Do you have a similar memory?
I was about 14 years old. The lunch break was only 30 minutes. It was a rush to eat your lunch quickly in my school cafeteria. To deal with all the normal social monkey business. Kids trying to make friends, and establish social rankings over each other. Bullying, teasing, making friends and having fun.
I was scared. I had to hide it of course.
The lights were overwhelming, a sea of loud conversations. My brain would zone in and out of each of them. As I force the food down my mouth. My brain goes blank. The kids sense my fear. They know I can’t handle it.
All I wanted to was fit in, but I couldn’t.
The overwhelming anxiety, because I am on the spectrum has been the bane of my life.
The physiology of the stress response is actually pretty interesting. As many of you probably already have read it. It is known as the “fight or flight” response.
It comes from a more primitive part of our brain. It was actually designed to give advantages in certain situations. When a threat is detected – our brain cell networks release hormones, that cause a cascade of reactions.
These responses include accelerated breathing, muscle tension, tunnel vision, survival reflexes, it also OVERRIDES the critical thinking parts of your brain.
The problem with Aspergers? This threat trip wire is triggered way too easily because of differences in stimulatory tolerances.
The bigger problem, of course, is that when people with Aspergers have anxiety triggered. It is rarely actually based on a threat, for example a simple loud voice can trigger this cascade reaction in our brains
Therefore when we are young, we tended to drift towards minimalistic activities. Books, movies, art, computer software.
Yet there is NO WAY of avoiding the neurotypical world which gives us spikes of overwhelming anxiety. Bumping into a person you know in a hall, somebody teases you unexpectedly in front of other people. Neurotypicals can also be cruel when they notice you are easily overwhelmed. This is even worst if you are male, as you are supposed to be a “fearless monkey”.
Bumping into a person you know in a hall, somebody teases you unexpectedly in front of other people. Neurotypicals can also be cruel when they notice you are easily overwhelmed. This is even worst if you are male, as you are supposed to be a “fearless monkey”.
Neurotypicals can also be cruel when they notice you are easily overwhelmed. This is even worst if you are male, as you are supposed to be a “fearless monkey that punches people”.
You might have spent a lot of your life wondering, why you don’t have what it takes to not be overwhelmed. Well, you are looking in the wrong place, my friend.
The issue according to research is biochemical, it’s simply the way you are built, or more accurately the way your brain is built.
In autistic spectrum, the brain differentiates to neurotypicals due to the way the neural network is grown.
Due to these differences, for people with Aspergers, there is a delay in response time from the amygdala.
When a neurotypical senses a spike of threat, the amygdala processes it much faster, and identifies it as a non-threat much earlier than the autistic brain.
The autistic brain on the other hand experiences a longer delay this is caused by late recognition of the pike, when the danger recognition response came finally came it was too late
Basically, when it comes to matters of threat perception, autistic people are out of sync. We do not manage to perceive the threat in time. The issue is a FAILURE to access the real danger of the situation. Since there is no answer, the brain assumes the default safest response. Which is fear.
Fear is just the instinct to stay alive, so it triggers the “fight or flight” response. Ironically this short circuits your rational thoughts. Where you should have been able to logically work out there is no threat, which is an aspergers person’s usual method for analyzing situations.
Remember how later after the “threat” happened, you realized how easy or stupid it actually was? Yeah that.
What can be done? Aspergers and Anxiety
You can pick up a lot of tricks and tips from literature books people have written by people and for people who have had social difficulties, being acquainted with these will help you see a threat before it comes. You don’t want to obsess over these too much though.
The pick-up industry as a fad, has died. It ended up to be a pretty toxic thing. That being said, the ORIGINAL ideas of the pick up community was really for socially awkward men to overcome their anxiety, and how to calibrate and perform various social neurotypical rituals.
Therefore, a lot of the stuff in these ebooks they have written have gems for handling social situations.
Here is a link to get you started
If this doesn’t suit your tastes, google is your friend there are hundreds of articles written by people about how to act in social situations.
Don’t believe people when they tell you, you can fix XYZ genetic problem with willpower. You can’t. remember the science above? The only way to be a better threat analyzer is to get your brain in sync. That means having the correct response to a perceived threat in the first place. This is sensory, it is literally a hardware problem.
Medications can drastically lower fear, and increase response times of certain brain systems. Using a combination like nicotine gum and Oxytocin would work to solve the problem above for example. It would work by speeding up the recognition of the threat via acetylcholine stimulation, oxytocin will then reduce the threat response, allowing you to be more relaxed and being able to access your rational thoughts.
Go to events, force yourself to meet people, and deal with anxiety situation such as loud places. Autistic people can learn neurotypical behaviors painfully over time. Yeah I wish it was just natural, but look at it this way, having Aspergers gives you a level of perception other people don’t have.
They have to practice to get your technical and pattern sensing skills. So why shouldn’t you practice to gain their skills? Sure you will never be a natural, but you can only use what you are given. You will not wake up one day with the gifts of a social butterfly.
With time you will find patterns to threats, patterns to people’s behavior and be able to spot them a mile away before it happens.
Today people don’t even believe I have Aspergers for a moment, it’s all because I’ve had more practice socializing than maybe even many neurotypicals.
And yes it will always feel weird…but then again humans need connections, as unfortunate as it is, our brain is a social brain, wired to feel good only when we are cared and loved by other people.
Anxiety is a barrier to many things in life. Many things that lead to happiness is laced with anxiety, the girl or guy you want, the job you want, the dream you wanted to chase, the question you wanna dare to ask.
Have trouble with overwhelming eye contact? Check out my article on eye contact.