Autistic children, much like Autistic adults, live in a world that bombards them with traumatic experiences. There is often a misunderstanding around what trauma is caused by the neuronormative standard of what is allowed to be viewed as traumatic. The truth is that trauma can look different for Autistic people. Trauma that often lands our children on a CAMHS waiting list.
It is no surprise then that in a previous article I found that 70% of Autistic people experience issues with their mental health compared to 25% of the general population. This has resulted in a staggeringly high suicide rate with equally concerning numbers for the number of attempted suicides. Autistic people are losing their lives because of the cruelty and mistreatment inflicted upon them by this world.
Why is it then that CAMHS is turning away children who carry a label of “autism”? As soon as that word is queried or associated with the Autistic person, many services will turn them away. If you are Autistic and on a CAMHS waiting list, you very quickly learn that your struggle is not something that can be supported.
Autistic children are often referred onto disability services that lack the understanding to support their mental health needs. Too many Autistic children need CAMHS but are instead offered services that lack the expertise to support them. It seems as though there is some circular logic going on here.
CAMHS won’t support Autistic children because they lack the specialist knowledge to do so. However, because this means that Autistic children represent a small amount of their service users, it is deemed that there is no need to upskill their staff. It becomes an iron circle of failure.
CAMHS are not just turning away Autistic children. They have a significant lack of competence with regard to Autistic people. This, in part, can be traced back to the medicalisation of Autistic experience and the ignoring of Autistic voices. A lot could be changed simply by inviting Autistic researchers, advocates, and activists into clinical commissioning meetings.
Fundamentally, the first step is to have Autistic children admitted to CAMHS services. The current situation allows for their existence to be ignored, creating environments with no requirement for doing better. We can’t stop there, though, because to do so would be to relegate Autistic children and their families to the position of perpetual educators. Autistic people are not a free educational resource.
We are real people with real lives. Autistic children, like any children, feel love, fear, happiness, and sadness. All Autistic people are threatened while the younger generations of our community are inappropriately supported. We need to create a world that says yes to supporting Autistic children rather than bickering amongst themselves over who is the most qualified to support them.
This article was co-authored between David Gray-Hammond and Tanya Adkin
Trigger Warning:Some of the research quoted in this article contains person-first language or references to aspergers. While the authors do not agree with the use of such language, we must access the research and statistics available to us.We are also aware that some of the research cites Simon Baron-Cohen, unfortunately it is almost impossible to avoid him when writing this kind of article.There are also detailed discussions of various traumatic experiences including mentions of suicide, addiction, and mental health issues.
This website houses extensive writing on the topic of Autistic people and addiction, poor mental health, and suicidality, but we are yet to answer one very important question; how do autistic people end up suffering? The truth is that it requires falling dominoes of extensive systemic failure and trauma. In this series of articles, we hope to explore some of the reasons behind the development of poor outcomes in the Autistic population. The reasons listed in this article are non-exhaustive, and we would like to highlight that Autistic people are failed repeatedly throughout their lives.
This is alarmingly evident in the suicide rate for Autistic people. In a large-scale clinical study of newly diagnosed adults, 66% self-reported reported that they had experienced suicidal ideation. This is significantly higher than suicide rates among the general population of the UK (17%) and those experiencing psychosis (59%); 35% of those involved in the study had planned or attempted suicide (Cassidy, S. et al; 2014).
Trauma is a significant predictor of poor outcomes in all people, regardless of neurotype. Since the 1900’s research has indicated that there is a strong link between psychological stress in childhood and adult behaviour (Zarse, E. M. et al; 2019). What we can infer from this, is that childhood trauma plays a role in the development of poor mental health and addiction in adults. The question that arises from that statement is; what constitutes trauma for an Autistic person?
There is an consistent theme in the Autistic community that there is no such thing as an untraumatised Autistic. Kieran Rose (2021) has discussed previously how the diagnostic criteria is based on trauma behaviours, rather than Autistic experience. David Gray-Hammond (2020) has also discussed how current diagnostic criteria is based on Autistic people in distress, and as we move towards a world where Autistic people are better supported and accommodated, the criteria will need to change.
There are strong well evidenced links between autism and PTSD, and links between PTSD and addiction, yet for some reason no one seems to connect the dots. There is also significant evidence of a connection between autism and poor mental health and wellbeing, and connections between poor mental health and addiction. Again, no one seems interested in exploring that intersection.
So, what constitutes trauma in Autistic people?
