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Why are autistics hyperactive, and why do we run away?

One of the scariest things for many parents and caregivers of autistics is how fast we autistics can move, and disappear.  Many autistic children drown every year, because we’re so drawn to the calming influence of the water.  There are swimming techniques taught to toddlers which autistics of any age can learn; these swimming techniques could prevent some, if not many of these drowning deaths.  But understanding why we get hyper or run away can help you minimize the dangers to us… and reduce your own stress!

Because our nervous systems are bringing in lots and lots of information, we autistics often get overstimulated.  Also, when we have lots of toxins flowing through our bloodstream, we tend to be much more inflamed, irritable, reactive, and friable than most people are. Anything that happens around us registers louder for us than for non-autistics, and the stimulation affects us more.

Where is this overstimulation coming from?  This often relates to the foods we’re eating, because the foods we’re eating will make us have more or less inflammatory products in our bodies.  These inflammatory products will cause us to be more hyperactive, or their lack allow us to be more relaxed, happy, and engaged.  Inflammatory products can also enter the body through the skin, and through the breathing.   For those of you adults in the spectrum, I’m sorry to have uses the word “normal” in the video recording.  I still struggle with word choices that everyone will understand, without giving offence.  If you have suggestions for how to reword this, I’d appreciate it.

Now, there are two reasons for running away. If you think about it, any child who runs away, autistic or not, will be either running away from something, or running towards something. Many people on the autistic spectrum have post-traumatic stress disorder.  There is a very, very close relationship between these two diagnoses. The body language of those of us autistics who are very tense is quite close to the body language of people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When you’re considering an autistic who runs away regularly, they’re either running away from something that they are overstimulated, afraid or angry about, or they’re running towards something attractive. Many of us autistics will run to green spaces, or run to water. There’s a good reason for that. Autistics find natural areas — and the wilder, the better — to be extremely calming, to allow and enable much more comprehension and integration of what’s going on around us. Indoor environments can be toxic and overstimulating.

When we’re running from something, you can usually tell if we’re afraid, or if we’re angry, or if we’re upset.  Sometimes we run from abusers, or from the places where people have abused us in the past.  You can also usually tell if we’re running towards something, with an intent or focused look on our faces.  If you see that kind of look, chances are there’s something out there that’s calling to us, that we really want to go and engage with.  So many environments are ugly and stressful on all of the senses, especially when your senses are turned up to high volume.  Things that are fascinating and beautiful are such a relief!

If your child is a runner, please get him or her some drowning prevention training.  Infant self-rescue should be adaptable to autistics of any age.  If your child is a climber, please get him or her some training on three-point climbing with local climbers, or ask some sport climbers from somewhere else to come help you with training!

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4 Comments

  1. Milena says:

    Thanks for the info. The only infant self rescue instructor I found in Canada was in Calgary. Do you know how I could get training for my children in Toronto?

    • Jackie McMillan says:

      Hi Milena,
      There are a few of us looking into that (and there are two more Canadian instructors on board, now). The training is available at quite a high cost at various places in the US. My hope is that we can discover how many instructors might be trained at once, and host local trainings as soon as we had enough sign-ups from local swim instructors. This is something I’d love to see the Autism Ontario chapters taking on… or chapters anywhere where there is open water to drown in!

  2. Carolyn k Cornish says:

    what about general population instead of ‘normal’ Jackie? ….or even some form of non-autistic…

    • Jackie McMillan says:

      Thanks, Carolyn, I will try to shift my language. Most of my materials, are, unfortunately, shaped by the dominant world view of autism. I like the phrase “general population”; appreciate your suggestion!

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  • The autistic spectrum includes ADHD, Asperger's, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Kanner's, OCD, PDD-NOS, and Tourette's. Females in the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with Anxiety/ Panic Disorder, Bipolar, Eating Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and OCD.
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