Friday, 28 September 2012

Sensory Integration Dysfunction and Me

Most people with autism have sensory problems.

I have issues with all of my senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell and two others that aren’t mentioned as much, vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (body awareness).
My sensory issues--called Sensory Integration Dysfunction-- make me very anxious.  Let me explain:

Sight:
Many autistics don't like bright or florescent light.  I like bright light!  It helps me see things more clearly.  I don't like it when florescent lights flicker though.  It makes it so that things aren’t clear anymore.  The only time I don't like bright light, other than when I'm trying to sleep, is when I'm driving at night.  The headlights from other cars blind me whether they are oncoming or behind me.

Hearing:
I don't like loud sounds for the most part. I can tolerate and even like them at times, if I'm in control them, such as the volume of music. 

Until I was close to 20, I was terrified of fireworks.  They were loud and I was afraid they would come down from the sky and set me on fire.  Unexpected noises often make me jump, especially if I’m off in my own world.
When there are many people in a room talking at once, it makes me zone out.  The sound makes me feel strange…I can't explain it. I also can’t tolerate sounds like tapping or squeaking---like the sound of a rocking chair.  I also cannot speak when I am around people other than my immediate family and it makes me feel like I will explode as the anxiety builds up in me.  It can be hard living with other people, in my case a husband who has to tap and rock in chairs because of his sensory needs.

I have trouble staying in the same room sometimes and I get very anxious and therefore very irritable.  I feel like I will explode.  I ask him to stop and he can't because it is something he needs to do.  We are supposed to spend time together when he is home, but there are times when I have to leave the room that he and my daughter are in and hide in a corner of the house.  I sometimes turn up the radio and cover my ears to drown out the unpleasant sounds.  
Both my husband and daughter talk very loudly at times, but it is more tolerable than tapping sounds.

I also hear many background noises that other people don’t, like clocks ticking and the fridge running.  It can be hard not to focus on them at times.

Taste:
I am a picky eater, although I'm not so limited that I only eat one or two foods.  I can eat meat but won't touch steak; I find it hard to chew.  Fat on meat has to be ‘surgically removed’, as does the skin on chicken.  The fat makes me gag--even the smallest piece.  I have been cutting it off as long as I can remember.  When I was young and I did that, I was forced eat all the fat I cut off.  It was a struggle to get it down even with lots of water.  I think it is the texture that bothers me.  I can eat foods like apple sauce, pudding, or Jell-O, but fat is slightly firmer and slimier and I just can't tolerate it. 

Some things that I wouldn’t eat years ago, such as chili, I can now eat.  The texture of the kidney beans bothered me when I was younger.
I can eat bits from all of the food groups but not quite the variety that neurotypical people can eat.

Different foods cannot touch each other on my plate and I have to eat it in a certain order. 
I do like the feeling of crunchy food the best, I think.  I like mashed potatoes as long as there is gravy on them and no lumps!

Smell:
I love the smell of skunk but not the smell of gasoline.  I can’t smell things most of the time unless they have a strong odour.  I think this is mainly because I have allergies but I also think I may have an under active sense of smell.  If there is a strong smell that I can expect like when I'm going near a garbage can, I am able to block the smell.  I usually breathe with my mouth and slightly through my nose at the same time.  I can’t breathe through just my nose because of the allergies.  To block a smell, I have to set my tongue so I that I only inhale through my mouth and no air gets in my nose.  It’s a strange skill but I have it and it works for me!

Touch:
This is a huge problem area for me.  I mainly dislike light or unexpected touch.  I enjoy the deep pressure of friendly hugs as long as it is for not too long or too often. 

Aversion to touch can cause complications in a relationship, especially if one person enjoys a lot of touch and the other doesn't.  It is difficult for me not to scrub, scratch, or hit myself where I get touched.  I struggle to hold it in but it makes my anxiety worse and then I have a meltdown.
When I get kissed by someone, it is hard not to wipe it off.  I don't like the wet, tickly feeling.

I am picky about my clothing.  I wear the same type of clothing all the time.  I do not like tight fitting clothes. I don’t wear shorts and hate wearing a bathing suit.  It makes me feel naked!  I like to have the feeling of being covered.  I guess I don’t like the way the air feels on my skin.
Vestibular: 

I do not have good balance. I wobble a lot. I’m not as bad as some where I constantly fall but I’m definitely wobbly.  I can’t walk a straight line unless I really concentrate. I can also get car sick.  I have to be looking up when we are driving.
Proprioceptive: 

I walk into doors, walls--pretty much anything!  I hit my face on things regularly.  It’s a good thing I wear glasses as they protect my eyes!
Because of my vestibular and proprioceptive problems, I have a card that gives me accommodations for my horseback riding.  I had to have a thorough assessment by approved professionals who provide the service to Equine Canada.  There is no autism classification as of yet but may be one in the future.  I am classified at a level described as a Grade 4.  One has to have impairment in one or two limbs for this classification.  Balance and coordination are tested off the horse.  If I want to ride in a dressage show, Para-equestrian or normal, I am allowed the use of a hand hold, elastics to keep my feet in the stirrups, one or two whips, and I only have to salute with my head.

As you can see, sensory integration dysfunction and the anxiety it causes are a big part of how autism impacts my life.