Trauma & Autism

Studies confirm that people who are Autistic often respond to stimuli more intensely than those who are not.  Hypo and hyper sensitivities are often discussed when it comes to vision, taste, hearing, smell and touch in Autistic people.  Often there is a mixture of both hyper and hypo sensitivities in any one person.  (I use these terms because we have a lack of good words to describe these things.  Both hyper and hypo sensitivities are subjective and are used in comparison to non autistic people, which is problematic in and of itself, but for the sake of this post, it is the best language I have.)  What happens to a person who experiences the world more intensely than the majority of people, particularly when confronted with frightening situations, anger, loud noises, etc?

Recent studies have confirmed that children with autism have very active Amygdalas; the center of the brain that stores traumatic events.” Traumatizing Events and Autism

When Emma was just two, we went to visit my mother, the proud owner of an adorable German Shepherd puppy.  Emma had no fear of dogs, but during that visit, the puppy playfully chased Emma, nipping at her ankles and Emma began to scream in terror.  By the time I was able to rescue her, hoisting her up in the air and away from the puppy’s sharp little teeth, the damage had been done.  To this day, Emma is frightened of dogs and upon seeing one that gets too close, she will cry, “Mommy pick me up!”  Despite the fact that Emma is now much older, the trauma is real and intensely felt.  For years I couldn’t understand how something so (seemingly) benign could cause her such incredible, and to me anyway, over-the-top terror.  I continued to believe this was a fear she would “outgrow” and that it was only a matter of time before she did so.  But so far, her fear, while not as extreme as it once was, is very much intact.

I am on a family picnic.  My parents pull out a french baguette, an imported pâté, a coveted gift from my father’s sister who lives in Paris, and some Swiss chocolate.  I am hungry and excited as pâté and chocolate are two of my favorite things to eat.  On the way home I begin to feel sick.  By the time we return home, I am vomiting and have the flu, but associate the feeling of nausea with the pâté.   It is almost two decades before I can stand the smell of pâté, let alone taste it without gagging.

These are both relatively benign examples of sensory issues intersecting with memory and causing longer term associations, but what about intense trauma such as physical and emotional traumas?  What about the time when the ABA therapist locked Emma, who was only three years old, in her room for 30 minutes, instructing me to stay out or he would pull all our services, while she screamed and begged to be let out?  I know how traumatized I was and continue to be because of those 30 minutes, what about Emma’s experience?  Did this cause untold damage?  Did Emma experience the degree of trauma that I did?  Is her experience even more profound?  What about how she experienced her own mother not saving her from such a person?  How has she integrated these events into her life experience?  Is it felt as the ultimate betrayal?  How will it manifest in the future?

These are the things I think about.  Not because I am intent on beating myself up, but because these are things that happened and I don’t think any of us are served by NOT talking about them.  These are the kinds of dilemmas many parents have experienced.  These are the questions so many of us have. Questions that are, as yet, unanswered.  We have to ask ourselves when we are considering a methodology and those who will come into contact with our children, are they going to be respectful and kind?  Does this methodology presume competence, is it respectful of my child?  Will the person be patient? Will they treat our children as inferior because they see autism as an inferior neurology and one that needs to be “trained” away?

What does trauma do to the brain?

“Severe or repeated trauma can re-route emergency systems that are meant to be used only occasionally, and leaves them active, like a switch stuck in the “on” position. This can shrink or damage the part of the brain that thinks and plans, and potentially damages the brain’s ability to feel love and safety in the presence of others.

“To deal with this pain and stress, the individual may become more rigid and inflexible in his or her thinking and develop tunnel vision and selective listening. Over time to compensate for the damage done to the short term memory and ability to sequence by continued exposure to our fight or flight response, or allostasis, the individual may develop rituals, become rigid and controlling or “oppositional”, shut down, withdraw, rage, retreat into a special place, or become over-involved in things that help the individual to escape.” ~ Autism and Trauma:  Calming Anxious Brains 

It is tragic that the very methods a traumatized Autistic person may use to calm themselves from the trauma they’ve experienced, are often the very things those who are not Autistic pinpoint as “behaviors” or actions that must be stopped.   Not only is the person trying as best they can to deal with the initial traumatic event(s), but they are often being punished and told to stop using the only ways they know of that actually help them cope, thus creating further trauma.

Traumatic events often occur during developmentally vulnerable stages in the individual’s life, and in this process become intertwined with the child’s bio- psychosocial development. How easy it would be to dismiss this in a child with an ASD, who by definition is struggling with development of a sense of self, and is uncomfortable in an alien world, even prior to repeated exposure to trauma.” ~  Commentary: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Implications for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders—Part II 

Trauma, in relation to autism, is something I wish I’d heard about during those first few years so that I might have made better and different choices for my daughter.  Those I know who are Autistic talk about their trauma often, yet there is very little written about trauma in relation to autism in the general conversations currently going on.  This must change.

