This Is “Profound Autism”?: Reframing the Discussion Around Complex Care Needs

A few days ago, there was a discussion on the Autism Science Foundation’s Facebook page in which parents of autistic adults with complex care needs were describing their children with the hasthag #ThisIsProfoundAutism. I asked to reframe the discussion to include people with multiple disabilities including autism in general, because it is rarely (but not never!) autism, no matter how severe, alone that causes a person to be completely dependent on caretakers. I then explained that due to the combination of my disabilities, I need 24-hour care, including one-on-one for most of the day.

Not surprisingly, I was quickly met with the question whether I was saying I needed 24-hour help with basic tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing myself, etc. Well, the Autism Science Foundation page is a public Facebook page and I didn’t want the people on my friends list (including immediate family) who don’t know this, to judge me for it, but the short answer is yes. While I, like presumably most “profoundly autistic” people who don’t have physical disabilities, am physically capable of eating and dressing myself for the most part with some difficulty, my executive dysfunction means I still need help with them. As for bathing, well, I basically need someone to wash me, because, while I can physically hold a washcloth in my hand, I don’t have the organizational skills to actually work out the ritual without a ton of supervision and even then it’d lead to a lot of meltdowns.

I did, incidentally, point out that I recognize intellectual disability as a valid additional disability that needs to be taken into account when I asked to reframe the discussion. After all, that’s most likely what’s causing these autistic adults to be unable to understand instruction and to be completely dependent. For me, it’s a combination of executive dysfunction, which is a direct autism symptom, blindness, mild cerebral palsy, and other things.

I also do recognize that the need for support with severe challenging behavior is not the same as the need for help with basic personal care. One does not exclude or necessarily include the other and one is not more valid than the other. I, for one, am somewhat more independent in terms of eating, dressing and bathing than my severely intellectually disabled fellow clients. I am a lot more dependent where it comes to the effects of my challenging behavior.

I also do not mean to say that autism on its own cannot possibly cause a person to need a lot of care. It can. I am reminded of a girl I read about on Dutch social media many years ago, who indeed had hardly any functional communication skills but did have an IQ above 85. She, unlike me, didn’t have any additional disabilities. She was completely left behind in the care system: she was too severely disabled for traditional child and adolescent mental health services, but her IQ was too high for intellectual disability services. Really, I should not have called for reframing the discussion to include those with multiple disabilities, but those with complex care needs in general.

That being said, I strongly disagree with those people who say that just because I can write, means I should have ignored the conversation, since it clearly wasn’t meant for me. The fact that I can write, does not make me not dependent on care providers and does not mean policy or lack thereof won’t affect me. I am autistic and that, along with my blindness and other disabilities, causes me to need the extensive care I get now.

Recovering From Autistic Burnout

Today, the prompt for Reena’s Exploration Challenge is one word: burnout. This word evokes so many thoughts, feelings and memories in me! After all, though I was never diagnosed as suffering with actual burnout, the reason is more that burnout isn’t a DSM-IV or DSM-5 diagnosis than my not having suffered it.

That is, I did indeed not suffer the classic shutdown-type burnout where people are too exhausted to function. Rather, my burnout was more of the meltdown type, where I got so irritable and dysregulated that I couldn’t function anymore.

In 2007, I suffered autistic burnout. This is an actual thing and is more and more recognized by autism professionals too. It involves an inability to function in daily life as a whole, not just work, due to the experience of being overloaded, being autistic in a neurotypical society.

I have shared my experience of landing in a mental crisis in 2007 many times before. I was at the time living independently (though with a lot of community support) and going to university. That all changed within a matter of days: on Tuesday, I was sitting an exam, while the following Saturday, I was a patient on the locked unit of a psychiatric hospital. First, while there, I had to stabilize. I had to get back into a normal sleep/wake rhythm and regain my will to live.

Once I was no longer nonfunctioning and suicidal, however, I had to get my life back on track. My social worker thought I could go into supported housing for autistic people. I, at first, thought so too. Until I saw all the criteria relating to independence, lack of challenging behavior, trainability, etc. That wasn’t going to work out.

To be quite fair, I never fully understood my actual level of functioning until sometime in 2020. I had wanted to prove myself for so long. I had worn so many masks that hid the real, messy truth of who I am. Consequently, I constantly overestimated myself and my abilities. So did the people around me. Until one day, in November of last year, I crashed again. I probably suffered another burnout. That was when my one-on-one support was started.

There still are voices in my head telling me I could, should in fact go back to my life of before my first burnout in 2007. Back to independent living and college. Otherwise, how can I claim recovery?

The thing is, people who experience work-related burnout, usually don’t go back to their exact jobs from before their burnout either, if to the same job at all. Why should I then go back to a life I hated from the get-go? I try to see recovery from burnout not in terms of recovering lost functioning, but in recovering lost pieces of myself.

Working On Us Prompt: Self-Care and Personal Hygiene

This week’s prompt on Working On Us is about self-care. I initially thought of self-care as those things we do to pamper ourselves, but then when I read the questions, I realized Beckie means basic self-care. You know, personal hygiene, such as showering or brushing your teeth.

