Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘adults

Sensory Integration and the Autism Spectrum: One Woman’s Experience

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Regular readers know that I tend to stick to telling stories about my kids, and my experience raising them.  Our situation differs greatly to those of other families touched by autism, though of course, there are some strong similarities too.  One thing I’m always conscious of is that these are my own words, and not Pudding’s.  She may interpret this whole experience quite differently as she grows.  And sweet little kids with autism spectrum disorders grow up to be adults with autism spectrum disorders.  It is the lifelong part that we sometimes forget in our rush for early intervention.  I don’t want this month of Autism Awareness to pass without acknowledging that fact.

I can’t predict how she’ll be as an adult, but I do know that I’m incredibly fortunate in knowing some remarkable women on the spectrum, like Lisa and Laura.  When Pudding can’t tell me how strange and uncomfortable the world seems to her, I have the benefit of listening to their voices.  It is a gift.  One I’d like to share with you today as I invite Laura to take the stage to talk about sensory integration.  It is an honour to have her here today.  Please give her a warm welcome.
4 Aspies, 1 house, that's...Life in the house that Asperger built

Sensory Integration and the Autism Spectrum: One Woman’s Experience

:walks up to the lectern…shuffles papers…taps microphone:

“Is this thing on?  Oh it is! Ok…ahem… Hello, my name is Laura, and I have Asperger Syndrome.”

:audience responds:

“Hi, Laura.”

“There are a lot of things I could tell you about what it’s like to be an Aspie, the difficulty navigating social interactions, the communication struggles, and the intense focus on special interests.  Today, however, I’m going to talk about the problems with sensory integration.  Scientists are just now coming to understand, and measure the extent to which people with Autism Spectrum Disorders have difficulty properly processing sensory information.  We complain about things that most others don’t even notice.  For many, these things will just be bothersome, or uncomfortable.  For others, however, they can even be painful.  Each of us is affected differently by this.  My problem areas are primarily sound and touch.

I am extremely sensitive to the way things feel on my skin.  I don’t like the feel of flannel for example.  Believe it or not, it feels rough and gritty.  I can sleep on flannel sheets, but only in long sleeved pajamas with pants (made of either cotton jersey or fleece), and the pillow case has to be regular cotton.  I cannot put my face on a flannel pillow case.   Not only is it rough, but it’s too hot.  Also, regardless of the time of year, I must have a heavy blanket or comforter.  I need the pressure in order to get to sleep.  Otherwise, the sheets feel wispy and light.  They brush lightly on my skin, and that gives me the willies.

Light touch on my skin, generates in me the same reaction others have to hearing nails on a chalkboard.  And while we’re discussing chalkboards, I really can’t stand the feel of chalk.  It makes all of the hair on my body stand straight on end, just thinking about it.  My list of tactilely disturbing things is actually somewhat long.  In addition to what I’ve already mentioned there is:

  • The feel of someone softly stroking my hair, arms or back
  • Anything, except for shoes and the ground, touching the soles of my feet
  • Crisp, tight cotton blouses, specifically the sleeves
  • Limp handshakes
  • Someone resting their hand or arm on my shoulder
  • A light breeze against my skin.  On this one, I will actually put on a sweater even if it’s a hot, light breeze just because I don’t like the feel of the air moving across my skin.

There’s more but I think you get the idea.  Essentially, I’m super sensitive to light touch, and things that are tight or rough.

Sound is another area of sensitivity for me, but it is harder to quantify.  I definitely have a problem with things that are too loud, except sometimes “too loud” varies.  I’m always upset by sudden loud noises, and for some reason all of my sound sensitivities are magnified 10 times or more when I’m inside a car.  I can sometimes be affected by pitches that are too high, but I am more frequently disturbed by pitches that are too low.  Some men speak in very baritone, gravelly voices, and it just sends me through the roof!  Just like with touch, my reaction to these is just like that “nails on the chalkboard” feeling.  But that’s not really so bad, is it?  It’s just a momentary flash of the willies, after all, right?  No.  The real problems start after that.

All of my sensitivities, once triggered, lead directly to incredible feelings of physical discomfort, and increased stress and anxiety.  In some cases, this can be resolved as easily as taking off the offending article of clothing, or leaving the room.  Other times, however, it begins a cycle that can be difficult to stop.  Once my anxiety starts to rise, I become more sensitive.  That leads to more reactions, which is followed by more stress and anxiety.  As this continues, I get increasingly cranky, which then leads to increased difficulties in some of those areas I’m not talking about today, navigating social interactions, and communication struggles.  It’s this spiral, caused by my hypersensitivities, that causes me the most trouble.

Not all sensory integration problems involve hypersensitivity, however.  Some involve being less sensitive than average.  In my case, I’m hyposensitive to taste.  It’s not that I can’t taste, it’s just that I don’t taste as well as everyone else.  For example, it’s been determined that I can’t taste bitter at all.  This actually proved to be a good thing for my mother who had her hands full with everything else going on with me.  Unlike, many on the Spectrum, my lack of tasting ability meant that I wasn’t ever a picky eater.  My mom put the food in front of me, and I ate it.  Not all hyposensitivities however, work toward the greater good.  There are some, like my daughter, who don’t feel pain as acutely as they should.  This can lead to dangerous consequences that require an incredible level of diligence on the part of caregivers and loved ones to prevent.

Issues like these are dealt with daily by people on the Spectrum, and those who love and care for them.  It is my sincerest hope that sharing this with you here today might help someone better understand a loved one, or feel less isolated in their own experience.  Thank you.”

:takes papers…leaves stage:

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 14, 2011 at 6:55 am