Autistic Processing Difference vs. Cognitive Distortion

Today, I experienced a combination of emotional turmoil and sensory overload. Which came first is hard to tell, as I was having oversensitivities already for an hour or so, but the actual reaction, which is either a meltdown or an emotional breakdown, was caused by frustration. Given that both autism and borderline personality disorder come with distress tolerance issues, it is hard knowing which is to blame. It doesn’t really matter, except that the two require different approaches. BPD treatment involves skills training in distress tolerance, learning to shift your idea that you can’t handle frustration to the idea that you prefer not to get furstrated. Autistic distress tolerance issues involve an increased need for routine and time to adapt to a sudden change in that routine.

When sensory overreactivity comes into the equation, it gets more complicated. If this is assumed to be an emotion regulation or distress tolerance issue, people need to learn to accept that sometimes there’s noise they don’t like. When people still didn’t acknowledge my autism, I was often told that it’s other people’s right to make noise, as if I was depriving them of that right with my reaction to overload. In autism, however, noise can be painful, and the right approach is to allow the autistic quiet time away from the overloading stimuli.

Now that I write this, I notice that I’m connoting that the treatment I assuem is perceived to be right tfor BPD is really not that right at all. In fact, I believe that you cannot assume that a problem with distress tolerance is ever true unwillingness to accept that things can’t happen on your terms all the time, which is what is assumed in personality disorders. There are some people who are truly unwilling to take others’ feelings into account, but this si much rarer than the assumption that people are unwilling to take others’ feelings into account. I realize that cognitive distortions are not necessarily willful, and that the thought that you can’t handle any frustration is not the same as the thought that the world revolves around your need for gratification. What I mean to say, however, is that most people, and especially autistic or otherwise neurodiverse people, do not just think they have difficulties. We genuinely do process stimuli differently, and this means that “can’t” is not just a cognitive distortion most of the time. That doesn’t mean that autistics doon’t have cognitive distortions, too. What it means is that you need to take into account autistics’ genuinely different processing style when assessing or treating cognitive distortions. As I was being told for the umpteenth time that my daily living skills deficits are largely due to fear of failure, I begun to wonder whether NTs can truly evr make such a judgment.

1 thought on “Autistic Processing Difference vs. Cognitive Distortion

  1. Oh definitely! This explains my reservations about the maladaptive schemas. Fear of failure when I do actually fail at a lot of things that are supposed to be "so easy, you're smart enough with other things, why don't you simply try harder?" And that also explain why I feel defective in those areas. Who wouldn't? I mean, one of my friends has a 14 year old son who does very well in school, but still has trouble tying his own shoelaces. My friend said that before he knew about autism, he would have yelled at the kid for being clumsy or even obstinate.


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