By Erin: Geeky Science Mom
Resilience. That is an interesting word to say. Resilience. To me, this word holds power and personal meaning. It even feels good in my mouth when I say this word out loud. Resilience. There is just something about this word that gives me strength when I feel I have nothing left to give.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resilience means “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens”. For someone who was not diagnosed with Autism until I was 36 years old, and who has experienced extensive medical and personal life trauma, I have had to have quite a bit of resilience over the years. I had no help or accommodations. I never had an advocate until very recently and I was never taught how to advocate for myself until I discovered my “voice”. Writing is my “voice”, and through the use of my “voice”, I have been expressing the strengths of Autism over the last few weeks since April is Autism Acceptance Month or Autism Awareness Month depending on where you live.
I have written about hyper focusing, hyper awareness, and hyper memory. These traits are all strengths of Autism, but what about resiliency? Lots of people have resiliency, what does this have to do with Autism? In my last three posts about the strengths of Autism I have referred to the strengths as traits of an individual, but resiliency is something that researchers are not quite sure if it is a personality trait that you are born with or if it is something you learn over time.
“Some research suggests that resiliency is a personality trait and cannot so much be acquired or developed, but is merely something someone is born with. Other research, however, provides evidence that perhaps resiliency is a dynamic process, influenced heavily by environment, demographic shifts, and other factors. “- Contributed by Jen Wilson, GoodTherapy.org Correspondent.
Determination, perseverance, and just plain stubbornness combined with the belief that you can’t give up is why I think I have the high level of resiliency that I have. Perhaps for me, resiliency is a personality trait. Perhaps it is something I was born with and has become even stronger over time, but is having resilience really a strength of Autism?
I have been to hell and back again more than once and more times than want to say. These times have been an emotionally, physically, and mentally draining tortuous ride, yet I keep trucking along. How do I keep going like I do? I have been asked this many times over the years and I really can’t answer the question. I don’t know how I can keep going like I do. All I know is that I just do.
Resilience has been described as a muscle, something that gets built up over time. The thought is the more hurt or shock or pain a person experiences at a younger age, the more resilient a person is later in life. I don’t recommend this “stress inoculation”, because this could unquestionably lead to a host of psychological problems and a greater risk of PTSD, but research has shown that there is some truth to this “muscle building” of resiliency.
Let’s say that you are autistic and you are living in a world that is not designed for you. Let’s say you were not born with a sensory filter and are bombarded by sensory input constantly. Your brain doesn’t know what to ignore, so you notice everything that your senses detect. You experience pain every day from fluorescent lights and the ongoing noises of our busy society. You easily get overwhelmed by smells and tactile sensations.
Let’s say you also have trouble communicating verbally in a way that people will understand you, because of this communication issue, you are perhaps seen as less than a person. You are seen as unintelligent because you communicate differently from the majority of the population. You are seen as “wrong” because you behave differently from what is considered socially acceptable. You are ignored and disregarded because you experience the world differently and react accordingly. Now let’s say you have experienced life like this for as long as you can remember. If you weren’t born with resiliency already, you end up having to build resilience just to survive in a world like this.
I know so many autistic individuals that have developed amazing resiliency. They have had to. Yet, this amazing ability seems to go unnoticed by so many. We understand what is being said about us, even if certain people do not notice that we are listening to their every word. We can read and understand what is being written about us, even though we might not be able to verbally prove this to certain people’s satisfaction. Resilience. We deal with a lot. Many of us crumble under the weight of the stress at some point in our lives, but many of us climb out of that rubble and continue on. That is what resilience is, the ability to keep moving forward despite adversity.
I am an autistic adult and have come so far since I was diagnosed two years ago, but my journey is far from complete and I hope it never ends. There is a saying that a person grows old when they stop learning. I am still growing as a person, still learning, still developing. I may be developmentally delayed, but that hasn’t stopped me from growing as a person. It just may take me longer to reach certain milestones in life.
Resilience – “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens”. Lately, bad things seem to keep happening to me, but I pick myself up and keep moving forward. You cannot point to a place in my brain and say that is where the Autism is. Autism is interwoven into everything I am, including my resilience. This is me and all of this are the strengths of Autism.