I was fine chattering away to myself, singing or making sound patterns, in order to close out the impact of the invasiveness of others, and being told to shut up only heightened the desire to surround myself with the sound of my own voice. If I was expected to reply, however, this was the complete antithesis. Hearing myself speak in my own voice in acknowledged connection to the world was excruciatingly personal and felt like fingernails down a blackboard.

Source: Williams, Donna (2002-09-14T23:58:59). Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage . Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

I’m also a vocal stimmer who shuts down when speaking.

I was fine chattering away to myself, singing or making sound patterns, in order to close out the impact of the invasiveness of others, and being told to shut up only heightened the desire to surround myself with the sound of my own voice. If I was expected to reply, however, this was the complete antithesis. Hearing myself speak in my own voice in acknowledged connection to the world was excruciatingly personal and felt like fingernails down a blackboard.

Source: Williams, Donna (2002-09-14T23:58:59). Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage . Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

It wasn’t that the volume was too loud so much as that in the grip of an adrenaline rush everything was sensorily too much. The intense ‘pain’ was that the personal, individual, me-ness in it was unbearable. I was allergic to the experience of my own existence and the experience of hearing my own voice speaking from connected expression as me could, at times, be far worse than the terrible feeling you get hearing your own voice on an audio tape or answerphone.

Source: Williams, Donna (2002-09-14T23:58:59). Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage . Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

I was a social kid: social with the dirt, the trees, the grass, the birds in the aviary, the rolls of carpet at the hardware store, the tinkling of pins, the books of wallpaper samples and the smell and lickable surface of patent leather. I felt the world deeply and passionately. I was cheerful in my own world and I had a fascination with anything that was not directly-confrontational and which would allow me to ‘simply be’. People too often failed the criteria. They were looking for concepts such as ‘together’, ‘with’ and ‘us’. They were not worlds unto themselves within the world, as I was. They needed to be taken account of, to interact in a directly-confrontational way that they called ‘normality’.

Source: Williams, Donna (2002-09-14T23:58:59). Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage . Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Exposure anxiety (EA) is a condition identified by Donna Williams in which the child or adult feels acutely self-conscious; it leads to a persistent and overwhelming fear of interaction.

Source: Exposure anxiety in autism | Network Autism

EA can be quite crippling as it it causes the person to feel acutely self-conscious and leads to a persistent and overwhelming fear of interaction. And that makes any attention from other people feel potentially threatening so that the child feels ‘exposed’ each time someone looks at him, talks to him or even compliments him.

Source: Autism and Exposure Anxiety. Don’t look at me! – Autism Daily Newscast

Exposure Anxiety: a definition

Exposure Anxiety is the internal parent watching its vulnerable and exposed baby being stolen by the world outside or given away by ‘the self’; being robbed of control by what are felt as ‘outside forces’. Exposure Anxiety is a self-parenting survival mechanism, an intense often tic-like involuntary self-protection mechanism that jumps in to defend against sensed ‘invasion’. When it becomes chronic, it is self-perpetuating – like a boulder hurtling down a hill, gaining momentum. Chronic, uncontrolled, acute Exposure Anxiety is about addiction to your own adrenaline. We all experience stress and some of us are more driven, more passionate, more fixated and intense, more independent, more controlling, more dominant or passive, more jumpy or aloof, naturally. In most cases where Exposure Anxiety goes hand in hand with the metabolic, digestive and immune system disorders that co-occur in the largest percentage of people on the autistic spectrum. The chronic stress of Exposure Anxiety exacerbates physiological problems which then affect information processing as well as throw neurotransmitter balance into a state of chaos, forming a self-perpetuating loop. The person with Exposure Anxiety who lives and works with those who do not understand the condition are bound to find the self-in-relation-to-other, directly-confrontational approach of the environment seems to make Exposure Anxiety worse.

Exposure Anxiety has two faces and is the heaven and the hell, the lure of sanctuary and the suffocation of the prison.

Exposure Anxiety is a mechanism that craves the extreme and retaliates against any sense of impending invasion. It is like taking a feeling of severe shyness and multiplying it by fifty, yet its presentation is extremely confusing to onlookers. People with severe Exposure Anxiety can be frozen, or they can be manic and high. They can be prone to despair and depression, driven and creative, or unable to connect. They can be obsessive or fiercely indifferent, compulsively helpful or aloof. They can be passive or controlling; bombastic or phobic; deeply empathic or compulsively violent; open and honest or secretive and intensely private. Exposure Anxiety is likely one of a range of conditions relating to what has been coined ‘Reward Deficiency Syndrome’, essentially relating to reward feedback and impulse control mechanisms in the brain.

Exposure Anxiety makes it difficult to dare ‘expressive volume’ in a directly-confrontational (self-in-relation-to-other) world

Exposure Anxiety is about feeling your own existence too close up, too in your own face.

If I could draw you a picture of acute chronic Exposure Anxiety, I’d draw you a rainbow unseen within heavy stone walls. There’d be places in the stone where the cement had crumbled, been chipped away and some of the colour had come streaming out like a ray of light into the world. I’d draw you a picture of someone inside a prison, an invisible prison with replica selves on the outside, each a contortion, a distortion of the one you can’t see who can’t get out. I’d draw you a picture of someone avoidant with a social person waiting inside for the keys and a way out. I’d show you the compulsive, with a face manic in the midst of a diversion to distract you, to control you, from getting in. I’d draw you a face with a plastic smile, perfect movements, a learned handshake and a gut full of despair and loneliness in a world that applauds the ‘appear’ at the expense of ‘self’; suicide without a corpse.

Source: Williams, Donna (2002-09-14T23:58:59). Exposure Anxiety – The Invisible Cage . Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition.