On behalf of any autistic individuals who have ever wanted help with being ‘stuck’ but do not know how or what to say, I would like to ask (and answer) a question:
“How can I teach people to help me when I am ‘stuck’ so they have an idea of: how to help me, when to help me, and when to leave me alone?”
This answer is for anyone out there who is a parent, caregiver, or family member of someone on the autism spectrum. I know that no two individuals are the same, but I hope that sharing my opinion may give others an idea of what help may work.
There are countless times when I become ‘stuck’ and am overloaded by too much processing of my environment (words, people, shapes, colors, touch, sounds, instructions…too many new things). In these times my repetitive, and unfavored behaviors often become intensified…
…more rocking, pacing, echoing, vocalizing, aggression. Less language, control, processing, words, and understanding.
In these times are when I need help the most, and when I am rarely able to ask for it. In these times, I want help, but I am also at my most sensitive. My family does not always expect me to come up with the words I need to communicate. They help me find the words I am searching for, which allows me more freedom and understanding, to communicate.
These moments are not only difficult for me, the autistic individual, but also can be difficult for individual(s) who want to offer caring hugs or words of comfort. Unfortunately, these two things generally do not work for most individuals on the autism spectrum. Here are some methods that work for me, and may work for others:
Visual language, and choices/options
ANYTHING in a visual form, instead of a verbal form. For example, 3 pieces of paper in front of me: one with a drawing or words that says something like “change into pajamas” one that says “not ready” and one that says “help” or placing a helmet (for the pressure) near my head so I can choose to put my head into it, or not.
Showing me my “choice board” with 2 options written or drawn on it, where I can point to one or erase one and add my own choice I want for calming down…or not point, and the “not” pointing to one tells whomever is helping me to leave me alone. (I would only recommend the option of erasing choices with individuals are very aware of options that are safe, and or attainable)
Giving me my visual cues of triggers to me, to point to, to see if any environmental pieces can be avoided until I am calmer (examples: “surprises” “multiple questions” “washing dishes” “eating near me”)
Quiet, gentle assistance
Placing a favored sensory toy next to me, and then leaving the room, giving me soft things like stuffed animals and socks to throw at the wall. or turning a favorite animated movie, on mute, and setting the remote control near me.
Planning ahead, being proactive
Watching for triggers (my family AND I do this), and using smaller interventions at those times.,
Finding a favored, simple, repetitive activity and bringing it to me or gently guiding me, with visuals, to the activity. Example, a small puzzle, stretching a resistance cord, sitting in a rocking chair, my punching bag, my Body Pod sensory sock, or my trampoline. My family doesn’t usually redirect me until after I have some kind of pressure clothing on, like my helmet, which helps me feel more in control and aware of my physical body.
And –most importantly– time
Autistic individuals process SO much that we need more time to process. We are taking in so much information at once, and there are many times when we can get through things, but we don’t have enough processing time (transition, recovering, calming, breaks). I know that depending on the situation it isn’t always realistic to give more time, but whenever possible, it helps a GREAT deal.
All these things have helped me to have a healthier, happier life.
In the past, my ways of dealing with “stuck” situations was isolation, and shutting down. But, as I get older, I see that is not always a viable or healthy option. So … I have had to learned to teach others how to communicate with me, as well as learning how to better communicate with them. It has been an exhausting learning and teaching process, but well worth it.