Last September I returned from a vacation that I had been dreaming of taking for several years. I had booked my vacation quite a long time ago. After booking it, my personal resources declined. Many autistics know this phenomenon as autistic burnout. I am beginning to understand that there is likely some interplay between autistic burnout and the aging process.
As a child, people sometimes thought I was stubborn and resistant when I did not want to allow them into my space or to do what they wanted me to do. They did not understand the negative effect they had on me and on my surroundings, and at the time, I did not have the words to explain it.
Just like people of all ages can learn, so is it that autistic people of all ages can learn. It is an utterly sad state of affairs that this even needs to be said, but unfortunately, it needs to be said. Too often I see autistic children being babysat rather than being taught at school. When I ask about academic curriculum being used, I am told, “Oh, he has autism” as if this is an answer to my question.
One way people learn is from consequences. For example, if you leave your car parked outside with the windows down and it rains, the natural consequence is that your car seats will get wet. Sometimes a person with authority over another engineers a consequence for certain behaviors as a way to decrease the frequency of unwanted behaviors. For example, a mother or a caregiver might decide that if hitting occurs at the park there will be no going to the park for the next two weeks. This sort of engineered consequence for unwanted behavior works for most people most of the time. It is why we use it to successfully teach our children to become responsible citizens – responsible for themselves, their behavior, their belongings and beyond. These kinds of consequences rarely work well for individuals with autism.
Please know that the behavior of people with autism makes sense in the context of their experience of the world around them. Because typical people do not share our context they are not often able to assign correct meaning and motivation to some of our behavior. They do their best by assigning meaning to our behavior based on what the behavior would mean were they themselves engaged in it the behavior. Often they arrive at wrong conclusions. Sometimes they even assign negative character traits to us based on their wrong conclusions.