Defense Mode: Articles On Withdrawal, Trauma, Meltdowns, Anger & Defensiveness

Defense Mode is one of the 4 core pillars of the AE Model. This is a state in which someone with Asperger’s is scared, frustrated, or angry, as well as shut down and & withdrawn. In Defense Mode, everything is harder because you are constantly trying to protect against an imminent, perceived, but extremely vague threat. The perceived threat creates the same anxiety as a true life threatening situation.  Fortunately, the vast majority are not actual threats, but merely signals that the brain perceives as threats.

In scientific terms, what is going on is a complex biological, neurological & psychological rat’s nest of “problems” that all compound on each other (but have roots in low vagal tone). Simply put, there is simply too much to process at once. Most of it is internal and unseen.

From an outside perspective Defense Mode can look like someone who is unmotivated, unwilling, uncooperative or “rude”. I’ve heard it called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, PTSD, lack of motivation, video game addiction and all sorts of other names.

With limited understanding, all of those are accurate to a point. They miss, however, the key understanding of Defense Mode: People with Asperger’s and Autism are in Defense Mode and shut down because they are scared, upset and/or angry, not because they are trying to spite you, or be rude, or defiant. And yes, it sucks as much as you might think. To complicate matters, it is scary to be angry with the people who support you when you are in are in Defense Mode. Add a fear of abandonment to the mix and it gets really complicated.

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This is The Sensory Funnel, and it explains how Asperger’s works:


The problem with most approaches to helping someone with Asperger’s is that they are quite literally backwards.

Here’s how the normal method works:

Get diagnosed. Then intensive treatment is recommended focusing on the areas of social skills & executive function. After all, Asperger’s is a social skills deficit right? So if you teach them social skills, then it all works out in the end.

Except it doesn’t work. Top down approaches to Asperger’s simply don’t work, because they ignore the root cause entirely, and focus solely on surface symptoms.

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Whether you are a parent, teacher, therapist, or person with Asperger’s, learning how to build & create trust leads to strengthened relationships, less Defense Mode, and an improvement in life in virtually every area.

Since a large portion of living with Asperger’s means understanding, living with, and eventually getting out of Defense Mode, and since Defense Mode relies on connection & trust, learning how to build trust is essential.

Raising someone with Asperger’s is pretty much impossible without a strong degree of trust between parent and child. (The same goes for teaching someone with AS or helping them in a therapeutic setting).

Learning to build trust is one of the best skills you can learn. Here’s how to do it.

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Note: This was written by a parent in our AE+ Support community. Learn more about AE+ here

Why rewards and punishments don't work with neuro atypical people who suffer from anxiety.

I am prompted to expound on this topic because I am frequently in frustrating positions trying to explain to others why their well intentioned suggestions of a rewards and punishments model will not work with my neuro atypical daughter. I try hard to not be offended at their description and apparent assumption that I am not familiar with B.F. Skinner and behavioral psychology when I not only have a masters degree and 25 years of experience working with kids with special needs, but have also reared a neuro typical child that is thriving.

Their well intentioned suggestions not only do not help, but make me fight not to see myself as a failure as a parent, but that is a side note. This is a long analogy that is inspired by Danny Raede of Asperger Experts and his analogy of trying to teach the soldier in combat to knit. I have taken it several steps further.

Danny describes Defense Mode as the soldier in enemy territory and we are trying to teach him how to knit. He might well want to learn to knit but because he is in fight or flight survival mode he is unable to gain the cognitive function to attend to the knitting task.

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