Challenging Stereotypes: Autism and emotion

23 February 2018

Dear Friend,

Why are autistic people characterised as robotic and unfeeling, emotionless?

The idea that people with autism don't have feelings is completely wrong. Emotions are often described as the things that make us human, so isn't it time we stop dehumanising autistic people and challenge this unhelpful stereotype?

Far from failing to feel, our son appears to feel too much. He is the polar opposite of the stereotypical robotic autistic person.

Our lives are mostly conducted according to big lad's emotions. As soon as he walks through the door (or even past the window) I know how he is feeling.

He appears to have a kaleidoscope of emotions.

There are over 600 words in English to describe the basic emotions and apparently we use over 42 muscles in our faces to express them. It is no surprise then that many autistic people who don't like to look at people's faces/eyes when talking, can struggle to identify emotions.

Through therapy and time the big lad became better at identifying feelings. We have played recognising emotions games, on the ipad, made crazy emotion photographs of the big lad and we perfected the sentence; I understand you are feeling sad/cross/frustrated/etc so that he could identify these emotions himself.

I believe that it is not the feeling of the emotion that is missing in my son, rather the ability to reason with or explain it.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy established the concept of the "wise mind," It is having the ability to step back from our emotion and reason with it. The wise mind uses reason to calm emotion down.

In an argument many neurotypical adults loose the ability to reason. Emotional outbursts are triggered by our stress response. Who hasn't wished they could take back a comment made in the heat of an argument?

I am a mum not a psychologist but I am certain that there is a link between stress levels and confusing emotions. The big lad describes it as; 'My head is full...' and at these times he either over reacts or shuts down and then can not recognise or explain his feelings.

It is like the depth of feeling  overwhelms him.

During 'meltdowns' our big lad can not think logically. We have learned not to try and reason with him at this point but to give him time to calm, to allow his feelings to fade before we talk things through. We provide him with a safe space to step back from his emotions in the hope that he can reason with them better.

Autistic people may express their emotion in a different way and can have problems identifying feelings but anyone who lives with an autistic person will tell you that they do feel, passionately!

Our son can not always explain his feelings but he feels, deeply!

Read more of my posts about autism here...

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