Asking where emotional intelligence (EQ) skills are imperative to formal curricula is not a question which is solely relevant to autism. It is an attempted bring together multiple ideas I have been studying in the last couple of years since receiving an ASD diagnosis at the age of 51.
First, I must stress that I am not attempting to invalidate the autistic identity in any way. I have returned to the question several times: “Am I really autistic, or could this other stuff account for why I was diagnosed?”
My answer is that I believe I am autistic, with sensory processing issues and a sense of true kinship with fellow autistics being two primary reasons I believe the diagnosis fits. However, later discoveries regarding family of origin, attachment disorder, and emotional neglect have undoubtedly muddied the waters.
Incentive to Search
Even among my autistic peers, I tended to be misunderstood more than most. Where I considered myself to be direct and focused, others would still take issue with my approach even though I’d found my neurotribe. I was demoralized to note that I had fewer interpersonal ‘soft’ skills than most other late-diagnosed autistic women.
While researching C-PTSD alongside autism, my continued feedback regarding lack of diplomacy led me to query other factors that could contribute to my interpersonal and intra-personal difficulties. A few examples include:
The more I researched, the more I found overlapping areas of difficulty which are recognized in both autism and numerous other disorders/conditions.
Many who were raised in dysfunctional families, where malicious behavior and mental illness is prevalent, are unaware that they were damaged from emotional neglect in childhood. Pre-verbal and pre-natal memories are stored in the unconscious where they are capable of causing significant disruption in later life.
In addition, later conscious memories can be repressed to the unconscious if they are too uncomfortable to process. A significant absence of memory from childhood can indicate that the brain has compensated in this way. For 50 years, I had no idea that my childhood had been anything other than normal.
I did not discover the truth about my family of origin until a few months after discovering I was autistic. Therapy in relation to the autism diagnosis helped me to explore my absence of childhood memory, and gradually revealed to me the true nature of my mother. It was a lot to absorb in a few very short months!
EQ and Personal Growth
Having researched C-PTSD, somatic trauma, personality and attachment disorders, I moved into the area of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ). Wow! What a difference it made to my perception (or should I say misperception) of myself! This was when the learning journey really took off, and I caught a glimpse of the me who had been showing up in the world.
I started to recognize why I was prone to alienating others. Looking at my challenges through the autistic lens, I had accepted known autistic characteristics to explain my way of being. I had always felt completely authentic, but lacked the knowledge, insight, or impetus to try to go deeper and access the unconscious. All of my intelligence was cognitive. Emotionally, I was a child– but I had never been able to see it.
Passive aggressive tendencies rose to my conscious awareness, as did a pushy and opinionated persona. These characteristics combined with my lifelong cup-half-empty attitude meant that I must have been a real bundle of laughs to be around… Not!
An ex-colleague I always think of with great affection used to call me Chuckles. I recognized, and was amused by, the irony, since he was never unkind. In hindsight, my unconscious related to the fact that he was always kind to others – and I was not, even though I couldn’t recognize it.
Autism or Something Else?
I find myself questioning whether my own meltdowns were autistic meltdowns at all. Could they have been the consequence of lifelong malignant-type emotional dysregulation? I think so.
When triggered under extreme stress, the emotional pain was indescribable. There is no doubt that the degree of dysregulation was a consequence of childhood emotional abuse/neglect. Considering that an autistic meltdown is an overwhelm of the system, perhaps this is where the two merge? Can they be separated? I don’t know.
I’m autistic, but my personal growth journey into EQ skills has brought about a transformation in me. New insights and “aha” moments are still a regular occurrence. I can even see small talk as having a legitimate purpose– and that has completely changed the way I view my approach to new situations. It doesn’t scare me anymore.
I realized that an unconscious concern regarding others’ opinions of me was at the forefront of my connections previously. I genuinely do find people interesting! To shine a light on what had previously and unwittingly been a me focus and return it back to where it should be–being curious about them–completely reframed the issue for me.
Identifying a disorganized attachment style opened up many more insights. The maladaptive coping mechanisms from early neglect and rejection have caused more difficulty in my life than autism. Of that I am certain. Yet I knew nothing of it (or autism) until I was in my fifties. Sometimes, separating the source of my challenges is a challenge in itself!
A Full-Breadth Curriculum
There are so many traumatized people, suffering so many difficulties – many of which would be greatly ameliorated by the acquisition of emotional intelligence. Even where the neurotype doesn’t support that particular skill, knowledge of it can make all the difference. A person that is raised by an emotionally illiterate parent can’t discern what they don’t know.
I am a passionate advocate of EQ as an essential part of early years formal education. I know for sure that some of my issues would never have taken root so deeply had an education system been in place which valued the growth of the individual. As autistic people we all know this to be true. How true is it for the neurotypical population, too?
A formal EQ curriculum could change everything. Skills are very much about identifying the unique personality of each child and nurturing their uniqueness and their strengths on a progressive basis– tailoring each child’s education to their own identified needs. And nurturing their individual, unique talents. What could possibly be better for all children, neurodivergent or otherwise?
Are there fellow autistics who have followed a similar path, had similar histories, and/or studied these issues in depth? I would very much welcome all ideas, feedback and points of view.