Functional Freezes, Trauma Releasing Exercises, and Self-Advocacy

Austin Jones

By Austin John Jones

A couple years back, I had an incident at a summer camp I was on the staff for. I was just about to do something one of my co-workers asked me to do, when suddenly, my brain basically slowed down to a halt. My thought processing was very smallish, my speech became robotic and mechanical; I was essentially not Austin John Jones for the next six hours. My mother had to pick me up, rush me to the emergency room, we never got in to find out what was wrong, but eventually, by the sixth hour, the spell wore off. And I was me again. It was a really scary experience.

 I thought I was dying.

Around Christmas, this happened again when I was on a trip to Ireland with my family. It lasted for about an hour. This then happened again earlier this year. I was spending time with my friends and my buddy had to drive me home. It wore off in about an hour.

Functional Freeze

During the summer, I attended a retreat program in Seattle where I met other people on the spectrum, and I actually learned what these episodes were called: Functional Freezes.  Basically, it’s a natural response your body reacts to that is triggered by trauma in your life. When I say trauma, that can be anywhere from being in a car crash, to staring at something not even remotely threatening like bread. The point is, trauma is stored in your body, and these “Functional Freezes” are your body’s way of telling you: You need to stop, take a break for a while.

How do I deal with this … my body demanding some time off because it can’t handle maintaining information at times. It’s like my brain is an empty glass, and there is a pitcher pouring water into it until it overflows, water spilling everywhere because the glass is not big enough. It’s irritating.

How do I make the glass bigger? I can’t open my brain and inject it with a growing potion.

Well, what I figured out on this retreat, is that the answer is releasing the trauma from your body. Because, trauma is stored in your body. All it wants is to come out. Because it’s like pain, nobody wants to be in pain, so you need to let it out.

Trauma Release Exercises

The staff on the retreat taught me to do trauma release exercises to get it out of my body, which reestablishes you. How do I know this works though? Well, guess what, after I got back from the retreat, a couple weeks later, I was at my local game store with my buddies playing cards, and I had another one of these episodes out of nowhere. I did a trauma release exercise, as odd as it may be, right there in the store, and guess what…five minutes later, I am no longer a robotic guy who is not Austin John Jones. I am Austin John Jones again. Trauma release exercises WORK!

Now, you may be asking “Austin, why the hell are you telling us all this stuff about you? How does this help?” But that is the exactly the point of this essay: Understanding someone’s perspective. I am telling you, the reader, about my experiences to enhance and guide your experiences.

Because guess what? After that incident at the card shop that night, I was actually smack dab in the middle of helping out with the Social Stories Program at the Balboa Museum and you guessed it: I had another episode. Now, the staff members didn’t know what to do. But that’s where something really important that I learned while in this program comes into play:


 If the people that don’t know how to help you don’t know what to do …


And in this case, from what I learned from my experience at the camp, I was able to solve my own problem and told the staff of the program how I could help myself with their assistance.

Getting back to helping out with the social stories themselves, there were many times I witnessed other fellow peers in this program struggling with advocating for themselves. Did you know that for some people on the spectrum, having physical pressure applied to their bodies ACTUALLY helps them cope with stress?! I didn’t know that when I came into the program! But I learned it pretty quickly.


We had a peer who would literally ask for tight hugs just to deal with stress. Hugs have healing properties. It’s pretty cool. We also have a peer who has a service dog who has been trained that if the person needs it, can lay on top of the person while lying on their back to apply stress releasing pressure so that they feel better. These are all ways of releasing trauma.

People don’t realize it often, but people on the spectrum have different ways of processing information. This is another point about understanding our perspectives. I might hear a sentence and be totally offended by it, and you could have someone else hear it and not even care.

But here is the thing to realize, whether you care about what is said or not, that is going to affect you and the decisions you make. Some people on the spectrum could take something that is carelessly said so personally they may even have suicidal thoughts towards it. That is very extreme but it is true! You need to be very careful with what you say to people on the spectrum. You don’t know how they think, you don’t know what they have been through. Remember this program was all about understanding people’s perspective.

We made these social stories to make the life of what may be a very pressured and insecure individual or many individuals easier to cope with.

So, I am going to leave you, my dear readers, with this.

If you meet a person with autism:

Listen to them.

Care about what they say.

Understand what they say.

And appreciate what they say.


you will only be meeting THAT ONE PERSON with autism. And the next time you meet ANOTHER PERSON with autism, whatever had been said the last time you had met a person with autism, will most likely be different. Learn to understand and respect everyone you meet. Appreciate that they have lived a very different life than you have, and care must be taken so that they can hopefully continue to live life the way they want to. 


