On the loss of autonomy and the danger of ABA, my family ‘ABA’ & my Father

I can’t stress you cannot undo a loss of autonomy in a child. They won’t understand what it means to think what they want. It took 25+ years to realise mine was gone. At 34 it got restored partially but I still experienced Autistic Burnout that almost ended my life.

They will pretend to know what you mean. They will be trying to please you. They will be unable to say no to people (and that is abused for many of us myself included). Autistic children need their autonomy intact, you have to fight for it, the world will try to crush it anyway.

This is possibly the hardest thing about being Autistic without it, figuring out you have spent decades living someone else’s life. Causing yourself stress, suicide ideation, depression, anxiety and often developing CPTSD. The most common thing I hear is “I don’t know who I am”.

I think half the reason we lose a lot of our memories from childhood is that we keep compartmentalising the parts of the mask that were broken, hiding who we were to try and be the right version of ourselves. It’s like a maze of compartmentalisation.

It was world shattering when I did get my memories back. I had hidden so much pain. My life was near constant hurt. I just kept plowing through, picking up both physical and mental stress symptoms. When my compartmentalisation broke down. I nearly died.

I got to recover. The first thing that you are conditioned into is minimising your pain. But I actually didn’t know who I was, or why I did anything in my life. I realised last year simply this – people told me to. I outsourced my life to other’s expectations.

No one should ever feel like they have been living someone else’s life. No one should have to be ashamed of the parts of themselves they’ve been coerced into hiding. There are elements that were me, but most of it broke down under any sort of external pressure, I’d conform.

Saying “no” to anything is still a radical and painful act. I mean that too. It actually is a physically painful thing to do to say “no” for me to some reasonable boundary I am trying to enforce.

I also want to point out, no one knew how bad I was. I kept up appearances. I would look ‘normal’ and ‘happy’. It was all performance art. Also when I said the “right” version, it should have been in quotes. The right version of me is the one without the mask.

If you understand that saying “no” is painful, you will understand why having anger back now is useful. I couldn’t enforce boundaries until I got my anger back. I don’t use it to be mean when enforcing a boundary, but I need it to understand one has been violated.

I didn’t get official ABA. I had brutal authoritarian caregiving for the same length and frequency from a new addition to my family. It was systematic they controlled me. Their friends would comment to leave me alone. From age 8, this is where I really lost my autonomy.

I didn’t mean to mislead anyone here. ABA is the same principles – extrinsic motivation in a reward and punishment based framework with the intent of ’extinguishing’ behaviour. I also attended authoritarian high school. Everything was about brutally conforming and I was punished.

It was their suggestion to my caregiver to threaten to glue sheep shit to my fingers to stop sucking them. But I could have a toy dog if I didn’t. I had none of my regular activities. I was policed for being me in a way the rest of my caregivers did, but were more absent.

I would wake up ever morning in utter terror because the first trial of the day was “breakfast” and it never really stopped after that. Their eyes were on me always. I had no safe haven. It wasn’t just subtle looking, it was staring like a hawk. I have PTSD from every period.

No matter how hard I tried, they’d find fault. I mean the thing about friends. I heard:
“Leave the poor kid alone”
“Will you give him a break”
“What has he done to deserve this?”

I also got really sick with stomach bugs every holiday.

I have a split in the front of my lip it doesn’t look obvious but I got it from an injury when I was 4 years old. It means I don’t form a perfect seal on glasses. Due to this quite often there was a small bit that ran down the glass. I was repeatedly punished for this every drink

This is the person I justified most as me being unfair to also. I was like “I was a bad kid, I needed discipline, it wasn’t unfair I’m overreacting”

Due to the fact I kept getting sick every time I was in this situation for roughly 10 weeks of each year. I actually thought I was being poisoned. It was stress related illness I know now, but I couldn’t work out any other reason why, and I was the only one sick all the time.

The reason I was targeted? I looked like the other parent from the divorce. I was explicitly told they hated me for that reason.

This was the most complicated part of my life. My Dad was awesome to me. He kept telling me he was going to leave them, every year he told me that. I believed it every time. He made me feel safe, but was at work when this happened most of the time. Divorce sucks.

This person made my father really toxic as a person in the end. My Dad started getting really racist. By the time he died I barely recognised him from the values he used to have I grew up around. My Dad I realised in retrospect was a people pleaser. Stuck in a toxic environment.

He became a cautionary tale for me. I never wanted to end up like him, but I also distanced myself from him. His constant betrayal at both sincerely wanting to leave, and being powerless to actually do this I didn’t understand until after he died. It still hurts.

He also did other things that I now realised are just related to the fact he was abused also. Their relationship was toxic I think for both of them. He ended up cheating on her a lot. I knew this was happening, and he didn’t come see me one time he came up to visit.

I blamed him for that, but he was missing basic human needs. I know you will say this is very forgiving of a flawed man. Understanding what I do now and having been in one relationship where I was similarly controlled and got out of eventually (without infidelity), I understand.

My dad taught me to stick up for the underdog, to never respect authority too much, to stand up for what you believed in. He protested apartheid. He campaigned for gay rights. He was a good man, who did bad actions. All his friends spoke so highly of him, he was loyal to them.

I miss him so much now. I have a bad memory for certain stuff just briefly, so I think to myself “I’ll give Dad a call”, then it hits me again with the full emotional force and no passage of time since it happened.

This quote from Seneca is for a reason:
“Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: people learn as they teach.”

For those of us with impaired autonomy, we are the company we keep.

Originally tweeted by Rory – ADHD Autistic OCD (@roryreckons) on November 17, 2021.

Published by roryreckons

I am an ADHD/Autism Coach as well as ADHD/Autism/OCD/CPTSD advocate and independent ADHD/Autism researcher. I am an ADHD/Autism Coach who trained through the ADD Coaching Academy. I write mainly about ADHD/Autism/OCD/Mental health issues, but will also discuss morality, abolition, and current affairs occasionally.

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