First, we need to consider sensory trauma. Autistic people are subject to sensory trauma on a daily basis, it is not something that can be avoided in todays society, rather we are literally traumatised by living in a neurotypical world (Fulton, R. et al; 2020). Bearing in mind our sensory differences, this is something that is happening to us from birth.
We are experiencing trauma from birth. Some argue that this could possibly be from prior to birth.
We also experience significant sensory invalidation. Think about the number of times a child has said something is too loud, too hot, too busy; the amount of times that has been met with “don’t be silly”, “there’s nothing to be scared of”.
“Society invalidates the Autistic state of being, daily, hourly, minute by minute – every time one of those scenarios, plus a million more occur.”
Autistic people are also at risk of ‘Mate Crime’. Mate crime is a partcular subset of hate crime where vulnerable individuals are targeted by people posing as friends in order to take advantage of and abuse the individual (Pearson, A. and Forster, S.; 2019). Dr. Chloe Farahar and David Gray-Hammond (2021) had a livestream discussion about Autistic people and crime that included discussion of mate crime, the recording can be found here.
“In a 2015 survey, 80% of autistic people reported that they had been taken advantage of by someone they considered to be a friend. This was a colossal leap from the already significant 48% which had been previously recorded and it illustrated a problematic truth: Autistic people make easy targets.”
Unfortunately, mate crime is not just an experience of Autistic adults (Parry, H.; 2015).
A significant concern for Autistic people is bullying. Bullying can happen to anyone, but it is well known that it happens to Autistic people at a much higher rate.
“I really didn’t understand why kids chased me on the playground. All I know is that when they saw me, and they saw me talking to myself and rubbing my hands together and stimming, that I was all of a sudden “marked.””
Physical violence and hateful slurs from peers is a common experience for Autistic people of all ages. Society itself does not cope well with the existence of diversity. It starts young, but only increases in frequency and severity as we grow up, it can turn into things such as financial and sexual exploitation.
Of course, we can not discuss Autistic trauma without reference to behaviourism. For decades, “therapies” such as ABA and PBS have traumatised Autistic people. In fact, in the UK, SEND support is designed around making an Autistic person behave in a neurotypical manner. Considering this, is it any surprise that Autistic people walk away from these experiences with a great deal of trauma (Adkin, T.; 2021). We are literally being taught that who we are is wrong, and that our needs and wants don’t matter.
Often Autistic communication is invalidated because we do not communicate in the same way as non-autistic people. Many of us are non-speaking, communicating through AAC and similar. Many of us also have co-occurring conditions that make spoken communication a challenge. Autistic people communicate differently, we know this because it’s medically defined as a social communication “disorder”. What constitutes a disorder is defined by the medical model of disability and autism research. Difference is always assumed to be less, this is reflected in the systemic ableism and the insistence that different communication is some how less valid.
Many people have thought that they knew me, but see me in light of my mute mouth and wrongly understood that I think and feel nothing. People are too blind to see the person that I am behind my happy smile. I feel that I am loving and kind and also know that I am empathetic and thoughtful, with feelings that can overwhelm my mind and then they cause me to act like an utter fool.
We may not know how to communicate what is happening to us, we may have tried to communicate but it is misunderstood by the people around us, we may have experienced so much communication invalidation that we just stop trying. This can be particularly true of people who do not communicate using mouth words, especially because society has perpetuated a myth that non-speaking means non-thinking. What ever way you look at it, Autistic communication is considered less valid. Often, being Autistic can be used as a reason to cast us out.
All of this means that many Autistic people will isolate themselves from the world, and that isolation starts from a young age. Mazurek, M. O. (2014) stated that greater quantity and quality of friendships were associated with decreased loneliness in Autistic adults. Here’s the problem, Autistic people are in the minority. We do not have access to community as children, especially if we are pushed through a mainstream institution. Even if there are other Autistic people in that class, we do not know what it means to be Autistic.
The double empathy problem tells us that we have better interactions and quality of relationships with other Autistic people as opposed to neurotypicals. Autistic and non-autistic people exist in two different social contexts (Milton, D.; 2012).
“…double empathy problem’ refers to a breach in the ‘natural attitude’ (Garfinkel 1967) that occurs between people of different dispositional outlooks and personal conceptual understandings when attempts are made to communicate meaning”
Milton, D. (2012)
This disjuncture between Autistic and non-autistic communication can be traumatic for the Autistic person (Milton, D.; 2012).
