I wrote back at the end of 2012 on here regarding my loathing of media "experts" proclaiming that people on the autism spectrum lack emotions. While I am not everyone and you must remember that, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism" I know full well that a lot of us on the autism spectrum have emotions that run deeper than most people realize.
My goal in daily life is to avoid emotions. This, perhaps, isn't the best of strategies, but it's one of necessity because it seems that emotions, for me, come in an unfiltered way. What does this mean? When an emotion is triggered, and especially I'm referring to an emotion of sadness or the like, it quickly becomes overwhelming which instantly turns my greatest strength of hyper-focus into my biggest weakness because, when the emotion is being felt, there is no other thing that is felt.
Another aspect of this is the fact that if there is one emotion going on this makes other things often bigger, or worse, than they actually are. There's a rippling out effect of sorts here that can have an event from a few days ago, or perhaps weeks or more, that is creating issues in the present. And on top of this, because talking about emotions is something that most people on the spectrum aren't the best at, it can be confusing to those around us as to how or why whatever is going on is indeed going on.
Often times I have tried to deny my emotions and have tried to ignore that they are there because as soon as I allow myself to feel it's as if a dam is bursting and my emotions than I know how to handle come in which means this; if I can stay factual and distant then I may avoid the dam bursting. This is the reason as to why I think we get associated with having no emotions for those that don't have the best of understanding of the autism spectrum. If you ask me anything emotional odds are you will get my generic, "I don't know response." Typically I do know but the amount of discomfort it takes to swim through the dam bursting is too great so I will try and deny the entire event.
In my presentation I mention the two times my mom fell while we were headed to the Rumble in Fort Wayne race which is held between Christmas and New Years. She fell in 2008 then again in 2010 and I haven't mentioned it yet but she once again fell in 2013. It wasn't on the day of the race this year but rather it was a few days before. We were leaving a store and she was carrying a bag and something distracted her slightly and she managed to trip over a speed bump in the parking lot. I saw it and gave my usual, "uh oh" in the tone of non-committal fear and I froze just as I did the previous falls. If you don't know the stories I'll summarize briefly that, in each fall, I was essentially useless and cold towards the event. On this fall I actually was able to remember the process that my brain went in terms of emotions.
The reason I freeze isn't out of lack of caring but rather of supreme fear. All the worst case scenarios come to me instantly and I analyze the fall; did that break a hand? an arm? perhaps a leg? If a leg would it have cut an artery or vein? How bad is this going to be? This process continues on and on and is instantly crippling as I can't even give a facial expression of concern because I am experiencing a deluge of unfiltered fear and concern. Doesn't this seem a bit odd and impossible; that the visible signs of being uncaring, cold, and unemotional are caused by having too much emotion?
For those around us, I'm sure, confusion is often a result of all this. However, to feel an emotion for myself is to experience an event that can last weeks or longer. To experience sadness can leave me sad for months. To experience loss can stay with me for years and yes, I know that this applies to everyone because life isn't easy. Yes, that's true, but my brain has a great strength (and weakness) of being able to hyper-focus on one thing and to experience an emotion is to experience it in it's fullest, purest, and most unfiltered form.
As I started to write I was seeing a Dr. (this Dr. wrote one of the endorsements of my book) and he asked me about emotions and I said this, "If you gave me a scale 0-10 my emotions stop at about a 2 unless it goes over that and if that's so it's a 10." As with most things on the autism spectrum there is no middle ground. I live in a all or nothing state and if an emotion gets to the point of tripping over the 2 out of 10 mark then it's the only emotion felt and there is nothing else. What is also difficult for those around us is understanding the fact that we have a hard, if not impossible, time realizing that things change. In the midst of an emotion the way my brain works is that this emotion is the way I am going to feel forever.
I do hope this post has helped you understand emotions for us on the autism spectrum just a little bit more than when you began reading this post. For those unaware and ignorant of the autism spectrum the notion that we have no emotions and can't be hurt is severely wrong and can lead to some highly damaging things to be said and here's the thing; because we are outwardly unemotional there's a chance no one else will ever know just how much pain and sadness were caused.