In my previous article Autism viewed from a spiritual perspectiveI briefly told about the social problems surrounding autism, the mental/spiritual background of autism and the core qualities. In this series of articles, I take a closer look at the more individual, clinical problems of autism that hinder proper functioning. I use the word ‘clinical’ deliberately, because while I don’t see autism as a permanent disability, it is indeed a malfunction.
For that reason I am not in favor of throwing all ‘labels’ overboard, because they do provide information about where the crux is. On that point, I agree with medical science. What we can do is try to get to the “inside” of “disorders” and not add so much drama to them. I will discuss the deeper background of autism-related behavior on the basis of symptoms or problems and suggest possible solutions.
Many of these options are already beginning to dawn on the more conscious parents. Fortunately, people are beginning to understand the spiritual background of autism more and more. But what is often missing is a glimpse into the background of those problems by someone who knows the experience.
I am going to devote three articles to a holistic approach to the problems faced by people with autism. The first part focuses on the metaphysical aspects.
The second part focuses on the ‘brain thing’ of autism and deals with motor and executive problems, social problems and learning difficulties. The third article deals with extensionalistic and metaphysical problems and deals with psychological obstacles such as coping with emotions, anger, depression and loneliness.
The metaphysical aspects: psychological predisposition, life purpose and high sensitivity
Disclaimer: All of these tips and information are based for the most part on my personal experience and anecdotes from others. It mostly depends on the person themselves what will work and what will not.
I emphasize the personal responsibility of parents, teachers, therapists, counselors and people on the spectrum itself. I have collected tips that have worked for someone and where the principle ‘if it doesn’t help, then it doesn’t harm’ also applies.
I assume that the people who work with this will be able to assess for themselves where their limits lie or those of their child and where professional help should be sought if necessary. These tips are tools and do not guarantee happiness or ‘cure’ from autism. They are free to try.
Autism is characterized by blockages
Autism is associated with developmental blocks. A child with autism would love to develop to the same level as his peers, but it doesn’t work.
Failure to succeed is accompanied by a feeling of paralysis, despair and inability. Science states that problems with stimulus processing and central coherence make it difficult to match your peers in motor skills, emotional understanding, problem-solving skills, and so on.
My experience is that there is also a very existential, psychological aspect to this. ‘The world doesn’t work’. It’s too big. A child with a pervasive developmental disorder can see that he or she is lagging behind. Often for their tender age they are exceptionally good at perceiving where they are out of step with peers.
This leads to fear of failure and lack of self-confidence, making blockages even more difficult to overcome. Blockages stagnate their development and prevent them from standing in their power. Many of those blockages are the result of incarnating in an ‘earthly jacket’ that they really don’t like, others arise as a result of misunderstanding of the society in which they grow up.
These problems are tackled in the regular way by means of ‘dry’ learning of skills, desensitization training, ‘I am special’ training, psychoeducation from a scientific paradigm or accepting that behavior does not get better: it is ‘part of the disability’. ‘. The socialization training is already on their way back. Better an authentic, messy contact than a wooden, fake by-the-book contact.
Compared to 20 years ago, autism is already a little more accepted. Yet I now often see that parents condone what I think is unacceptable behavior (running around during ceremonies, intruding on conversations, yelling) under the guise of ‘he just has autism’. It is not said in so many words, but actually we do not know what to do with autism. Either condition it to become neurotypical or let it sit in a passive victim role. Is there really no other way?
temple grandin quote AutismIt is important that blockages are addressed in early childhood. The longer you wait, the harder they wear in and the harder they are to treat later in life.
For all people, change is easier the younger one is, but with autism this is even more true. Some adults on the autism spectrum are as flexible as a frozen carrot, so to speak. I know from personal experience that sometimes that is really unworkable. That is so-called autism, but I mainly see someone who has never been corrected and adjusted.