Finally, we need to talk about restraint and seclusion. There are many different forms of restraint and seclusion, but each one of them teaches us from a young age that we do not have autonomy. It teaches us that our communication is not valid, that when we react to situations that we find overwhelming or distressing, we get punished.
An ABA practitioner physically holding our hands still, is a form of restraint.
But restraint has a darker side. As an example, we might look at the case of Max Benson, a 13 year old Autistic child who died as a result of being restrained for over two hours (Vance, T.; 2019). This isn’t just a problem in the USA though, it is happening in the UK also. A 12 year old Autistic child was restrained and handcuffed by police on his first day of secondary school, he was 5ft tall, and multiple police officers and staff used force to restrain him (Halle, M. and Cardy, P.; 2021). I think it is clear why this is traumatic for Autistic people.
Every school in the UK has a restraint policy. Sold as being for “everyone’s safety” while in fact it remains state sanctioned abuse. We have toddlers being restrained into preschool, into environments that cause them sensory trauma. Parents are told “they’re fine once they’re in” by people who have no understanding of masking. If you’re too big to be physically restrained, they use chemical restraint.
David Gray-Hammond (2020) writes of his experience as an undiagnosed Autistic person in a psychiatric ward. He discusses how, due to being a large man, staff chose to chemically restrain him with a heavy regime of antipsychotics and sedatives, rather than address the issues that were causing him distress.
It’s not just adults that are victims of chemical restraint, children under the age of 10 years old have been prescribed antipsychotic medications because it is cheaper and more convenient than meeting their needs.
Seclusion is a problem because it uses isolation as a form of coercion. Children and adults who do not conform to societies neuronormative ideals are secluded for long periods in isolation, seemingly as a punishment for not being “normal”. It’s inordinately unethical, and yet ethics don’t seem to apply when the victim is neurodivergent.
What does all this lead to?
Truthfully, it leads to suffering. Dr. Nick Walker put it best during her session with Aucademy.
The next piece in this series will explore the systemic failings in identification and lack of accessibility.
As a late identified Autistic/ADHD adult, a parent to two children with multiple neurodivergence, and a professional working within the voluntary sector from a young age, I have unique insight from all perspectives.
I have worked within the voluntary sector, starting within the disabled children’sservice, progressing on to mental health, healthcare funding, youth services, domestic abuse, and much more.
For the last six years, I have developed a specific interest both personally and professionally in special educational needs and disabilities, particularly around neurodivergence and the challenges faced by families when trying to access support.
I am dedicating to educating in neurodivergent experience in order to help families thrive by providing insight, reframing, and perspective in an accessible and personable way.
With experience, passion, and an individualised approach in close collaboration withfamilies, I help them work towards holisticchild and family-centered solution
Adkin, T. (2021) Behaviourism damages Autistic children. tanyaadkin.co.uk
Cassidy, S., Bradley, P., Robinson, J., Allison, C., McHugh, M., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). Suicidal ideation and suicide plans or attempts in adults with Asperger’s syndrome attending a specialist diagnostic clinic: a clinical cohort study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 1(2), 142-147.
Farahar, C. and Gray-Hammond, D. (2021) Autistic people and crime. Aucademy. YouTube.
Fulton, R., Reardon, E., Kate, R., & Jones, R. (2020). Sensory Trauma: Autism, Sensory Difference and the Daily Experience of Fear. Autism Wellbeing CIC.
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs.
Gray-Hammond, D. (2020) Autism and the future of diagnostic criteria. emergentdivergence.com
Gray-Hammond, D. (2020) My experience of restraint in a psychiatric hospital: This is not a love story. International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion. NeuroClastic. Neuroclastic.com
Halle, M. and Cardy, P (2021) ‘Overreaction’: Autistic son handcuffed by police on first day of term at Notts academy. Nottingham Post
Hernandez, P. (2021) Who am i? nottootrapped.wordpress.com
Milton, D. E. (2012). On the ontological status of autism: the ‘double empathy problem’. Disability & Society, 27(6), 883-887.
Parry, H. (2015). Shocking rise of «mate crime»: How children with autism or Asperger’s are being bullied, abused and robbed by so-called friends.
Pearson, A., & Forster, S. (2019). Lived Experience of Friendship and Mate Crime in Autistic Adults.
Rose, K. (2018) An Autistic Invalidation. theautisticadvocate.com
Sinclair, J. (2020) Autism exploitation: How to spot it and how to make it stop. autisticandunapologetic.com
Vance, T. (2019) #ShineOnMax Community-wide Candlelight Vigil for Max Benson, Sunday November 17. International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion. NeuroClastic. Neuroclastic.com
Walker, N., Farahar, C., Thompson, H. (2021) What is neurodiversity & why’s it important? Nick Walker with Chloe & Harry: Aucademy in discussion. Aucademy. YouTube.
