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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Solutions for the Highly Sensitive Person

Please see my earlier post, "Sounds (and Feels) Familiar," to learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder and the problems it may (or may not) cause to those with Asperger's traits. After defining the problems, I wanted to follow up with a post about some of the ways I deal with SPD (or more frequently, High Sensitivity - see this FAQ on "The Highly Sensitive Person") in my daily life. I even thought up some new tricks while I was planning this blog entry.

For auditory SPD, one simple solution is to use earplugs. They look funny, but they help. My preference is for earplugs made of silicone, and these are available at the drugstore in the ear care section. I usually don't need to rely on earplugs except at times when I am under a lot of stress, meaning times when I am facing changes and new situations that overwhelm me.

Again, an SPD crisis can strike unexpectedly, so if you have a loved one with SPD, please be patient with them if they become agitated for no apparent reason. They may have suddenly realized that the noise and excitement are overwhelming and feel the urge to escape to a quiet, private place to rest. If this "sudden escape" has happened repeatedly, then please help your loved one by either planning an early retreat from social activities or suggesting that they step aside into an empty room or take a walk away from the bustling crowd partway through the activity. "Hiding" may prevent a crash-and-burn reaction the next day after a party! Remember that overstimulated senses may affect your friend so deeply that it takes willpower not to scream, bawl, or throw things in frustration. You know and I know, that's just not appropriate, and we Aspies love doing what is appropriate until the very last moment in our fight against stress.

When I haven't brought my earplugs, one way I tough it out when the noises get annoying is to refocus my mind on my sense of sight. While taking a walk along a busy road, the traffic sounds are hideously invasive on my private thoughts. So I focus my thoughts on what I see around me, viewing objects and signs not so much for what they are or what the words mean, but as objects of art that could be reproduced on paper. With my eyes, I follow the outlines of a fire hydrant or a bicycle as though tracing them with a pencil. That exercise distracts me from the information my ears are taking in.

As for tactile sensitivity, recently it helped me to realize that I can move around in front of people more than what I used to think was "appropriate." I can stretch my arms and shoulders while walking in the park. I can rub my stomach, my arm, or my knee while sitting in church, because those places hurt a little, and they need attention. I might even move in rhythm to the music - uh-oh, noise! - while I'm shopping. It makes me feel self-conscious, but I don't think I really look like a nutcase after all. Being undignified can actually be healthy . . . I think.

I'm an Aspie who has always adored sitting still and disdained movement, because movement can precede pain. I was the kid who was tagged "it" and firmly but politely stated, "I'm not playing," because I didn't like to run and I really didn't like falling down. Ouch! Unfortunately, immobility can also cause pain. The computer, books, and craft projects I love have their own set of pains to inflict. So if pain is unavoidable, I may as well try to alleviate my boo-boos as I go along, instead of letting them build up and put me in the hospital.

For those who have a sensitivity to smells, the best advice I can give is to think of something good and pleasant that is associated with the smell. Even if you think a perfume is too strong, the lady who squirted it on this morning may be enjoying a gift from a loved one. Tobacco smoke, currently associated with lung disease, has in the past been linked to relaxation and celebration.

I recently came to the conclusion that the reason I have hated the smell of coffee for years is because I associated that smell with my beloved grandfather's kisses, and I resented the fact that he was stolen away from me by cancer when I was seven years old. I'm going to try to think of something good about the smell of coffee, such as . . . um, well . . . getting up early? Yuck! Peppy, energized, loud and nervous people? Nope! Uh . . . an industry built on addictions? No? Okay, well, I guess I'll always hate coffee, but you get the idea.

Please leave comments and let me know if these ideas help you! The comments will be sent to me for previewing so that I can approve them. That's why they don't show up immediately on this webpage. I appreciate it!