Practical examples, both from my own environment and the work of Martine Delfoz, show that there is a lot to control. A child with autism does not have to calcify out of pure fatalism into a depressed, dependent, suspicious adult with obsessive-compulsive neurosis, tantrums and maladaptive behavior. More and more parents feel the same way.
Mental patterns: fixations and preoccupations
At number 1 the ‘mother of all autism symptoms’ and also a great source of concern. Doing the same thing for hours, days, years in a row cannot be healthy, people think in a society in which variation is ‘desperately necessary’ according to a sandwich filling manufacturer. There is a big difference between a fixation, or stereotypical act, and a preoccupation, an interest so strong that one would prefer to let everything else give way.
A fixation serves to ward off unrest and in that sense has a function. I think there is even a difference between a fixation and a neurosis (compulsion). A neurosis serves to allay elusive fear. A fixation has a neurological purpose: by doing the same thing over and over, the ‘input’ in the brain is manageable and predictable. I dare to say that a fixation can be relaxing, although I cannot deny that it makes your world very small and in that sense it is limiting.
I am not in favor of allowing fixations on and off, because it really is a form of behavior that is ultimately limiting. You can get addicted to a fixation to shut out the world in the same way we get addicted to our smartphone, Facebook or thenews feed . Fixations therefore do not belong exclusively to autism; every person can develop fixations, only the personality structure of people with autism invites it more.
However, realize that this behavior has a clear reason: at peak times you sometimes have to allow a fixation. Regardless of what bystanders think. Then your child or partner should just rock, spin, flutter, hum, or whatever.
At home I would discourage a fixation if there is no reason for it. Tony Attwood has noted that the fixation fades over time if the object of the fixation is put under lock and key. Because the ‘object of desire’ is no longer visible, you are no longer reminded of it all the time. Distraction allows the obsession with the object to disappear from memory. If the craving only costs energy and yields nothing, they often stop on their own.
I have personally experienced that with the help of mindfulness you can independently control fixations and have them extinguished. To me, this is proof that a fixation is not part of the personality, but a behavior pattern that you fall into to ward off the stress. It’s a coping strategy, not a character trait. Let’s not confuse those two things.
autismPreoccupations are of a different order than fixations, although the dividing line can be thin. A preoccupation has in common with a fixation that people crave it more in times of stress. In contrast to a fixation, a preoccupation is usually a constructive way to release stress. Rather than dull repetition, preoccupation offers genuine joy.
Often a young child with autism tackles the stress with fixations. As the child grows older, learns more and develops skills, gains interests and gets to know himself better, a fixation can turn into a preoccupation. So I see a preoccupation as a growth in relation to the fixations.
The place that a preoccupation occupies in the life of someone with autism can be summarized with: ‘Well, the work is done, now the real life begins’. People with autism are regularly at work yearning for the moment they can go home to do ‘their’ thing. Although there are of course also lucky ones who have managed to turn their hobby into their profession. And then 80-hour workweeks are not unusual. Stopping preoccupations is like giving ADHDers Ritalin:
You stop someone’s behavior because you find it weird or annoying, but you do dull someone’s core qualities. Parents and teachers who don’t understand autism sometimes tend to forbid preoccupations simply because they think it’s weird. Do not do that. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t set limits every now and then. Sometimes you just have to go to school
Preoccupations, grounding and discovering the purpose of life
People with autism, especially the Asperger’s group, have a series of transient fads in childhood (although they can sometimes last a lifetime). The most common are: dinosaurs, trains and, in the case of girls, quite often fairy tales, fantasy and mythical creatures. People with autism remarkably often look for expressions of strength : primal force, diesel locomotives, the knighthood, science fiction. I believe that reflects the intensity that lives within them and their need for moral purity and authenticity.
I especially like the obsession with dinosaurs. Because what is it with dinosaurs? They are OERRRRR. Prehistory reminds us on a soul level of the time when the earth was ‘still without form and void’, at least in terms of people. It is a kind of innocent purity, crude and unrefined, but pure. I think that obsession with dinosaurs is grounding at the most fundamental level.
