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"I'm great. I'm great. I'm not great": Crashing in Autism

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

I have noticed a pattern in a subset of those with autism having to do with difficulties predicting an emotional, physical, and psychological "crash." More common in the women I serve, the phenomenon seems be associated with deficits in self-monitoring and awareness. The ability to check in with oneself and see gradual changes in resilience is important to running the "marathon" of life. "How am I doing today? What do I need? Even though my brain would love to do this activity, does my 'system' have the resilience for it right now?"

For those who have this difficulty with self-awareness, they often notice if they are "good" versus "not good" but miss most of the steps in between. An example would be the professional who is so excited to start four new projects at once within their special interest, and indeed feels great for six months of the journey, but becomes nearly incapacitated without clear warning. Another would be the student who tells her counselor, "But I'm feeling really good taking 7 advanced placement classes. I totally enjoy it." Later she has to drop 5 of them and then feels defeated, exhausted, and ashamed.

This can be confusing to others who emphasize, "But she wants to do this." That may be true, but keep in mind that her brain struggles to self-monitor gradual changes in her physical and emotional states. The person may say, "I don't know that I'm going down hill until I'm already hitting rock bottom." If people give her feedback on the way that she seems to be struggling more recently, she may resist considering any options that would require her to "switch gears." The momentum she has with her intense interest feels so good and easy and right.

Over time, the individual has to learn that she struggles in this area of monitoring. Self-awareness can help her develop some coping strategies.


The individual may realize she is blind to the gradual decline, and, therefore, identify 2-3 trusted individuals to give her feedback. Even though she may not intuitively resonate with the feedback in the moment, she will have to use her past experiences to say, "Yes, I know I'm not good at recognizing these things. Because I trust these individuals, I will take a step back and re-evaluate."


The ASD individual will tend to be all-or-nothing in some of his approach to life. He may consider what he might enjoy or feel like if he DOES plan A or if he DOESN'T DO plan A. Encourage the individual to consider options in between DOING and NOT DOING. Maybe the plan is to do a piece of something with rest breaks and pacing along the way. Considering the in-between options will be helpful and more likely to end in success.


Don't wait until you feel like you need to rest or take care of yourself. Schedule a regular routine of sensory inputs, rest, nutrition, and other things that will support your resilience. By the time you think you need to rest, it will be too late to avert the crisis. Schedule your self-care.

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