Each of us has one I would think. A place we can go and be alone; to think, to decompress. For some of us, however, it is a necessity that helps calm over-stimulated systems and makes sense of confusing situations. In the devastating wake of stories of violence against Autistic children, I have been thinking even more of safety. Not mine…
As you read, Ariane has been reaching out, asking for possible solutions for people in the instance an Autistic person becomes aggressive or violent towards him/herself (self-injurious) or towards others. In her latest piece, she shares the information she learned in communications from both Autistics (kudos, Ariane, for asking the people who are actually experiencing the episodes) as well as non-Autistics. One of the biggest responses:
A Safe Place.
I was reading Ariane’s post and thinking: “Well of course! Everyone knows that!” (Don’t they?) That question brought a flood of memories rushing back. Me trying to get away from people (family, friends) as they followed me about asking: “What is wrong? What did I do? Are you mad??” And me, bottled rage waiting to burst, clinching my fists and trying to get as far away from them as possible. Then a sinking feeling came upon me: There are many who don’t actually know about
the Safe Place.
I will talk to you today from my perspective as an Autistic person who does not experience episodes of violence against others, but who has experienced self-injurious behavior. I will speak to you today about my safe place and how it is integral to my being able to calm myself during extreme episodes of anger.
I have lived with a great deal of anger and frustration my entire life, and still do. I generally keep the anger portion to myself because it’s not a pretty thing. As a matter of fact it’s rather ugly and closely resembles rage. Fortunately I have a great deal of self-control to combat it and have never physically acted out in anger towards anyone (aside from my older brother when we were kids – that stopped around age 9). So when I talk to you about my safe place you will understand it is a place I choose to go, and not a place I need to be asked or encouraged to go for my own safety or for that of others.
So, You want to know about my safe place?
Good. But first you might ask: “Why do you need a safe place if you’re not going to hurt yourself or anyone else?” At which point I will assure you that I need my safe place because I’m furious and someone is going to
This may seem a bit confusing so I’m going to simplify. It comes down to the different ways people can view interactions. What hurts me may not cause someone else to bat an eye. What hurts others may not earn a second glance from me.
For instance, if I’m in a state of upset:
Words from someone (“it’s okay”), ‘soothing’ touches (hugging me, rubbing my arms, holding my hand), sympathetic stares (trying to look into my eyes)…
Suggestions (calm down), directions (sit down, lie down), advice (relax)…
All of these things intensify the feelings I’m already experiencing. Feelings that are running into one another and not allowing me a moment to process:
NOTE: For a moment, I’m going to use you (familiar) because I want you to feel a part of this. Obviously I’m not addressing you personally, but I want it to seem as if you’re in this with me.
It all boils down to the fact that you and I perceive things so very differently. I hear your concern and believe you are acting out of kindness. But your concern is controlling. It doesn’t allow me to do what I want to do. This is what I feel when I’m angry:
Your compassionate words to question or ensure my wellbeing… Attack my ears in a patronizing manner and with the equivalence of nails screeching down a chalkboard.
You follow at my heels to make sure I’m all right… You’re stalking me and I’m desperate to be away from you.
You’ve followed me into a room that I can’t exit. You see I’ve stopped and are under the impression we can talk… I can’t talk now, it’s too difficult to try and form the words that will convey my fury much less coherent thoughts to share my feelings. And more importantly, I don’t want to.
You look into my eyes to convey your feelings and relate to mine… Your eyes bore into me. Through me. And I know you can see everything I’m thinking and feeling, things you have no right to. Private thoughts I don’t want you to know and haven’t given you the permission to see.
You reach out to touch me. To hold me… Your touch is like sandpaper on sunburned skin and your hold is restraining. You’re bigger than me. It’s suffocating and scary.
All of these things equate to powerlessness and a lack of control over my situation.
YOU are in control.
In the scenario above, I wasn’t allowed a moment to gain control over myself much less an understanding of the situation. You took control and handled the situation in the way you wanted. Do you see how differently we view what happened? You were in control of what I heard, where I went and even gave yourself permission to touch me.
Because these are the things that make YOU feel better.
* And to compound the pressure and anxiety, everything I described to you doesn’t include the sensory overload I was experiencing which multiplied at your uninvited intrusion. I talked about my sensory issues here.
My Safe Place
…is any place over which I have complete control. And complete control does not allow for another person because human beings can be unpredictable, uncontrollable creatures. Because I don’t always know what I require I must have the time, space and opportunity to discover what my needs are in a given situation. And I need to do this on my own.
A Few Safe Place requirements:
- Music (w/earphones)
- Sunlight is preferred or low light (no fluorescence)
- Space (I need to be able to move)
- Your absence
Other than that, my needs may change. But if you smother me with your attention; if I feel your care and concern bleeding all over me and seeping into my skin, I won’t be able to concentrate on what it is that I need, and my mood will escalate. I talked about that here.
There are as many different solutions as there are scenarios. What I just shared with you is my solution of choice. Please keep in mind what works for one may not work for others. And I don’t expect everyone to read this post and get it right away, or that it will even make sense. I understand it is difficult for people to accept differing neurologies.
(but that’s why we advocate).
I hope you’ll at least think about what I’ve said. No matter our differences, or whether or not we truly get each other, it’s about accepting one another as individuals. Realizing that we have different wants and needs. We all deserve the courtesy of being allowed to come to terms with our feelings and emotions in our own way. We all deserve
A S A F E P L A C E