It has been a few weeks since my last post. I tend to get really excited about a certain idea or activity and for awhile I’ll be all about it. Then my interest will just drop and I’ll find something else to distract me. I didn’t want this blog to be one of those things, as it got such a positive response and seemed to help some people. I’ve been waiting to be inspired by something, but nothing came. So I’m just going to dive in with a big one – Sensory Overload.
I have some visitors this weekend, my sister and her TWO autistic children. What could be better than one Autismo? An entire house of them! My nephew just turned 8, and he is a whirlwind of activity, noise, movement and chatter. My niece is the opposite – quiet, shy and nervous.
They arrived shortly after midday and, like the song, they came in like a wrecking ball. My nephew’s latest obsession is (wait for it)… Dishwashing powder. Not just any dishwashing powder – Finish tablets (especially the one with the power ball and rinse aid built in). I swear to you, I am not a corporal shill. This is legitimately what he is fixated with right now. He watches Finish ads and tells everyone he meets all about the tablets and shows them videos on YouTube. It is hilarious – at first. After hour 6 of incessant chatter about dishwashing powder, anyone’s patience would start to wear.
Our plans were simple enough, we were first going to check out some display homes to get some ideas for houses (my nephew kept himself occupied inspecting the dishwashers) and then afterward, dinner at Taco Bill.
I was nervous because usually I can only handle one activity a day. Two means overload. Three is not possible without assistance.
By the time we got to the restaurant I’m starting to feel the effects of social and sensory activity beyond my normal limits. I’m not sure whether the ambient noise level at the restaurant was actually set to “roaring” but to my ears, it was. After so much activity during the day and listening to the constant chatter of my nephew and to a lesser extent, my niece, I was definitely feeling the strain of all the extra sensory input. I became extra sensitive to sensory information. I was hyper aware of all the movement in the busy restaurant, nervous at being in people’s way (WHY this is a thing for me, I do not know… I am terrified of blocking someone’s path or being in the way. When in public I try to take up as least space as possible, and in busy shopping centres I weave my way around people so they aren’t inconvenienced), and I was getting super irritated and anxious.
My nephew’s voice is difficult for my sensitive ears to handle at the best of times. He is hypo-sensory, meaning he needs extra stimulation to hear and feel things. He craves sensory input. I imagine it like he’s living in a bubble, sounds are muted and the bubble protects him from feeling tactile objects the way the rest of do. I am the complete opposite. I am hyper-sensory, I hear/feel/see everything and am extremely sensitive. I can hear if an electrical device is on in the room (like if my phone is charging). I could smell a friend’s mold problem in their house that nobody else could smell. I can’t handle deodorants to be sprayed near me, and can’t breathe when women wearing too much perfume stand near me. It hurts to have someone touch me, stroking my skin is like a form of torture. My own voice in my ears sounds loud, so I speak quietly and softly. My nephew, on the other hand, can’t tell how loud he is being so he yells most of the time. When he feels like he isn’t being heard, he yells louder. And his inflection is all wrong. He places emphasis on the wrong parts of words. For example, tonight he said “I need to put my iPad on charge.” With his tone and inflection, this is how it came out:
“I NEED TO put my iPad on chARGE”
You can imagine how a hypo sensory and a hyper sensory in the same room might be difficult for the hyper sensory. I love him to pieces and I would not change him, but being around him for extended periods of time wears me out and often causes severe overload.
At the restaurant I was starting to get very antsy. I needed to leave. Unfortunately my sister was still eating and finishing her drink. Her son’s educational lecture on Finish dishwashing powder was starting to grate my nerves, and the noise and movement in the restaurant was making my head spin. The noise hurt my ears and the movement hurt my eyes. I got cranky but luckily I was able to refrain from snapping at people. I watched impatiently as my sister slowly sipped her drink through her straw, enjoying every last drop. I stared at the glass with contempt, knowing that the amount of liquid remaining in that glass equalled the amount of time until we could leave. I fidgeted and shifted in my chair. The dull roar of the restaurant echoed in my ears. Every movement of every person in that room was noticed by my hyper awareness. I tried closing my eyes and relaxing in my chair, but it didn’t work. My limbs ached, the wooden chair hurt my skin, my back hurt.
Oh my god she’s finished. I nearly jumped out of my skin in my hurry to get out of that place. I rushed out the door to the cool, refreshing air outside and the welcome quiet. Until…
“DID YOU KNOW thAT Finish tablets actually have the POWERball inSIDE the tablet?”
We piled into the car, the kids bringing their outside voices into the limited enclosed space which felt like daggers being forced into my ear drums. I asked them to use their quiet voices and my sister tried to play quiet games with them. Finally, we were home.
I am now in the quiet comfort of my dark and still bedroom, under my weighted blanket, recovering from the sensory overload. My weighted blanket feels AMAZING when I put it on while overloaded. It’s difficult to describe. It’s like a heavy hug that relieves you of your confusion and anxiety and quells the screaming activity inside your mind, and finally, you can relax.
The longer I have spent overloaded, the longer it takes for me to calm down. Longer still if I don’t use my weighted blanket. It’s been about an hour now and I am feeling almost back to normal. If you have autistic kids or know people with ASD, always make sure that after any kind of social/sensory activity, they get some time to destress and unwind before moving on to the next activity, ideally somewhere quiet and relaxing 😉