other people and not encouraged for my real passions in life. I also have extremely sensitive emotions, which go quite well with my other extremely sensitive senses and I can become easily hurt or offended by what people say. I don’t always get sarcasm at first go. It can take me up to a few minutes up to a few years to finally get what was meant. And even when I do get it there’s still a part of me that finds it offensive. There’s also a small part of me that does begin to feel lonely when I realise how different I am. It’s just a twang of jealously and it can either lead to frustration or I can shake it off.

I do also fall into a trap like other autistics of wanting things to be a certain way. I’m a clean, organised and very health conscious person and if people are anything less than that I’ll probably look at them like they were crazy. I’m like that with spontaneous people – how can they not plan everything down to the last detail? It doesn’t make sense to me.

So there are a few reasons why people with autism withdraw or appear to be angry a lot. I’ve only begun to as they say ‘scratch the surface’ of this issue.