Sensory Sensitivities and Atypical Sensory Processing

This is the first in a series of posts about autistic sensory processing and sensory sensitivities.  Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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I once had a t-shirt that I really wanted to like. It was a souvenir from a trip to Hawaii. The color, the material, the fit, the design–all perfect. It would have been my favorite new shirt, except for one thing.

It had a tiny thread in the collar that scratched my neck. A thread so small that I couldn’t see it. I’d cut out the offending tag and all of the visible stitching holding the tag in place, but that one little thread refused to go.

So I decided that I was going to get used to it. I was going to pretend that evil remnant of plastic thread didn’t exist. If it was too small to see, surely I could ignore it.

I tried. I really did.

I put the shirt into my summer t-shirt rotation and wore it at least once a week. The material got softer with each washing, which only made me want to love it more. It was one of the most comfortable shirts I owned. It would have been that most elusive of things–the perfect shirt–except for that microscopic thread.

I developed seriously mixed feelings about the shirt. I was determined not to let the thread win. It became A Thing. Some days I would wear it all day, doggedly ignoring how the thread jabbed at the back of my neck when I moved this way or that way. Other days I’d only make it to early afternoon before tossing the shirt in the laundry and changing–with a sigh of relief–into a more comfortable shirt. One with the tag cut cleanly out.

This went on for years. I wore the shirt in spite of how it made my neck itch and burn, in spite of the way it made me unconsciously pull at my collar all day long. I wore it right up until the day I admitted to myself that I was never going to get used to that thread. Putting my Hawaii shirt in the donation bag felt like a defeat. A thread–so small it was invisible–had gotten the better of me. 

As you can probably guess from my willingness to torture myself with that shirt for several years, I can put up with a high level of physical discomfort. I can push myself through the fatigue and pain of running long distances. I can squeeze out another set in the gym or go at a heavy bag until I’m breathing so hard that I’m lightheaded.

But that thread–that was something else entirely.

It wasn’t until I learned about sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorder that I understood why I couldn’t desensitize myself to the feel of the thread. Or to the tags in my clothes or lacy trim or any of a long list of tactile sensitivities. More importantly, I learned that I didn’t have to.

The Basics of Sensory Gating

Our brains are blessed with a function called sensory gating or sensory filtering. I like the visual metaphor that sensory gating evokes. At any given time, some “gates” are open to admit relevant sensory data; the rest are closed to keep out irrelevant sensory input. Which gates are open or closed is constantly being adjusted by our brains. For example, while I’m sitting here typing, the sound of the dog down the hall barking, the sirens out in the street, the rain hitting the window and the cars driving over that darn metal plate in the road are all irrelevant to me. Most people’s brains would note the lack of relevance and close those “gates”, preventing the unwanted sound from being a distraction.

In fact, a typical person would have had to stop typing and actively listen for those background noises to list them. My autistic brain, on the other hand, isn’t filtering any of them out so as I’m writing this post my brain is going “oh, it’s raining . . . wow, that dog is annoying . . . more traffic than usual going over the plate this morning  . . . is that a fire truck or a police car or an ambulance.”

While I’m writing! Not between sentences or intermittently, but a constant stream of thought chugging along on a parallel cognitive track. Kind of amazing, isn’t it? And people say we can’t multitask.

And that’s just one set of sensory inputs. We’re also constantly being bombarded by the relevant and irrelevant data via our eyes, nose, mouth and skin. We receive millions of pieces of sensory data per second. A typical brain filters this incoming data, limiting the pieces of relevant information entering the brain for processing to the low thousands.

The processing of sensory data in the brain is complex and not entirely well understood, especially in the autistic brain, but here’s a simple explanation: After a piece of sensory data is allowed through the initial gate, it’s passed off to other areas of the brain for analysis and response. The sensory filtering system can pass on a piece of sensory data to either the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making and complex behavior, or the limbic system, which is often called the emotional brain and is also responsible for the “fight or flight response” to imminent danger.

The sensory filtering system, the decision-making part of the brain and the emotional brain work in concert, sending and receiving messages to each other to fine tune how our sensory filtering and processing system works. (More on how that works in a later section.)

The autistic brain filters incoming data, but we seem to have a relevancy problem. The sensory data that gets passed on for processing in our brain is a cacophony of relevant and irrelevant. Somehow, our brains not only allow irrelevant data through the gate and flag it for processing, they also fail to correctly prioritize a lot of what gets through. The result is things like background noise sounding just as loud (or louder than) a conversation we’re trying to have.

