Monday, April 26, 2010

Sensory Sensitivity and How It Can Push an Aspie to the Limit.

In my last post, I talked a little about the affect sensory sensitivity can have on someone, myself, with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is very common to anyone with an autism spectrum disorder, and it can manifest itself in differing ways and intensity. Noise, light, fabric, food texture, smell… this can be so overwhelming to someone with an ASD that they may feel the need to remove their skin, end their day, close their eyes tight… something to overcome and/or deal with their overload.

This sensory sensitivities affect me in many different ways. For instance, sound is not a major issue for me except as it becomes a distraction. I have a sound machine that I use to go to sleep with sometimes. The water sounds (beach, rain, river) are very soothing to me and I have found to many other Aspies as well. However, specifically on a sound machine, which uses a looped soundbite to perpetuate the illusion of a continuously active and live experience, I find myself too occupied searching for and recognizing the loop. This backfires as a way to get to sleep because it keeps my mind too active to relax. Light is also not a big issue for me, typically, as long as I am wearing sunglasses. What I'd like to talk specifically about, so it is possible for the reader to better grasp how sensory sensitivity can affect an Aspie, is an issue which took place long ago with me regarding smell and touch.

My parents took my brother and me to church as very young boys. I am 17 months older than my brother who seems to be NT (neurotypical) albeit a bit of a smart aleck (but I love him). I remember being about 5 or 6 years old and sitting in the pew next to my brother. As our arms were next to each other, I could feel the body heat coming off his arm and warming up my arm. To me, he actually felt like he was experiencing a serious fever and the heat I felt made it exceedingly uncomfortable for me. In addition, I was able to smell him, which is not to say that he stunk. It was just that our close proximity to one another and the environment we were in, which demanded that we be still, focused these two sensation for me, of which I was very vulnerable to easily being overwhelmed. I vividly recall the many times I experienced this and how it made me feel. As a boy of kindergarten age, I was tormented by my own senses, feeling that I needed to run outside and reclaim myself in the open air, but feeling trapped on a hard, uncomfortable pew, my skin burning up, unable to breathe through my nose. I wanted to tear my skin off and sat there mentally sobbing and physically keeping the tears from running out of my eyes.

My parents had no idea, and probably still don’t, what I was going through, nor did they have any idea that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. So in the realm of being an outsider in a NT world, I had to force myself to sit there and handle it. No one else looked like they wanted to tear their skin off or run outside, and I was just trying to model myself after all the “normal” people around me who could sit still and were not bothered by hypersensitive sensory experiences.

I know from personal experience with my AS son, who has significant sound sensory problems, that sometimes you just can’t work through those issues with an Aspie. My son will probably always have to cover his ears to protect himself from dog barks, certain scenes in movies, or frequent fire alarms in school. I don’t want him to feel ‘less than’ because he experiences sound the way he does, and just because I don't experience it the same way he does doesn’t mean he should or could experience the way I do. It is just something I will never personally understand… except that I have had my own different sensory problems and I can relate.

So I will just understand that he needs this protection from sound and help him to experience peace in that. And hopefully he will never feel odd for experiencing the world differently than most people and at the very least he has a father who understands and, more importantly, accepts him for experiencing the world the way he does.

1 comment:

  1. So real, raw, and touching! You have a true gift for writing and expressing yourself Brian.