Experiencing the untamed primal power of Gaia, the unstoppable force of evolution and the will of Life to always find a way to survive, helps them to be here. I’ve never had the train obsession myself, so I can’t really pinpoint it, but I think the orderly regularity of well-oiled machines appeals to their need for things that work predictably and are controllable.
It is truly amazing what (autistic or not) highly sensitive children sometimes work out psycho-spiritually on their own in their grounding process using power animals, identifications with archetypes and Jungian and mythological symbols. Don’t dig into that process, they can (usually) do it on their own.
The soul knows what to do and does it. Preoccupations can therefore also change from time to time. With such a change you can assume that there is now something else current in the psyche of someone with autism. Go along with this and respect the process, no matter how bizarre you find the form of expression.
A fixation can also have to do with this kind of working out. However, a fixation means that something is ‘stuck’, the person is stuck, while with a preoccupation there is development: the process continues. A temporary fixation is not so bad; everyone is entitled to their bumps. But the longer a fixation lasts, the more it is ‘fed’ and can wear in and the more difficult it is to get rid of it.
Someone with autism, after years of being fixated, can fully identify with his compulsive acts. They don’t even want to consider the possibility that it could be otherwise: “I’m just like that”. In the case of a fixation (read: blockage) that persists, naturopathic medicine can sometimes offer a solution: by giving the blockage a ‘tap’ with a vibration medicine, the development gets going again.
As a child I was drawing horses to the absurd. With a typical conservative frame of mind you can label this as ‘disordered behaviour’.
But what was the subtle inside here? By dealing with horses, I connected with the core qualities of ‘strength’, ‘freedom’ and ‘grace’, which I desperately needed as a weakly grounded and blocked child. At that time, the horse had the function of a power or totem animal for me. I instinctively recognized what I needed to ground.
Although I have to say that the process was stuck for me: I kept spinning around in a circle of drawing horses, until a fairly old age. A clinical psychologist would label that behavior as a lack of imagination. But my imagination was just very big! But because my inner world did not continue to grow, my expressions in the outer world also remained the same.
The dividing line between a preoccupation and a fixation was thin here. And here too: autism is not what it seems! The gap between the potential in your head and what comes out in the outside world is very big! Do not judge too harshly on the basis of clinical observations, because as a result of the blockages they say very little about what is really in someone’s inner world.
Sensory integration and tactile problems.
This is another one where I wonder if the problem lies with the person or with society. In every book about autism , contact problems and social problems are highlighted first. That makes sense: the outside world suffers the most from this, so that is considered the worst. Closely followed by the fixations, because they are embarrassing.
It is only at the bottom that attention is paid to the tactile hypersensitivity, because the people themselves do not feel it. You can bet that we ourselves have a very different hierarchy when it comes to autism problems! With dot on 1: Incentives! Very shortly followed by: anxiety and depression (see the third article in this series)
Sensory integration is something that has to happen to every person to a certain extent and that comes gradually and naturally as you grow up. Good sensory integration is not self-evident in autism. The process does not start, or stimuli are so overwhelming that a child sits ‘in his bubble’ to escape and thus slows down the process.
Yet it is essential that it happens: without sensory integration you remain in a childish phase where you cannot oversee the world and you remain dependent on others. In addition, it affects your well-being because you spend your life in a cacophony of stimuli. You no longer hear, so to speak, because of what you see and smell.
Sensory integration is necessary, but must be done with respect for the person. This means that everyone’s accents and boundaries are different. It should be done gradually and is part of the grounding process. For example, offer the child (which will usually be the case) many different activities and textures.
Rest is important here. If too many senses are stimulated at the same time, the brain cannot process it and no ‘neuron pathways’ are created for what you are doing. Learning a new skill will not go well with eg the radio on.
