As a spin-off from our last blog, I’d like to address some of my sensory differences and how I respond and/or cope with them.
Currently, the one thing I do constantly is move my legs when I am sitting, even at meals. I either bounce my knee up and down (right leg only) or bang my knees together. To this day, I’m not sure why I do this. It could be that it’s stimming (see our last blog if you are not sure what stimming is). Since I stopped my verbal chit-chat (again described in the last blog), it might be a substitute stim. I also have Tourette’s, so maybe it’s another tic. I have a strong force that builds up similar to when you shake a bottle of soda pop, and then I have to move my legs to achieve equilibrium. These leg movements also help me to focus and keep my mind from wandering.
If I am standing, I find myself with the desire to always move around. I have noticed that when it comes to studying and/or memorizing information, I do a much better and quicker job if I pace back and forth as I recite the information out loud. This applies to learning talks, memorizing lines in plays that I’ve been cast in, or planning important key points that I want to disclose at an upcoming meeting.
I have recognized that I have many differences when it comes to sensory issues. I share some common hypersensitivities with other people on the autism spectrum. I am extremely bothered by loud noises, bright lights, or places with poor acoustics having loud backgrounds, such as restaurants without noise-absorbing material. If these places make me feel closed in, it is even worse, and ear plugs can only do so much before I need to leave. I have a very acute sense of smell, I am sensitive to strong vibrations from the bass in music, and I prefer warm rather than hot foods because of how I feel temperature in my mouth.
I’ve gotten used to dealing with loud noises, but my differences in feeling touch and pressure have become more taxing. Sensations on my skin are either overwhelmed or underwhelmed in many situations. Rain feels like I’m being hit by pellets and the prickly hairs that drop from haircuts are very irritating, not to mention the distress from a tag in a shirt. This would usurp my concentration.
On the flip side, I don’t notice the heat from hot water on my skin (notice that this is the opposite of being sensitive to heat in my mouth). I often come out of the shower with red skin that is very warm to the touch of others. I must make sure to keep the shower at a medium temperature by looking at the handle so that I don’t burn myself unknowingly. Also, I cannot tolerate light pressure. When someone lightly rubs or tickles me, or lightly brushes up against my skin when passing by, it disturbs me beyond wits end. I get a shiver down my spine and have to initiate a “forceful wiggle” to release the brief tension. I crave hard pressure. To roll up in a ball and be encased in bubble wrap would bring me great joy. It stands to reason why one swaddles a newborn! That hard pressure gives me a relieving sense of peace. Hard hugs bring me great comfort. Something about being wrapped up in a meaningful, tightly-pressured hug relieves my anxiety and therefore gives me the freedom to concentrate. However, me being a 6’1” man, I have to be careful when hugging people like my petite, delicate mother so as to make sure I don’t snap her neck or knock her over! Thankfully, through wearing a weighted vest tightly applied with Velcro (see photo), I can replicate some of this relief while I work at my home computer. At my job, I squeeze a stress ball during much of my day to regain focus and release tension.
Oddly enough, I don’t recognize the sensation of hunger; in the words of my mother, it’s like I go from being completely full to being absolutely famished. If I am diligently working, or involved in a certain project, I have learned that it’s on me to be mindful of the time so I can eat a meal or snack within five hours of the last one. This helps me to avoid reaching the point of no return: I admit that I am otherwise guilty of getting “hangry”! That is why I set an alarm on my watch to eat (even when I don’t feel like it), and once I get started eating, I realize that I WAS hungry.
I am at a point in my life where I embrace who I am and recognize how I function. I am not embarrassed to utilize accommodations in view of others because I need them. I see myself like any other individual who may need to do things in a different way in order to maximize one’s potential to achieve success. Things I do may seem strange to other people, but it doesn’t bother me if I get questionable looks because I’m just trying to be the best version of myself!