Autism seems to be its own entity for now and most likes will be until we truly know what causes. It crosses so many thresholds. Even as a professional no one can agree what to call us. Are we behavioral therapists? technician? And then when I tell them I’m a BCBA explaining what that stands for gets even more blank stares.
Some situations are much rougher than others. For parents who have children who are perhaps older and who engage in dangerous behaviors it might look more like a mental illness.
I’ll elaborate a little, because I feel like I kind of owe the community that much…
Kori, I’m an autistic adult. I have mental illnesses (depression, PTSD, OCD, and anxiety), which are not autism. The more ‘dangerous behaviors’ I engage in are not related to my being autistic, but to those actual mental illnesses. However, behavior is communication. When I engage in those behaviors, it is because I do not know how to otherwise express myself. My brain tells me to do awful things, because the depression and its friends are bastards who really don’t like me… and they want me to not like myself, either. That’s not autism.
Now, when I have an autistic meltdown and slap myself or pinch myself or otherwise harm myself… it’s because I need to regulate my sensory input/output and those stimulating behaviors give my brain something on which to focus, which isn’t the million thoughts per minute rushing through my head. It’s the same reason I save getting tattooed for when I’m feeling overwhelmed with stress… an hour or five of constant pain stimulus helps me regulate my thoughts. Thank goodness I have more blank canvas left (though, it’s quickly disappearing as I get older).
My autistic responses to stress are nowhere near the same as my depression/OCD/PTSD/anxiety responses. Those particular responses are: ‘Eff this, I don’t want to be here anymore, I want to go to sleep and never wake up. Throw yourself off a bridge and get this over with. You suck. You are worthless. Why are you still here?’ My autistic responses are more along the lines of: ‘This is too much. Can’t think. Can’t process. FRUSTRATION! PANIC! UGH! Get out of this situation and go somewhere to calm down! GO!’ …which leads to bolting (something I still tend to do, even as an adult).
So, as I said… no, please don’t conflate autistic self-injury with self-destructive behaviors of those who are mentally ill. Yes, there are people who cut themselves as a means of regulating their depression, etc. but it’s not quite the same as the self-injurious behavior of autistic individuals. Again, low on spoons, so I’m not going to get into the entire diatribe I have on this.