I definitely have always had trouble with this. Part of it may be due to my lack of awareness of my appearance, which may be due to both blindness and autism. However, the fact that I don’t always shower or brush my teeth regularly, certainly isn’t.

I have always had trouble with proper personal care. When I was about fourteen, my high school tutor got complaints from my classmates that I smelled a lot of body odor. He told me I really had to develop a personal hygiene routine, but didn’t explain how to go about it. He was my PE teacher and said that he personally showerd twice a day. So I initially thought I had to do that as well, so the next day, I jumped in the bath at 6AM. My parents were not amused. With my parents, I finally agreed on a routine of baths or showers three days a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That way, if I went to school, it’d never be more than 48 hours since I’d had a shower or bath.

My parents still didn’t explain how to wash myself. Honestly, now that I’m 33, I still get told by my husband at times that I don’t do it properly.

The problem of course wasn’t just that my parents didn’t teach me. After all, presumably my sister knows all about hygiene. It was also that I had an aversion against personal hygiene activities. Here is where my mental health is involved. Like, I have executive functioning issues on the best of days, making a “simple” shower very difficult. When I’m depressed, I cannot cope with the stress of having to shower.

My lack of self-care wasn’t even picked on when I was first assessed by a psychiatrist. Maybe he did notice I smelled, or maybe that particular day my body odor wasn’t too bad or I’d had a shower. If he did notice, he didn’t tell me so or write it in the report. Neither did any of the next so many psychiatrists and psychologists I had. I only found out that my psychologist at the resocialization unit in Nijmegen had noticed because it was written in my long-term care application at the time, that I didn’t get to see until we applied again last year.

As for brushing my teeth, I hated toothpaste. I still do, but at age 18, finally forced myself to use it. I never brushed my teeth properly until I got an electric toothbrush for my birthday this year. Now I’m still not sure I do it right, but I at least brush for the required two minutes. Interestingly, the elctric toothbrush is less horrible sensorially than the handheld one.

I find it interesting that, though lack of personal hygiene is part of an assessment of mental functioning, so few mental health practitioners take the time to discuss it with their patients. Like, when I was in the mental hospital, no-one offered to teach me personal hygiene. Not even when the dentist recommended I get help brushing my teeth. They said it was my responsibility. I really hope that, when I’m in a care facility for people with developmental disabilities, that will change.

Long-Term Care Assessment

I’ve been wanting to write much more lately, but somehow, I can’t get myself to actually sit down and write. I remember originally posting twice a day almost everyday when I started this blog, and now I’m barely writing twice a week.

I still need to update you all on the meeting with the long-term care funding person. She wasn’t the physician but the one actually making the decision on funding. The physician may still need to contact my psychiatrist in order to advise this person on funding.

She asked a lot about my level of independence in various situations. Like, she asked whether I can cook or clean the house. I was expecting her to ask about much more basic self-care skills like showering. She did ask about those too. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or bad that she didn’t go into that much detail about my basic self-care. I mean, those are things I at least try to do myself, even though I fail miserably at them. I thought it should be obvious that I can’t cook or clean the house.

The funding person asked multiple times whether I’d had independence training. I couldn’t go into too much detail about that, but I did make it clear that I got tons of it. I also think I explained that the skills didn’t generalize to a new situation, such as living independently.

The funding person said she may want me to get some type of test for emotional development. There is a questionnaire called SEO-R that I think support staff or others involved with the client fill out to determine at what level a client is emotionally. I googled the descriptions of the different developmental stages. In some respects, I would really be like a 6-month-old, while in others, I’m closer to 7 years. I didn’t recognize myself in the most advanced stage, which corresponds to children age 7 to 12. There is probably a stage for adolescents too, but this scale was originally intended for people with mild intellectual disability, who by definition don’t reach this stage. I know the whole concept of mental or emotional age is ableist, but as long as it’s not used to actually infantilize clients, I think there is some use to it.

The intent of this scale being administered in my case is to maybe qualify me for an intellectual disability care profile. The funding person wasn’t impressed with my IQ anyway. I mean, it was measured as being 154 some twenty years ago, but was measured as at least 35 points lower in 2017 and with a ton of discrepancies. Like, I scored high on calculus, but slightly below average on comprehension. Besides, I didn’t say this, but only the verbal part of the IQ test could be administered because of my blindness. I liked it that this person didn’t see me as some sort of genius.

At the end, my support coordinator tried to explain what we’re going to do with the funding if we get it. She explained about the living facility we visited last week. I got a little unquiet at this point, so the funding person offered to talk to my support coordinator on the phone later. She never did. I don’t know whether that’s a bad thing or not.

I’ve been really stressed out these past few days. I dream almost every night about possible outcomes of this assessment. Like, will I get funding based on blindness or intellectual disability? Or will the funding people decide mental illness is my primary disability and deny me funding because I need treatment for that first? And if I get funding, will I get into the place I visited last week? I hope I will, but I’m not getting my hopes up too high yet.

Now my support coordinator is on vacation and won’t be back till the 27th. I think the funding decision has to be made by then. My support coordinator asked me to text her when I heard about the decision, so that she can bring cake if I get approved. Again, not getting my hopes up.