Em with the dogs

60 responses to “Trauma & Autism

  1. When I try and explain why my ASD causes me stress and mental health difficulties I always describe it as like have constant Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Really enjoyed reading this, thank you =]

    • I hate that you have stress and related mental health issues! So many of my friends have PTSD as a direct result from the things that were done to them as children.

    • I have PTSD. Unless you have it too, describing yourself as having it is incredibly appropriative and dismissive of those of us who do. It’s not something you can just casually claim as your own simply because you can relate to certain aspects of it.

      • The point I was making was that because people with Autism are more susceptible to stressors PTSDs are more common and possibly occur from lesser stresses. There’s a lot of research on it at the moment.

  2. Huge, Ariane. Outstanding post. You are looking with brave clarity at an important aspect of being autistic. Certainly, you cannot protect your child from all trauma, and, as you stated so well, real, long lasting, trauma can come from seemingly insignificant events. I know deep trauma events both large and small, and consider myself extremely capable in handling the long term effect. They are there, and I must face them. I try to realize that there is the psychological and neurological aspects of what has happened. I cannot change my sensitive nature, but I can realize I am strong enough to face life’s traumas and survive. The best thing I have learned is to objectify, that is, step out of myself and view myself objectively. As an example, I had something happen that involved a cinderblock wall. I was seventeen. Even all these years later, I can quite viscerally react to a similar wall, even though the emotion and fear are quite resolved. Pulling out of myself, and seeing that it is more a neurological reaction, allows me to use my strong mindset to accept it for what it is and work through it. I have learned to laugh at myself, or enjoy a good cry, if needed.
    Understanding sensory processing, in my opinion, should be the priority in working with autistic people. I always see sensory disorder listed second or third in signs of autism, but it almost IS autism, with all other characteristics stemming from that. I am no expert. I am but one autistic woman.
    Gentle, happy, loving access to the things I love, and explanations of what I am amiss in, along with the freedom and acceptance to shine as I am, are what consistently has allowed me to live my best life. Is that all that different from everyone else? It is the saddest of realities that we traumatize our most sensitive in the effort to help them.
    Autistic friends, believe in your potential. Autistic parents, marvel and tell your children, daily, “You can do anything! ” ❤❤❤

    • Dearest Chou Chou – “It is the saddest of realities that we traumatize our most sensitive in the effort to help them.” Yes! I couldn’t agree more. I think with more people talking about this, particularly from a first person point-of-view, more people will begin to realize just how destructive many of the things that are being done, in an attempt to ‘help’, really are. Sending you love. PS Will respond to your email! ❤

  3. Oh, Ariane, yes.

    This is why I HATE when something traumatic happens to my girl and people shrug and say, “Don’t worry; she’ll NEVER remember it,” or, “Oh, these things are always harder for the parents than the kids; she’ll forget about it by dinnertime.”

    No. No she won’t. My child remembers EVERYTHING and the associations are set in stone from moment one.

    Is she working her way through some of her previously debilitating fears? Absolutely. Is it because she’s forgetting the experiences that created them? Uh, no. It’s because she’s strong and resilient and brilliant and creative and determined not to let them stop her.

    And Chou Chou –

    “Autistic friends, believe in your potential. Autistic parents, marvel and tell your children, daily, “You can do anything!”

    A thousand times, yes.

    Thank you.

    • *Nodding* It really is as though etched in stone. This is also our experience and what we’ve witnessed too. And it breaks my heart. Hoping to counter at least some of that with an abundance of love and positive experiences!

  4. Oh Emma honey I want to save her from that therapist. You don’t shut kids in rooms. (and, one of the reasons I respect you so much is bc you know when you made a mistake and you don’t bury it. I know it’s hard but I do appreciate that you don’t sugar coat or bury things, especially oh so common things)

    Anecdata suggests that the rate of PTSD in Autistic people is hovering at…nearly 100%. Between our highly attuned senses, our ready to roll amygdalas, and treatment/”kids don’t remember” it’s easy to see why.

    • 💕Kassiane💕 Thanks so much for this. You cannot know how much I wish I’d known you back then.

      • Ariane please do not feel guilty. The only one who should hold any guilt is the so called “therapist” who would abuse a three year old child like that. I would never let any therapist do that to my child, but not because I am a better mother – but because I have been abused by more than one so called “therapist” and suffer from extreme PTSD as a result. My first bad experience with a therapist was at the age of 12, and while not what I’d call “abusive” (he simply was an ignorant, arrogant fool who happened to my mother’s treating doctor at the time, who diagnosed my mother as delusional, but accepted her delusions about her children as real and as a result, verbally attacked my ten year old brother and I to “help” her), the reality is, that at the tender age of 12, I realised just because someone has the title of MD at the end of their name, doesn’t mean they have the first clue what they are doing.

        The reality is though, unless someone has come across incompetent doctors and “therapists”, we live in a society where medical professionals are seen as God-like.Over the last few centuries, terrible atrocities have been committed by doctors because society as a whole trusted them. You are not at fault – you are a victim too. I’m sure if you could go back in time, you would tell that “therapist” where he could go stick his “treatment”.