My Name is Austin. I am an artist. I am an art teacher. I am a gamer. I am a storyteller and a writer. I love my community, I love my friends and family, and I am on the Autism Spectrum. My favorite game to play with my friends is Magic the Gathering. My favorite video game to play is Spiral Knights. I am a Guild Master of my Spiral Knights Guild: Altosk. I am an avid Hearthstone player.My favorite food to eat is Mexican Food. Specifically Carne Asada Fries and California Burritos. I went to Art Center College of Design for college and graduated with a degree in Illustration.


7 replies on “Functional Freezes, Trauma Releasing Exercises, and Self-Advocacy”
  1. says: Bradley

    Great article. I myself am not on the spectrum but do have friends who are. This is great read for everyone, thanks for sharing.

    Oh, and great photo too.

  2. says: Greg

    Related to young adults with autism/aspergers making their way in the real world, I watched a very interesting movie recently, “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” a fictional account of two sisters, one an older protector of, two, her younger sister, who has aspergers.

    As a father of an aspergers young adult, I found the film very provocative on the subject of how (difficult) it can be for people with a disability to cope and find love and affection as they grow into adulthood. Highly recommended for those on the spectrum, parents of spectrum children, and anyone interested in disabilities, etc.

    1. says: admin

      Greg, we would love if you wrote a review for the Art of Autism of “Jane Wants a Boyfriend” or better yet if your Aspergers daughter or son wrote a review. We are now paying autistic contributors for their blog posts. If you are interested email

  3. says: Phil

    Having witnessed and talked to you through some of these freezes, I totally get it dude. You remind me of a few times in my life where this has happened. I think it’s happened even before I met you. And it’s happened when we were younger.

    Do you remember that one time I was at your house… we were maybe 12. And I just lost my mind? Like I was crying and upset in the lounge and I had no idea WHY it was happening and couldn’t explain? My dad had to come by and pick me up and he was frustrated because I couldn’t explain what was going on. And it was just another weird story about Philip Greenberg the weird.

    Another time when I was 12 or so I was at my friend Alec’s house (you actually walk right by that place all the time) and I distinctly remember playing Sonic the Hedgehog pinball. And I couldn’t win because I couldn’t angle the ball properly into a tight curve. And suddenly I was overthinking, overanaylzing, overfeeling. I cried and screamed and generally lost it. Poor babysitter who was watching us had no idea what to do. Alec had no idea what to do. I just couldn’t explain it properly.

    And of course, you remember when I was 11, building that Jango Fett figurine out of legos. I got some parts messed up or lost them. But something was just horribly wrong and I couldn’t explain because no one else could see it. It wasn’t real. But it was for me. And I kept crying out “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault.”

    Crap like this happens to this day. I’m lucky I have such an understanding boss. I’ve explained to her, as best as I can, what happens and the triggers I understand. And now we have a system that WORKS. If at any point I feel my energy rising, and the dragon waking up, I hold as long as I can, and when I cannot anymore, I just tell my supervisor ( I work at a senior dining room ) “Hey I need a minute or two” and walk away. I sometimes go into the meat freezer and Imagine I’m on top of a huge snowy mountain. And it may not solve everything, but it helps reduce the psychic pressure raging throughout my sympathetic nervous system. And I am like 15% more functional at the very least. I might not be able to reduce the stress completely, and it’s still there waiting until I go home and beat it out with some video games or karoke.

    But taking away 5% of a problem means you function 5% better. And to someone on the spectrum this can be the difference between scraping through a day, and screaming into utter madness with little explanation.

    But nowadays I warn people. I tell them the rough “Hey, I’m a nice guy and pleasant 95% of the time, but I have a tic where I lose control and experience anything from emotional turbulence to suicidal thoughts to the desire to hide behind a counter. It’s not completely within my control but I am learning to identify what sets it off, what medicine helps me reduce the chance or the damage, and what I can say to you to keep this working relationship as nice as possible. I do not mean to scare or harm anyone and I am perfectly willing to talk about what it is and what to do about it. Just as long as you do not ask me in the moment. Just give me some time and I’ll vent it. But not before. I feel very strongly for a very short time and cannot reason with you in those moments. But it will pass, and I will be back with you.”

    Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes minutes. Once it took months. But I’m getting better at fighting back. And I can safely say it is because I see these pains in you, Austin Jones. And others. I smell our communal despair and pain, and I know I am not alone. We are gifted with great and terrible pains which others will not understand, but they must learn how to cope as we do. It’s all part of being human. It is only solved 5% at at time.

    But hey, 5% of a problem solved still feels 5% better. Fight for every 5%. We deserve it.

  4. says: Melissa

    Hey! I would love to know more about the exercises you did to get out of this functional freeze response. I am also on the spectrum and I deal with this as well. To others it looks like low blood sugar or a simple partial seizure but those were ruled out. I also get kind of confused in a way when this happens, hard to explain. Anyways, if you could share what you do to get out of it or where I can find more info that would be great. Thank you!

Comments are closed.