Right now I cannot find my wallet. It is here in the house somewhere. That much I know. But I have torn my room apart, created a whirlwind through my car, and gotten so angry that I started throwing things and screaming.
I made myself stop looking for the stupid thing. It feels like a fishhook in the back of my mind though and I want to start looking for it again. But I am still sweaty and shaky for my previous search. I do not handle frustration very well. I never have. When things do not go the way I want them to I seem to transform into a petulant child, insistent upon having my way come hell or high water. I have seen this behavior in autistic children whom I have worked with, in children and adults with ADHD, in people with no diagnosis at all, and every child I have ever met. With children with autism this behavior is sometimes refered to as ‘an autistic tantrum’.
But this is where I’d like to break things down a bit. Tantrum? If a favorite object or comfort item cannot be found an autistic child may very well have a meltdown. So might a child without autism. And why does this happen? The answer is simple. Fear.
When something that is usually very accessible in your environment is suddenly gone of course the response is fear. What is that item is gone forever? What if someone took it? Will it ever come back? Children, in general, thrive on consistency. They are too small to answer these questions themselves and are too small sometimes to understand that even if something is gone right now it may (and usually is) always found later.
Expectations are violated and no one likes that. Adults throw hissy fits in stores if the item they want isn’t there. They went to the store with the intent to buy this thing and now the thing is not available. Expectation violated. Hopefully most adults can take this in stride and move on but having worked in retail before a large part of the adult population cannot. They scream at waiters, servers, register monkeys, and everyone they can trying to get their way. This behavior is unacceptable.
But here’s the dilly and the sweets. People with autism have, by the very definition of their diagnosis, dependence upon on sameness. I thrive on consistency. I hate and fear change. Why? Because expectations are violated. When the world around me does not act in the manner that I expect it to (my wallet being easy to find) I do not know what to do. The world suddenly makes no sense. Everything is wrong. Nothing is right. Anything could happen! If my wallet can disappear then the couch can spontaneously turn into spaghetti and my dog could teleport to a new family in Canada. (Country chosen at random, no hard feelings right Canada? You guys are so nice there.)
Now logically I know these things won’t happen. My wallet will turn up. I can ask for help looking for it. The world will not end. My dog will not teleport to Canada (if she did her new family would automatically love her cause she’s so cute). But when you depend on sameness to keep both our inner and outer world in check anything that rocks the boat is a horrifying reminder that anything could happen at anytime. The living room furniture being rearranged doesn’t really bother me. Its that things are different. Now the living room is no longer the living room. It is living room 2.0 and I will have to learn how to navigate it. I will bump into things. I will not like sitting someplace different because it changes how the TV sounds, if I get enough air from the air vents and fan to stay cool, where the dogs are going to chose to lay down. Integrating the new living room isn’t easy for me. I can and will do it. But I don’t and won’t like it.
And that is because I am afraid. I have a voice, the Imp maybe, yammering away in my head that this is bad, this is new, this isn’t what it used to be. It will never be the same, it will never be what it was, it will never be home. If the world outside me changes the world inside me is forced to change too. And the world inside me is very resistant. The world inside me that I have carefully built is what helps me navigate and understand the world outside of me.
The inner world of most people seems more resilient to change. But for those with autism even expected change is difficult, frightening, and exhausting. If we meltdown or breakdown because of this we are not petulant, we are not having a tantrum, we are not being willful.
We are scared. So very, very scared. Scared that the world will never be as it is. And exhausted all ready at the idea of learning this new world and making it a part of our inner world. I have the ability to express myself in words through both speaking and writing. I have an IQ that allows me to use logic to help me get past these moments. But right now I am still thinking about my wallet and I am still very angry at it for not being where it should be.
Side note: I found my wallet. I dropped it at the grocery store and a very nice person turned it in. Thank you nice person!