        While not quite the same, I know what it’s like to witness something terrible and abusive done in the name of “treatment” by a “therapist”. For me, it was at my place of work, and left me so traumatised that I had a breakdown and ended up quitting my job. That was nearly 2 years ago. Even though I’ve been looking into applying to get my old job back for the last 6 months, the reality is, I will be haunted for life over why didn’t I do something at the time. My head knows why – I dissociated at the time because I was so badly traumatised by medical abuse in my past that when witnessing a doctor commit abuse, I froze and basically had an out of body experience. But that doesn’t stop me from being haunted by it and the guilt over not doing something.

        Please don’t let yourself feel guilty over what happened those years ago yourself. You trusted a therapist – you had no reason not to. They convinced you it was for your child’s best. You couldn’t have known better at the time. The important thing is, despite feeling bad about it, you speak up about it, you make sure that others know about it so it doesn’t happen to their child. You cannot change the past, but you are doing a great job of changing the future. Thank you for sharing what you did. It can’t have been easy.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful post. It’s beautifully written but a hard read. Almost four years ago, while on honeymoon in fact, my then 18 month old autistic son, my husband and I were in a near fatal car crash. We adults were badly hurt but the pwd escaped with minor bruises thanks to his car seat.
    My boy was always very attached to me but the two week separation while his daddy and I recovered in hospital at the other end of the country changed our mother and son relationship. This intensification and the implications of it are dismissed as “just autism” or “par for the course”. No one has taken the idea of PTSD seriously or believe that autism might amplify its effects.

  6. It infuriates me that this would be said! Of course he must have been completely traumatized. How would ANY child not have been? It’s ridiculous that an autism diagnosis is equated with “unfeeling” or incapable of feeling much of anything, when it is shown over and over that the opposite is true.

  7. “What about the time when the ABA therapist locked Emma, who was only three years old, in her room for 30 minutes, instructing me to stay out or he would pull all our services, while she screamed and begged to be let out? I know how traumatized I was and continue to be because of those 30 minutes, what about Emma’s experience? Did this cause untold damage? Did Emma experience the degree of trauma that I did? Is her experience even more profound? ”

    Thank you Ariane. As always, your post speaks of what so many refuse to address. I have been sickened by some of the things I have witnessed ABA therapists do, in the name of “treatment,” and I know that hysterics and isolation and fear cannot possibly bring about positive change. It’s mind-blowing to consider that so many therapists, and sadly parents, seem to feel that these harsh “therapeutic methods” are the best way to go. I think those that wind up with “compliant” “functional” children as a result of ABA in reality only have terrified, robotic children that are afraid to do anything wrong for fear of the result.

    From your posts and pictures, Emma appears to be a happy, thriving, lovely child and you are clearly a wonderful mom that has done so much for her. I cannot imagine that she will have longstanding effects from what once happened. You have removed what was harming her, and you clearly bring so much light, joy, and respect into her world. I’m not sure if that helps, but i wanted to share that 🙂

  8. Wow — I’m a fan of all your posts, but this one just hit me right between the eyes. I’m processing, but it may make it into a blog post. There’s SO much to unpack here — and so much that is critical for people to understand. Thanks for writing this.

    • Thank you so much Lynne. If you do write a post about this stuff, please be sure to tag me so I’ll be sure to see it and signal boost!
      I am just about a third of the way into your book. Lots of highlighting!

  9. Interesting post. Do you know if Emma has suffered any trauma from that session? I would be surprised if she remembered the specific event, but these things stay in our psychie (sp.). I never thought about autistics being more prone to PTSD because of their heightened sensory systems, but it makes sense. I heard somewhere (I don’t know) that autistics have a resting heart rate that is 10 beats faster than NTs. If this is true, it would support the idea that autistics are more prone to fight, flight or flee. They are just “closer” to the thereshold already.
    And of course, I have to defend my kiddo’s ABA. It must be really different than what other people are talking about. When he was 3 his ABA therapy looked exactly like…play. He had several girls come in during the week (one at a time) to play with him (and his NT sister). In the living room. Where I saw every last thing that went on. And joined in the fun. He is 4 now and still thinks it’s fun (as does his sister). I personally think of his therapists as a kind of “mother’s helpers”. They come in and play with the kids and keep them engaged which frees me up to do some household stuff. No sitting at a table locked in a room working for bits of food here!

    • Emma remembers things that happened before she turned two, and not just things that happened to her, but things that happened to all of us. I would be more surprised if she didn’t remember it. But it is interesting that she does not talk about that particular session (I do. I still feel physically ill when I even think about it), whereas she will talk about the time I put her on a strict GFCF diet and threw a loaf of her favorite bread in the trash. THAT traumatized her, and I really mean that and take it very seriously, it was a massive betrayal to her trusting me. She still asks for reassurance that I will never to that again, which I do. I tell her and will continue to promise her that I will never, ever mess with her food again.
      As far as being more prone to PTSD, I think there are a couple of factors in play here, one is the heightened sensory issues, or as Drs. Henry and Kamilla Markram discuss in their Intense World Theory of Autism – – an amplification of fear and memory, but there also we use far more invasive “treatments” with children who are Autistic than we do in the general population. Many of these treatments would cause trauma in ANY child, but are particularly damaging to those whose heightened response to pain and fear are already present.

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  11. There was a study a few years ago that contrasted Autistics’ and NTs’ responses to questions about the moral culpability of people with no malicious intent whose actions, in a variety of hypothetical situations, ended up causing harm to others. The Autistics were generally more harshly judgmental of these unintentionally-harmful people, while the NTs judged them more leniently. Of course, the study was written in the most Autism-pathologizing way possible, claiming that the Autistics didn’t UNDERSTAND that the characters were well-meaning (nevermind that the degree to which good intentions mitigate harmful actions is a very contentious issue among NTs, too; it comes up in many criminal and civil trials, for instance).

    My reaction (aside from the ridiculousness of the whole Autistics-just-don’t-understand thing) was that it might not be an Autism issue at all. TRAUMATIZED people are generally less reassured by good intentions. Abuse survivors are less reassured by good intentions. People who have a long history of BEING HARMED by well-intentioned people are generally going to be less reassured by good intentions.

    Now, maybe there’s a neurological difference too. Maybe aside from those factors, Autistics are still more harshly judgmental in that way. But I know that I can’t think about questions of whether good intentions should mitigate moral culpability without thinking about the things that were done to me “for my own good,” and the things that were done to all of the psychiatric survivors, medical abuse survivors, child abuse survivors, special ed survivors, guardianship survivors, birth rape survivors, and all of the other “beneficiaries” of well-meaning caregivers’ beliefs of “it’s for your own good,” “he’ll thank us when he’s older,” “it’s what’s best for her,” “better to get forgiveness than permission,” “it’s the right thing to do.” How could I separate that from my judgment?

    However, I can’t agree with anything that casts traumatized people as “damaged” or “broken” or “needing to be fixed.” A changed brain is not a damaged brain, any more than an atypical brain is an inferior brain. Neurodiversity is for trauma survivors, too. Especially since most of the popular methods of “fixing” it (trauma processing therapy) are often traumatic in their own right, especially when performed on children. In coming to terms with my own traumatic experiences, it was really helpful for me to think about how a strong trauma response was a powerful evolutionary advantage for our ancestors. If surviving being attacked by a bear DIDN’T leave you with a strong fear of bears, that didn’t make you “well-adjusted”; it made you potential bear food. It’s okay that I’m terrified of being locked up. That just means my danger-retention senses are working properly. It’s okay that Emma is afraid of dogs. She’s learned that dogs can be scary. Maybe, eventually, after she goes a very long time without any more bad experiences with dogs, that will fade away. But if it doesn’t, isn’t that a sign that she errs on the side of caution? Is that so bad?

    • Interestingly enough, my personal experience has been that Autistic people have tended toward tremendous kindness and compassion regarding the many mistakes I’ve made in parenting my daughter. In many ways, those who are Autistic have been far kinder and more forgiving than non Autistics who may disagree with a specific approach I took.

      It makes sense that someone who has experienced trauma will be more weary and less trusting than someone who hasn’t. So to your point about Emma’s fear of dogs, yes, I agree, the past has shown her that dogs are unpredictable and scary and can hurt you. She may never, particularly like dogs or that may change, either way, I’ll support her.

      • Interesting Ariane because I think I see both. I think people with autism are more forgiving and compassionate about unintentional harm in some areas and less forgiving and understanding in other areas. The results of any particular study may simply just show the bias of the questions asked in that study.

        What I mean is this – it is clear from what I have read of yours so far, that you have a great love for your daughter. You genuinely mean well and want what is best for your daughter. That is probably why autistic people are kind and compassionate to you. Where as other people, who are “well intentioned” aren’t doing things for the sake of the people they are trying to “help” – many people who do things out of “good intentions” are still underneath it all doing it for their own selfish reasons eg what I mean is they may be doing out of a paternalistic, arrogant position of they automatically assume they know what is best for other people – it is about pushing their own ideas of what is best, rather than working with someone to work out what is best. Think of it in terms of how children were once taken from unwed mothers with “good intentions”. I’m sure some of the people who did it genuinely thought they were doing what was best for these children, but the reality is, most never stopped to think about what was best – they just pushed their own moralistic ideas of what was best, and once the child was ripped away from the mother, they never even followed up what happened to the child.

        There is a huge difference between genuine good intentions, and paternalistic “good” intentions.

        And of course, there are always those who appear to act with good intentions when in reality, they are only doing it for their own benefit – think of politicians kissing babies, rich people publicly donating money to charities, people who throw themselves behind causes they couldn’t care less about just so they can say “look at the good I am doing” etc. Of course they mean well, but it’s so fake.

        As an autie, I can say I honestly think we are blessed with the ability to cut to the core of a matter. No messing around irrelevancies. We see the difference between genuine good intentions versus paternalistic “good” intentions and/or attention seeking “good” intentions.

        I think we also have a very strong sense of “restorative justice”. My guess is the study mentioned above focused on whether certain behaviours were acceptable if the person had good intentions. The reality is, good intentions don’t excuse harm and most auties and aspies will say that because we have such a strong sense of justice. BUT what the study probably didn’t look into is what behaviour comes after a harmful behaviour. Too many people in society who accidentally harm others, don’t take any responsibility for what they have done. They shrug it off with a “oh well, I meant well, it doesn’t matter if someone was harmed by it” and don’t do anything to fix the damage they have done – many don’t even apologise, if they even notice the damage at all!

        On the other hand, other people who genuinely mean well, if they end up causing harm even if they had the best intentions in the world, are extremely apologetic and will do anything to fix it. It is these kind of people who us people with autism have great compassion and forgiveness for.

        i hope that makes sense.

        • Ariane: This is a late comment, but I just want to say that you’ve been courageous to shed light on what autism really is. And, to this person’s reply, you were wise not to respond. This is someone who really needs Jesus. Speaking of, I’m hoping our Savior is guiding your family’s day to day, helping you take care of things, no matter what difficulties. … And, Lord, help the elders who were abusive toward a child because the child focused on how light refracted off of silverware! … So many people need church family to talk to, even decades after traumas.

    • On a related note: When people have told me they were doing something “for my own good,” they were almost always doing something that harmed me.

      When people have told me I’ll thank them when I’m older, they’ve uniformly been wrong.

      When people have told me that they made a decision in my best interest, it’s far, far more often in their best convenience.

      And when people have taken the “Better to seek forgiveness than get permission” attitude with me, they find out the hard way just how unforgiving I can be – because if someone’s willing to knowingly do something that I won’t like (as evidenced by the lack of any effort to convince me that it’s a good idea) and completely disregard my wants, needs, and boundaries in such a way, they’re typically the sort of person who will turn around and do the exact same thing as soon as they’ve obtained that forgiveness. That pattern tells me their apologies are lies. I won’t forgive someone who isn’t actually sorry. If they were sorry, they’d learn from it and start asking me rather than continuing to decide major things for me in my absence.

      Which, Ariane, may be the difference with you – you’ve learned from and owned your mistakes, and you prove you’re sorry for them with every blog post you make advocating for other parents not to make those same mistakes. Most people don’t do that.

      • You have written wise words here. Sounds like they came at a certain cost…

        Someone once told me – the difference between an apology and an amends is that an apology is what you say when you accidentally bump into someone, you’re sorry you bumped into them by mistake, but chances are you’ll bump into someone again, because that’s life, especially in a big city! But an amends is when you are sorry and are willing to do everything in your power to change your behavior to ensure it won’t happen again. With my daughter I realized in order for me to stop making many of the mistakes I was making I had to completely change my thinking about her, about her neurology and to shift my behavior so that it coincided with my new thinking.

  12. … for the brain stuff, in light of the fact that high pre-existing stress level, lack of effective support structure, and pre-existing traumas all make you more vulnerable to trauma, I wonder how much of that is innate and how much is acquired due to the environmental factors autistic people face (more isolation, more punishment, more bullying, less support, less acceptance, less safety). I can see the possibility of a positive-feedback loop of bad environment -> more sensitive to trauma -> more things that can cause trauma -> more trauma -> more habits to cope and regulate emotional impact of trauma -> more bullying and behavior modification -> bad environment at play, though I admit I’m no psychology expert.

    On the personal side of things: I’m scared of strange dogs after a similar experience when I was 2, except the dog in question was a small terrier and genuinely was vicious rather than playful. My mom even rescued me from the dog by lifting me up. So that caused me a bit of anxiety yesterday when I first read and then I had to sort out what I was thinking past the anxiety.

    I’ll say this: One bad experience, and I probably have an aversion. Case in point: Caesar salad was my favorite salad until May of this year. Then I got food poisoning off it. Now I can’t eat it at all. The thought makes me nauseous.

    But how much is that due to the fact that I’m naturally more inclined to form associations between things and how much is due to the fact that on the occasions that I haven’t formed a strong “AVOID THING THAT CAUSED BAD EXPERIENCE” reaction, I’ve uniformly come to regret it? Not avoiding kids who started bullying at school led me to be bullied more. Not avoiding playing with how light hit cutlery after my parents smacked my hand for it led me to have my hand sliced open by my father pulling a sharp knife out of my hands. Not avoiding my parents when they were loud usually led me to get smacked. Etc. In my experience, over-reaction to minor negative experiences is safer than under-reaction. Small wonder the associations I form are strong and lasting.

    • ischemgeek you sound like me. For me it was a vicious dog going at me and attacking my favourite teddy that I dropped running away from the dog. I eventually got over my fear of dogs but it took 20 years and I’m still not a fan of them. I also have the same thing with salmon – the funny thing is, I can’t even taste the difference between salmon and tuna, but my body reacts violently to salmon after food poisoning 30 years ago. I’m not “allergic” – I’ve been tested – it’s just some sort of body memory. My mother has often tried to trick me into thinking salmon was tuna (as I said I really can’t taste any difference) but I always react.

