It happens to all of us. We have a long week, a stressful day, and eventually we notice that we just feel…off. Everyone has their own way of resolving it. Some people do take-out and a movie, some people go for a run. And all some people need is a pet to cuddle. It’s a universal experience, but as I bet you can guess – the autistic experience can be vastly different than that of a neurotypical person. As usual.
The ‘off’ feeling I keep mentioning usually comes to me as sensory oddities. A noise registers as much louder than it normally would. Something that should hurt me doesn’t even register. It all feels wrong. And the wrongness grows. Soon I start losing my words, and communication turns into a frustrating game of charades. And the ability to be flexible that I’ve cultivated? Gone. And left in its place the rigidity of routines and schedules. I am uncomfortable and frustrated and confused. I need a solution. I NEED to make it stop. So what do I do?
Before I knew about autism, before my diagnosis, before I started figuring myself out, the inevitable result was a cascade of meltdowns. It was like my system had to hit its peak over and over again, until it became so overloaded that it crashed. Believe me when I tell you; that was a VERY unpleasant experience. Luckily for me (and everyone around me), a lot of trial and error has given me two things: One, the ability to recognize the ‘off’ feeling shortly after its arrival, and Two, the concept of a Hard Reset.
Bear with me for a minute, and imagine your brain as a computer. For the most part, it runs smoothly enough. And any problem you encounter can be resolved quickly and easily-with a little help from Google. It works fine. Until it doesn’t. You realize your problem is bigger than ctrl-alt-del. This is where the Hard Reset comes in. Sometimes you just have to shut everything down, let it rest, and hope that things look better when you boot it back up.
There are infinite ways to do a Hard Reset, and I can only speak for myself. I find for me, that focusing on my senses is usually a safe bet. Eyes and ears, touch, smell, and even taste can force a reset. All of these are good, but in my case, the magic word is Proprioception. This is a sense that isn’t mentioned a lot, but that refers to knowing where your body is in space. Kids love this 6th sense; it’s why they love spinning until they fall over, and swinging on swings. They fulfill their need for proprioceptive input without even knowing it. And these are great sources! Swings are my go-to emergency tool. It’s not hard to find an empty playground and swing until the world is right again. As good as they are, swings take second place in my sensory toolkit. My true love you ask?
Rollercoasters. My heart belongs to rollercoasters. And how could it not? By the end of my first ride, I’m laughing like a fiend. A special laugh, my wife says, reserved only for the beginning of a successful Reset. A few more rides, and all of a sudden, the lights, the crowds, the screams; things that had been unbearable an hour before are suddenly ok. It’s all ok. I’m ok.