Autism, War, and Behaviour Support

The #Ukraine war is devastating. In so many ways. The impact on women and children is completely shocking, disturbing, and traumatic for them and for everyone with a heart and mind.

Many commentators have said how this particular war is more televised, and more photographed, than any war in history. The war enters into our living rooms, our bedrooms, disturbs our sleep, and is held shaking in our hands. No war has ever been posted in such a direct and prolific way to people’s handheld devises.

People with disability and mental health issues are more vulnerable, generally, to all of life’s contingencies. These factors are very well documented by Australian and international research. We will keep this post brief and not cite that robust literature here. Vulnerability is more prevalent also with exposure to vicarious trauma associated with war and violence.

The Ukraine war is on TV and social media everyday. As such, for a month now, the messages of violence, death, trauma, fear, and existential danger is ever present in our lives. We are also being held ransom by the #EuropeanUnion and #NATO allies in how the world is forced to witness violence, abuse, and murder on a daily basis while being almost completely powerless to intervene and stop this war. Sanctions are an abstract concept that may have political importance at some level, but sanctions do not address the immediate problem which rests with only one government and one man.

At the same time, military and likely nuclear proliferation appears to be happening as a reaction to existential threats – but this also does not in fact make anyone safer. It does not address the central issue of how nationalist-based negligence is addressed in a global community.

Autism provides many of us with a very potent mental and emotional filter. Often on the spectrum, perceptions are amplified. Images of war, death, violence, and abuse that are reinforced daily can have a major influence on mood, anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, eating habits, and behaviours of concern.

At the same time, family and support staff need to be aware of these patterns. The underlying efforts of a person internally is to resolve conflicts. Seeing the war daily, while being powerless to address the issues, provides a perfect storm that may combine with other life-stressors, resulting in escalation of behavioural concerns. Self harming, other harming, property damage, are only a few of the major categories arising in behaviours of concern.

Guiding access and exposure to media, social media, and use of devises and computers, are worth considering. Be aware that restricting access at one level may involve restrictive practices under environmental restraints, and where this needed or being considered, in Australia it is wise and necessary to seek a behaviour specialist to provide guidance. If restrictive measures are used, they need to be clearly recommended by a NDIS registered behavioural therapist and monitored under state and national protocols.

Meantime, consider ways to help a person with Autism to process and express their concerns. Anxiety that is internalised tends to be actually a bit more problematic than externalised anxiety. We tend to say, at least the person is expressing how they feel at some level instead of keeping these bottled up to later explode. Look for ways to help express the experiences. Often best to try non-verbal ways. For example, art work, gardening, planting trees or other plants, walking, going bush, exercise, swimming, or other activities of daily living. Craft, visiting a therapist, and seeking time with family are other important ways to deal with anxiety coming up from recent events.

Both Photos (which has been split into two) are by Anna Tis, Pexels.

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