Emotional regulation for autistics

I did wonder on my blog a couple of times what it means that autistic people have difficulties with emotional regulation, and neurotypicals find it easier. I never found any explanation for how neurotypicals do that and it did sound to me like after several minutes of being upset they just tell themselves ‘ok, it’s time to emotionally regulate now’ and they calm down.

Yesterday, within just a few minutes of publishing my post about anxiety attack, I felt much calmer and soon after that the attack ended completely. I then realised that what I’m doing is what dr Guy Meadows discusses in Sleep School course about how to handle anxiety: accept and allow all feelings but talk about them in a calm and neutral manner. The only difference is that he advises to just use our thoughts to describe feelings while I do that in writing.

I was mostly using Sleep School techniques to sleep better, I can now see it has much more to offer although possibly we, autistics, could do with some modifications. But I am also aware that I wasn’t using all that the app has to offer simply because I didn’t believe I can achieve even bigger progress. For years the tricks that are being advised for people to reduce stress made me even more upset (coffee in a noisy cafe anyone? With a friend?) so when I noticed that Sleep School meditations are allowing me to actually sleep I was convinced I got as much as I could out of the app.

When I decided to write about my emotional struggles on the blog (they are part of me being autistic and my aim is to record my feelings and thoughts to help people understand how we, autistics, think) I didn’t even realise I rephrase them in the same way that is being advised in Sleep School app. Instead ‘I can’t stand that, I’mso angry, this will never go away, I’m always like that!’ I’d write ‘I feel very upset right now, I am also concerned about how often I feel this way. It seems to me right now like I always feel this way, but I know it’s been a few weeks since I felt like this the last time’. But I was rephrasing my thoughts this way simply out of respect for my readers. I wanted readers to know how I feel but I was aware that the first statement could be upsetting and triggering.

I guess posting about my emotions has added benefit of ‘making space’ for myself and how I felt. When I was growing up in Poland people never talked openly about mental health, it was never discussed on TV or radio and psychiatric hospitals were often subject of jokes, sometimes nasty ones. My mum instructed me to never talk about my dad’s illness. But that meant I wasn’t allowed to also talk about my own struggles.

I’m wondering now, how are we supposed to cope with emotions if we feel we have to hide them? It seems obvious to me that this is not possible. And I don’t mean that we have to discuss very single emotions we feel and give in to people who insist on us to ‘open up’ when we don’t feel like it. I only mean that we shouldn’t feel like we have to hide any part of ourselves at any time.

Possibly not everyone needs a blog to share their emotions with the world to feel better, it’s quite likely that I only need it due to my earlier experience of needing to hide my family’s mental health struggles. But it really helps me to feel better. I believe I indeed achieved great degree of emotional regulation.

22 responses to “Emotional regulation for autistics”

  1. It is hard to hide emotions sometimes, and it can make it harder to cope with them. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, we shouldn’t be hiding emotions 🙂

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  2. I also find that writing helps with managing emotions. Sometimes I’ll do that on my blog, but a lot of the time I do it in my journal. For me, having an audience to write for can be helpful, but I think it’s formulating my thoughts into written words that accomplishes the most.

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    1. Oh, I see. For me, I think it’s the effort to make it seem neutral.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Agreed. I seem to keep writing about this very practice on my blog. And I just finished writing a post a couple of weeks ago about how I think best when I have writing implements in front of me. (whether that’s ‚old school’ or digital). I could say a lot here, but as I’ve already said it in my blog, I’ll just refer you there if you’re interested.

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      1. Oh sure, post a link and I’ll have a look 🙂

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      2. Ummm… not really sure how to do that in a comment, but if you click on my name next to any of my comments, it leads you to the homepage of my website, which has a list of my most recent posts at the bottom, and later links to older posts, grouped by the month they were posted in. The most recent one I’ve written (as opposed to a few I’ve reblogged that others have written) is called „Writing is my First Language”.

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  3. I’m not convinced that NTs are better at emotional regulation than we are. I think they just hide it better, or act out in more ‚socially acceptable’ ways, even if they are ultimately more destructive. (Addictions anyone? Violence of various sorts. And then there’s all the ways they misbehave in relationships with other people, romantic and platonic alike. I could go on and on.) My family doctor once commented that she wondered if autistic shutdown was actually healthier than the way NTs dealt with stress, e.g. with smoking or alcohol. No one had ever suggested anything like that before, so it’s always stuck in my head.

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    1. That actually makes sense, yes. Possibly they are just better at hiding it. But that’s what I said in the article, I’ve never seen it discussed how NTs regulate themselves.

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      1. Just had another thought. I think NTs also get more help learning how to self-regulate as children, because they are seen as more part of the herd, so the strategies the adults around them use are more likely to work with their children. That is, assuming the adults know how to self-regulate in the first place. Which it seems, fewer and fewer people do these days, if society is any indication. (Which it’s supposed to be, at any rate.)

