Exposure Anxiety in autism-spectrum conditions

by Donna Wiliams

Exposure Anxiety (EA) is the involuntary self protection responses of compulsive avoidance, diversion, retaliation.

Often people with EA can handle doing things/communication when it is not ‘as oneself’ (can do it mirroring someone else, via a characterisation, putting on voices, via song/adverts, only to the prompt), not ‘by oneself’ (only if their special objects/special person is with them) or not ‘for oneself’ (can do it on behalf of their shoes, for someone who is less capable etc). People with EA can sometimes initiate/communicate but often only when the ‘heat is off’ and nobody is wanting/watching/waiting for their action or response (compliance to a prompt is not initiation) but some are compelled to avoid, divert, retaliate against their own initiations (akin to apraxia).

The solutions to countering EA are outlined in my book, Exposure Anxiety; The Invisible Cage which people can find on www.amazon.com or www.jkp.com but in case anyone is interested in some of the underlying causes and here are some I can think of.

Why do some people develop EA responses?

1) there are some kids who have EA because they process slowly either
because of gut/immune or poor left-right integration and are subject to
overload so they get in a constant high adrenaline state and get progressively
patterned to respond in an EA way.

2) there are some kids who rely on sensing rather than interpretation so
they are highly sensitive to the patterns of others – they are too ‘open’ to
the push-pull of shifts and changes in the other person. So they develop EA
to protect against sensory flooding and hypersensitivity to the impact of

3) there are some who develop EA because they are natural introverts and the
environment is too socially ‘invasive’ for them.

4) there are some who develop EA because chemistry problems like salicylate
intolerance causes a cocaine-like high, exploiting emotional extremes and
progressively teaching the child that social interaction is too
overstimulating and needs to be protected against.

5) there are some who become addicted to their own adrenaline state and
start to pre-empt this chemical high when others make directly
confrontational social approaches (a bit akin to social phobia).

6) there are some who have an inherited pattern such as bipolar who develop
EA when they overcompensate for feeling constantly emotionally out of
control by responding self protectively to externally initiated emotional or
sensory overstimulation.

7) there are some who have Tourette tendencies or tend to lose the
separateness of self and other and feel eaten up by the initiations of
others, essentially experiencing a threatened loss of ‘self’ so EA becomes
there response in protecting against this.

8) there are those who are so possessive of the sanctity of their ‘autistic
world’ (the ‘them and us’ thing) they develop EA as a response to this
threat to ‘their world’ or ‘identity’.

So there are lots of reasons for why children develop EA and someone can be
a whole combination of one or any of the above, perhaps even a few others I
don’t know of. All of these issues have solutions but conventional approaches often are limited.

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