Atypical Sensory Processing

Most autistic people experience some form of atypical sensory processing. The DSM-5 acknowledged this by including hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input in their revised criteria for ASD diagnosis.

Why atypical sensory processing happens isn’t entirely clear. We know what typical and atypical sensory processing look like, but we don’t know exactly why the two are different. There is strong evidence that the differences are neurological, meaning that the brains of people with atypical sensory processing are literally wired differently.

I have no idea how things in my brain are wired differently when it comes to sensory input. I can’t tell if it’s a problem with gating or with inhibition or with processing or prioritizing or filtering or feedback. The more I read about the neurological workings of the sensory system, the more places I find for things to go wrong.

But I do know how it feels to be wired differently.

From what I understand, typical people have a sensory processing system that operates like a fancy shower head. They can adjust the temperature and pressure and how the water flows until it’s just right. People with atypical sensory processing, on the other hand, have a fire hydrant valve where that shower head should be. We get lots of data, all at once, all the time. Adjusting the flow of data ranges from difficult to impossible to totally unpredictable.

And that’s why, no matter how hard I tried or how determined I was, I couldn’t get used to that thread in my shirt. That single thread was like a sensory fire hydrant and no amount of subjecting myself to it was going to change that.

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In the next post: The difference between a sensory sensitivity and disliking something, how our senses keep us safe and how that can backfire when you have atypical sensory processing

77 thoughts on “Sensory Sensitivities and Atypical Sensory Processing”

  1. I really related to this post. I am an HSP. The paragraph where you described sensory gating and an example of how it might be for you while typing and dealing with incoming sound – that is my world. I cannot seem to block noise or even some visual’s out of my brain. It creates chaos and noise in my life. It is difficult to deal with, causing me much stress. Plus, I often hear humming or high-pitched noises that others cant hear.

    I look forward to reading more on this… great post! ~ Lori

    1. I have a lot of difficulty with prioritizing visuals in unfamiliar environments. And the noises that others can’t hear! My husband is fascinated by how sensitive my hearing is. It definitely creates a lot of chaos. 😦

      1. This.
        A few months ago I was in the hospital waiting to get an EEG(to confirm/debunk me having epilepsy or not) and there was this old tv hanging in the room. You know, the kind that uses an electron beam to light up the pixels on its screen. Those make a high-pitched sound which most people can’t hear, but it was making me nauseous.

        I don’t have problems with tags in clothing, but I do have certain fabrics I can’t stand.

        I can’t block out any noise, which is why I bought these: http://www.bose.com/controller?url=/shop_online/headphones/noise_cancelling_headphones/quietcomfort_20/index.jsp&Variant=qc20#currentState=qc20
        I’m using them right now to block out (almost) all noise while I’m studying, like the fan of my pc, other people in my house, etc. and only hear my own music. Otherwise, I get way too distracted to concentrate on my course’s slides.

        1. Lots of people swear by headphones to block out noise. I think I’ve become so used to the constant stream of input that headphones make me feel cut off from the environment and anxious. Sort of a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

          1. Like Littlesundog I have the constant sound–which I have just yesterday been able to describe. This sound is the same, tho’ at less loudness, as one may hear on a foggy day or night walking not far from high voltage transmission lines. Headphones only make this morre prominent,i.e., the sound originates in our head. Some audiologist researcher have the notion there is something different in the inner ear. Today, Littlesundog, you and I are noteach alone with this.

  2. We regularly perform clothing “surgery” in an attempt to “slay the tag”. This is something I’ve always done so it didn’t seem a huge peculiarity as a necessary extension for my aspie daughter’s clothes. I’ve always bought my clothes at thrift stores so it’ll be okay to mangle or disregard them when they prove traitorous. I also wear earplugs when we go shopping together( I highly recommend them, it makes a HUGE difference). Hmmmm. Perhaps there’s some gray area here, some heredity, or perhaps sensory issues can stand outside the “spectrum” as well?
    As to those who suffer internal auditory and visual input on top of the external fire hose blast, this is COMMON but rarely spoken of as it has such a stigma. Earplugs aside, understanding how this works, I’ve found, helps with the stress and it is very well outlined in Oliver Sacks most recent publication, Hallucinations.

    1. We have a special pen knife to aid in tag surgery. Thrift stores are great sources of preloved and nicely broken in clothes. One of my favorite long sleeve Ts came from a thrift store. It has a “Mercy Tigers” logo and people are confused when I can’t tell them who the Mercy Tigers are.

