My family has a generational history of bad temper. Growing up in my family it was common to see our relatives explode on one another for a variety of things, sometimes trivial and sometimes serious. As kids we were all taught that it was just “in our blood” but I only now appreciate the truth of that, with a new understanding of what it really means. My whole family is on the autism spectrum and what we thought was a family temper is often emotional regulation dysfunction.
As a bodyguard having that temper was an asset. I couldn’t stop my temper coming up all of the time but I could control the direction of my anger and often focused it on a target or task. This ability made me a valuable asset and was often cause for my survival when jobs didn’t go as planned. Since my autism diagnosis at 33 it has struck me how often certain traits of autism are given maligned views from the outside. I believe emotional regulation dysfunction, the thing that kept me alive so often, has a maligned view.
I took my daughter out to the public pool for the first time this week. She is three years old and she LOVES to swim at the beach and was diagnosed with autism this past spring. So naturally the pool was a big hit and her arms were flapping so much I was worried she’d take flight. She is adorable, agreeable and charming. When the time came for us to exit the pool, public swimming hours ended and everyone was asked to leave, she had a meltdown. Not an average meltdown either. I mean a screaming so loud that it hurts your bones, pushing me away with all her toddler strength, slapping me amidst her distress, kind of meltdown. What many of us on the autism spectrum have come to understand as “emotional regulation dysfunction.”
Here’s the thing, I have a unique view of these issues because of my life and fieldwork in personal protection in the private sector. Yes parents were staring at me when my daughter was having her meltdown. Yes there were mutters under hushed breath amidst onlookers, but I was smiling. I was actually kind of having a proud father sort of moment. My wife was nervous and asked me why I was unaffected by our daughter’s meltdown and that’s when it occurred to me that everyone around us thought of my daughter’s meltdown, partially due to emotional regulation dysfunction, as a bad thing.
“This girl won’t be anyone’s victim if we handle this right.” I said to my wife with a chuckle as I tried to reassure her.
That really is something that doesn’t seem to occur to others when they see a meltdown. People often praised me for protecting the innocent and being a hero but it never seems to occur to them that much of my aggression comes from the same source as my daughter’s meltdown. There is a good side to emotional regulation dysfunction and heightened aggression, we see it in soldiers and police and bodyguards and other places, but every positive has its counter point.
What makes me good at my job also makes me difficult when I have to leave my favourite arcade when I am having a good time. It’s easy to forget that even a hero, or his daughter, might not be so charming when you take the hero’s cookie away or ask the hero’s daughter to leave a pool.
Don’t let other people frame your character traits as strictly negative or strictly positive. I promise you that everything you struggle with can be utilized in some positive way, sometimes it’s hard to see and easy to forget that, but what I am saying is true. Life is about balance and every blessing has its drawbacks. Be patient with the drawbacks cause you’d be surprised when something you don’t like becomes extremely useful and important. Look for the strengths in your “weaknesses” and understand the weaknesses in all of your strengths.
I sure did. That’s why I don’t think of my daughter’s challenges with emotional regulation dysfunction personally, I don’t even shame her for them. I just love her for who she is. She’s my daughter. She has my temper. Maybe one day that’ll be why she is a hero in her own way. It isn’t the cards your dealt but how you play your hand that counts.