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Ever the arty Autie

A diagnostic criteria for Exposure Anxiety?


Personal Space by Donna Williams  I have done consultations with those who fit Exposure Anxiety since 1996 and still do online consultations with those wanting to manage this highly problematic condition. This is a snip from an upcoming abridged version of my book, Exposure Anxiety: The Invisible Cage.

If there were a diagnostic criteria for EA it might fit this:

A. Present from birth or infancy and persists throughout the person’s life span.

B. A marked and persistent aversion to directly confrontational attempts by even familiar others to share joint activities, communicate directly or cause self awareness, escalating from aversion to diversion, to retaliation responses.  (Note: this could also be present in abused children, those with attachment disorders, and those with information processing disorders, sensory perceptual disorders, sensory hypersensitivities or sensory deficits).

C. Involuntary avoidance, diversion and retaliation responses revolving around basic self help skills and toileting even in the absence of any social audience. May later be accompanied by a tendency to mirror others when they are doing these things (can’t do as oneself) or to attribute responsibility to others or to objects to achieve these things (can’t do for oneself).

D. A social style ranging from self isolation to seemingly aimless wandering to highly active, even sometimes seemingly socially threatening approach-avoidance behaviours.

E. A communication style which may include any range of the following:

  • Selective Mutism, mindless (even self-hypnotic) singing or self chatter.

  • Short, telegraphic bursts of speech.

  • Whispered, self directed, rushed or overly slowed speech to the point of being incomprehensible.

  • Highly characterised stored utterances or scripts.

  • Persistently impulsive communications which are offensive or distancing.

  • Obsessive anxiety-driven descriptive or intellectual litanies.

  • Typed communication or artistic expression far beyond what the person can express directly or verbally.

Note: Provided these are not better accounted for by Tourette’s tics, Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder, Aphasias, verbal agnosias, Social-Emotional Agnosia, personality or conduct disorders, Alexithymia, or other mood or anxiety disorders.

F. Exposure to uninvited praise and attention provokes immediate avoidance, diversion or retaliation responses. By mid-late childhood these EA responses may have differentiated into strategies of ‘can’t do as oneself’, ‘by oneself’ or ‘for oneself’ in which praise and attention are tolerated when the person has assumed a role or character but not when they are caught off guard or when being themselves.

G. A phase in early childhood where there is no remorse for involuntary avoidance, diversion or retaliation responses but by mid childhood-puberty, self directed rage may result from progressive awareness of their own condition and desire but inability to escape it.

H. Avoidance, diversion and retaliation responses or strategies of ‘can’t do as self’, ‘can’t do by self’ or ‘can’t do for self’ significantly interfere with the person’s ability to cope with change, transitions, demonstration of academic learning and skills, ability to function in employment, ability to gain or sustain general friendships, manage healthy parenting or sustain long term intimate or sexual relationships.

G. Involuntary avoidance, diversion and retaliation responses and depersonalisation strategies of ‘can’t do as self’, ‘can’t do by self’ or ‘can’t do for self’, are not due to the direct physiological effects of any substance or other general medical condition and are not better accounted for by abuse or by other anxiety, conduct, personality, developmental, attention deficit, dissociative, attachment, mood or compulsive disorders.


Given EA is present from birth or infancy, can present in both mild and severe forms, in specific or generalised forms, and may shift dramatically in some people by late childhood or adulthood, which well known public figures might have had a degree of EA?  Would love to hear your suggestions.


here’s some of mine:

Boyle, Susan (Scottish singer)
Bukowski, Charles (American poet/author)
Dickinson, Emily (American poet)
Garbo, Greta (American actress)
Hannah, Darryl (American actress)
Jackson, Michael (American singer-songwriter)
Lewis, Daniel Day (American actor)
Lucas, Isabel (Australian actress and activist)
Morrison, James (British singer-songwriter/poet)
Morrison, Van (Irish singer-songwriter)
Sellers, Peter (British actor/director)
Williams, Robin (American actor/comedian)
Woolf, Virginia (British novelist, essayist)

Donna Williams, Dip Ed, BA Hons.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.

You can find more info at my website http://www.donnawilliams.netincluding my consultation pages for both Autism and DID.