Meltdowns - Reduce them in the ones you love. #5
# 5) Listen. (watch, notice)
We are trying to communicate with you.
When we say it hurts, STOP. Then try to find out what we mean. DO NOT KEEP DOING IT.
When we jump up and down, tears streaming down our faces, we are NOT trying to guilt you into anything. A very large segment of the autistic population does not even think about other people during times of stress, much less how to manipulate them. No, your child/student/friend probably is NOT one of the ones that does.
Flapping hands (the voluntary kind - involuntary will be in another post) is often communication. Sometimes it just feels good, other times it says “I’m so happy and excited”, other times it says “I’m freaking out, help!” We rely on you to help us tell you which we mean. IGNORING US IS NOT HELPING. Tying our hands down doesn’t encourage much communication, either, oddly enough.
Something that I have observed but I don’t know if it always applies - autistic people often expect words to mean the same thing every time we use them. When we say “no”, we expect it to always mean no. So when you ask “you’ll eat some spinach for me, won’t you?” and we say “no” and you put spinach on our plate you have just confused the hell out of us. When we are confused we are insecure. When we are insecure, we are stressed. When we are stressed we have meltdowns. Don’t do that.
I know in the above example the question was really intended to be a statement telling us to eat the spinach. That is confusing. We know the difference between a question and a statement, we expect you to as well. See previous paragraph about confusion.
When we pull our feet away from the sock/shoe, unless we are giggling, you can probably assume we don’t want it. Yup, really. There are people who actually don’t like wearing them. There are also autistics that can’t stand to walk barefoot. Do you know which one yours is? Next time you are helping them get dressed, pay attention to how they react to the clothes.
Do not assume we have words for everything. I have no mouth noises, my words are in text and sign. However, I don’t always have words there, either. Just because I am not signing/writing does not mean I have nothing to say. Watch my behavior - stomping my feet is NOT how I say I’m happy to be going to the store. Punching your chest and biting at your face does not mean I want to be held closer.
Giggling does not always mean happy. Does your child / student / friend ’s? Are you sure? Have you asked how they are feeling when they do it? For many people, not just autistics, there is a giggle reflex that comes from being extremely nervous/uncomfortable. Some even giggle when very upset. Find out which your child / student / friend means, don’t assume.
No, you can’t “see it in their face”. Baby could play championship poker and win - her face has never expressed an emotion (to the point that many muscles are atrophied so she couldn’t even if she suddenly figured out how). I’m told my face looks the same when I am in extreme pain and when I’m extremely happy. A friend who tries to pass as nonautistic always looks constipated when trying to smile. You can’t “read” our faces until you learn what we really mean FIRST.
You may think you know your child / student / friend really well. Try deliberately paying attention again, asking questions again, and see if you really do. Be honest with yourself, don’t ignore the responses just so you tell yourself you were right - consider it a chance to be even closer to the ones you love.