        Or maybe there are just more „externalizers” than „internalizers” these days. – a concept I learned about in a book recently. I’d have to look up the reference though for the details.

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      2. Well, yes, that is also my theory – things that are widely suggested to reduce stress rarely work for us.

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      3. Yeah, like socializing! My first autism specialist was the first person to understand that many things that are useful for NTs are actually maladaptive for us. But if you find someone who understands autism, they’re likely to provide strategies that work much better! 😍. I’ve been lucky enough to find two such professionals as an adult! And then, of course, there’s all those other autistic self advocates I found through ANI…

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      4. Oh, that sounds interesting! I think I kind of found most strategies myself. I’m not sure if there’s anything else that I could try but I’m open to suggestions if you have any 🙂

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      5. I found that learning about sensory integration dysfunction (these days more often called sensory processing disorder, though I think that’s not as accurate or descriptive), and learning strategies to keep me from being overloaded, and how to bring myself back down from overload has really helped me! Things like weighted clothing and/or blanket; compression vest, and/or wetsuit (similar strategy to weighted blanket etc.); lower wattage lightbulbs in light fixtures, stim toys, etc.

        Also, learning how to change my expectations of myself so they were more inline with autistic realities rather than NT expectations, and developing self compassion (as well as self-acceptance) were game changers! (I had a lot of help with that from my first autism specialist, who I’ll be forever grateful to for many reasons!) It was difficult, and definitely a process, but well worth it in the end!! Support definitely made a difference in making it all work.

        Any other suggestions I have are probably either elsewhere in my blog, or on other pages of my website. I’m trying to make it as much of a resource as I can, for both autistics and NTs, about both the struggles we have, but also things that work. My next post (I think, maybe) might just be on the kinds of things that I’ve found to be very useful „assistive technology” – in the broadest sense of the term.

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      6. Magda Regula Avatar
        Magda Regula

        Thank you, I’ll have a look 🙂

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  4. It is amazing how that happens, isn’t it? We’re just automatically supposed to see them as „the authority” or „the ultimate goal” in the way people „should” behave, or be, and yet, it’s so much of it is never made explicit. We’re just supposed to intrinsically know, or be able to pick it up by osmosis! … That’s one of the big differences between NTs and autistics. We need so much more explicit information. And it typically angers them that we do. (So often because they don’t knwo how they know stuff).
    I think there actually are books out there and stuff about how to do it, most of them with the assumption the reader is NT. If there weren’t, psychologists wouldn’t be able to explain it to people, or provide suggestions. Offhand I can’t think of any, but „grounding exercises” are one category that is most often used. (Though, fair warning, some of the most common can also be triggering for some people, especially if, like me you have difficulties with proprioception – body awareness in space without having to look – or coordinating breathing, speaking, and swallowing). Yoga is often suggested as a strategy too. (Though again, it can be triggering for those with a trauma history). Mindfulness is also another one. (Same warning applies as to trauma).

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    1. Oh no, why would yoga be triggering? It feels so unfair on yoga and its teachers!

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  5. Actually, the more I think about it, I may have got that confused. I know yoga is often recommended for trauma, but if you have other disabilities as well, then it can be a real problem. I just read an article (on The Mighty, I think) about how traumatic going to a yoga class for an adult with an (at the time) undiagnosed auditory processing disorder, and how difficult it was for her to follow what was happening, and a particular rude comment from one of the participants aimed at her (but said to the instructor) who made assumptions about why this person was watching other people in the mirror. I also know that if you have sensory integration issues, or other coordination issues, people have said they’ve had a really hard time with yoga, and that has been trauma inducing. I believe (but can’t think of the specifics off the top of my head) that there is a specific type of yoga that is designed to be sensitive to those with trauma history.

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    1. Magda Regula Avatar
      Magda Regula

      Oh, that is interesting, thank you 🙂 I’m not very good with yoga, I prefer weight lifting exercises. Which are much better for someone with coordination issues like me. Funnily enough those exercises are considered difficult while yoga is considered easy.

      Possibly we need more awareness with everything, and that should include how to keep fit.

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      1. 🙂. So much of my life involves a facility with things most people find difficult, and great difficulty with things most people take for granted! One of my friends from ANI used to joke that our brains were wired backwards! 😂

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      2. Magda Regula Avatar
        Magda Regula

        Possibly? 😛 that reminds me, when I was talking driving lessons the instructor told me I should be driving backwards as I was better at it than going forward 😛 strange, as many people have problems with manoeuvres.

        But then it’s so difficult to assess one strengths with that, isn’t it?

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  6. 😂 I wouldn’t know, I’ve never even attempted to learn to drive. Initially it wasn’t compatible with my disability issues, and I’ve subsequently never developed any interest. But then, I’ve never really had any need either.

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