Wise, M. (2019) The long term impact of bullying. Neuroclastic. Neuroclastic.com
Zarse, E. M., Neff, M. R., Yoder, R., Hulvershorn, L., Chambers, J. E., & Chambers, R. A. (2019). The adverse childhood experiences questionnaire: two decades of research on childhood trauma as a primary cause of adult mental illness, addiction, and medical diseases. Cogent Medicine, 6(1), 1581447.
It has been known for some time that Autistic people experience suicidal thoughts, ideation, and attempts at a much higher rate than the general population, but one recent piece of commentary paints a stark image of Autistic suffering.
South et al (2021) discuss the field of Autistic suicide prevalence. One of the most uncomfortable truths in their writing comes from Kõlves et al (2021). This study found the incidence rate of auicide attempts and deaths amongst Autistics to be over 3 times higher than the general population. This figure was higher still for Autistic women and Autistics with co-occuring psychiatric conditions.
Why is this?
In general, Autistics have to cope everyday with a system that by its very nature traumatises the Autistic mind. We are forced to mask who we are just to survive.
Just 22% of Autistics are in any kind of employment (Office for National Statistics, 2021), a disturbing figure when you consider that for many, having a job dictates your access to physical and mental health care.
This feeds neatly into the idea of minority stress. Dr Monique Botha-Kite has done some great work in this field and I recommend checking out the live session that Dr Botha-Kite did with Aucademy on the topic.
Botha and Frost (2018) found that as an identity-based minority, Autistic people experience increased social stress throughout their lives. This has a range of impacts that I won’t get into here, but I highly recommend checking out the study here.
We also can not ignore the intersections with the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities, which represent a huge quantity of the community. Both of these communities experience their own minority stress, and we need to familiarise ourselves with how these different stressor interact with and potentiate each other.
The world is not designed for Autistics. It is a harsh environment that is actively killing our people. But what can be done about it?
We need to improve the diagnostic process and post-diagnostic support. Currently many Autistic people wait too long for a diagnosis that comes with exactly zero help.
We need to improve access to mental health and substance use treatment. Clinicians working within these services need to be not only aware of the neurodiversity movement, but actively engaging with and supporting it.
In fact, all professionals working with Autistic people need to be engaging with and supporting the neurodiversity movement.
Everyone needs to familiarise themselves with the unique intersection of BIPOC and Autistic experiences.
Autistic people need improved access to support for LGBTQIA+ issues such as gender dysphoria.
These are a few suggestions that I believe could help improve the suicide rate for Autistic people by improving their quality of life.
It is clear that the neurodiversity movement still has quite a distance to go, but I firmly believe that slowly but surely, we will get to where we are going.
After leaving an abusive relationship, I developed a plan to create healthy relationships as a way to heal past traumas. I was determined to never choose another situation where I would give away my power to someone else, and by using my background as a psychology major and the years I had already spent in therapy, I came up with a personal plan to heal. I embarked on a year long journey to become trauma informed, heal my trauma, and then create new relationships that would support me in my growth.
Trauma is when a distressing event causes extended long term damage to our brain and nervous system, resulting in poorly regulated emotional responses and long term issues. The more helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized, and our bodies will replay the event repeatedly through our behavior until it is healed. When childhood trauma is not resolved, a sense of fear and helplessness will follow us into adulthood. When trauma isn’t healed, over time it can look like personality, family traits or culture. Healing is ultimately a lifelong discovery of learning the ways we have been holding ourselves back in our lives, and overcoming all of the limits placed on ourselves by our own minds.
In my own life, I experienced many traumatic events and have a long list. When I was 3, my mother drove off of a cliff and was crushed between a truck and a tree, resulting in a head injury and her being permanently physically disabled, which meant many responsibilities fell to me as a child, due to my father being absent and neglectful. My mother’s bipolar went undiagnosed until shortly before her suicide in 2018. I was bullied and socially ostracized by my peers while growing up. All of this and more impacted how I function today.
I was late diagnosed with Aspergers officially in 2007 when I was already 26, and thus share a story that is common with many other autistics in my age group of millennials who grew up being the scapegoated child, whose behaviors got them labeled as the “bad” one in the family, when all they really needed was empathy and more effort from those around them. All of these traumatic experiences added up to me scoring an ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score of 8. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 6 adults reported they had experienced four or more types of ACE’s, and the economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year. (Find out your own ACE’s score here.)
