Sensory processing and fears “The bird ate my chips!”

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Autism comes hand in hand with difficulties in sensory processing. Autistic people often have difficulties in making sense of the world which can seem a very confusing place to them, together with sensory sensitivities. Because of these sensitivities they may act unusual in their behaviour for example be clumsy, rude, loud or defiant. They may be trying to cope with these sensory issues but not know the appropriate way to cope. To an autistic person, a loud noise or a bright light or even the label from their clothing or a particular texture of food, can cause a lot of distress for them. Difficulties in sensory processing can be broken down into two categories. Individuals that are hyposensitive and those that are hypersensitive. Hyposensitive individuals don’t receive enough information about the environment around them so they struggle to make sense of it. Their sense of the world and how they see , hear and feel , may be less sensitive than it is for a neurotypical person. On the other hand hypersensitive people may suffer extreme sensitivities to things like noise, and textures, or light, things that a neuro typical person might not necessarily even notice.

My son is what is known as a Sensory Seeker . He seeks input from sensory sources for comfort . Others may avoid sensory input for example they may hate to be touched or cuddled, my son however loves cuddles, the more the better. He will quite often sit and stroke my hair. He seems to need to do this in order to self soothe himself. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing , if he needs to stroke my hair , he will . It’s usually when I’m doing my make up , particularly when I’m trying to do my eyeliner with a steady hand , when he will decide he needs to stroke my hair . So I go from a “cats eye” look to a “I don’t give a crap ” look . He also finds it highly amusing to scratch his bottom and then stroke my hair .He knows I don’t like it and it makes him laugh. It has become a bit of game whereby if he does that I will chase him then tickle him . Then I spend the rest of the day smelling like shit , literally ,and looking like shit, but at least I know he’s happy .

The hair stroking is sometimes a problem as he does like to stroke random peoples hair too and other children’s hair. I have tried to explain to him that this is socially unacceptable but he doesn’t seem to understand. In this situation, social stories are a good resource. I have yet to try these on my son but I have heard they are great for situations such as this. If you google social stories I am sure you will find what you are looking for. These stories are designed to replicate possible real life situations and what is an expected and socially acceptable response to that situation.

He did go through a phase of being terrified of hand dryers. I mean , terrified ! He would put his hands over his ears and just scream. It got to the point where if I needed the toilet while we were out, I would have to tell him the hand dryer was broken. I would have to stake out the joint before entering, make sure no one else was in the toilets and if they dare attempt to use the hand dryer I would have to leg it out of the toilets very fast, before he lost it and had a total break down. He wasn’t so bad with the Dyson hand dryers that dry your hands in 10 seconds, I think they are less noisy, but the old fashioned ones with the silver nozzles on…..just No , we avoided them. He is getting better now and seems to cope better with the noise.

After the hand dryers, came a fear of seagulls. I can understand that though, they can be evil. I think it was the noises they make that he didn’t like but of course it hasn’t helped that he has had two episodes of being terrorised by them. One time sat on the beach, happily eating his sandwich, minding his own business. I spotted this very angry looking seagull edging his way towards us, I didn’t think anything of it, I just presumed he would fly away as soon as we moved, oh how wrong was I. My son must of looked away for a second and then boom, his sandwich was gone. My son was sat with his hand open, and no sandwich. He just looked at me and started screaming! . Now every time he sees a seagull he is terrified. Another time we were sat having some chips in a beer garden and the same thing happened. The little buggers swooped down and swiped his chips. He was a little older when this happened so was able to vocalise what had happened. “Mummy the bird took my chips!” followed by unstoppable crying. It was so sad. My poor boy. We had to leave pretty fast, not before I finished my beer though, which I very much needed by this point. I am not sure if the fear of seagulls is a sensory , I don’t like the noise they make , kind of thing, or a , they keep stealing my food, kind of thing, but he hates them nonetheless. Stealing food is not cool. We briefly , and I mean briefly, had a budgie. I could not cope with the constant chirping from the budgie followed by my son screaming, so the budgie had to go.

Another common trait among autistic children, maybe adults too, is how loud they seem to talk. My sons voice level , particularly when out and about, is at an all time high. I constantly have to remind him to use his little voice. Seriously, when we are browsing round a shop for example, the entire shop will know about how his balloon is massive and has a big “dummy head” (that’s a whole other post). I find it cute but I can imagine it must be difficult for other people who are out having a relaxing shopping trip and then having to be dealing with a very loud little boy talking about “blowing to pop” and “look at the size of that!”. He is so lovely. I love him more than anything and everything. In these situations it may help to have a visual of a sound scale and point to the quiet end. Visuals are very useful and can be downloaded from the internet. Again if you search for visuals, the internet is full of downloadable versions you can use with your child. Not all autistic people will benefit from visuals as each person is individual and unique in their needs, but they are certainly a popular choice of communication.

The need for sensory input has meant that my son loves anything that is tactile and squishy. He loves Squishies and Oonies and anything slimy and generally messy. I recommend Kinetic sand , this is excellent and if you can cope with the mess, play dough and magic snow. We got some magic snow from Winter Wonderland at Christmas but I think we were ripped off as I have since seen it a lot cheaper in the toy shops. He also has a fidget cube and a spinner too but surprisingly he does not seem interested in these. Unfortunately he seems to think his male anatomy is a Squishy too and I quite often have to witness him twist, contort and stretch it into many positions. I am surprised it hasn’t dropped off , seriously, I think he mistakes it for his Stretch Armstrong ! Poor thing

I am currently in the process of making a sensory space in my sons bedroom and my next post will be about this and a recommendation of sensory products. A sensory room is a room or a space filled with a selection of sensory items such as bean bags , lights , mirrors and projectors. It is designed to offer a soothing environment for an individual that is experiencing a sensory overload. This can be done on a budget by simply using the corner of a particular room, like I am doing. Look out for my next post on this. Thankyou for reading x 🎈

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