Episode 1: How it Starts
We all start off the same way as babies. We begin by being totally self-focused, in our own worlds: how could it be any other way?
At the beginning we have no references other than ourselves.
We are however born with instincts, which like any other animal are ‘hard-wired’ to enable us to survive. As social creatures we instinctively are drawn to others of our kind: we are born to enjoy the faces of our parents and other humans (who correspondingly enjoy our happy response, and so are drawn to protect us as much as they can), we enjoy their touch, the sound of their voices.
Here is an example of the importance placed on faces, from a cousin’s drawing (aged 2)
As we instinctively experience these pleasures, we reach out to them for more, and in so doing leave our own self-absorbed worlds.
Unlike other animals however, we are more intellectually equipped, to reason our way through life better, and for that to happen we have bigger and better brains than others. That brain can also be a hazard, because being such a finely-tuned instrument it is more inclined to fire in unexpected and different ways: a small tweak here or there and part of the brain might become more “overdeveloped”, more sensitive and receptive than it was intended to be (or what is “neurotypical”).
That oversensitivity might for example affect our sense of sight, or of sound, or touch. Or such highly developed sensibilities in concert with each other may produce genius, like Newton or Einstein. I actually believe the more autistic of us are evolutionary attempts to increase the capacity and abilities of our brains, but that in most cases the attempt has overstepped the mark and gone beyond what the brain as a whole is capable of easily handling:
So instead of receiving comforting inputs from outside him.herself, your Child is barraged by overpowering inputs (see the “Visual Oversensitivity” example on the next page.)
The result? As you would predict; your loved one receives conflicting information: he.she has a Strong Social Need for Contact with others, but it conflicts with the Sensory Assault he.she is undergoing, so there is a retreat from the conflict back to the safety of his.her own more familiar self-oriented world.
Note that not all more-autistically-oriented Children experience this visual OverSensitivity, although it is one of the most usual ones. Some may be able and happy to look their parents in the eye and enjoy the contact. But there will always be at least one OverSensitivity. The OverSensitivity to touch for example will be even more devastating to a baby in the first-bonding attempts with its parents and by extension the outside world.
Note also that this is the only reality your Child has experienced. He.she is not able to understand that this OverSensitivity is not the usual state of affairs, that for others there is little or no conflict, and that if possible the best course of action for him.her is to keep trying to reach out for human comforting.
If your physical or verbal attempt at contact is too strong, or your timing is poor, meaning you are interrupting a deeply-withdrawn state, you may without realizing it confirm that human contact is too overpowering, and Own World retreat from you is the best option. This must be a lonely experience. (We need to reach that person in ways that are gentle and encouraging, not in ways that will feel harsh to him or her)
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