Weighted Blankets

It’s amazing what a few extra blankets can do. In the summer, I usually sleep with at least 3 blankets. Two comforters and one soft blanket. When I am not feeling well or it’s a little colder, I can sleep with up to 10 blankets.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized it is not the heat, but the weight that makes the difference. I do get cold more easily than most, but the reason I need extra blankets to help me fall asleep is the weight.

Sleeping with enough blankets that they press upon you is like being hugged all night long. Some people think that people with autism don’t like hugs, but the truth is most of us probably do like hugs. We just need to expect them and be prepared for them. If we are not ready for the hug, it can feel more like abuse than a gesture of love. It has gotten better for me over the years, but before if someone hugged me unexpectedly, it felt like it would leave bruises from the force of it. However, if I expected it, it was the most amazing feeling in the world. It is like a relief from the sensory overload I experience all the time.

I don’t get nearly enough hugs, but I am very grateful for the ones I do get. I am also grateful for blankets that feel like hugs and help reduce the sensory stress so I can sleep at night.

Sensory Savers

I carry a set of earplugs with me. I keep a pair in my car and in all my emergency kits.

I hate earplugs, but… they help me blend in while getting me through the most difficult circumstances. I have used earplugs in class when a video was too loud or if just the class in general was too loud. I have used them to fall asleep when the world just seemed louder than normal. I use them less now than I used to, but they are my coping skill when I can’t handle things.

I feel like my life is a series of trying to blend in by finding ways to do normal things abnormally. Not that anything I do is really abnormal, it’s just thinking outside of the box.

Recently I discussed with my therapist ways to address my sensory needs to make life more manageable. I guess I tend to neglect my needs in favor of appearing normal. So I haven’t taken time to find sensory stimuli to reduce stress in my life.

Hearing is one thing that has been pretty easy to find ways to deal with it. I can easily slip a pair of earplugs in and significantly reduce the pain I feel from excruciatingly loud sounds. I still feel nearly constant pain from all the sounds and sensory input surrounding me every day, but I’m going to start looking into more ways to fulfill my sensory needs.

Up until now I have learned to find peace within myself when everything becomes distressing. But it’s nice to know that it doesn’t have to be that hard anymore. It’s okay to deal with things differently and use things like earplugs and textures and smooth surfaces to help me feel better.

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Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

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Exercising

I absolutely love exercising. I’m not very good at it because I just don’t really feel a need to go out of my way to exercise. But I enjoy the feeling of my heart beating, my lungs expanding, and the blood rushing through my veins. It’s like the opposite of a tight hug- like being hugged from the inside out.

When I am not in a good mood, I exercise to get that feeling. It makes me forget about what is bothering me and just focus on trying to breathe. I exercise because it makes me feel alive.

Sometimes I feel so extracted from the world. Like my thoughts and mood have pulled me from being able to be around people. But when I exercise, I feel so alive. I just feel. I feel in a way that I don’t usually feel. Instead of all the sensory pressures on the outside, I can feel them on the inside. And for some reason, that makes it easier to go back to feeling pressure on the outside again.
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It’s All About Timing

The past few weeks I have had a lot going on and it has been pretty stressful. But the added stress, has reaffirmed to me how important timing is when you have autism. Well, timing is always important, but it can be an especially important factor for someone with autism.

I talked about timing before in a guest post that I did a while back. In that post I emphasized how important timing is in preventing a meltdown. (You can read that post here if you’re interested.) With the stress of the previous week, and the accumulation of stress over the past few months, I have been reminded why timing is so important.

I’ve heard it said that we all have buckets and that when those buckets get too full, we overflow and the result is meltdowns or blow ups. For me, I can tell that my bucket is getting full when things become harder to deal with- when sounds that I can normally ignore feel like jackhammers in a closed room, or when a gentle touch feels like unbearable pressure. I don’t know how most people feel when they get stressed, but for me it’s like all of my senses are magnified and it becomes very hard to deal with sensory input.

However, by taking some time away from everything and refocusing myself, it becomes a lot easier to deal with the world again. It’s all about timing. If I don’t have time to regroup, even simple things can seem like impossible barriers. But if I have the time I need to relax and refocus, I can often handle the more difficult things.
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Clothes

The most common question I get or perceive is “Why is clothing such a big deal for someone with autism?”

Well, the obvious answer is that clothing is sensory stimulating. You wear clothes pretty much all the time so they’re constantly touching you and rubbing against you and putting pressure on you. The thing is though that you’re used to it so you don’t generally notice it. It’s like wearing a wristwatch. The first time you wear one, it feels chunky and strange. But after a while, you get used to the watch being there and you don’t even realize you have it on.

However, when you have sensory sensitivities, getting used to that feeling is a lot harder. I’ve compared it before to running in jeans. If you have ever run long distances in jeans, you know the feeling of clothes rubbing against your skin. That feeling is similar to the feeling that people with sensory sensitivity get with most clothes. Even things like cotton can feel like wearing sandpaper sometimes.
And it’s not just clothes, although clothes issues are the most prevalent usually.

