Tuesday 11 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 11


Day 11: 

Talk about sensory issues.  Do you also have sensory processing disorder?  What kind of clothes do you wear?  What foods do you eat?  Are you sensitive to light or sounds?  How do you deal with overstimulation?

I'd need to check my full diagnostic report for whether I have a formal diagnosis of SPD (sensory processing disorder) but I definitely have issues with sensory processing. A lot of autistics are either hyper- or hypo-sensitive in various senses; I have hypersensitivity in all my sense (because why be middle-of-the-road when you can go all out and be extreme?!)

My ears are really sensitive; I often hear sounds that most other people don't and can pick up on subtle differences and discordances that miss NTs (and older people). It's quite handy for musical things because I can easily tell if something's slightly out of tune, and I can hear that approaching emergency vehicle before other people so I've got more time to prepare to pull the car over to one side so it can pass. And as I want to go into sign language interpreting, good hearing is pretty important!

However, a lot of sounds that don't bother other people, or cause only the mildest irritation to them, can be incredibly painful to me. I often find myself covering my ears to block out/reduce the sounds when it's not an issue for anyone else; occasionally in the past it would make me horribly self-conscious but, as is frequently the case for me, caring about what other people think is secondary to being comfortable and able to cope. And multiple sounds will blur together and form one big wall of unintelligible noise that can trigger a meltdown; if there are several different sounds around me, I can't tune out some and focus on the one I'm actually listening to, so I don't like being in those environments. My coping threshold varies - if I'm with friends and comfortable and so on, I can cope better than if I'm not doing so well mentally, I'm tired or other such things.

It's pretty difficult to extricate autistic hypersensitivity from the Irlen Syndrome; a lot of autistics have Irlen as well. My tinted glasses really help, as they filter out the wavelengths of light that my brain doesn't like (Irlen is a brain condition, not an eye one) - I have claret, yellow and two kinds of blue in my lenses, as well as distance lenses (I'm also short-sighted). But flashing lights are unbearable and can trigger meltdowns. I don't have super-vision or anything like that, thanks to my genetics (my mother is also short-sighted; as my husband also is, I suspect that any children we have in the future are extremely likely to be short-sighted as well!) However, I can pick up on details that other people miss.

Hypersensitive! I often pick up on smells that others don't, and smells that are pleasant for them can be unbearable and overwhelming to me. My father (undiagnosed but at least as Aspie as me!) used to get Indian takeaway every Saturday night (he's currently on Japanese every Saturday) and on Sundays he'd reheat the leftovers and have them for lunch; the smell was horrific, so strong that it made me feel ill. I'd complain to Mum about it and pre-diagnosis she'd always be a bit scathing, telling me not to be so melodramatic and that it's not that bad/as bad as I was making out. Now I have an official diagnosis and she's accepted it, she's much more sympathetic. I'm not good at going into places like Lush, and when I roll past it on Exeter high street I have to take a deep breath before I get within smell range and go past as quickly as possible without breathing it in, because although a lot of the individual smells are nice, the combination of them isn't and is also completely overwhelming, far too powerful.

Same sorts of experiences as with smell (which makes sense; the two are closely interlinked). I don't eat spicy things because they're unbearable and also wreck my tastebuds for the rest of the meal.

For a long time when I was growing up I couldn't eat things like pizza, spaghetti bolognese, etc, because there were multiple flavours and textures in the same mouthful and I couldn't cope with that; even now, where possible, I'll only eat a mouthful/forkful of one taste or flavour at a time because that was all I could cope with.

Stereotypically, I used to be a very picky eater. There were so many things I wouldn't/couldn't eat because the texture was uncomfortable or the flavour wasn't pleasant. It was a nightmare when we ate out because a lot of the time I'd end up with a plate of chips and that was it. There was also the fear of the unknown that's so common with us autistics, and I didn't want to cause a scene or waste my parents' money on something it turned out I didn't like.

I've got better as I've grown up and am more willing to try something new, although I'm still wary of trying something new in a restaurant/takeaway. Gideon's introduced me to loads of things, and it does amuse me that the two things my mum can't stand (spinach and mushrooms) are things Gideon got me liking! There are a few foods I still don't eat because I don't like them, and I can generally spot them a mile off! My husband knows better than to sneak peppers into anything because no matter what you do with them, I will taste them! Other foods I can only eat in certain ways, either because of taste or texture - I can't stand cooked tomatoes and I only eat cheese if it's hot and melted. But overall I'm a lot better and I eat most things; I'll never like peppers, celery will never be something I touch because of the texture and the stringy bits (they're unbearable and they get trapped between your teeth), and there are some other things I'll never eat because of taste and/or texture.

Clothing is a big one here. There are a number of fabrics that I cannot cope with having touching my skin. I'm really sensitive to the rougher fabrics, far more so than NTs, so I only wear soft things. Wedding-dress shopping was a huge challenge - on top of finding something that worked with the wheelchair and that wasn't strapless (which instantly ruled out a good 95% of dresses), there was the matter of finding fabrics that I could tolerate against my skin, a difficult challenge because tulle is a popular wedding-dress fabric. I tried on one that barely touched my skin before I started going "Nopenopenope!" The shop lady told me to put it on further and let it settle, but my friend Julie (who was with me) just turned round and informed her that she shouldn't do that because I'm autistic and hypersensitive to certain fabrics, and that if she insisted on me putting the dress on more I'd have a full autistic meltdown in her shop. It was particularly harsh tulle; I came across much softer tulle in other dresses and the dress I went with in the end did have tulle but it was much softer, though as it was, they put opaque satin under the tulle that would otherwise have been directly on my skin because of the sensory issues.

Growing up, I was a bit of a nightmare to go clothes-shopping with because of the hypersensitivity. It didn't help that I'm so long it was a challenge to find anything that actually fit! Once we'd got past that obstacle there was the matter of finding fabrics I could tolerate - no easy task on many occasions. It drove Mum up the wall! As an adult I'm still very picky about fabrics and I don't like ordering clothes online, partly because they probably won't fit but mostly because I can't feel them over the Internet like I can in a shop. I still hate clothes shopping, because of the combination of finding comfortable fabrics and things that fit (if I want a long-sleeved top I generally have to go to the men's section because women's tops don't have long enough sleeves; most trousers are too short).

How do I deal with overstimulation? Not well. Clapping my hands over my ears, rocking, screeching/keening, squeezing my eyes shut... In short, full meltdown. If it's a gradual intensifying of overstimulation I can get myself out of the situation prior to a full meltdown, but I don't always recognise the warning signs. I need somewhere quiet, with dim light (NO fluorescent lights), where I can calm down. If I can, I notify the people I'm with about what's going on. I also have communication cards because when I get too tired, stressed, overloaded, etc, I lose the ability to speak and not many people know BSL. My friend Hannah makes the cars as her job and they're absolutely fantastic; she has an "autism" set and I've got a lot of them because they're so damn useful! You can find them at Stickman Communications (and she ships to the US now as well!)

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