      I need to check out Sacks’s latest. Thank you for mentioning it.

  3. I remember hearing about the cocktail party effect in a lecture (being able to pick out and follow one person’s voice in a crowded noisy room) and being surprised that anyone can do that. It never occurred to me that it was possible. I hear and smell and feel everything all the time except occasionally if I’m really stuck into something I’m interested in. Interestingly, taking stimulant medication made the world a lot quieter and everything easier to filter and cope with. I can’t explain it satisfactorily but I think it was only on a surface/conscious level because I would expose myself to far more sensory input and social interaction when taking the medication because it felt easier, but it still wore me out and I eventually got extremely run down. As though some other level or system of information processing was not improved and I was asking too much if it. I think the medication effectively removed a safety barrier/monitor I have for what I can cope with.

    1. It was a complete surprise to me too! The only time I seem to tune things out is when I’m fully engaged in a special interest. Then I go to the opposite extreme and hear nothing.

      That’s interesting about the medication -sort of similar to how stimulants cause people with ADHD to be less distracted maybe. I bet you’re right about it not really improving your information processing, but just masking the sensory noise.

    1. Is it ok for me to jump in and offer an answer to your question? It’s a subject I find interesting.

      It can do in the sense of reducing the distress caused by sensory sensitivities. It has the same effect on pain, anxiety, and emotional distress. It’s a few years since I studied this but this abstract summarises it quite well: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886912001717
      In my own personal experience of mindfulness practice, it does help a lot with coping. Also in my own experience that is far more valuable than removing the sensory processing difficulty itself ( I wrote about that in a comment further up).

  4. I have had shirts like that. I have also been known to have to excuse myself in public to find a restroom or secluded spot to remove a stray hair that has somehow gotten inside of my clothing. I can’t just ignore it. It doesn’t work.
    I am hearing the clock ticking, the fish tank water circulating, my son breathing and turning the pages of the book he is reading, and some noises from the street outside. All of this, all the time.

  5. Reblogged this on Radically Mad and commented:
    I can very much relate to this author’s description of sensory sensitivities, particularly tactile sensitivities such as to tags in clothing. I am also hypersensitive to sight and sound, but not to smell or taste as some other Autistics I know are. If anyone you love is Autistic, or you work with people who are Autistic, this is important to understand.

  6. Great post, I feel more normal every time I read your stuff.

    When I was 4 I sat at the piano and played nursery rhymes I’d only heard sung to me. I can play any tune I have heard once, on any instrument, even if it’s an instrument I’ve never played before.

    When I hear a doorbell or car alarm, my brain automatically figures out the exact 2 or 3 notes, and the intervals between them… while carrying on a conversation with somebody, or doing something else.

    I was once perturbed for weeks because I couldn’t figure out the 3 notes in the train horn, because sound drops while it’s in motion, and it was throwing me. I tried and tried not to listen to it, but it drove me bonkers every time I heard it.

    I seriously thought everybody was wired this way, and only at the age of 45 now I’ve started to talk about this stuff do I find out… they are not.

      1. Not quite, but close enough: I can’t read sheet music, but I love singing in a choir, so a friend of mine took me to one of her rehearsals. I was put in the soprano section even though I’m more of an alto, because that way I could take my cue from her. By the second run-through, I was singing along with the sopranos except on the really high notes, even though I could only use the sheet music as a sort of memory aid of where I needed to go up or down.

        It was Mozart’s “Requiem”.

        So yeah, I have a pretty good ear for music. But I can’t play unfamiliar instruments.

    1. I’m only just starting at the piano, but I’ve had a full music education on the bugle. In those years, I developed a perfect pitch hearing in Bes(since that’s the pitch the bugle’s in) and whenever I hear music, I hear the names of the notes I would play on my bugle. For me, the name of the note and the note itself are one and the same, which is kind of cool, but it was also infuriating in music classes, where the sing teacher would make us say the notes in a normal talking way before we could go and try singing them. I just couldn’t not change the pitch of my voice while thinking of the notes.

      It’s quite annoying because a C on the piano sounds like a D to me… I do manage to force my brain to recognize it as a C when I’m playing myself, but when listening to someone else play and following on their score, I still hear in Bes, which is irritating.

  7. “…no amount of subjecting myself to it was going to change that.” Thank you for this post. Most people don’t understand that repeated exposure does not get you “used to it” if you have sensory sensitivities. I’m constantly having to explain this, and people don’t believe me! If anything, it seems cyclical – certain sounds are problematic for a while, and then it’ll change to a different set of sounds. That’s what I’ve observed in my child, anyway.

