What I’ve Learned From My Autism.
Author: Dr. Ashley Anne, Lotus Healing, LLC
Hey there! My name is Dr. Ashley Anne. I’m an Integrative Lifestyle Doctor, and I am writing to you from my bathroom floor. My windowless, deliciously dark, quiet bathroom floor. I have come to this magical place to retreat from the overwhelm of the world, and you, my friend, have a personal invitation.
So pull up a tile, and let me tell you why I’m here.
For most of my career, I was a neurocounselor. This means I translated brain-based research into tools to help everyday people become happier and healthier. In 2015, I had the opportunity to train in neurofeedback, a type of therapy that retrains brain waves to reduce mental health symptoms. When I received my own quantitative electroencephalograph (QEEG), one of the results indicated signs of autism. I had never considered autism as a way to describe my personal experience, so I was a little bewildered.
But honestly? I wasn’t at all surprised.
I spent much of my childhood hiding behind my grandmother’s couch, and now as an adult, you’re hiding with me on my bathroom floor… so… yeah. The results made sense.
But I needed to know more, so I launched myself into years of research that ended up changing my entire life.
What is Autism?
The word autism comes from Ancient Greek autos and Latin -ismus. It literally means “being ones’ self.” The medical community considers autism to exist on a spectrum: the higher you are on the spectrum, the more you prefer being your individual self. Your world exists within you, because there’s a lot going on.
Your mind is easily stimulated by tiny ideas. Your body feels everything, all the time (bye bye, teeny tiny clothing tags!). And relationships sometimes feel like an unnecessary overload.
People who are higher on the spectrum are comfortable being on their own and immerse themselves into their inner world. Sometimes this means they struggle with eye contact and social connections, but not always.
My experience of being higher on the autism spectrum means that I am empathic, intelligent, smart, social, and a total high achiever. But I am also easily overwhelmed by light, sound, and contact with other people. I absolutely need sunglasses on a sunny day, otherwise I get a headache. Having TV or music blaring is a nightmare, and sometimes social media turns into my own personal hell (which is why we are currently on my bathroom floor).
My sensory cortex is wired more than most, so as a kid, I hid behind couches to shut it all off. And as an adult, I occasionally hide in dark bathrooms.
Recognizing that my continual state of overwhelm had everything to do with autism launched me into research on neuroscience, quantum physics, yogic philosophy, and more. The more I researched, the more I began to understand that boundaries needed to be my new best friend. Without boundaries, too much light, sound, and people were literally making me sick. This explained why as a child I was constantly physically ill, as a teen I was anxious and depressed, and as an adult I was a magnet for toxic relationships.
My poor human system was overwhelmed.
When it’s overwhelmed, it gets inflamed.
When it gets inflamed, we get sick.
If I was going to feel better about being human, I needed more boundaries. The sensory sensitivities were straightforward enough. Now I wear sunglasses (sometimes inside), keep noise to a minimum, and always wear ear plugs and rubber gloves to manage the loud, slimy task of doing dishes (it’s no wonder why I never did them before!).
But managing the overwhelm with people? That took a bit more research.
How We Take On Other People
What I learned is that we humans have something called resonance circuitry. These networks pick up on other people’s emotions. You see, emotion is not just about feelings. Emotion lives in your body; it’s a physiological experience, and it is transferred between people automatically and unconsciously.
Here’s what happens: Mirror neurons in our brain pick up on physiological input from others. These neurons funnel this information into our nervous system to change our body so that we literally feel what others feel. This process is called simulation.
It’s automatic, instinctual, and there is nothing you can do to turn it off.
Simulation happens to us all day, every day. If you’re a parent, you use simulation to automatically understand what your child needs. If you support a friend, you use simulation to better understand how they feel.
Everyone has resonance circuitry, so we all go through the process of simulation and pick up a ton of people energy all day long.
Sometimes, it can be overwhelming – as it was for most of my life. But now that I know how to use simulation to my advantage, it’s my superpower.
Boundaries: My New Best Friend
First of all, I learned to create boundaries in situations that are very people-y. When I’m with family, I set a time that I’m going to leave. If I go to a conference, I take as many solo breaks as I can. If I go out to a public event, I bring ear plugs and make sure to recover when I get home. The separation that I create with boundaries has actually helped me feel more connected to people because I’m not constantly overwhelmed.
Now, my resonance circuitry is my best friend. It’s pure magic at work, allowing me to be an effective negotiator and assertive in ways I never was before. In fact, it’s what I use to support clients in accessing their own emotional, intuitive wisdom. The resonance circuitry also supports me personally, making me a loyal, supportive friend and partner, and I’m certain it’ll someday help me become a highly attuned and responsive mother.
It took me a long time to learn about the human system, and even longer to learn how to love and respect the wisdom of my autism. But now I understand that my being on the bathroom floor is actually one of the healthiest ways to respond to the overwhelm that I encountered today.
Thanks for keeping me company.
I think I’m ready to go back out into the world now… the bright, loud, people-y world that despite its overwhelm, I love with my whole heart.
Better grab my sunglasses…
Dr. Ashley Anne is the founder of Lotus Healing, LLC, an online health education, coaching, and consulting business. You can learn more at lotushealing.com.