Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not a fun subject

A lot of misunderstanding and myths surround autism in general, don't you think? Genetics. Diets. Treatments. Number of hours of therapy. Intelligence and testing of such.

I think that one highly misunderstood topic is that of violence, either against self or others. Although it's not an across-the-board thing (as in, it's not as if every person on the spectrum is violent in some way, by any means), it's definitely more common among those with ASDs than it is among those without.

I was always a biter. I would bite the back of my hands when I got upset or overwhelmed as young as 2 years old. I even have dreams about biting other people (I had one last night!) in anger. While biting to the point of injury has long since stopped, I still have a marked tendency to "chew" on my hands when I'm nervous.

Personally, my lashing out at other people stopped around age 10-12. I would hit, bite, and push other people when my emotions got out of control. I wish I could say that I got better control over myself and that the problem was solved, but that's not the case. Just about the time my violence toward others ended, the self-inflicted injury picked up.

Therapists called it a lot of different things. Anxiety. Borderline personality disorder. Pre-cursor to full-blown schizophrenia. Everyone had an opinion.

But it wasn't just when I was anxious, and it wasn't a plea for attention by any means, and I certainly didn't have any of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia (just the flat affect, flat tone of voice, and lack of eye contact). Basically, it was all just missing the ASD.

So I thought I'd clear things up once and for all. Why do I hurt myself and (once upon a time) other people? What's going through my head? What can be done to stop it?

Why? Because my emotions are beyond my ability to express them. This can be anxiety, nervousness, (I'm bad at this...)... uh... anger, I guess, frustration, and I'm not sure what else. Naming emotions is not my strong suit.

What's going through my head? White. I get white in my head. As in, no thoughts, no words, no organization... just white and twisted and crying. I'm a cryer. Also, fix it. I've long ago learned that I have a tendency to hurt, and so now, in an attempt to avoid that, I want to fix it quicky as possible. Fix whatever is making me upset. That's easier said than done, because I sometimes don't know what's upsetting me, or other times whatever it is isn't fixable.

What can be done to stop it? Holding the cat works wonders, but at my worst, I get afraid that I'll hurt her, and that scares me to death. I have fairly significant OCD... namely in the form of intrusive thoughts about hurting other people, things I know I'd never do. I also think of the worst thing I could say/do in given situations. These intrusive thoughts are upsetting, but the best thing to do is to infact hold the cat and show myself that I won't hurt her.

Help with my words helps a lot, too. Usually, if I can find a way to express whatever it is that's bothering me, why, and how I'm feeling, then the urge to hurt significantly diminishes. But I need help to do this, sort of a step-by-step guide and answering concrete questions in order to label my emotions.

Reminders that I'm okay, that it will pass, that hurting is not an option (all Magic Words) helps, too. I usually can't come up with these on my own, but Leigh is good at reminding me, and that goes a lot way.

So, I don't know what else to say on the subject, but if you have any questions I'm happy to try to answer them. Either leave a comment or email me (autisticspeaks@gmail.com) and I'll see what I can do.


  1. Thank you for the insider's perspective. My daughter is going through a rough transition right now (starting kindergarten) and there's been a lot of biting of self and staff. And mama - ouch. Alas, I'm allergic to cats, so that option isn't open to her/us...

  2. Thanks for the insight, Lydia! My little guy is somewhat of a biter. He's tends to chew on his hands now more than actually biting, but he still bites on occasion. I love reading your blog and getting an insider's view.