  13. Your first paragraph pretty much sums up what a number of articles I’ve read on the topic have concluded.
    It sounds like you have received a great deal of abuse from those who should have cared for you and loved you, but instead betrayed you and hurt you, both physically and emotionally. No child is to blame for the sins (abusive treatment) of their parents. No child. Ever.

  14. Gah. The cat erased my first attempt at a comment, so here’s the second:

    First of all, Ariane, this is a wonderfully informative post, so thank you for this. Going to check into the references you brought up!

    Secondly…. Unlike Emma, I don’t remember much of my childhood (some of which I suspect is repression, at least regarding certain traumatic events, and some of which is probably that my memory, although a steel trap for things I read, write, find out as trivia, and for numbers, is not that good), but most of what I do remember clearly is some of the traumatic events, countered only by one pleasant memory. I do know that I have one repressed memory, of being horrifically bullied in Grade 1, which caused me to avoid wearing skirts for three years, because my mother has told me that I pointed out the girls responsible for it to her at one point (at least a year after the event, and I think closer to five years after the event), the first she’d ever heard of it. But I do know if affected me, and even today (over 3 decades later), I still sometimes feel very uncomfortable wearing skirts.

    As for the study adkyriolexy mentioned, personally (the whole “if you know one autistic” bit) I tend to weigh intentions as well, which makes any efforts at judgement that I make very difficult when it comes to something like that; but I agree with ischemgeek that the reason why even people who might ordinarily judge what you’ve done in the past harshly not do so is that you are owning it, and you are working to alleviate what happened. That counts for a lot. It means that not only are your intentions good, but you’re willing to back them up with action. No cognitive dissonance there! You recognized a mistake, and you worked to change things. That’s what everyone should do. (Three cheers for Ariane! {{{Hugs!}}})

    Once again, an excellent and informative post (and discussion). Thanks!

    🙂 tagAught

  15. Just heard about a new film Restraint and Seclusion … apparently one can watch free online.

  16. Just want to let you know that I agree so wholeheartedly with all the above contributors, this is (another) really important and valuable post. Especially for the relatively ignorant, like me. Thank you!

  17. If a dog chased after me, even playfully, i would be scared of dogs too and I don’t have Autism, just saying.

  18. I have nothing terribly constructive to add, except that I got attacked by an over-zealous German Shepard puppy when I was 3, and it put me off dogs very badly for much of my life. At Emma’s age, if a dog came near me and barked, it was enough to send me curled up into a ball, rocking, as far away from the dog as I could possibly get. Years later, and I can tolerate dogs, even sometimes I can pet them or let them curl up near me if they’re quiet. Slowly meeting and getting to know affectionate cat-like dogs (or older, quiet, well-behaved dogs) really helped me a lot. Especially once the original shock of the “oh no dog!” wore off.

  19. This speaks to me on so many different fronts, my son was offically diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 8, there are so many things i wish i had done differently and had known about when he was much much younger. I have in recent years begun ti wonder about my father, a very ritualistic many, rigid and staunch in every aspect of his life and how this effected me and my reactions to everything (PTSD.) And the further I travel into this journey with my son, I see my husband in so many of the things my son does and I wonder…

  20. Thanks, Ariane. An enormous amount of material here to digest. Like Lynne, I will probably write a blog post of my own to explain my reaction to yours. I have to give it some more thought first.

    This (trauma) is a subject that I have indeed given a lot of thought to over the past few years. I have thought about my own experiences, and have tried to tease out which of my behaviors/attitudes/fears/joys are “autistic” and which are the result of trauma. In the end, that’s impossible, because we are all a product of both our inheritance and our experience.

    I’ve also asked clinicians about this, and their insights have helped me develop a more nuanced way of looking at the role of trauma.

    In my work with neuroexceptional couples, I have often found myself trying to bring some balance into how each partner views behaviors. I find that the neurotypical partner is often quick to dismiss some quirk as being “caused” by autism. And the autistic partner often feels depersonalized by this. For both of them, too much of a focus on “blaming” the autism can result in them both despairing that things will ever get better. To counter this sense of discouragement, I give examples of how I have made significant changes to my behavior.

    There is no question in my mind that I was traumatized as a kid (and as an adult, too!) by constantly being told I was doing things “wrong.” No wonder I had such low self-esteem! It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma, because it may very well be that autistic people are innately more prone to trauma, but it’s also true that we may be targeted by people because we’re different. Those people may be bullies or they may be well-intentioned adults who don’t understand us.

    In the end, it ^ probably doesn’t matter, because the solution is the same. Change what we can and accept what we can’t.

    More anon. And thanks again for focusing us on this very important topic. Already your post has generated much discussion and I’m sure there is lots more to come…

  21. Interesting read. I found this by doing a google search “link between trauma and autism” after I watched an interview with Temple Grandin. She expressed that her primary emotion is fear which got me to thinking that maybe their was a link between. I have read that children may not have signs of Autism until later which also lends itself to being a link. My wife suffers from PTSD and anxiety disorder and she connected very much with how Temple sees life based on the movie of her life. Maybe the spectrum should be looked at broader or maybe defined more. Hope that this is studied more in depth in the future.

