Monday, May 11, 2009

Autism and Trauma Part 5: Sensory Issues

In these blogs on autism sensory issues get talked to death. If you've been following my work you've got a pretty good grip on how sensory issue can be with autism. For that matter, it's likely our most driven issue.

Now that we are talking about issues of trauma, can sensory overloads or issues be trauma inducing and, thus damaging. The answer is absolutely yes. Sensory overload as trauma is a no brainer to me (ugh to the pun). I find overloads to be highly traumatizing and seek to avoid one at any cost. There are sounds and events that can put us on the edge of our seats and drive our behavior over the edge.

For me, one in particular is the squeaking balloon. It can bring me to my knees with actual pain in my eardrums. One that's even worse happened in my van. One of my windshield wipers came loose and cause metal to scrape across the windshield. The ear piercing shriek it made caused me to shriek right along with it. I couldn't drive. I just sat there and shivered as the pain slowly faded. I never heard anything like that before. Now I constantly have to check my windshield wipers, like I'm hypnotically compelled. I never want to hear that sound again.

As if senses that have intense occurrences aren't enough, we have that pesky high startle reflex. If something happens intensely and suddenly enough, it will mark itself in our minds forever. My son can't stand loud sounds. They scare him even if he knows they're coming. When I get startled, it leaves me shaking and gasping for breath. That might seem funny to some prankster but it's painful and no where near as fun for me. For that matter, it's dangerous with some of us. I went through a period in my life where someone jumping out at you meant they wanted to hurt you. I'll just let you think about that for a second. I have fairly good impulse control, but I have pulled a judo throw or two on the unsuspecting joker who thought suddenly grabbing me would be fun.

Bottom line, if you know someone is autistic at all, don't scare them.

My son hates being startled too. Yes, I once forgot my own rule and snuck up on my son to tickle him. He was very angry with me. So I don't do that anymore. My bad on that one.

Some other sensory issue that can cause trauma would be; bright blinding lights, fireworks, gun shots, engine backfires, strong flavors or aromas, and some times even the sight of things related to them.

So, how do I deal with sensory issues that bother me that much and still get through general life? I learned meditation techniques. I strongly advise them for any high functioning autistic or any who could possibly learn them. This helps me to rearrange my focus so I can get past some strong odor or sight of something that upsets me. I learned them to deal with flashbacks from PTSD and they help me a lot with sensory troubles. I also learned several martial arts techniques that use similar methods.

On those, there are lots and lots of books and internet information. I strongly suggest them all. It is possible for us to work through sensory trauma with time and positive reinforcement or practice. You have to take some of these things in small parts and work with gradual increase. Sometimes, therapists may be needed to assist with stronger traumas that interrupt general living.

Environment is also a crucial factor. If you can't handle loud sounds, you probably shouldn't live near loud places like airports or railroad yards.

This concludes my series on how trauma affects the autistic. Though traumatic events are hard on everyone, it takes a little extra understanding for how such smaller things can affect us on those large levels. My next series will involve the adventures of Denver. I plan to include how I, as an autistic parent, have viewed parenting with my little hero. I hope to see you there.

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