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Friday, September 9, 2011

Sounds (and Feels) Familiar

 Now that I am writing this blog, I am becoming more aware of terms that relate to Asperger's syndrome and autism. One of these terms is Sensory Processing Disorder (formerly referred to as Sensory Integration Dysfunction). I stumbled onto this term while completing a medical questionnaire, and found out that it's an experience I am very familiar with--only I always described Sensory Processing Disorder with these words: "I can't get comfortable."

For me, though, the intensity of SPD is generally on a lower scale, more along the lines of High Sensitivity. I discovered a long time ago that I am what is termed a Highly Sensitive Person. My normal daily experience fits the HSP profile better than the SPD profile (thank God). For an explanation of the difference, see this FAQ on "The Highly Sensitive Person."

When overstimulation strikes out of the blue, I may start behaving in a strange way, because my discomfort is absolutely intolerable. Finding relief may be the only thing I can think about, and sometimes I can't politely and patiently explain why I burst into tears, hurry out of a crowded room, or get that sudden pained expression on my face.

This is how auditory sensitivity feels in a public restaurant: stressful. Understanding one person's words can be very hard, when my brain is fighting to screen out the sounds of customers chattering, silverware clinking, water being poured, chairs being scraped, music crooning across the sound system, the footsteps of the servers, the central heating / cooling system, doors opening and shutting, racket from the kitchen, laughter, chewing, and slurping. My heart rate is up just from defining all those sounds! And, no, I'm not in a restaurant listening right now. These sounds are memorized from long exposure, and I hate them. I hate them because they are too loud. They make a fun time with friends exhausting for me. 

I think I'll go back to bed.

Oh, yeah. Bed can be exhausting too. When I used to tell my dad and mom, night after night, "I can't get comfortable," I was in bed! Who thinks bed is uncomfortable, huh? Only a highly sensitive person, I'm thinking . . . .

I am blessed that SPD does not affect my enjoyment of hugs, as it does for so many autistic people. Tactile sensitivity strikes in peculiar ways. There are those who hate the feel of a tag in an undershirt and have worn their undershirts inside out for decades. There are those who put off haircuts as long as possible, simply because they don't like to feel the barber touching their heads. There are those whose family laughingly call them porcupines because they wiggle out of any embrace. It's not being weird. It's being on the autism spectrum.

Light and smells can also be overpowering to many Aspies. Chronic headaches can be triggered by hypersenstivity to perfumes and air fresheners, etc. as well as bright lights. My first headache ever came while "enjoying" a drive-through Christmas lights display.

More on the Christmas season later - and prepare your minds, because I seriously suspect that the Grinch had Asperger's traits. After all, even Dr. Suess wasn't 100% sure why the Grinch stole Christmas. But let me remind y'all that Mr. Grinch changed for the better as a result of his experiences. Christmas and the New Year can be times of change for all of us, so let's make sure we're changing for the better.