Managing emotions is a hugely important factor in the life of autistic people and those around them.
I am an adult with High functioning autism and In my work as a tutor for the National Autistic Society in London I work with many autistic people that struggle to cope with their often intense and out of control emotions.
The majority of autistic people, myself included, have very childlike emotional responses and can get upset very quickly often over seemingly unimportant things yet can feel quite detached at times when a neurotypical may think it’s “normal” to be emotional.
Many autistic people live constantly in a heightened state of emotional turmoil. We can be extremely hypersensitive as we worry about everything from past events to what is presently going on around us to what may happen in the future.
The other factor is how autistic people tend to obsess about things, usually with negative results. These obsessive thoughts can keep us in a poor state of mental health sometimes leading to depression and anxiety.
Many people with Asperger’s syndrome or High functioning autism have great difficulty dealing with other people, whether it’s people in authority such as the police for example where a lack of emotional control could lead to being arrested or with social situations when our lack of ability to understand other peoples intentions can leave us feeling defensive and upset.
So how can autistic people cope with these overpowering emotions?
Teaching autistic to manage their emotions takes time and patience on the part of both the facilitator and the autistic person.
For people that have the appropriate level of cognitive ability, the use of social stories, a system devised by Carol Gray may be of benefit in teaching appropriate emotional responses.
The use of Cognitive behavioural therapy by a clinical psychologist is sometimes used to help autistic people re frame their negative thought patterns. However I would say from personal experience that Cognitive behavioural therapy can be of limited use. This is because many autistic people have great difficulty in understanding abstract concepts and struggle to process the information given to them by the psychologist.
Doctors may prescribe medication to help autistic people regulate their emotions, but this has not been effective for me and is in itself not the complete answer.
What has been very effective for me in the past have been relaxation techniques such as Shiatsu massage. This calms me down and for a few days can help keep my intense emotions in check. I also listen to guided meditation cds. This is not bad sometimes although it can be difficult to concentrate when I’m in an intense emotional state.
In my opinion the way forward is to experiment with the various techniques described in this article. It may be that a combination of these will be effective along with perseverance and a combined effort from both family and professionals.
Autism is a life long developmental disorder and in the majority of cases the struggle with our emotions is also likely to be a life long one.