Imagine that you have no ability to filter the myriad of sensations around you. Every bit of sensory input, whether from light, sound, touch, or elsewhere, pierces through your skin and into the depths of your being.
Your senses are so heightened that a whisper can sound like a scream and a soft overhead light can feel like a blazing sun. And there is no way for you to turn your senses down. You can’t get off of this roller coaster. You are completely at the mercy of every sensation around you.
As a nonverbal child with autism, you feel EVERYTHING. And not only from your five senses, but also from the moods and feelings of those around you. Particularly, from the person you are closest to, your parent.
Most people can subtly feel when they’re in the presence of a person in a bad mood, but for you this feeling is multiplied 100-fold. You know exactly how others feel without them saying a word. And sometimes the hardest thing to accept is how they’re feeling about you.
If this was your daily life, you would probably feel very anxious, agitated and may even become aggressive because your senses are just so overwhelming.
This is what your child with autism feels like most of the time.
If this is your daily experience, you can see why it may be hard for you to give eye contact, tolerate touch, pay attention or calm yourself. It would have you feeling fragmented, out of touch and distressed.
Diane Powell, MD in her article in Edge Science, September 2015, stated that, “Many people mistakenly assume autistics don’t understand language, when some just aren’t able to coordinate their facial muscles. Their frustration leads to many outbursts. They aren’t aloof just because they don’t look at you. In fact, they are often strongly empathic and withdraw because they can’t handle the emotional and/or sensory overload.”
Many parents tell me that their child is hyperaware of their moods. One theory is that they have significant challenges calming and regulating because their limbic system is poorly developed. The limbic system is located deep in the brain, on top of the brainstem and under the neocortex. It is involved in a number of functions, including regulating emotions, behavior, learning, long-term memory, and drives. All which may be areas of challenge for your child.
This makes your child highly susceptible to everything going on around them. We now have access to the inner world of nonverbal autistics. Many have been able to articulate through their writings that despite appearing in their own worlds, they are remarkably aware of what is going on around them, particularly with the thoughts, moods and feelings of others.
Tip: When you see your child picking up on your mood, particularly when you are anxious or stressed, try taking three simple breaths. Take a gentle inhale and a strong exhale. These breaths will help you begin to slow yourself down as your child is reacting to the pressure that you are feeling. Consider consciously slowing your pace down a bit instead of running at high speed. Your child will feel you pausing to slow down, and you may even find that he calms down a bit himself.
I’d love to hear how your not-so-verbal child reacts to your every mood. Did you notice any difference in your child after you took three breaths and calmed yourself? Could you feel them calming down with you? And also, check out Diane’s article in EdgeScience about autistic children’s intuitive communication skills. You can download it for free here. I’m sure you’ll find it very fascinating!