  8. I know this all too well! Some of my shirts are tiny bit too short so they ride up and make me uncomfortable around my midriff, or have some other kind of weirdness about them; often it helps to layer them with a longer shirt (longer one goes under the short one). One thing I’m going to investigate in the next few months is the connection between issues like sensoric processing or depression and the female cycle; I believe there is some kind of connection, because sometimes it’s easier or harder to cope with stuff than at other times (e.g. what is okay to wear for sleeping, or how long I can endure itchy tags … not all weeks are the same). Just an intuition for now, but if you’re interested I could report back. I’d also be happy if anyone would like to share any thoughts/experiences on that!

  9. My Aspie son is now 20, but years ago before we knew what we were dealing with he used to drive us nuts with his socks. Sock on, sock off, start again, sock on, re-arrange sock around the toes, pull up, pull down, on again off again. Once I understood what was going on I would buy very soft, tube sock without seams, this helped a lot!

      1. I’ve solved the sock problem by making my own. I can make them fit perfectly so they don’t move around on my feet, no seams or knots. Its a shame you can’t knit other undergarments!

  10. Your post makes me wonder if the person/people who decided to move the clothing tag to the side seam or remove it totally and just print the tag info on the inside of the shirt had sensory issues. Or even the inventor of white noise. I get tired of any noise but the white noise at least hides other noises.

    1. The funny thing is, clothing tags in side seams seem to come with a new set of problems for me: not tactile but auditory. I can’t feel them but I can hear them rubbing against the fabric! Drives me nuts too.

    2. That’s probably true, though I cut out side tags too. The printed tag is better, except when the ink gets crinkly and cracked, but that seems to be a rare situation. Can you tell I’ve thought a lot about this?

  11. I have a favorite T-shirt that I got years ago on a visit to Cape Canaveral. It’s so comfortable that I still wear it even though it is literally falling apart and has more holes than fabric in some places.

    And then there was the expensive shirt I only wore once because the collar rubbed my neck. By the time I changed out of it I had sore, red weals where it had been rubbing. So raw they were nearly bleeding. Any scratchy tag or material has this effect on my skin. I’ve tried anti-histamines but they’re not very effective and many of them make me feel sick.

    1. I tend to wear my favorite clothes until they fall apart too. I have a mickey mouse sweatshirt that the cuffs are falling off and I love it too much to part with it.

      It sounds like choosing the right clothes is a much better option for you than trying to treat the outcome of irritating clothing. Just reading that made me cringe in sympathy.

    2. It’s one of the things that make me think there’s more at work than just *perceiving* more sensory input. Because I’ve had the same thing happen to me, huge red marks where something like tags or seams had rubbed the skin raw. It’s not just being unable to filter out the perception of irritation. My skin responds to that perception as well.

  12. Once again a totally brilliant and understandable post. Thank you!
    If I had a more accommodating family I would love to share this and the executive function posts with them. Just to go, there! See! That’s why I am like I am!
    I once had a total meltdown at work because I was wearing a shirt. The shirt was uncomfortable, but probably bearable on its own. But the shirt, the cluttered office environment, the many people and the printer that was incomprehensibly not working combined to produce the biggest, most embarrassing public meltdown I have ever had. Since that day I have been hyper-cautious in what I wear. If there is just the merest hint that it’s going to get annoying, I go back and change.

    1. That sounds like a terrible day at work. 😦 I know exactly what you mean about how one “minor” annoyance can be the thing that pushes you over the edge. Definitely better to be comfortable in your clothes since that’s something you can control.

  13. I used to say “I feel like I am in the middle of a circle, surrounded by millions of radio station, all set up at the same noise level, and I cannot shut them down. I hear all of them”. I, also, have very good eyes, I see more color shades than a normal person. In fact, all my sensors are very…sharp. I have an extraordinary taste memory, I remember long parts from clasical music, and I can sing them easily. My sense of touch is extreme too. On the other side I have prosopagnosia, so I can’t recognize faces. If I see myself, suddenly in a mirror, I have no idea it’s me. I need 2-3 sec, to realize that.

    1. It must be startling to experience prosopagnosia with your own face. I have moderate prosopagnosia but only with respect to others and even that is startling because I feel like I have “re-recognize” people that I know each time I meet them.

  14. Cynthia: you write beautifully, in a way that educates me every time I hear about your experiences. since you don’t have a “showerhead” filter for all the inputs, how is it that you are able to concentrate the way you do? And what do you do when you become overwhelmed, to help calm your system down?