Sensory integration can go well with the stimulation of motor skills in the form of manual labor or gardening (I cannot emphasize enough how grounding and healing gardening is! Just about more than walking in nature). Keep in mind what your child can chew: If it rigorously applies the brakes, you are probably cramming too many stimuli into it. The child is leading, not your end goal.
The child has to deal with it all, not you. Help with naming sensory impressions: what do you see, smell, feel. It is important that they consciously learn to distinguish what comes in and to determine whether that is pleasant or annoying. When someone with autism is constantly confronted with a nuisance stimulus, the waking consciousness disconnects from the environment, so that he is no longer consciously perceived.
However, the stimulus does enter the brain and can cause overstimulation, even if it is not consciously perceived! In the case of autism, sensory integration means that you have to consciously manage your brain where that comes naturally with neurotypical people. It can be learned, but will never be taken for granted and it continues to consume energy. Do not forget that.
Tactile Hypersensitivityis one of the main characteristics of autism. People on the spectrum don’t like to be touched, stiffen with a hug or a kiss, suffer from clothing chafing and can have an aversion to certain textures.
In general, sensory hypersensitivity is greatest during childhood and decreases with age: people with autism become more ‘sensory integrated’ with age. Stimuli come in (slightly) less hard and are therefore less experienced as unbearable.
Social conditioning can also play a role in this: a child, adolescent or adult learns that it is not appropriate to turn your head with your eyes closed when your aunt wants to kiss you and that you have to undergo it, whatever you think about it. It is not said that the aversion is less, it just isn’t shown. Society then thinks that that person has learned to behave. I believe that he has learned to deny his own feelings and allows a (for him) violent invasion of his personal sphere for the sake of peace.
People with autism are not necessarily prudes; it’s not that they refuse touch because they’re ashamed of their physicality, though they’re usually not comfortable with it either. The touch and energetic intent of another enters in such a pervasive way that it makes them crawl into their shell. The tragic thing about this is that touch is indispensable for grounding in childhood. Being touched stimulates the production of oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’.
This ensures that we become more caring and seek even more physical contact. It’s a chicken or the egg question: do people with autism not want to be touched because they are so sensitive, or are they sensory sensitive because they are not touched? It reinforces each other. It not only inhibits the grounding process, but also reduces social interaction.
Chronically low oxytocin levels also predispose people to depression. It is the downward spiral of many adults with autism: No touch = lessoxytocin= less contact = depression = even less contact = even less oxytocin = more depression and loneliness. It is often thought that people with autism do not like touch, but nothing could be further from the truth. They need it as much as anyone else, but the ‘bandwidth’ in which they can receive it is narrow.
This lack of contact and skin hunger can cause chronic and desperate loneliness later in life, which in turn leads to internet addictions for lack of better, alcohol problems, compulsive masturbation or visits to prostitutes. They would really rather have it different, but don’t know how. Sometimes they develop close bonds with pets or have platonic friendships with the opposite sex. It’s at least some love in your life, but it doesn’t fulfill your need for intimacy.
Tactile hypersensitivity is therefore not a characteristic of people with autism! It is a developmental block that, if ignored, has a major impact on their well-being and social contacts (or rather the lack of them) later in life.
deep pressure autism
“deep pressure” is sometimes a necessity like water and oxygen is
When treating tactile hypersensitivity, it is good to know that a firm touch is better tolerated by people with autism than a soft, ‘tickling’ one. They would rather be held tight than caressed and kissed.
They need ‘to be on their own’ after ‘to be intensely together’. Absorbed into the energy field of another, however nice that is, after a while they no longer know how to distinguish mine and thine and then they become restless. Rather a big ‘bear hug’ with a big pack in which you put all your love than cuddling on your lap for fifteen minutes.
Even pressure applied all over the body soothes, comforts and calms. Temple Grandin has designed herself a pressure device to reduce her tactile sensitivity. We don’t all have to be able to do that: cushions from the sofa (see photo above) are also sufficient. Sleeping under heavy, thick blankets, pressure massage, bear hugs if tolerated, it’s all fine.
