The Path of Resistance
For many of us on the autism spectrum, obsessive/compulsive characteristic permeate our daily existence. As children, these traits have the power to set us apart even with the best of interventions in place. As I examined my own history during the course of my formal diagnostic evaluation, I was quite simply blown away by the sheer magnitude of OCD facets of my personality. And despite the knowledge that was gleaned from that process on the impact that my various obsessions and compulsions had on my development as a child and on my life as an adult, it took reaching a point where my life had become unmanageable on a fundamental level to realize once and for all that I was the only one that had the ability to make the decision to convince my brain that it was time let go.
You see, the obsessions can be comforting. The compulsive behaviors are familiar—ingrained, even—and they provide stability and structure in times of chaos. Some people may thrive on chaos, but I am not one of them! I crave stability, structure, predictability, which I believe stems from fear of the unknown and of my inability to handle change. So for all of the years that my obsessions and compulsions thrived, and as much as I was able to recognize the potentially destructive nature of more than a few of them, I was powerless to stop. I needed the obsessive thoughts, the controlling compulsions, and engaging in these allowed me to exert control over an existence that threatened to overwhelm me at any given moment. Through what could be considered a most unfortunate series of events, I have been learning to let go of some of these familiar, but ultimately self-destructive, ways of thinking and behaving. But it took a life-altering moment in time to get me to that point where I could finally recognize what some closest to me had been urging me to acknowledge for years: No good could come from my unwillingness to let go. Honestly, to this day I don’t think that any of these well-intentioned people—some of whom love me—had the first clue as to how impossible what they were asking of me really was. “Just Do It” may work as a fitness-shoe logo, but to individuals mired in self-loathing who are engaging in self-destructive patterns of behavior … not so much. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the point of surrender. But once I was able to reach that point, I was amazed to discover that letting go of some of that which goes to the heart of my autistic characteristics actually made me even more ready and willing to embrace the beauty that is to be found in my quirky little autistic heart and soul.
So the moral of this story? As happens on a fairly regular basis in my life, I can’t help but examine my own experiences from a critical, third-person eye and look to find the lesson to learn. Much of my teacher-training in various forms centered on behavior modification. I absolutely see the value in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, and they have served me well as a mother and a teacher. In my own journey to the realm of sanity, I have used them on myself. But a lesson I have learned that I would like to pass on is this: Not one of us is going to be able to make the meaningful, perhaps life-altering changes you desire for us until we are good and ready to do so, regardless of what kinds of well-meaning incentives or external motivations you might provide. What you can do is to provide us with a safe, nurturing, and completely accepting we-love-you-no-matter-WHAT place. Give us that space in which we can recognize for ourselves the value that can come from the surrender of that which we may believe has kept us sane for as long as we can remember. Then and only then will we have a clear shot at breaking free.