Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Potency Of Autistic Emotions

Hello, everyone.  It's been almost two months since my last post, and for that, I apologize.  Offline writing has required more attention, and a great deal has been going on in my social sphere, particularly in regards to people not in my immediate family-- the few friends that I interact with on a frequent basis.

Speaking of which, that could readily tie-in with the subject of this post: that, of the potency of autistic emotions.  Contrary to the common cultural depiction of autism as being a condition that inhibits one's ability to feel human emotions in a profound manner, all-too often, many autistic people feel far too many emotions, because there is so much to intake in this World (to learn more about this phenomenon, read about the Markram Intense World Theory of Autism.)

The past month-and-a half has been a rollercoaster for me in regards to my emotional state.  For the most part, I was so joyful that I found it difficult to focus (a byproduct of excessive coffee consumption), flapping my hands with such feverish ecstasy, at times, even softly squealing a little bit.  But, of course, life has not been entirely kind to me since I last posted on here, as I have stated in the first paragraph (when is life ever consistently kind to most individuals?), and there have been some days when despair hit me.  And when despair hit me, it hit me hard.  Those happy flaps and squeals became flaps of futile attempts to distract myself from the searing pain deep in the crevices of my soul.  They became anxious flaps of fear, fear of an uncertain future, of things that I cannot ascertain, things that I cannot ascertain that are nothing short of disconcerting to me.  And, just a few days later, after pulling myself out of the darkness of overthinking on matters that do not, per se, require immediate attention, again did I flap happily, squeal slightly, hum, giggle and roar with laughter

Yet, even in my happiness, I struggled to fully comprehend what I was feeling.  Even in my despair, did flickering sparks of joy tease.  Many more times, I did not know what I was feeling at all.  

This is where the currently unrecognized condition known as alexithymia comes into play.  Many autistic people report possessing this condition, marked by an inability to identify one's emotions, articulate and express these emotions, and discern between emotions simultaneously occurring at once.  Though alexithymia is reported to affect about 10% of the non-autistic population, an estimated half of all autistic people also have alexithymia, as this one study on moral acceptability shows in its abstract.  

I am sure that anyone reading this has read, at least once, the June 2016 article on autism and alexithymia from the Scientific American's Spectrum magazine on autism research entitled, "People With Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy." (I will not link to it, because I personally find it ludicrous that such an article exists, as if it were not obvious that we, too, are human beings subject to feelings, no matter how they are expressed.) How is such a notion groundbreaking, I beg to know?  Ever since the deeply-flawed research of Simon Baron-Cohen and his associates in the 1980's was published and univerally accepted as fact by most professionals who work with autistics and by society at large, there has been what appears to be an ingrained prejudice regarding autistic people that has affected the manner in which we are treated and in which our lives and experiences are discussed.  Autistic people, our families, and our allies and friends have been fighting against this dangerous assumption for decades, and it has not even been acknowledged until earlier this year that, "Hey, maybe autistics do feel emotions; maybe they do have empathy for other people."

 I am only one autistic person, so I cannot speak for all of us, but from my own experience, I have been able to sit down with fellow human beings and literally ache to help them with whatever vices were plauging their lives at that time.  It would be inappropriate for me to go into specifics in order to protect identities, but I have lost sleep ensuring that those who struggle live to see the next day, that those who have been harmed know what resources are at their disposal in order to seek justice for actions taken against them, that the working class in my community have something to eat, that small children have access to educational materials that they may otherwise not receive in the education system.  Tears have been shed for so many people on my end, that I have struggled to care for myself with the knowledge that others were enduring situations that I could not provide an easy fix to, if I could intervene at all.  In my opinion, that is what a wicked state of profound love for others does to an individual, as unhealthy as some of what had happened on my end often can be.  The overwhelming care for others and for what they feel can overflow to a point where I nearly drown myself-- and that, is what causes for me to appear distant.
When I am happy, this happiness is often, as I have stated above, ecstatic, full of such exuberant energy that it seems as if I cannot calm myself, a feeling that fills my heart with such joy and is one that I adore.  When I am in despair, the darkness envelopes over my head before it feels as if it is consuming my entire body.  Love, when I feel it, I feel it roughly, and become frantic when the recipient of this love is in pain.  Anger, anger is a burning fume, one that usually is suppressed to a point where which is passes, but when is unleashed, can wreck catastrophic consequences upon myself.  I do not hate, but disdain for an individual or for an idea can run deeply into me and can be a disdain that I meditate upon for a time prior to fully articulating it.

It is crucial to remember-- and store it somewhere in the deepest recesses of your consciousness-- that a part of presuming the competence of autistic people is to remind yourself that just because one's emotions may be expressed atypically, does not mean that they do not exist.  Parents of young autistic children may lament over the fact that their child does not explicitly tell them, "I love you," or proffer affection with physical contact such as kisses and hugs, but it is dangerous to assume that simply because it is not expressed through neurotypical social "norms," that it is not there at all.  In all frankness?  It is better that your child first learns to be able to express their pain, their frustration, their happiness, and so much more, before expressing what you want to hear.

I remember being an autistic five-year-old girl.  Though I had an extraordinary vocabulary for a child at that age, I still, as sensitive as ever, would cry tears of perplexion and of frustration when I could not appropriately express these emotions.  Coping skills naturally developed as I aged, but some autistic children may need guidance in developing these coping skills, which could possibly arise via a mentoring program involving interaction with older, more experienced autistic people (a topic for an entirely different post).  These tears may not have been those of a non-autistic five-year-old, but they were still my form of communicating what I did not at the time possess language to do.  

 Because, as I have stated in the eighth paragraph, emotions are profound, they are messy, and while they can be suppressed for some time, that only does damage to my psyche.