Hello. I’m Rebekah, a blogger on the autism spectrum. Recently, Lydia kindly asked me if I’d like to write a mini-series about the sensory side to autism, and of course, I jumped at the chance.
Before we go any further, I’m going to dedicate the first of these three posts to explaining exactly what the sensory side of autism is. There’s no point in talking about my own experiences if you don’t know anything about the topic, after all.
You should know that there’s an actual condition that explains the sensory side of autism—sensory processing disorder. Sometimes, this is diagnosed separately, but often, it’s considered a counterpart of the main diagnosis. When I received my diagnosis, it was part of the diagnostic criteria, so it makes sense, really.
As the name probably suggests, sensory processing disorder affects all five senses: sight, taste, touch, smell and sound.
Autistic people can be hypersensitive or hyposensitive, which means they either feel overwhelmed by the sensory input around them, or underwhelmed. It’s worth noting that these feelings can change daily, so although the sound of background conversations or the feel of certain fabric can irritate someone one day, they may be totally fine with it the next.
This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I’m sure the thought of being hyposensitive to sound sounds great when you’re sitting in a restaurant with screaming children. How would you feel, however, if the next day, every sound was deafening?
This is why autistic people experience meltdowns or shutdowns, which often occur as the result of being overstimulated or understimulated.
If the sensory input someone’s receiving is too much or too little, the brain can’t cope, and the autistic person needs a way of communicating how much they aren’t coping. However, trying to do this when your brain is shutting down more and more with every second that passes is basically impossible. This is when the ‘naughty’ behaviours associated with autism usually come out, though many fail to realize the true intentions behind it.
If you’re in a moment when you notice the autistic person in your life is struggling to cope with the sensory input in that moment, try and remove them from the situation if you can. If not, ask them what they’re struggling with, and what you can do to help, if they are able to communicate at that time.
It might be difficult for the autistic person to show their appreciation at the time but take it from someone who knows; having someone fighting their corner and trying to help them in their time of need means everything. Trust me.
With that, I just wanted to thank Lydia for giving me this opportunity to share information about autism, something I’m very passionate about. I’d also like to thank everyone giving this post a read; it means a lot to me that you’re giving me the chance.
Note: this post is a guest post, and is the work of Rebekah Gillian; you can see her blog here. Posts on this blog are not written to inform about medical choices; those are your own responsibility. For more information, see my disclaimer.