I have often made the comment that some autistic individuals are experts at talking themselves into a depressive mood. They are self-critical and often complain that, “nobody likes me”. In neurotypicals, such talk, may be a harmless attempt at getting some reassurance. In an autistic individual, this negativity becomes chronic and reveals an unhealthy tendency to blame themselves for anything that may go wrong. They catastrophize and see the world in black and white; good or bad without a middle ground. Negative thinking magnifies their level of stress and affects their mental and physical health.
We need to be proactive in teaching our autistic children a positive frame of mind. It is not about ignoring the negatives, but about approaching life’s circumstances in a productive way by focusing on the good. Winston Churchill once said that, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. It is healthier to assume the best, not the worst. Being a positive thinker allows you to enjoy the simpler things in life. As a personal example, after living in Maryland in a townhouse that lacked a garage, I feel blessed in having one at present. At least during winters, I don’t find myself digging my car from the snow. For those who grew up without a microwave oven or even an ice maker, modern conveniences are some things to be grateful for every day of our lives.
Having a positive frame of mind is associated with improved health. It broadens cognition, increases our coping capacity and diminishes stress. It provides for a better sleep quality and greater resistance to the common cold. It increases motivation, self-esteem, confidence, gratitude, and resilience. In the end a positive attitude increases our life span.
We need to reexamine the frame of mind of our children and help them become positive thinkers. It is time for that inner negative critic that talks them down to meet their inner positive advocate. Indeed, it is their choice to talk themselves down or to lift themselves up. Children need to be aware of their strengths and how it helps them in everyday life. Mistakes will happen, but you need to learn how to move forwards, learn from the circumstances, and how to forgive yourself. I have found it very helpful to talk about minor stresses and reappraise them in a positive manner. We need to recognize and practice acts of kindness daily. When you are kind to others, you will find more kindness to yourself.
Casanova MF. Autism Updated: Symptoms, Treatments and Controversies. Amazon Publishing, 2019.