  22. Thanks for the article. As someone with who has stated having traumas in my life, this article has helped give me a voice, while not forgetting the many with Autism who cannot speak for themselves x

  23. That ‘aversive’ done by that ABA wretch – that was EXACTLY what he was doing – was a calculated and manipulative ploy done to establish his power: power over your daughter ( if you don’t obey my momentary whim such that I am well pleased, I can – and will – hurt you) and you ( you wish me to help you regain your lost social dominance? Then all shall be as I wish it to be, and that solely because I wish it to be so!)
    Reading that caused a very large flashback, and I felt a degree of rage that I seldom feel outside of such events.
    Society as a whole has neither use nor room for autist (and a great many other types of ‘lesser beings’

  24. continued from previous post:
    The goals of many autistic ‘interventions’ – perhaps most of them? are as follows, in increasing order of ‘truth’:
    1) become indistinguishable from the typical people the ‘failure’ is being compared to.
    2) Since it is not possible to truly cause autists to become ‘normal’ ( that would require a brain transplant, with the resulting death of the autistic person and their replacement by a ‘Normal person) , they can be trained to ‘not bother their Normal superiors’. This mandates a form of living death, one prolonged unto eternity.
    3) Since it is not possible to ‘fix’ autistic people ( make them altogether Normal), they must be caused to self-destruct. This is commonly done by a combination of excessive demands and denial of personhood, such that the autist is in a perpetual state of terror. ( hopefully leading to suicide, premature decrepitude, worsening of ‘symptoms’ leading to further dehumanization, and other life- threatening issues)
    4) The ultimate goal: creation of a willing victim: a true empty shell, an objectified tool that has internalized their status as lesser being; a thing whose sole point in life is that of a magnet for hatred and abuse – in short, the ultimate codependent doormat-scapegoat that worships – by fawning adoring supplication – of Normal people.
    Such a being lives in an earthly hell – which is exactly where society as a whole WANTS them.

    • Dennis: Oh my goodness! You’ve said so very much. Your anger kind of reminds me of Jesus when He rebuked the unrepentant cities. Except you’re using hypherboly to highlight how some narcassistic, unrepentant, medically licensed abusers may see certain people as not having depth of humanity, to the point of not seeing anything wrong with drugging a person into oblivion or otherwise abetting folk who are abusive to us. When, years ago, I was forced into more than one psych unit following a number of sexual assaults, I wound up in situations far more helpless than “safe” shelters. In hospital settings, especially the hospital where I first sought help, abuse was a microcosm of what was (and still is) happening in surrounding communities; and at least three of us were raped in that hospital. And that particular hell was so bad that orderlies didn’t even have an elderly patient examined for repeated feminine bleeding. And, to this day, living through a daily hell in community, there isn’t anything I can do except trust in Jesus. … Whereas you write in hypherboly to express your outrage, our Lord and Savior cursed unrepentant cities (in reality instead of metaphorically), turning the tables on what the unrepentant feel toward victims, saying they’ll be judged instead of the other way around. And He councelled victims to just be patient, to wait for truth, to know that His arm is not too short to rescue those living through hell. … I hope you see this message all these years after you’ve posted to this blog.

  25. Hello,

    I was wondering if there is any guidance or help available for my situation. I had a motor vehicle accident some 4 years ago which has caused a cascade of events. I was given a preliminary diagnosis of adhd and concerta which they kept increasing whilst not providing treatment due to the English boroughs lack of funding and the doctor being a junior who later signed me off as them unable to help further. I was also denied physio due to costs and advised to find my own ways to get me onto track.

    I tried all that was advised but the professionals are in a state of denial they mentioned so. I for some reason would work as many hours available to alleviate the impossibilities in dealing with something no help was available for.

    After breaking causing a lot of damage, self harming and over dosing I was eventually referred to doctors who would know me temporarily to diagnose me and are debating whether I have aspersers or autism, along with ptsd, hypo mania, chronic pain, significant twitches abnormal outbursts and hand movements in times of high anxiety, and last but not least a sleeping disorder. But even still there is no treatment and neither do the doctors know what they do or even stated in prior meetings.

    What I have realised is a steady decline of my individuality to a sorry state of affairs as my hobbies, work life and heath has declined to non-existent. My complete routine has been destroyed, what has not helped was doctors and solicitors stating there being no help or being called a liar or leaving people with trauma to just kill themselves as it is probably more cost effective.

    Its been over 4 coming 5 years and given up hope, I just live in my room just trying to pass the time whilst the doctors state they can’t treat the trauma without treating the ‘Asperger’s’ or vice versa. I do not ‘small talk’ or use what I have learnt through books, movies, and trial and error as I believe a sense of apathy must of developed during the years after the event. My heart always feels stuck in my throat with my stomach churning inside and my belief in ‘professionals’ has turned to aggression.

