- By Manasa RB (@happycrisps)
How many of you are aware of the term ‘Autism’ and the stigma it brings? If you are one of those who haven’t heard of the term before, you are not alone. In fact, one in every 100 children under the age of 10 has Autism in India (Arora, 2018). Yet, there is little awareness on this in our country.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability characterized by difficulty in communication, social skills and restricted and repetitive interests and behaviors. It also results in over stimulation, behavioral difficulties, difficulty processing information, perseverative thinking etc. Autism is often described under the umbrella term, ‘neurodiversity’, which literally means the differences in our brains and its wiring.
Autism doesn't go away or cannot be cured with medicines! It's a disability and the traits, such as difficulty with communication, social skills can be aided with the help of speech-language therapy and to help their sensory regulation, occupational therapy helps.
As an autistic child grows up, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and OCD is common. This further affects the overall health of the individual and cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling is recommended.
How can individuals with autism regulate their emotions and build a healthier relationship with themselves and their loved ones? The answer is ‘journaling’! Many of you might wonder, how? Well, the simplest answer is: When your thoughts are written down, it is easier to manage them!
Feelings like unusual fears, mood swings, unawareness of social cues, loneliness, intrusive thoughts and so much more can be identified by journaling and this helps in self-regulation. Writing about our feelings is always better than keeping it pent up, we all know that! Journaling can help everyone in many ways! Anybody can start journaling and it is especially beneficial for those who are neuro-diverse. Several studies have shown that journaling helps reduce stress, help regain feelings of self-control, process emotions well, and overall helps in improving mental health. (Deaver et al, 2009; Gibson, 2018; Garza, 2011)
Specifically in autistic individuals, it helps to:
Identify negative emotions: Emotions such as feeling left out, feeling odd, like a fish out of water is heard of in individuals with autism and identifying it and jotting it down is the first step to dealing with it later. These emotions can also be drawn in the journal.
Regulate emotions: Individuals with autism often struggle with their emotions. Once your emotions are put on paper, it becomes easier to look at them from another point of view. It changes the perception and helps regulate it.
Identify triggers: What triggers the negative emotions? What triggers the meltdowns? Finding the trigger helps by noting down when a meltdown happens can help avoid the situation or if it cannot be avoided, it helps find better outlets than meltdowns.
Encourage healing: The first step in healing is identifying the negative emotions and we already covered that! Identifying the emotions and explaining how and why these emotions came about leads way to healing. Healing can be pictured using drawings and adding a visual element.
Keep a track of schedule: Having a lot of things to do, but being forgetful is often seen in individuals with autism and keeping track of them all is helpful in getting the task done and also in preventing anxiety about the upcoming events.
Time management: Executive functioning capacity of your brain play a major role in time management and this may be affected in autistic individuals. So having to write down the tasks and allotting time for each is helpful.
Problem solving: Problem solving of any scenario can be aided with the help of journals, either writing down the problems and the list of solutions or by just venting out all the emotions associated with it. Problem solving can also be affected in individuals with autism due to poor executive functioning.
Now that we know journaling can help in several ways, let’s dive deeper into what kind of journaling benefits the most? Here are a few common journals which have specific functions:
A daily log, where everyday things are written down, including routine, emotions, and mundane aspects of everyday life. This helps in identifying patterns in life.
A visual journal, where you could draw or use images from a newspaper or magazines to depict certain topics. If writing is hard, drawing about it definitely helps.
A bullet journal, it helps keep track of appointments/ events and also helps track symptoms, mood, medicines etc.
A digital journal is also a way to track things or jot down feeling or schedule appointments and it is easier as it is handy and can be updated from anywhere.
A pocket journal, which you keep with you at all times as it may come in handy to write down something that needs to be done or to deal with a feeling that you are having at that moment.
Use your journal as you want it, there is no rule telling you to do this or that! You can use any of these types of journals or more than one at a time; you are the writer! You can even use a blank notebook and fill it up as you please.
Journals are meant to be a safe space for you, you don’t have to share it with anyone. The world is built around neurotypicals and there are so many barriers to those who are neurodiverse, journaling can help bring some sense into that world, whether by breaking down the things to do that day or by putting into words the emotions that are felt, journaling can help in many ways.
One important thing to remember is, just start! There is no perfect book, perfect pen, perfect time, just start!
About the Author:
Hi, this is Manasa RB. I am a Speech Language Pathologist, and also a digital artist, trying to spread awareness about disabilities on platforms like Instagram and YouTube. I love my profession and the patients I see inspire me every day.
I dabble in traditional art as well, such as journaling and watercolor paintings. Disabilities are everywhere, we may choose to ignore it, but the hard fact is that it exists and people with disabilities are subject to ignorance and apathy.
I hope that one day we build an inclusive and accepting world for everyone!
You can find me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/happycrisps/