Triggers and Glimmers

I kind of love that “Trigger” has made it into the mainstream consciousness. Boomers to Zs understand what it means when you say “I find that really triggering.”

The thing I don’t like about it is that it brings to mind the image of a bullet. However, the damage from a bullet is instantly evident.  Emotional triggers are harder to identify because it can take a long time for the damage from them to be known.

One huge issue for nurodiverse children and their parents is that time between the trigger and the reaction. It can be difficult to convince a school that a child needs extra support if the trigger occurs at school and the behaviour occurs at home.

The variety of things that can be triggering is astoundingly broad. For example Aurora hates loud noises and finds it nearly impossible to follow even the simplest of instructions in a noisy environment. Ryan hates bright lights and refuses to set foot in stores that take illumination to the next level. I can’t cope with child abuse stories or films. Triggers also change. When Ryan was 4, wet clothing would cause an instant meltdown lasting until the offending garment could be removed and dried to an appropriate degree. Now, he hardly notices spills unless he is already overwhelmed. John finds it really upsetting when he perceives that people are judging him harshly. A sharp word or fierce look, even from a stranger, can send him doubting everything.

Triggers also stack. Taking Ryan to a bright shop might not result in an immediate meltdown. By the time he has been wearing a mask for a half hour, been reminded half a dozen times not to touch things, been denied the opportunity to run full steam down a nearly empty aisle, only to have to listen to the beep beep beep of the checkout and to attempt conversation with the clerk and then to step in a puddle on the way out getting his socks wet? That will do it.

If I am not paying attention, or am wrapped up in my own stuff it can be hard to think about what Ryan is experiencing every time we leave the house. If I am on my game, then I can see every time we add a weight to the meltdown side of the scale and I can adjust my expectations to give him more room to do what he needs to do to regulate his emotions. Ryan doesn’t want to have a meltdown any more than I want him to. As bad as it is for me to witness, he is the person experiencing it. Its exhausting and often one will lead to more. Being aware of his triggers is important to both of us.

On the flip side of triggers is a new word I recently learned in a late diagnosis autism group: glimmers. I immediately fell in love. Triggers are the things that cause us distress- glimmers are the things that bring us joy. I like the scale analogy so lets keep it going: Glimmers are the weights on the opposite side of the scale from triggers. They are what keeps us balanced in our triggering world.

Life is a real balancing act

Glimmers are every bit as varied as triggers. Again, in my family we have Aurora, who is always recharged after a silly tickle session. Ryan, who relies on physical activity to find balance. I love nothing more than the peace and time to complete a project without interruption. John can erase a day of stress by spending time with friends at the pub.

The thing about glimmers is it isn’t just what makes you happy. Once Ryan is on the road to a meltdown, presenting him with an activity that he loves might just be the thing that tips him over the edge. It doesn’t make much sense in the moment because you think “Hey! You love swimming! Why would a trip to the pool be the thing that has you on the floor? ” Once a meltdown is close it is usually best to keep the glimmer simple and as devoid of extra sensory stimuli as possible, so as not to accidently put another weight on that trigger scale. I have found the same to be true for myself. I love spending time with my friends, but if I am already struggling, the pressure of being social can end with me unable to speak more than a few words at a time, much less follow conversations.

I’d be interested in hearing about your gimmers, and how you have learned to make time for a bit of glimmer in your every day life.

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