Inside a Meltdown with Autism.

Inside a Meltdown with Autism.

I had a meltdown today.  This is what it is like for me.

We often put autism on parade through television and social media, as we portray the meltdown as uncontrollable violent outbursts that endanger everyone around them.  Meltdowns happen to just about every autistic person, and is the term used to describe any kind of system shutdown or emotional overflow that occur after over stimulation.  Each person with autism experiences their meltdowns in different ways.  As a child, I was much more prone to fits of crying or screaming, especially when I was frightened.  As an adult, I freeze and disconnect from the world.

As a public speaker, and one who is vocal about having autism, I am regularly put under the microscope.  More times than not, I am able to navigate my autism.  Focusing on my strengths, I come across to crowds as confident; but I am also scrutinized as not understanding the full spectrum of autism as I appear to them “high functioning.”  I have heard the words “but you are not autistic enough” or “your autism must be pretty mild” or “you must be higher functioning than my kid.”

I dislike the terms higher functioning and lower functioning because it pulls our focus from a competency model.  Just because a person with autism is non-speaking or has trouble controlling their movements, does not mean they are lower functioning.  In fact, many of my non-speaking students and friends are exceptionally bright people, who struggle to get their bodies to reflect their thoughts.  One of my non-speaking students compared herself to Stephen Hawking, bright on the inside, but frozen on the outside.

Throughout the varieties of autism spectrum disorder, most of us see our autism as much a part of us as our race or our gender, something that cannot be cured our removed otherwise it would change us too much at a fundamental level.  So, we focus on strengths, working each day to grow and influence our world.  When the meltdowns overcome us, we withdraw, self-heal, and start all over again.

This past Sunday, I had one such meltdown.  With so much change in my life, though all of it positive change, my world is unstable and difficult for me to navigate.  I am saying goodbye to friends, building a new business, taking on my 15 year old autistic sons’s challenges, and far away from people I care deeply about.  These are emotionally charged changes, which I do not handle as well as logical problems.  My emotional vibrations within, which I call the Phoenix, become so overwhelming they are consumed by their own fire.

Instead of retreating to my room, I decided to turn on my webcam, allowing you an inside look of what a meltdown is like for me.  Every autistic person experiences their meltdowns in their own way, much like people grieve in their own way.  My experience might not be the way for other autistic people, but by sharing I hope you are able to approach other autistic people with compassion, love, and a deeper understanding.

As always, be kind and love louder.

Autism Awareness is in My Blood

Despite all that has gone wrong these past few weeks, I still feel it is important to do my part for autism.  Awareness is a huge effort and must be given our best efforts.  Since the 1970’s, the Autism Society has set aside the month of April to celebrate autism awareness month.  Many American’s join in with ribbion wearing, blue lights on the porch, and a host of community events.  Other organizations, such as Autism Speaks, has taken this idea a step further with World Autism Awareness Month in an effort to make autism awareness a global collaboration.  The movement is growing.April is certainly a big month for autism, but what about the year round efforts of smaller groups?  One such group that grabbed my attention was The Six Degree Project.  Spearheaded by autistic student Carly Fleischmann, and students Emily Albert and Mia Kibel, these students didn’t wait for April.  This group of students from Northern Secondary School in Toronto, picked the often frigid month of February to raise awareness for autism.  The project sent long, warm, blue scarfs to celebrities and patrons, asking them to wear the scarf during their public appearances, and then post the photo to the Six Degree Project’s Facebook page.  Acting as a wonderful metaphor, the scarf seems to illustrate the warmth that grows in the heart of the communities who embrace autism by spreading a positive image.

I was so moved by this concept, I immediately contacted the group.  They promptly responded to my inquiry and seemed excited that I wanted to participate, despite my non-celebrity status.  Delighted, I sent in the form an awaited the release of the scarf.

The package arrived on a cold, wet afternoon.  Ecstatic, I ripped open the padded envelope right there at the mailbox.  It was like I was a child receiving a special delivery from Santa!  I was pleasantly surprised to see quality and detail in the design, and that the scarf was long enough to be utilized as more than a decorative item.  I was pleased.

It didn’t seem enough to just wear the scarf.  I had been planning for months to make an autism awareness music video that would shed a positive light on autism, and the abilities of autistic people.  With the scarf as inspiration, I picked the song You Raise Me Up, laid out the storyboards, and began the search for participants.

Since autism is such a sensitive topic for many parents, I struggled to find families willing to brag about their autism.  At first, I was deeply disappointed by the lack of involvement, but then I realized how much we needed to make this video.

Frustration during a creative project is unavoidable, it seems.  Creativity also seems to be accompanied by a truck load of self-doubt.  Perhaps this is how we stay humble, or how we keep therapists in business.  Whatever the reason, I was 2 days from the deadline, and practically paralyzed by my erratic executive functioning skill set.

Not knowing where to turn, I texted my good friend Anna, “Why aren’t I happy with anything I am producing today?”  Using the exact number of words she knows I need to not be overwhelmed, she eloquently replied, “Because your ambition is being held back by your means.”  She was right.  Budgetary limitations and lack of access to programs has been a huge burden on my process.  Why were my means limited?  I am a hard working, productive member of society, but I just can’t seem to get that leg up I need to be truly independent and financially secure.  I didn’t need to make this project only for the Six Degree Project, I didn’t need to make this project only for the parents who feared being public about autism.  It was apparent that I also needed to do this project for me.  With a renewed sense of energy, and the positive reaffirmation of my good friend, I dove head first into the video.

Working until the early morning hours on the eve of my 36th birthday, I completed the autism awareness video.  The video below is on my YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/liquidc2

Visit my website for more information on what I do, and to watch the official countdown timer on the homepage!  http://www.lauranadine.net

Don’t forget to visit The Six Degree Project and show your support by purchasing a scarf.  http://thesixdegreeproject.com/

I am proud to support autism and the creative movement started by The Six Degree Project.  I hope the world will one day be warmed by the love that comes with awareness, and acceptance.

Laura