Very often children with autism look for solutions themselves: crawling into the closet, lying under blankets, leaning against the wall or the table. Don’t get annoyed by what he/she does, but ask yourself why, what need it fulfills and how you can meet it.
Here are some options for sensory integration and tactile habituation:
Gardening!!!!! Literally sitting with your hands in the soil, weeding, weeding, hoeing. An allotment garden or neighborhood vegetable garden project also provides many social contacts with like-minded people.
Crafts and crafts. Let it be real manual dexterity, probably they can do incredible things on the computer but they don’t train their physical skills with that.
Hugging or wrapping in rags and cloths, massages, games such as twister, wrestling, frolicking, martial arts, dancing, trampolining Working with gross motor skills: moving furniture, mowing the grass with a hand mower, doing odd jobs around the house
Walking barefoot through the grass (very grounding but be careful with this: the soles of the feet are very sensitive and contain many reflex points and energy nodes. You can overstimulate yourself insanely through the soles of your feet!). You can also just lie down on the grass.
Clay, play with mud, bake cookies, knead bread dough, give massages, groom horses.
Pet animals. For children with autism, this can be the beginning of experiencing reciprocity and intimacy. Above all, rely on your own individual preferences. Guinea pigs and rabbits are often favorites, but you might be crazy about snakes or tropical spiders. Working with horses and dolphins can also ground.
variety-grandin AutismDo you notice that these are mainly basic things that you can easily incorporate into your daily activities? Above all, it should be fun. Children and adults with autism are confronted all day long with things that they are not good at. If you are also dragged to the therapist in your spare time, you no longer feel like a human being, but a walking autism case.
Temple Grandin ‘s approach of pushing the boundaries of the comfort zone and constantly pushing it is also mine. Children with autism are often jealously kept away from anything that takes them out of their comfort zone. But they can’t grow like that! Cultivating an attitude of ‘I can’t because he has autism’ is ultimately crippling.
There will always be things that are going to be difficult, if at all. But at least you have fully utilized the possibilities that are available, and you have established experimentally that something that doesn’t work, really doesn’t work.
You will notice that it will take quite a bit of attention, time and energy to guide your child or yourself through all those developments. Try not to fall into the trap of labeling that as “therapy” or “healing.” It is what you or your child needs to ground. You are not disturbed, you have different needs, you start a little slower.
William Stillmann has an anecdote: he accompanies parents and advised the parents of a child with autism to go swimming a lot with their child to train coordination and muscles, to be busy and above all to have fun as a family and have some fun. to divert attention from what is not going so well. The parents asked him whether this ‘aqua therapy’ would be reimbursed by their health insurer. Stillmann was perplexed. “Aqua therapy? Who’s talking about therapy? Just swim!”.
All of these activities partially overlap with motor and emotional integration. You can bring all of this together under the heading of ‘grounding’ or grounding: Making body and mind one whole. The body becomes more and more the tool of the mind and physical (sensory) experiences are able to fulfill and inspire the mind. You are ‘taken out of your head’, wherever you get stuck in (perhaps beautiful!) spiritual experiences, but which you cannot transfer into the material world, so that you are also unable to enrich the world with your ideas and the ‘world in your head’.
Guides for neurotypicals
‘It doesn’t work’ does not mean: ‘He can’t do it’, but ‘the right conditions are not there’
Try to figure out where a preoccupation is nourishing and stimulating the possibilities and knowledge and where it is stuck in a fixation.
Try to figure out the ‘need of the soul’ behind a preoccupation and meet it
Do your very best to overcome the tactile hypersensitivity and be able to cuddle daily. They benefit from this for the rest of their lives.
Guidelines for people with autism
Do not give up. Try to learn what you really want to be able to do.
Whatever your life circumstances, do as much as possible what makes you happy
Hug! Practice ‘self-medication’ in the form of pressure, breathing exercises
If touch is really difficult, at least find social contact, a social network and someone to talk to