Autism and Sorting Out Sensory Snags

All my life I have been easily overwhelmed by sound and motion. I can hear things nobody else even notices such as the hum of electric devices that are plugged in even when the appliance or device is not in use such as the coffee maker on my kitchen counter. I can hear fluorescent lights hum, the steady grind of ventilation systems in buildings and the crackling from inside my television when it is muted.

When I am in the midst of much movement I tend to get dizzy. This is really distracting because I am in busy places when I present at conferences and when I work in school districts. I have to constantly monitor and be aware of the dizzy feelings in my body so as to stay on top of it and not become too far gone so as to appear like a staggering drunk when walking down a hallway.

I used to get surprised by my unreliable sensory system quite a lot as I went about daily life. These days I get less surprised because I have learned to do a sensory scan of new environments to identify up front what sorts of things will likely negatively impact me. It takes but a few moments when walking into a new classroom, a store, a friends home, etc. to look around and identify the “too much” for me sensory wise. I can then quickly figure out how to minimize the impact these sensory assaults will have on my system.

For example, when I go into a restaurant I quickly scan the seating arrangement. If I see the place has high backed booths I ask for a booth as it cuts down on incoming sensory information both in terms of sound and vision. If booths aren’t available I ask for a table on the perimeter. When I sit with my back to a wall I effectively decrease the sensory input I might otherwise receive if I sat in the middle of the dining room surrounded by sound and movement while dining.

Even so, sometimes no matter how hard I work at this my fragile sensory system will fall apart before I am done working for the day or finished with an outing. I have some backup plans waiting in the wings for such occasions. My arsenal includes three different styles of ear plugs purchased from the rent-a-tool place at a home improvement store, a retractable clip on string, a therapy ball that I use for deep pressure, swimming, sleeping with a weighted blanket, sitting in chairs with arms, massages and not standing still for more than a few minutes. These are some of the things that both keep my sensory system in a more stable state proactively and can be used reactively to calm my sensory system once it has become overwhelmed.

The amazing thing to me is that even though I have been teaching sensory regulation strategies to others I work with I had not identified myself as having sensory needs. Once it was pointed out to me I was able to apply things I already knew to myself.

Today I am able to travel, stay in motels and negotiate all the sensory surprises my life brings to me as I crisscross the skies and drive around my state to accomplish my everyday work. It is never too late to identify your own needs, construct a self-advocacy plan and implement it. I do so every day in all sorts of situations. I am much more comfortable in my own skin and in the world around me now that I no longer fear unknown or novel situations.

UntitledPainting is Lower Left Planetary Sky
Available in sets of 5 greeting cards
and acrylic prints in 3 sizes
in the Art Store at www.judyendow.com

REFERENCES

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2011). Practical Strategies for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission. KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for an published by Ollibean on November 16, 2014