I then went on to have cancer twice as an adult, before leaving my psychologically and emotionally abusive marriage of over ten years. My marriage taught me that if someone only “loves” you when you do what they want, it’s not love, it’s control. My entire story is one of survival and overcoming my circumstances to make the best of what I was given. We all have different starting points, but almost every single one of us carries some form of trauma that is waiting to be healed.
“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
The single biggest risk with trauma is the fact that it causes a chronic belief in the idea that paranoia and mistrust are actual prerequisites of survival. You start thinking that assuming good faith in anyone is actually dangerous, because it leaves you open to being dominated or exploited. This generates a negative feedback loop, which ultimately means that you no longer have the ability to trust anyone, because you assume that the only outcome of attempting to do so will be pain.
Trauma is healed in safe environments where we feel seen, heard, understood and accepted. I knew I would need to have healthier models around me for the behaviors that I was trying to create in myself. Because trauma shatters your sense of security, it’s important to create supportive non judgmental environments that give us opportunities to experience feelings of safety and trust. Surrounding myself with people who could offer me grace and understanding that I’m always trying my best even when I’m not always at my best became a priority in my recovery. I didn’t know what healthy was yet, but I knew that it was what I ultimately wanted, and I wasn’t willing to settle until I had it. But because I didn’t have any relationships to begin with yet, I began with myself instead.
“Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, and mirror what you admire.”
– Deb Sofield
Despite a decade of being told daily by the man who I married that I wouldn’t make it out of our marriage alive, I was still deeply shocked and traumatized when my former husband reacted to my request for an amicable divorce by raping me and then throwing me out into the cold a few days later on October 14, 2019. My world turned upside down and was suddenly a terrifying and unpredictable place. I was immediately very afraid of men in general, I felt they were all out to get me somehow, but I didn’t want to have that crippling fear of people anymore. I went out of my way to reach out to a few select men I already knew who seemed fairly non toxic and self aware, and could model for me the healthy boundaries that I was trying to emulate. During the early days of being homeless in my van in the winter of 2019, a dear friend from high school reconnected with me and agreed to help to guide me through my healing process by providing me a friendship as a safe place to process my trauma, and I will always be grateful to him for the time and effort he invested in me to do so. Around the same time, I also approached a local facebook friend that I trusted to spend time with, and he helped me to trust in my process and my spiritual journey. In 2020 shortly after I found stable housing I sadly lost both relationships due to being emotionally reactive and having trauma responses before immediately regretting burning my bridges, but the reasons for my actions don’t matter, ultimately I am responsible for the consequences of lashing out at them.
Both of those men practiced a relationship style called polyamory, having consensual loving relationships with more than one partner, which led me to discovering a relationship style called Solo Polyamory, the practice of having multiple loving relationships while still maintaining independence and living as a single person. As someone recovering from Intimate Partner Violence I found the idea of putting my autonomy and freedom first empowering, and embraced the concept of dating myself. I never really understood hierarchical ranking the importance of human beings by applying specific labels to them anyway. Everyone is a partner. Love is love!
Dating myself meant setting fun dates to focus on self care, but it also meant becoming the kind of partner that I would want to date, so I had to get very honest with myself quickly about what would potentially hold me back once I actually was dating other people again. In order to attract what I wanted, I had to first become it. I learned the difference between loneliness and being alone when I started enjoying my own company. I started journaling lists of my triggers and areas I still needed to grow, but also listed the things I was doing right, and wrote myself love letters. Finding a balance and practicing self compassion was so important! I made a list of goals and went back to therapy. I started following mental health professionals on social media. And I started reading self help books on codependency and attachment theory as well as childhood trauma. One of my favorites is “Unf#ck Your Brain: Using Science To Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs and Triggers,” by Faith G. Harper, Phd LPC-S ACS ACN. This taught me that an underlying issue was my own boundaries. Boundaries are limited rules within our relationships, and can be rigid, porous, or healthy. They can be physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or financial. In addition to being extended to others, they also apply to ourselves. Learning healthy boundaries was a key factor in my eventually finding healthy relationships.
The Four Principles of Healthy Boundaries 1. Let people down, but don’t let down the people who matter. 2. Make conscious compromises 3. Be comfortable with discomfort 4. Don’t be the elephant in the room.
