AUTISTIC NICK AND THE STAFF CHRISTMAS PARTY
Yes, folks it’s that time of the year once again when the obligatory work email is sent out inviting one and all to the annual Christmas festivities organised by someone at work.
And this year was no different.
There is always some over eager person who suddenly remembers that it’s now November and no one has done/booked anything yet for the whole office to enjoy.
They soon remedy this.
They start doing google searches, they make a list of things/venues that we can afford/attend.
They then put this all in an email and ask people to vote on it at work.
The votes close.
The votes are counted.
The results are in.
Drum roll please.
And oh boy were we all in for a treat!
This year we have all been invited to lawn bowls!
Yes, you read that correctly – lawn bowls!
I took a deep breath.
I always have high anxiety around mingling with work colleagues outside of work and this only heightens it for me.
But, I have booked Lorraine my support worker and if I decide not to go I have to give her 3 days’ notice- which is fine.
I probably will attend the event.
I just have to manage my anxiety first.
ANXIETY IN ADULTS
Anxiety in Autistic Adults
Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons and Autistic people can vary in their ability to cope with it.
Understanding your emotions can be difficult.
But by getting help from someone so that you can understand your anxiety, you can then be able to manage it better.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect the mind but it can also directly affect the body as well.
The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked and this can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
Some of the psychological symptoms of anxiety are, easily losing patience, having difficulty concentrating, thinking constantly about the worst outcome, difficulty sleeping and depression.
How do you now manage your anxiety?
Strategies for managing your anxiety
Once you have understood and acknowledged that you have anxiety, the next step is to begin to identify what triggers, and situations are the root cause of your anxiety.
This is where keeping a diary can be an extremely useful tool.
By keeping a diary and writing down exactly how you felt during a certain situation this should enable you to see the following.
What was the trigger?
What was the situation?
The time and the date?
Did I alert someone that I was feeling anxious?
What steps did they take?
What steps did I take?
What did I do to resolve the situation?
What can I do to prevent myself from becoming anxious the next time I am out in a social situation?
How anxious did I feel on a scale from 1-10?
Was I with my carer/support worker or was I with a group of friends?
Have I informed them that I have anxiety, did they know what steps to take?
You can modify the above to best suit your current situation.
The biggest benefit of keeping a diary is that you can use this as a reference tool, and this will assist in you managing your anxiety better.
I next have to manage my sensory overload which will no doubt be slaughtered on the night.
STRATEGIES FOR HOW TO DEAL WITH SENSORY OVERLOAD
1) CREATING ROUTINES FOR STABILITY
Build upon routines and address changes within familiar routines or expectations before they happen.
2) IDENTIFY, DISCUSS, AND WORK ON POTENTIAL SENSORY TRIGGERS IN ADVANCE
Identify potential sensory triggers and discuss expectations for those situations as well as solutions that might be possible. For example, a noisy, crowded shopping mall could be a trigger – expectations could revolve around the time spent there, problem-solving could include negotiating stores differently or discussing an exit-plan.
3) CREATE A TOOLKIT
Prepare for a potentially difficult experience beforehand as much as possible.
Discussing an appropriate way to leave the situation/environment should it become too much.
Problem-solve potential triggers.
Third and fourth I must be alert for the potential that if on the night it’s all too much for me I am prepared for a shutdown and Autistic fatigue.
Shutdowns are when the Autistic person is still experiencing perceived sensory overload to an environmental trigger.
Shutdowns can be defined as a person’s brain going into a protective mode, where it ‘shuts off’ momentarily.
Autistic Individuals experiencing sensory shutdown often appear immobile; they may lay in one
position and not move or blink.
They may not hear their names being called and are unable to respond.
These individuals in the midst of a shutdown often retreat from the outside world, by going inside, or within themselves for comfort, in an effort to self-calm and remove whatever caused their stress.
My emotional reactions to any situation where they are bought to the forefront are that I may become angry, aggressive, and demanding, I could also be very anxious which could lead to me crying a lot, I also might withdraw and become unresponsive, or I may appear very calm: either seemingly unconcerned or totally in control.
My emotions are very up and down by this point.
This leads me onto the cognitive effects from whatever it is that has heightened my emotional senses and is contributing to my emotional state.
These can include the following,
May have a hard time processing information.
May be very confused.
May be unable to express feelings and/or ask questions.
May be uncertain about what is expected and be unable to ask for help or to ask for information about what to expect and/or what will happen in the days to come.
May talk a lot: repeatedly asking questions, wanting reassurance, etc.
May have increased executive functioning problems (i.e., organising, remembering things, paying attention, or getting started on tasks.)
May feel like they have lost control of their life.
My behaviour is also affected which may cause me to have an increase in repetitive or self-stimulatory behaviours, I may become very irritable and wish to be left alone.
There are also physical side effects from this which may include a loss of appetite, I may not sleep well, I may experience various body aches, I may experience fatigue and I may experience sensory overload which could intensify.
Being Autistic can make my fatigue and burnout more likely, due to the pressures of social situations and sensory overload.
If you’re an Autistic person and have or are experiencing fatigue or burnout, managing your energy levels is essential.
Fatigue, and then subsequent burnout, can happen to anybody. Autistic people, however, can be more susceptible to both, due to the pressures of everyday life, having to navigate social situations and sensory overload.
Trying to cope with these pressures can lead to exhaustion (Autistic fatigue) and over time this can lead to extreme exhaustion or Autistic burnout.
For me as an Autistic person there are various ways that my Autistic fatigue and burnout have affected me.
Autistic fatigue has often been described as exhaustion with additional difficulties such as:
Increased meltdowns and sensory sensitivity.
Physical pain and headaches.
Physically shutting down, including the loss of speech.
Autistic burnout affects all aspects of a person’s life, and this makes it different from professional burnout, which is related to work.
WHAT CAUSES AUTISTIC FATIGUE?
There are various things that can cause Autistic fatigue. Autistic adults suggest several causes, including:
Dealing with social situations
Masking or camouflaging their Autistic traits
A sense of not meeting other people’s/society’s expectations of them.
Changes in your routines or day-to-day life, such as a change of school or job, can increase anxiety and can be additional causes for Autistic fatigue and burnout.
For me I feel that I’m going to have to put in place some strategies around monitoring and managing my expectations and knowing the signs that I may need to step outside for 10-minutes to catch my breath or to have a stim, having that extra support with the support worker will put my mind at ease.
By going out and socialising I’m hoping to be able to show myself that my Autistic fatigue won’t hold me back and that I can go out with having any anxiety hanging over me holding me back.
I’m as prepared as I can be for this event.
I’ll let you know how it goes afterwards.
Carry on the Conversation
As always, I can also be found on Twitter:@AutisticNickAU and on the Official Autistic Nick Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/AutisticNickAU/
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.