    Anyhow, if there is anybody else out there with at least methods of coping or a pill or treatment that is ‘cheap enough for England’ I wouldn’t mind hearing as something is better than nothing in my state.

    Thanks in advance,

    Mr Anonymous

  26. Often there is a mixture of both hyper and hypo sensitivities in any one person, and sometimes an affected sense can be both highly sensitive and undersensitive.
    CTFY. You see, sunlight is physically painful to my eyes even in winter, but I can’t get enough artificial light indoors, even fluorescent.

  27. I quite agree no one benefits from not talking about issues such as this. Except maybe folks like the ABA therapist whose authority over what autistics children need and feel goes unchallenged that way. Thank you for empowering the ones whose voice routinely is overheard 😀

  28. Wow, I am basically in tears!
    My youngest son is now 8 years old and non-verbal ASD. He was absolutely ‘normal’ to my knowledge up to age 2, but regressed after this. His older brother passed away when he was two years old (he was 4 and had cancer) and the doctors told me that this traumatic event had no effect on his autism diagnosis!
    We recently learned that he has very high levels of anxiety, so much so that he is unable to ‘learn’ at school. Maybe all the anxiety is a fear that we will go away and not come back.
    Thank you for the post.
    I just wonder what can I do to help my son….

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  30. Great, great post, as always. So on target. Elizabeth had a strikingly similar encounter with a dog. We had to use exposure therapy to get her accustomed to dogs again. We had a group in the Toledo area help us…amazing people who help ASD kids bond with dogs. It was a yearlong process and then some. The kids learn to do agility with the dogs. I never thought Elizabeth would go near a dog again but they worked so patiently with her and now she loves them but she has never forgotten being chased by a dog that should have been tied up. I am still upset to this day about that moment. The trauma lingers for sure. For others here, they should know about Agility Angels. They ought to be national. We miss them now that we are in NC.

  31. Reblogged this on A Journey Into A Unique Mind and commented:
    As some one who has been through horrific trauma and “suffer” from an autistic spectrum condition (sorry, I really don’t like autistic spectrum “disorder”), it’s nice to see that the particular damage done to people with ASC by trauma is at least being recognised by some people.

    God help anyone who ever tries to lock my child in a room screaming for 30 minutes! I’ve been locked in a human cage, and any “professional” who tries to push that on an innocent child is sadistic and cruel and is no “therapist”.

  32. I am working with a 12 year old who, I believe, suffers PTSD over a name-calling incident with kids who are still his classmates. From what I can gather, the incident happened at least two years ago (the other kids don’t even remember it). I believe I am the first one to identify the cause of his behavior as PTSD. The trigger for an episode of shouting, fist-making and aggressive behavior is usually a word about a super-hero and being in visual contact with one of the kids who had originally called my student a name. The other kids don’t even have to say anything; it could be a remark made by someone else. As soon as the trigger is touched, however, my student is immediately transported back to that highly emotional and hurtful time. I am concerned for his safety and the safety of others when he engages in such an outburst.
    My research so far provides just one way to help my student: removal or avoidance of the trigger altogether for a lengthy period of time may help reduce the stress of that memory.
    I am trying to convince the other kids to leave my student alone completely. No eye contact, no handshakes, no playing around together. One boy has stopped and now, when my student sees him, there is often no issue. Another boy continues to try to interact, and almost always, the switch is flipped and my student becomes extremely upset and aggressive.
    I don’t know if there is anything else I can try to help him get through the pain he is experiencing. We talk. We go over positive behavior and self-calming strategies. But they so far do not work as well as simply ending the interaction.
    I guess what really impresses me is that, even seemingly small issues such as an argument or name-calling episode among playmates can end up being a very traumatic situation for someone with ASD. It is hard to educate others about this and to gain their understanding. I see the pain my student feels, however, and it hurts to see how the stress interferes with his social and academic development.

  33. hi, i have child with ASD. when my daughter was diagnosed with ASD, i felt that the world was on me. i had depression especially that we have to deal with adjustment stage living in a new country. there are few times that i scolded my daughter and raised my voice…. and breakdown but i didnt call her names or bit her. it was just my voice. will she suffer from trauma from that?

  34. I have ASD. I also had a sexually abusive dad and an emotionally abusive mother…as a result, I’m 32, but my mental age ranges from 12 to 15 on a normal day. Bad days are where I’m nonverbal and just lie in bed for comfort.

    People tell me I should forgive them, which starts its own trend of despising another person I’ve barely even met. Just seeing my parents, hearing their voices, is enough to drop my body temperature 40*, or that’s the way it feels. My mother is one of the engulfing types. When I’m with her, she -looks- at people almost in a martyristic way, like she can’t believe what I’m saying or why I don’t want to be around her.

    I was lewdly harassed by my father when I was 15. She took his side. And six months later I was raped; a year later I was institutionalized because I couldn’t rationalize that the ongoing rapes weren’t my fault.

    I haven’t trusted either of them since.

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