Also instrumental in my recovery was in teaching myself green flags. I knew about red flags from my earlier classes in preventing Intimate Partner Violence and the patterns I had already seen in my marriage to my ex husband, such as lovebombing, gaslighting, shaming or belittling, isolating, testing boundaries, blame shifting and fault finding to not take responsibility, among others. But learning that there were also green flags to look for allowed me to create standards for myself and identify things to look for in the healthy relationship I wanted but had yet to experience. These relationship green flags include open communication, vulnerability, empathy, integrity and personal responsibility, self sufficiency, healthy hobbies, spirituality, long standing friendships, the ability to self reflect, honors boundaries, practices self care and has long standing friendships. Affection, maturity, confidence – suddenly I knew exactly what I was looking for.
I became very intentional in my search. In the early fall of 2020 I created what I called my “recipe for a mate,” a list of qualities I wrote out to narrow down my search. I became specific and in addition to green flags, I identified my own values that I wanted to see reflected in a romantic relationship, such as understanding consent, being a child at heart who likes to play and a best friend before anything else. I knew my standards were high but I also knew that I was able to reciprocate anything that I was requesting, so I refused to compromise until I found it.
I slowly began to put myself in situations where I would meet other people, but I did not use dating sites or apps because I knew I wouldn’t find the love I was looking for amongst people just trying to fill a void of loneliness. If I wanted to find someone like me, I was going to find them in places that people like me hung out in. The search began by letting my friends know that I was starting to look and was open to finding someone else again, and then due to it being a pandemic I simply began being more active in Facebook groups created for people with similar interests as me. Then I was patient and just leaned into the pause. I knew I was ready so I waited for love to come and find me, and eventually it did!
“An old alchemist gave the following consolation to one of his disciples: no matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”
Carl G. Jung
I learned by trial and error. Success is a function of correction; try, try again! The first relationship found me by commenting on a post I made. We discovered things in common and mutual interests but then I started overlooking red flags once my feelings got involved. Things started escalating quickly which should have been another red flag, but at the time I didn’t know any better. It ended badly after a few months but it taught me a lot about searching for partners who appreciate things rather than judge them, and who can take responsibility instead of justifying and laying blame. This was the relationship that taught me to recognize trauma bonds, the process through which you begin to confuse abusive behavior for love. In healthy love, your affection for one another grows over time. In a trauma bond, it’s instantaneous because it’s not love, it’s attachment, an idea of love that makes you feel better about a preexisting issue in your life. With every failure I was able to narrow my search, and every time I walked away from toxic it got easier. Already having several newer healthy relationships to walk towards helped to leave the toxic behind me where I left it.
After learning to identify and walking away from trauma bond relationships, my patience and resilience paid off, and love started showing up in my life, usually in unsought for and entirely unexpected ways. This led to an entirely new challenge, how to navigate healthy relationships for the first time, which ended up being much scarier than I first anticipated. Being autistic, I had to teach myself small talk for essentially the first time, and in the beginning I would bombard my dates with infodumps as a way of attempting to bond. Many of the people I had started talking to were neurotypical and not on the spectrum at all, and while they were willing to meet me in the middle this also meant I had to learn more effective ways of communicating, such as using “I” statements that didn’t come naturally to me. However, I keep trying to do better than I did the day before, and things get a little easier each day.
My new healthy relationships are teaching me how to be a better person and a better partner, which in turn makes me a better parent for my children. Each of my partners is showing me with effort and not words what it means to care for the people you love. One of my relationships is about five months old and he has yet to actually say I love you, but he shows me daily in how he shows up for me and is present in my life that he already does, so I know it will come eventually when he’s ready. He’s been the literal opposite of my ex’s love bombing and future faking, slow and steady was everything I needed to teach me how to trust.
In summary, healing trauma will only happen in an emotionally supportive environment, and to achieve that we have to be selective about the people we surround ourselves with, especially during the dating process. Invest your time in yourself first to become who you want to attract. Take a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses, then turn those weaknesses into strengths and goals to smash! Learn to be okay with being alone. Brush up on your own relationship skills. Get intentional and know what you want before tuning in and broadcasting your signal. Take it slow and put in the time to get to know someone. Be willing to walk away when things aren’t working. Don’t chase or force anything, trust in the timing and most importantly, expect the unexpected!
Sarah Snow was previously a psychology major, before becoming a mother and teaching preschool. She had breast cancer twice before leaving her ex husband and becoming an advocate for intimate partner violence and trauma education. When she isn’t spending time with her wonderful kids or volunteering at her local library, she loves writing and painting, and living a peaceful and intentional life!
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