Because of that feeling, I usually choose my clothes based on how I feel that day. If I’ve had a hard day or week, I tend to wear softer clothes that feel less abrasive on my skin. But if I’ve had a pretty good day or week, I’m more open to wearing rougher clothes like 100% cotton or jeans. There’s certain types of material that I can’t wear when I’m not having a good day. They just feel too harsh and that extra thing to deal with will make the day just that much harder.

And I always gravitate toward soft things. They make me feel so much calmer. And when I have soft clothes to feel when something stressful happens, it can help prevent breakdowns or stressing out. Soft sweaters have given me a huge sense of security in difficult social situations over the years.

Clothes aren’t always a big deal but depending on what else is going on, they can be a huge factor in how life goes. Rough clothes can make difficult times even more difficult and harder to cope with. While soft clothes can sometimes make just enough difference to ease a difficult situation.

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Hearing Voices

I have been incredibly busy the last few weeks and I’ve had a ton of thoughts going through my head of posts to write, but this has been on my mind a lot lately so I figured I’d go ahead and talk about it.

Hopefully the title doesn’t throw people off. I’m talking about voices from when people are actually talking to you, not voices in your head or hearing things when no one is around.

Hearing the sound of someone’s voice is very hard for me to do sometimes.

I don’t know how most people hear the world, but when I hear the world I usually hear background noise first. I hear the sound of the wind rushing past my car as I drive more than I hear the sound of the radio. I hear the sound of the dishwasher or the dryer or the air conditioning or heavy breathing more than I hear the words someone is saying to me.

Unless sounds are at a different frequency, I have trouble differentiating between words and sounds. So if I’m listening to someone talk and their voice is at about the same tone as the sound of the dishwasher, I’m probably going to understand only about half of what they say. Meaning, I’m basically gathering the rest of the conversation from the context of what I do hear.

So if you’ve ever wondered why someone turns the sound up on the TV during the talking parts of a movie but then back down again during the action scenes, that’s probably why. The background music or other noises make it hard to decipher what people are saying so we try turning up the volume in an attempt to understand what’s going on. But when the other noises come back, we hear them at full volume and need to turn the sound back down. (Well, at least I do. I really don’t like loudness at all.)

So if I ever ask you to repeat something or look at you like I have no idea what you just said, it’s not because I’m not listening. I just can’t hear you with the sounds of the rest of the world. And I’m hoping that if you say it again, I’ll gather just enough from the context to understand the rest.

Feeling Full

With the upcoming holidays, this has been on my mind lately.

I have never been the type of person to overeat on Thanksgiving. I eat on Thanksgiving the same way that I eat every other day of the year. I eat until I’m just satisfied. I enjoy Thanksgiving and the food and everything, but I just can’t stand the feeling of being full.

I don’t like feeling like there’s food in my stomach. It is uncomfortable. On the other hand, I also hate feeling hungry… which means I pretty much have to eat all the time to make up for it.

In general I probably eat about 7 times a day. (I used to eat more often, but since I work for 8 hours a day I don’t generally eat more than once during that time, but on weekends I probably eat about 10 times a day.) I usually eat less than most people at regular meals and then eat snacks and mini meals throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes it seems like I hardly ever stop eating.

The most unhealthy part of not liking feeling full is that I have a hard time drinking much water. I can’t handle very much water in my stomach at one time. Water just gives me such an uncomfortable feeling, especially if I drink it on an empty stomach. And because I don’t drink much water I tend to have some problems because of that.

I think that may be one reason why people with autism may have more digestive problems than others. Water is just hard to handle sometimes. I’m working on getting better about drinking water though and I’m hoping it’ll help.

Hate is such a strong word

People always say that hate is a strong word. But I think when you have autism, sometimes there is no other way to describe how you feel.

Merriam-webster dictionary defines hate as:

a :  intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

b :  extreme dislike or antipathy 

I often think to myself that I hate something because of the first definition. There are things, stupid things, things that normal people wouldn’t hate, that I feel like I hate. Some of these things are the look of sagging skin on someone, the way someone breathes, or even people sometimes.

This is kind of hard to explain, but I realize that it’s normal to say you hate these things. It’s normal to strongly dislike these things and so you say you hate them. But for me, it’s not a strong dislike that makes me hate these things. My definition of hate is closer to the first definition.

When I say I hate something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I dislike it. What it does mean is that it makes me feel a sense of anger, fear or injury. I say hate because I feel hate. Whether the hate is justified or not, doesn’t change how I feel.

When I say I hate something, I mean that it makes me want to explode inside. It makes me want to become violent or run away or try to comfort myself. I couldn’t tell you why certain things make me feel the way they do; sometimes they just do. It doesn’t make sense that I feel so strongly about something that really doesn’t matter, but it is the reality.

So, how do I deal with these feelings of hate? I focus on something else. If I focus on the object I hate, I will probably get upset and may even have some sort of meltdown. Instead, I have to change my focus to something I like instead. Then, I can usually “forget” what I hated and move on.

