What do you mean “trauma?”

Today, a guest post by Joan K. O’Connell, an adult with ASD.

Joan writes:

Note:  I am not an expert on trauma or on trauma recovery.  But I have some experience with trauma at least in part because of the ASD in me.

There are many kinds and degrees of trauma. (That’s this week’s understatement) Please read the work of Peter Levine, Judith Hermann, Pete Walker and others for more info.

What I’ve come to believe is that for an individual with ASD, perceptions of  the ways that people around them interface with them can have a debilitating effect on that person’s developing sense of self. (Or not, depending on that individual!)

Pour moi (French “for me”) :  I have gleaned from reading and counsel that feedback from caregivers and others in my childhood taught me to distrust my own perceptions of this world, especially of my own worth and value.

Example:  As a child, I would ride in the backseat of the family station wagon on our way to a dress-up event (which in the day required a short skirt, bare legs, and dainty little socks, or “nylon stockings,” the combination of which would NOT qualify as warm clothing.)  Sometimes, through chattering teeth, I would say to my parents, “I am cold.”

The consistent response:  “No you are not cold.”

Multiply that by many many incidents of discounting, particularly when I ventured an opinion, observation, or preference.

Example: It is my life-long experience that I take longer than most people to put on my shoes, boots, or coat even when I try really hard to hurry.   I believe it is because I have sequencing [executive functioning] challenges, courtesy of ASD.  https://www.carautismroadmap.org/executive-function/

Exasperated adults, other children, sibs waiting for me asked me. “Why are you so slow!?”   [My child’s bewildered but unspoken conclusion: Well, I don’t know.  I suppose it’s because I’m dumb.]

[An aside: my folks inadvertently connected slowness of any sort with stupidity.]

Now, the theory in pictures, using a dripping faucet as our metaphor:

Various words spoken to or about us, especially as youngsters, begin to “drip cold water” on us. Gradually, we are living in a pond of what I call character assaults.

That is, we begin to form an image of ourselves as less than.  As faulty. As unacceptable. These one-by-one assaults against aspects of our neurological realities pile up over time. 

The verbal abuse/discounting/bullying continues as we develop, including input from peers:

Until some of us are drowning in the effects of chronic discounting.


I hope that some researcher(s) will pick this idea up and explore it in more depth.

This article © 2018 Joan K. O’Connell



2 thoughts on “What do you mean “trauma?”

  1. Good insights.
    I think your observations about the effects of verbal abuse/neglect are also common in many other areas outside of ASD.
    Clem Hasselbach

    Liked by 1 person

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