Category Archives: coping

The Autstronaut






I watched the movie, The Martian, last weekend. I found it challenging to sit through initially. I felt the astronaut’s isolation from people so deeply. People may watch this movie for its adventure and ultimate triumph over adversity. This is true. The hero doggedly persevered, problem solving and focusing on challenges rather than on his feelings. It is pretty much the only way to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

For those who haven’t seen the film, it tells the tale of an astronaut left behind by his crew, alone on Mars. Due to a sudden storm they had to preempt their expedition and they erroneously believed he had died. His job was to survive until he could be rescued, which meant getting enough food and water to live, and staying sane.

My perception of his experience is skewed because of my own isolation due to autism. With autism I may as well be on Mars sometimes because the inability to talk is isolating. It creates a barrier from other people because I may think ideas but I can’t speak them. Yes, I type, but it’s slow compared to speech or I may not have access to typing the instant I want. So, I feel like I’m on Mars–not the way Temple Grandin described in Oliver Sacks’ book, An Anthropologist on Mars, in which she said she couldn’t understand human behavior. That is her point of view from her Asperger’s brain.

My Mars is like the astronaut’s. I understand people, but I’m going to have to get nearer to them. In his case he had to make water, grow food and find equipment to travel, all while combating loneliness and discouragement. He had hope and he had trust in himself. This is essential. My Mars is similar in that I must battle against giving up or even feeling sorry for myself because these are the emotions that hurt progress most. In so many ways autism is like being stranded on another planet alone, but it is possible to problem solve to get closer to “earth.” The problem with autism is the initiation deficit. Unlike the astronaut in the film, we cannot move on our own ideas consistently or independently. But, like him we can set many small goals and doggedly work on overcoming our obstacles.

It is obvious to me that being able to control our response to feelings is enormously important. It is necessary to not rage against or fight the forces that are beyond our control. The astronaut probably would not have survived if he had raged against his crewmates or despaired his unique isolation, but he instead focused on doing and solving. Doing and solving in autism involves gaining control over motor movements and impulses as well as control over intense emotion. Each problem can be worked incrementally. It may be slow going but in time the “aut-stronaut” may be able to come home.




Emotion Outbursts

The first week of school was both great and hard. I have to say I was glad to be out of my house, but the abrupt change from lazy summer to a full schedule of tough academic classes is hard for anyone, but is especially hard for people with issues changing their routine. My subjects are mostly new to me, as are my teachers (with one great exception), and my one-on-one aide is new too. Factor in a non-stop heat wave in sort of sauna-land all day and I get frazzled more easily than usual. 
 The teachers have been pretty cool because it is the first time they have had a student so disabled to learn about. I admit, if people are cool and calm with me it helps me if I’m stressed, but if people get stressed, I get frightened. I have a roller coaster internally that can’t stop when I feel fear. I must be given the space to center my neurological system.
 I so wish I was my full master of my emotions and behavior but I don’t have the tools yet. My parents or aide are indispensible in helping me modulate my behavior. They can right the tilting ship. They get it. Sometimes – rarely—I lose it, but usually I regain myself fast. If the situation escalates because I am not given a chance to calm myself, it is not helpful at all. Then my roller-coaster plummets. I keep wondering how do I stop it when I get impulsive or edgy at once. 
 I know I must be removed in quiet and allowed to pull myself together. I think many schools and parents should know this. A show of tough authority escalates a sensory system that needs peace. Take the kid to a quiet place to sit still and it should do the trick eventually. Running is also helpful. I regret it always if I lose my cool or misbehave in public but I urge people to not be frightened. Autistic non-verbal people don’t mean harm. It is usually a form of frustration they don’t contain well.