I want to talk to you guys about sensory processing, mostly about sensory sensitivity and its effects on me as an autistic person. Not that I can’t shut up about myself, but I hope that it might help others. In no way am I an expert, except on my own experience so, there’s that.
So sensory processing.
What’s that, huh?
It’s all about how our brain’s pick up on sensory information, process these, and help us experience and understand the world around us. It’s sight, smell, touch, etc. All the senses.
Being Autistic, my brain processes sensory stimuli a bit different from neurotypical people. For me, I notice it in loud environments hurting me, not being able to process conversations when people talk through each other, and particular tones cut like blades inside my head. Too much touch freaks me out. I need screen dimmers so the brightness doesn’t hurt my eyes and give me a headache. Busy visual patterns like on clothes make me dizzy and give me headaches.
Sensory input is data your brain has to process. Same goes for emotions and information. The thing about sensory processing for some neurodivergent folk like me who are Autistic is that we often have a hard time filtering input we don’t want or need. This can be taxing, cause us to need more time to process things, and can overwhelm us when it gets too much. I will be talking about this in depth in a different post.
In these types of situations is when you see some of us stimming (self-stimulation). This is when we try to block out bad sensory stimuli with ones better to us. It’s a way of self-soothing. Actually it’s way more than that, it’s also part of our natural expression and body language, but in this case, I’m highlighting the self-soothing. This is when I like to rock, when I fidget, or rub my thighs (get your mind out of the gutter you, you know who you are xD) or cheeks with my palms. A really good tight hug from someone I trust enough can help me out A LOT. But just know, every person is different. We don’t all like the same stims and something which can help someone, can actually hurt another.
This is where I’d like to highlight when you see people stimming, like bouncing a leg, flapping hands or arms, twirling and such, you might think it’s odd or even annoying, but plenty of neurodivergent folk need this to self-sooth and self-regulate. Leave people alone if they’re not harming anyone. You don’t know what kind of discomfort or even pain someone is combatting or making sure things won’t escalate to that or worse.
Some people muse about what if everyone looked up at the sky and saw a different kind of blue, or even whole other colour. You can see this a little like that. Not everyone experiences the world in the same way in terms of the senses and people suck at respecting that when it actually matters. So this is a little reminder for that. Something might feel less hot or cold, or something can hurt more or less between different people. Sometimes it’s minor differences, but it isn’t always.
Sometimes mundane things which everyone just takes for granted, seeing them as natural and normal, or even they don’t think about it at all, actually aren’t for neurodivergent people. People struggling to get through a situation or choosing to defend themselves from sensory hell is not the moment for people to ridicule or shame someone for that.
Choose to be supportive instead. Help them cope. Let them set their boundaries and respect them. Offer sensory rooms where it’s maybe quiet and the lights aren’t so bright. Let them stim or have a comfort item with them (like a book, toy or plushie). If you’re not sure, maybe ask what they need.