Saturday, 4 March 2017

Demand Avoidance and Self Esteem.

I was diagnosed autistic nearly a year ago now. Knowing I am autistic has allowed me to pick apart several areas of my life and make sense of them.

To be clear, I don't have PDA (I don't think), but having just about managed for years, I had a steady decline into burnout, and demand avoidance has become some sort of self protecting strategy.

I will still look compliant on the outside, as I nod and agree with whatever I'm being told to do, but on the inside I'm panicky and angry, and working out ways to avoid whatever I'm being told to do.

An example of this is art. I used to draw pet portraits, I'm told I was very good, but during the short period when I took commissions, I massively struggled with deadlines, expectations of accurately drawing someone's beloved pet, which I was able to do, but only without a looming time limit, which started to play tricks on my brain and stopped me from being able to draw. After four or five paid commissions I had to stop as I lost the ability to draw.

Other people are funny things, and whenever I showed anyone a drawing, instead of just saying "well done" or "I like it", everyone was an expert and told me other techniques I should be employing "You must try watercolour", "You need to draw backgrounds", and again, my brain twisted these and instead of hearing constructive advice which should have instilled a desire to try new methods, I heard "You're crap, you must change, what you're doing isn't good enough".

Like so many autistic people, I have very low self esteem, perhaps following years of believing I was like everyone else but clearly not as good because of the various struggles I had, perhaps from living in a neurotypical world where standards are high and difference is viewed as failure. In this constant environment of being aware that I'm not as good as others, I've developed a rather unhealthy attitude towards myself and my capabilities which leads to assumptions that I will definitely not come up to scratch where others will triumph effortlessly.

I've also noticed a pattern on Facebook, whenever there's a notification informing me that it's someone's birthday and I should help them to celebrate, my first instinct is to shut off Facebook thinking "no, no, nope, no way......". Whilst writing a simple "Happy Birthday!" sounds easy enough, it really isn't to me. I will procrastinate over whether to write anything at all, and what to write, and whether I know the person well enough to wish them many happy returns, and it all becomes a big brain-funk, making a massive deal out of something that really doesn't matter. But knowing it doesn't really matter doesn't make it any easier. Having put some thought into this, and beating myself up over it, I've come to realise that at the root of this is a lack of self esteem, and when I can pick out some reactions, it boils down to:

I don't think the person will want me to wish them a happy birthday because I'm crap.
If I do write on their wall, it puts pressure on them to acknowledge it or to remember to write on my wall when my birthday comes around, when they might not want to. And I resent Facebook for demanding that I wish the person a happy birthday, and take umbrage at the person for having a birthday in the first place.

This is my internal reaction to so many things.

Sort out the iTunes confusion caused by updating my iPad? I can't, I'm not good enough with technology, I'll get it all wrong, I can't do it, cue snappiness and anger because I want to do it, but there's a good chance I'll make it worse.

Go to my husband's work Christmas do? I don't think others will want me there, I won't add anything to the occasion, in fact by finding it difficult I'll make it awkward for the others, so no, I'll stay at home and kick myself for not going.

I have recently been accepted to study for a masters degree in autism. Whilst I'm thrilled, this has triggered a whole lot to work through. I'm not clever enough, I won't be able to keep up with the work, I feel that my written language skills are limited, I MIGHT FAIL!!!! Humiliation, disappointment and self loathing are surely inevitable outcomes. I have accepted my unconditional place, because I have to do my best to succeed, and I did not go through the pains of filling in forms, writing personal statements and essays only to decide not to carry out my long term plans, but it's incredibly difficult to ignore the part of you that's so sure you'll be an embarrassment. When I do go to university, I will make very sure I have detailed study timetables and a quiet corner at home to work in, and I will have to learn to ignore the inner voice telling me I can't do it.

So much of my demand avoidance boils down to how I feel about myself, and about my own abilities.

Realising this prompted me to explore whether this was the case for my boys. And it seems in a lot of their avoidance, it is.

Fear of not performing well is a massive trigger. An intrinsic belief that even trying will result in failure is at the root of many of my sons' PDA moments. Refusal is easier than trying and failing, or making an attempt and being disappointed with the results.

At the moment, one of PDA boy's passions is scootering. PDA is a barrier to him progressing with all the stunts he wants to learn, as his brain tells him he is rubbish and can't possibly succeed. We have found that coaching in detail through manoeuvres can help, and careful use of language such as "I wonder what would happen if you started by doing....." and breaking each step down into further steps means he can make an attempt, and has started to make clear why school was such a difficult place for him to be, as no-one could see this side of him that needed an awful lot of carefully worded support, and also knowing that small successes must not be praised, as this adds further pressure and self expectations of failure.

I don't imagine this covers every demand avoidant situation, requests for chores to be done are probably covered more accurately by "Boring" and are not interesting enough to contemplate doing. I have no plans to study this further though, I'm not going to waste precious compliant moments by doing something stupid like asking them to do some housework!

Our best successes, whether it is trying a new food, or going to a new place, or doing something exciting, is to offer it up as if it is a very dull option. "We thought we might do XYZ, but we're not that bothered, it's up to you.....", allows them to decide what to do without any pressure, and if the choice is yes, we tend to break it down into small steps. Doing this allows us to spot where potential triggers may be, and to offer a workaround before we've encountered it.

Of course those are our successes, there are plenty of times when we forget these steps are needed, and all hell lets loose, but we like to think that these times will eventually teach us to follow the correct steps more often. We live in hope.

I find it very interesting that my own diagnosis has led to a far better understanding of my children, and allows me to find better strategies for us all to use, gauging various successes by our reactions to them. Hopefully by spotting how my own self esteem affects how well or not that I can function will allow me to make better adjustments for PDA boy and Brian which may just preserve their self esteem as they grow up.

(Thought I should add that the photo, which I hope looks like a child feeling hopeless, was modelled willingly by PDA boy, and was a blatant excuse to try out an exciting new lens and justify the fact that I bought it! I also tried photos of his little brother in a similar pose, but he was wriggling and giggling too much and was demoted to Lens Cap Holder, a job which he did admirably.)

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