Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.

Stress-Based Regression

Stress-based "regression" isn't true regression; you don't quite lose skills--it's just that the stress is causing problems and you can no longer use them.

To do the things NTs do in the course of a typical day, we use more emotional and mental resources than NTs do. That means that we have less left over at the end of the day. When something else is added, we have fewer resources than we need.

Let's say everybody starts out with a resource bank of 100. For an NT person, functioning during the day in a neurotypical way costs 10 units. For an autistic person, it may cost 80 units. Add the stress--let's say it costs 50 units--and the NT person is still functioning fine; but the autistic person is being asked to do 130 units' worth of work on only 100 units' worth of resources.

That means that we have to drop some things--maybe speaking or making eye contact or self-care or being in social situations. Or maybe we do them in more typically autistic ways. Once the physical stress goes down, we either re-learn those things or simply re-gain them automatically. I get that kind of "regression" every month when I have my period; there are things I simply can't cope with--especially social situations--when I also have to cope with physical pain. Sensory overload does the same thing, which is why I work so hard to prevent it. So does social overload.

Managing autism often means carefully guarding those 100 resource units. You can only cope with so much before you have to bury yourself under your feather comforter and curl into a ball. That autistic people get there sooner than typical people just makes it more important for us to manage stress levels and demands the world puts on us.

Managing your mental resources can be done in many ways, but here are a few.
  • Prevent social overload by rationing your time with people and holding onto your time alone.
  • Prevent sensory overload. There are a million ways to do this--I've blogged on it before.
  • Do things your own way. Don't feel pressured to do them the NT way unless there's no other way, or unless your own way is somehow dangerous or takes too much time to be worthwhile.
  • Keep schedules; always know what's coming up. That prevents transition problems.
  • Go ahead and stim. If you have to, find surreptitious ways to do it, or socially accepted ways. Stress ball, anyone?
  • Have someplace where you can be alone at all times. Sometimes that's only a restroom; but the mere availability of a place to retreat to can really help.
  • Keep yourself healthy.
  • Medication can help; though there's nothing that helps autistic symptoms directly, there are things available to help anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and other emotional and physical problems you might have.
  • Of course, medication can also hurt. More than one autistic child has been put on heavy-duty antipsychotics for little real reason; and I've little doubt those overmedicated children function at much lower levels than they would without the meds.
Bottom line: Take care of yourself; don't feel pressured to do things the way NTs do; and go ahead and regress a little if you need to. Never forget: Autistic brains have different requirements; and if you don't fulfill yours, you will definitely run into trouble.
Tags: coping strategies, stress
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