I know that when I say I hate something people tend to question if I really mean that I hate it. But like the dictionary says, it gives me a strong sense of “hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” Whatever it is that I say I hate makes me feel some sort of pain or anger and therefore is by definition something I hate.

I don’t always feel this way about things, but it does happen every once in a while. It’s not really something that you can just stop either. It’s an automatic reaction. So if someone with autism says they hate you or they hate something, try not to take it too personally. It’s just that we feel uncomfortable, in pain even, and that’s why we say hate.

Bathrooms

This is a post that I’ve been debating on writing for a while. I know that it’s probably necessary and very informational, but it’s not something people talk about very often. Hopefully you’ll learn something from this post though that helps you in some way. If so, then it was worth writing this.

Why using bathrooms may be hard for someone with autism:

1. It is a social situation.

2. It is a high sensory environment.

3. It is a germ-filled environment.

  1.  Bathrooms are social environments. Whether you are at home using the bathroom or at work or at a park, if anyone else is in the vicinity, using the bathroom necessitates social navigation. If there is only one stall or toilet in the bathroom, there could be people waiting to use it after you. If there are multiple stalls, then there’s the added pressure of choosing a stall and the socializing that may happen with the other people in the same bathroom area.
    • If someone is waiting to use the bathroom, you have to decide what is a socially acceptable amount of time to take in the bathroom. If someone sees you go into the bathroom or knows you are in the bathroom, you still have to decide what is socially acceptable only without the added pressure of knowing they are waiting just outside the door.
    • If you are using a bathroom with multiple stalls, you have to decide what is an appropriate stall distance. Is it appropriate to take the next available stall or to leave a stall empty in between the one in use?
    • If you’re with someone, are they the type of person that tries to talk to you while you are using the toilet or do they like to converse while washing their hands? If you’re waiting for a stall, is it appropriate to have the same conversations you would have outside of a restroom or are there conversations that are inappropriate for bathroom areas?
  2. Bathrooms bombard your senses.
    • Bathrooms are often either the brightest or the dimmest places in a building. Most bathrooms either have multiple lights or have large LED ceiling lights. If the bathrooms aren’t well maintained, some of the lights may not be working, making it very dim.
    • Bathrooms tend to be very loud. There’s the noise of toilets flushing, water running, shoes walking on tile, toilet paper unrolling and tearing, the door opening and closing, and then any noise that people in the bathroom are making. The sounds in bathrooms are often also magnified because the walls and tile tend to echo the noises inside the bathroom.
    • Bathrooms can often have strong smells associated with them. Sometimes these are the smells of cleaning materials or air freshener. Sometimes it’s the smell of feces or urine or mold. Sometimes it’s the smell of people that used or are currently using the bathroom. Sometimes it’s simply the smell of water or the walls.
    • Bathrooms are usually small, enclosed areas and so everything is very close together and can seem even more sensory invading because of that.
    • Then of course, is your own use of the bathroom. Whether you are using the toilet or washing your hands or taking a shower, these are all incredibly strong sensory experiences in and of themselves.
  3. Bathrooms are full of germs. They may not have as many germs as your kitchen sink because they’re not dealing with raw meat, but they’re still pretty germ-filled.
    • If you have a problem with the feeling of dirt or grime on your hands, then using the bathroom makes you want to scrub your hands for an inordinate amount of time sometimes.

So what can you do if your child has a hard time using the restroom?

  1. Emphasize that waiting to use the bathroom makes the problem worse. By not using the restroom when needed, you can cause constipation or make current constipation worse.
  2. Provide social skills and guidelines for restroom etiquette, how to respond if someone attempts to talk to you in the restroom, and how long is appropriate to stay in the bathroom and where/ when those guidelines apply.
  3. Normalize the use of the restroom. If kids see the bathroom as an anomaly or a nuisance, they’re less likely to want to use it when needed.

A Hot Sauce Addict

I am a notoriously picky eater. I have a lot of foods that I don’t like mostly because of texture, but sometimes because of taste. There are few foods that I really love and could eat all the time. Pizza is one of them. And I generally despise condiments. I enjoy barbecue sauce and teriyaki sauce, but I can’t eat ketchup or mayonnaise or any salad dressing. The one thing that I am really addicted to though is hot sauce, well mostly Tapatio sauce. I could practically drink that stuff.

The problem is that I have GERD so I can’t really have foods that are acidic or spicy. Hot sauce though is one of the few things that seems to wake up my senses and help me forget about the world. If I’m having a rough day or just feeling a little down, I can eat some hot sauce with a couple chips and it makes me feel so alive. I know it’s not good for me and will probably give me abdominal pain later, but the sense of feeling something so powerfully draws me to it anyway.

Is there anything that wakes up your senses and makes you feel alive?

I’m participating in a Sensory Blog hop for this post. If you would like to read more sensory specific stories, please click on the little frog to see the other participating blogs.