“[O]ne potential outcome of [potentially traumatic events],” according to a study in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, “is the development of trauma and stressor-related symptoms such as avoidance of stimuli associated with the event, severe anxiety reactions triggered by stimuli related to the event, or nightmares.”
Since autistic people tend toward being more sensitive to (interior and exterior) environmental and sensory stimuli (in part possibly because their brains hold onto stimuli longer)—meaning that even “regular” events are potentially traumatic—I often wonder where’s the research on ways in which aspects of being autistic in and of themselves effectively are a kind of trauma. Wonder of wonders, this paper gets into this.
Kerns et al. (2015) also suggest that individuals with autism may be more susceptible to perceive non-threatening stimuli as threatening, due to misunderstanding of social cues and situations. Sensory sensitivities such as heightened sensitivity to noise and other stimuli (Wiggins et al. 2009) may also lead to stimuli that are perceived as non-threatening by most children to be seen as threatening by children with ASD.
I’ve a problem with the “non-threatening stimuli” language here, of course, because if the autistic brain in reality is experiencing harm than these are not “non-threatening stimuli”. They might not be threatening to a neurotypical brain, but that’s not the same thing as being “non-threatening” in some objective sense.
Still, it’s nice that papers like this aren’t just looking at past research into how events which would be seen as “threatening” even by neurotypicals are experienced by autistics but also citing research about how autism itself might mean an inherently more-easily-traumatized brain.
ETA: This is interesting: “Another explanation for the low levels of trauma exposure in the ASD and DD groups is that trauma exposure was under-reported by caregivers because they were unaware of the traumatic event.” Unfortunately, the paper then blames the autistic people (and we’re talking children and other young people here) for not communicating trauma, rather than any deficiency on the part of parents or caregivers in picking up on any trauma.
Rather than wondering how “language, social, and cognitive functioning may impact […] the child’s ability to understand and report traumatic experiences”, how about wondering if the children being studied have been subjected to treatments which teach them to supress any distress in order to “behave normally”, and how that might impact the reporting of trauma to parents, caregivers, or researchers?