    1. That’s a hard question to answer, because it’s just how my brain works. I have no idea what it would be like to be able to filter out sounds and have quiet inside my head. My default is what it is and I guess I’ve just grown used to it.

  15. It’s super frustrating how bad my brain is at filtering out irrelevant sensory input. I was having a hard time reading this post because I was simultaneously hearing my sister talk to my other sister via FaceTime, my mom banging downstairs in the kitchen, and my brother watching NCIS on the other side of the house. Needless to say, I resonated a lot with your post. I’m so glad you’re doing a series on this. My sensory issues are probably the most frustrating part of being Autistic. Just last night I drove my brother and sister-in-law crazy because of some smell in their living room that apparently only I could smell (it was there!!! and it was strong!!!). It was so distracting and for some reason I couldn’t shut up about it (yay self-inhibition…). Anyway, really liked this post and I’m looking forward to the next one!!

    1. People talking is especially distracting to me. That’s one of the sounds that will completely throw off my ability to get something done. Maybe because it’s less predictable than say the sound of the dryer or the heat running or traffic (all of which I have right now)?

      And it’s so frustrating to be bothered by something that no one else seems to notice! My husband has a really sensitive sense of smell and I have really sensitive hearing, so we routinely ask each other “don’t you smell/hear that?” 🙂

  16. Oh yeah, I hate those invisible threads, I have a pajama top that has the same kind of thread. I put a plaster on top of it, you know the kind they have at the doctors. Then I can wear it. I used to be told off a lot when I was little for those invisible things that itched. They itched so much that my skin became red, without me touching it I might add. And hair, hair from my head that sits somewhere on my body I can feel, it itches and hurts and I HAVE to find them and remove. My mother never believed I had Aspergers, but she does remember how impossible I was with those invisible itching things.

    1. It’s so hard when you’re a kid because people will often just insist that there’s nothing there or you’re imagining how bad it is. :-/ Also, I wonder how many autistic kids who hate haircuts don’t actually hate the getting trimmed part, but the part afterwards when all of those little hairs are stuck in their collar. I need to change my shirt immediately after getting a haircut or it feels like my neck is on fire.

      1. On the “you’re just imagining things” front, I used to HATE being toweled dry. It hurt so much. I liked the soft cotton diapers that we had lying around, but even though my mother sometimes used those as towels, the fact that I hated terrycloth towels was a reason to deny me the use of the cotton diapers, because I just had to get over it and “stop moaning because it CAN’T HURT”. Same if I used the terrycloth to pat myself dry, that wasn’t allowed either, I had to RUB.

        I did “get over it”, so in that sense maybe it wasn’t a real sensory sensitivity… or maybe my skin literally got less sensitive. But I can still remember the pain, and I really don’t think torturing a child just to make them “get over it” is at any time or in any way a good idea.

  17. I have really bad sensory issues. The sound of my step kids running across the house, the touch of my husband when I am hyper focused, shoot I rarely wear clothes at home because I sit inching all day! It bothers my husband and I can see it in his face when I ask him to stop touching me. I feel awful about it but it is what it is.

  18. thank you for this! i am not diagnosed as being on the spectrum, but i AM diagnosed with SPD. this article is great on articulating to those not familiar with it the difficulties i have.

    my sensitivities include smell and sound. i have a particularly hard time filtering out background noise. watching movies with my partner’s daughter, who is on the spectrum is very hard. she needs help understanding emotional content, and motivation of different characters and so she asks questions every couple of min (“why did she do that?” or “what’s that for?”). these questions lead to another couple of minutes of dialogue as my partner tries to explain. while this is happening, my brain cannot decide which noises to focus on and i end up missing half the movie or more. i often just leave, stating i have a headache. i don’t want her to feel bad for asking the questions. i know she needs to to understand. but her difficulties and mine are in direct conflict. it’s frustrating.

    thanks again!

    1. Ask them to hit pause! I talk during movies because growing up, the point of watching TV together was to talk to each other, but I end up missing the movie too if we don’t hit pause.

  19. I identify with so, so much of this. 95% of what I remember from my sister’s wedding is how itchy my maid of honor dress was and how I couldn’t wait to get home and tear it off. I’m getting itchy just thinking about it.

    Don’t get me started on tags and itchy clothing.

