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autism: sensory-processing problems

June 21, 2015

Finished reading Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. I was surprised to recognize how many difficulties I’ve always had that turn out to be sensory-processing issues.

Seeing (pp. 95–96)

  • I’m not sure if I tilt my head when I’m reading, but I do look out of the corners of my eyes.
  • I avoid fluorescent lights ~ the flickering makes me irritable, if not rageful.
  • It took me years and years to figure out how to safely get on and off escalators. I still have problems sometimes. (One of my uncles was an elevator/escalator repairman, and all his horror stories during my childhood about finding fingers and shoes in the machinery did not help at all!)
  • My night perception is awful, so I’ve always hated driving at night. Driving at night in the rain is a nightmare.
  • I dislike things in my field of vision moving rapidly or unpredictably. Disorienting.


Hearing (pp. 96–97)

  • Spouse could tell of 2 particular situations where I was heading right for a dangerous animal, people were calling me back, and I didn’t hear them at all. {“sometimes appears deaf, even though auditory threshold is normal or near”} Also, if I don’t have my eyeglasses on, I often don’t realize people are speaking to me, nor do I understand what they’re saying. I reflexively lip-read when I know that someone is addressing me, and I often still have to ask for clarifications of people who mumble, like Spouse often does.
  • Background noise not only derails my train of thought but spikes my anxiety and can confuse me completely.
  • I definitely cover my ears during loud sounds.
  • I’ve had meltdowns in noisy places, especially if they’re also visually-chaotic. I have shut down to the extent of being almost catatonic. (Impossible to explain at, say, an office party.)
  • Piercing sounds such as smoke alarms and fire alarms, but also certain types of cries from babies or children, not only hurt my ears, they hurt my brain: everything else shuts down while I wait for it stop. I may also be saying angry things, not even realizing it.
  • In over-stimulating environments, I probably won’t pick up almost anything that’s said. Lip-reading may provide some context; either way, I’ll just nod a lot, and try to laugh in the right places, based on what others are doing.
  • I frequently misidentify which direction a sound is coming from.

Gives me a whole new slew of reasons why one of my first full-time jobs — as a switchboard operator — was the dreadful, high stress experience that it was.


Touch (p. 97)

  • Hugs are tricky. I really like them from people I trust that are deep-huggers — not a lot of people fall into that category, though. And if I used to trust you but don’t anymore, or we’re having issues, you touching me makes my skin crawl. A hug is the worst. And yet, due to social concerns, I probably won’t feel like I can refuse a hug if you offer one.
  • I remember running around naked a lot, or going topless as a little kid, a lot longer than a girl was supposed to. I still prefer to be naked a lot. I would go topless if it was allowed.
  • All sorts of fabrics itched and annoyed my skin when I was a kid. I would pitch a fit, and then my mother would yell that it couldn’t be that bad. I didn’t have hardly any favorite clothes until I was old enough to pick out my own. I hated buttons. I wouldn’t wear wool; I could still feel the scratchiness through 1 or 2 cotton underlayers. Shoes are more of a problem for me than socks — they often pinch my toes, or chafe my heels or under my ankles. I’d rather go barefoot, but then stepping on sharp spiky things is a concern.
  • Nylon stockings were torture: not just the unbreathability, but my sweat sliding over my legs, ick ick ick. Can’t wear polar fleece, except as an outer layer. I wear cotton, silk, linen, soft and/or smooth weaves or knits, as often as possible.
  • Deep-pressure stimulation! (Who knew it had a name!) As a kid I liked finding small dark places to squeeze into: others talked of claustrophobia the way I feel in places crowded with human beings. I curled up under coats at parties, to avoid people, and be in the dark. I like wearing big bulky sweaters (that aren’t itchy) because they feel like a big hug, but I don’t have to keep pestering a person to hug me. Since I’m often cold, I’d wrap up in tons of blankets, and/or sleep in my clothes, just leaving a tiny hole for air. As a teenager, I read a SFF novel about aliens that were sort of like dogs, and they “slept in piles, like puppies”. That image… I immediately stopped reading so I could imagine what that would feel like, and it felt wonderful. I’ve thought about that scene so often in the 35 years since. When I read The Merro Tree, years later, there’s also a scene where aliens that look like giant snakes sleep in a pile, and again, I spent time imagining I was in the pile with them. (Although which people could I trust not to squish me?)

Spouse is a Super-Taster, so he doesn’t like most foods, and has issues with food textures. I never really thought about food texture as a thing, but there were definitely lots of foods I didn’t like as a kid, but my mother kept putting them in my school lunches anyway. I just threw them away, and didn’t eat anything.

At home, I ate really really slowly, probably partly because I didn’t like the food choices. But my mother would make me sit at the table until I finished, even if was an hour or 2 later.

That’s probably part of why I was always underweight as a kid, and developed an eating disorder as an adult. I still… forget to eat a lot. It’s so much bother, and now that I have a bunch of (known) GI issues, I’m just constantly waiting to see if something I ate is going to disagree with me.


All these environmental complications, but somehow I’m still supposed to have great social skills? Who has the energy available? Even if I could figure it out, which I have great difficulty with.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2015 19:13

    If you need help with autism or are intrested check out my blog were i talk about it in the world of the kid

  2. June 22, 2015 02:34

    Reblogged this on mgwebbuddy.

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