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2+2 Danger & mind wandering defence modes 


 I got hit by a car recently. Okay. Clipped. I was clipped by a car. 


However, I still fell into a busy main road, because my mobility Walker got stuck in a pot hole.  A car rushed past me, clipping my back because he was speeding and didn’t anticipate that I wouldn’t move out the way in time, even though I hobbled so slowly across the long straight road, and he didn’t slow down because … some people shouldn’t be driving. 


But anyway. That’s besides the point.

The point is that

I was fine!


Not only was I fine, I was happy.


Not only was I happy but I also appeared to not process the danger I was in.


And there’s a very misunderstood reason for that, which I’ll get to.


I had crashed to the road, face first, and I was all “hey! Look! That pot hole is like a swimming pool for bugs!”


And everyone else is like “not now Joely, we need to get you out the road, it’s the pot hole that nearly got you run over”

“But it’s a pretty pot hole! Look! The walls are like mountains! Look! There’s yellow. OH MY GOODNESS IT LOOKS LIKE A BEACH. Hey look! A penny!”

shouts “Joely?! Get OUT THE POT HOLE”


I’d like to say it wasn’t, but this is the exact conversation my family had with me while’s wrestling me out the road.


So… do you ever find yourself enchanted by silly things? Even when you shouldn’t be? Even when you’re in danger?


But what if this was actually a defence mode that is typical of autism? What if? This was actually a form of mind wandering stimulation and adrenal infused frozen defence mode all rolled into one? 


On one hand, you have a scary adrenaline inspired event happened (in other cases it could be an email, person at the door, someone perceiving you or judging you, forgotten homework, or having to ask for help - or in my case, nearly being ran over) and on the other side of things, you have the defence mode where I process all facts before emotions (due to being autistic).


This means, I haven't processed the danger yet-because I’m processing the fact - but because of adrenaline, instead of being my usual acute self who can logic and contextualise really well, the ‘fact’ (I got hit! Danger!) is not processed like it usually is.

adrenaline makes me foggy, and with adrenaline, I process facts through senses, because in the past my senses provided the most danger that I had to learn to problem solve away from and that’s basically what adrenaline makes you do - problem solve how to improve.


In this way I process facts (danger)  through my senses - I see more, smell more, feel more - this can shut me down with overwhelm but more often than not it creates a mind wandering stimulation where I fall into a day dream like reality and seem to hyper focus on it even though it’s not at all important. I notice details others do not and start day dreaming. The story teller in my mind creates a kingdom, just for me. Suddenly that pot hole is a glorious swimming pool for bugs. Suddenly there’s a back ground story and my imagination runs wild taking in all the other senses.  Other people who are not autistic don’t have adrenaline reactions that are sensually activated or even sensually based in processing because they don’t process or notice as many senses as autistic people do anyway. Their traumas are not generally sensually based, where as we face the same trauma as they doAND the sensual drama, causing adrenaline to hit us differently because of how we process. 


This is why, I couldn’t process the danger quickly. I was sensually processing the facts, thanks to my adrenaline. To me, that bug bath was important and so was the penny - because it was helping my brain process the facts (I got hit and fell in the busy main road -meaning H3LLO DANGER!) and emotions (fear!) on the back burner to process that I was in danger. 


Here’s how it goes.

1Adrenaline event.


I fall over.


2 defence mode because I can’t process th e fact that I just fell over and am in danger  yet 

-ooh look it’s a big pool!


Adrenaline recognises a common threat from childhood - sensory overwhelm, o fixate on it, to rule it out  as a problem. My defence mode then acts as if to distract my brain from the fear and adrenaline because my brain is still to filled with adrenaline to truly process how to help yet- therefore I can’t recognise danger just yet. 


3, I fixate on the senses side of things, hey I see a penny! I feel the pain now, ooh the road smells mossy and gravely! Ow. That actually hurt? Why did it hurt. My hearts pounding and I feel shaky. Right yeah. I’m in the middle of the road. I nearly got hit by a car. I should move. I’m in DANGER.


I don’t always notice. I rely a lot on people to physically move me out of harms way sometimes. 


It’s like this for me because I am autistic and process information in a fact first- then memory, emotions and logical manner. A neurotypical person on such an occasion is more like to process immediately that they were in danger and behave accordingly  - while also developing a defence mode to protect them from future harm.


My brain does not work like that of a neurotypical, because it doesn’t process all this information and also avoid shutdown - certainly not immediately. Because my autism has a baseline of trauma as a general existence, when trauma comes along (and Trauma) my brain uses flashes of memory and senses to ‘wake me up’ and make me process the reality. Except I shutdown and become overwhelmed and get stuck on an injustice fixation loop, where nothing gets processed and the dangers don’t get learnt from. In this case the senses go hah wire and the story teller within me fixates on senses and eventually crashes into shutdown not processing anything entirely.


This is why autistic people may struggle to create defend mode and learn from mistakes or experiences where as a neurotypical person may not struggle as much, because their baseline is not one of trauma or processing information fact first. Neurotypical people process emotions and memories first which helps them contextualise and put 2 +2 together to create reliable quick results. It doesn’t work like that for me and many autistic people. 


This is why I have no fear of consequence. Why I don’t understand danger. Why I appear to make the same mistakes over and over. Even if they are not traumatising or dangerous. I cannot easily put 2+2 together.


Like avoiding answering a work email, because the adrenaline stopped me processing it and created a defence mode of mind wandering stimulations so I process through my senses first - followed my shutdown or overwhelm.


This is why I make mistakes I could get in trouble for but cannot seem to improve - my brain won’t let me.


Thats doesn’t mean to say there’s no accountability and that doesn’t means there’s no room for improvement.


As always, being responsible for your safety your  action and good intentions is vital to learning how to thrive as the flawed person we are. Because the reality is everyone is flawed-our confidence and abilities don’t grow from the things we are good at but our relationships with the things we are bad at.


However this is not necessarily a flaw even though it’s not obviously helpful either.


However our brains do this because it is a defence mode and it’s the best way to keep us safe.


Our brains are incredibly clever machines with one purpose - survive. To survive it has to process a lot Of dangers- and if it’s taking in all this extra information, and then came up with this solution to keep us safe, it’s obviously what is best for us. There’s nothing wrong with us processing slower, and even though it may take time and we may need extra 121 care to stay safe quicker, we are still processing in most helpful way for us - that’s why our brains do it. It’s deliberate. It’s not that our brains are broken. We must trust that although it’s not conventional, if we processed the neurotypical way more harm would come to us, and this is why our brain choose to process like this because it does help us. It just helps us on an invisible level we cannot witness. We are not defective and neither is our brain. 


As with anything, all this defence mode does for me, is force me to take time out.


1-adrenaline. I fall over.


1.   my body forced me to take time out and mind wander as a way of helping me. If I was t to mind wander this period of transition could be empowered with time out from the adrenal situation. Or it doesn’t need to. Either way, the defence mode helps us process, it just does not look it that’s all.


So next time, you see an autistic person appear to be enthralled in something during a stressful time or focused on something totally irrelevant to the issue at hand - let them- they are processing the danger and the defence modes on a back burner to avoid shutting down and to avoid putting themselves in more danger. Removing it - the time out and daydreaming -only enhances shutdown which actively invites danger. 


If you are like me, have faith in yourself, you’re doing nothing wrong as long as you have good intentions. 


Take care, friends x


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