There are some obvious things I don’t like as an autistic:
Fluorescent lights. The minute they are turned on, I immediately squint and their odd hum grates against me.
Exhaust. As soon as it hits my nose, it’s like an immediate headache and I quickly switch my car vents off.
Then there are some things that are not so obvious. Things that are slowly grating away at my sensory system and I don’t even realize it.
So how do I know it’s happening at all?
The minute it stops, I experience a sense of relief. Sometimes I verbally sigh.
For example, the minute the AC switches off in my apartment, I immediately feel better. I was so busy before that I didn’t notice its subtle blowing.
This is how our autistic sensory system can sneak up on us.
Another example is riding in the car. It’s a lot of noise. It doesn't instantly bother me, but after about an hour or so, I find myself getting tired. If someone is trying to talk to me while in the car, I get exhausted even faster. I’m working so hard to hear them and focus on the conversation above all of the other noise and visual stimulation.
Another clue is that the minute the car shuts off, I like to just sit in silence and enjoy the peace for a minute.
I know other autistics have these experiences as well. I hear them from my autistic clients all of the time.
It’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this essay. As autistics, moving about in the world and focusing on other things (work, friends, family, whatever is at hand, etc.), we can forget that our sensory systems are still taking in a lot of information and processing it. It can slowly sap our mental and physical energy without us even realizing it.
This is one of the reasons I encourage autistics to take quiet breaks, even when they don’t feel overstimulated. Just because we don’t feel something is grating on us, doesn’t mean our sensory system isn’t processing a lot. When we take time to step away, such as taking a peaceful moment in the bathroom or a brief pause out on the balcony, we give our sensory systems a chance to rest and recharge.
Honoring our sensory system will also increase our energetic capacity throughout the day.
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