    Sg asked about meditation. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started experimenting with hypnosis, initially to help me kick my skin-picking habit. Well, it’s very much about guided imagery, and I’ve started to adapt scripts and record them so they make sense for me. Hypnosis involves suggestions for the post hypnotic state, and I have been concentrating on reducing tension and managing stress. Now, I’m wondering I could experiment with my reactions to my sensitivities. Interesting. At any rate, it’s basically a lot like meditation, and I’ve found the fact that I’m deeply relaxing every morning and every night has helped me a lot in terms of regulation, even aside from the post-hypnotic suggestions about not picking at the skin on my fingers.

    I’ve been using noise-blocking headphones on the commuter train, mostly to muffle people’s conversations, crying babies, etc, and it’s been wonderful. I use a white noise machine to sleep at night to mask the barking dogs and passing cars (and the bumping of that manhole cover in front of my house). It’s made a big difference.

    Just being aware of what I need to do in a crowded restaurant with lots of people talking and music blaring (not go there in the first place, or take bathroom breaks/ go outside, not feel bad about zoning out into my own little world thinking about a special interest) makes it more tolerable.

    My sensitivity to music is mostly wonderful (easy to learn songs, etc), but it has a flip side when I’m faced with music I’m averse to.

    Once again, another Musings post I can totally identify with, and I appreciate everyone’s comments so far.

    1. It sounds like you’ve made a lot of positive changes that are working for you. I remember a while back you talked about how much difficulty work was giving you in terms of coping and recovering from the work day. I’d be curious to know the effects of relaxation/hypnosis on sensory sensitivities. I’m convinced it’s a neurological wiring problem, not a thinking problem (if that makes sense) but I’d love to know more if you experiment with it.

      1. Hi, thanks for asking. I have not yet experimented with hynosis for dealing with my sensitivities directly. I’ve been using it for the skinpicking(which has been helpful, as long as I always have something else to stim with close at hand. A ridged toothpaste cap works great. And I keep one in my pocket), stress reduction (it has been helpful but not perfect), and preparation for sleep (works well).

        I wouldn’t expect hypnosis to remove my sensitivity per se, but it could help me to deal with the effects of sensitivity. That is, when I start to feel overwhelmed (e.g. in an unavoidable noisy restaurant), I could create a trigger to remind me to seek quiet in a restroom or take a break outside. Or maybe create a trigger that causes a distraction to make me feel less awful.

        I have a trigger set up so that when I rub my index and third finger tips against my thumb tip in a circular motion, I summon the mental calm I feel during a relaxed hypnotic trance. It works well when I use it, but when I’m stressed, I’m often so in the moment that I forget to use the trick. I ought to set myself up to remember the trick!

        1. Oh, okay, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve been working recognizing when I’m getting overloaded and it’s a slow process but I’m definitely making progress. It seems like the real trick, as you say, is remembering to be on the lookout for those initial senations that overwhelm is just around the corner.

  20. I have been “allergic” to country music since I was a “tween.” It makes my stomach roil, my back ache, and my stress levels soar. I have only in the last few years been aware that this is NOT (only) a dislike. I am now able to explain it in terms some folks are willing to understand.
    Do you know why a siren sounds the way it does? The first part is to get attention. The second part is to make one uncomfortable. Imagine listening to a siren FOR HOURS AT A TIME. That is how (most) country music makes me feel. Now imagine that when you get up in the morning, you know that it is (the day) your work environment will be filled with SIREN, FOR EIGHT HOURS. Will you come to work joyful? or stressed?

    1. Haha, this conversation seems very skewed toward the hyper- rather than hyposensitive. The siren example made me smile with a bit of schadenfreude because the siren would most likely bother me by far the least of all my coworkers. They actually fail to get my attention, at least the quiet/muted ones like an emergency vehicle driving by. Even a nearby loud noise that makes neurotypicals groan and cover their ears, like a fire alarm, I wouldn’t want it to go on for 8 hours but I don’t startle and I block it out so it’s just overloading, not painful. So replace “siren” with “fire alarm”, and yes, I’d be uncomfortable and stressed to anticipate it, but still, less so than neurotypicals. I’m deeply sorry if someone actually tries to make you listen to country music for 8 hour work shifts, though.

  21. I had a pair of shorts with the same evil thread. The shorts were soft jean that was white with pink ty-dyed lower half. Super comfy and cute but I couldn’t find the thread and after two summers I gave up. They are gone now. I feel your pain.

    1. I personally have a lot of sensory sensitivities, but my partner’s son (who’s diagnosed with “autistic traits” but has already been referred on for a more comprehensive diagnosis) only seems to have major issues with food (texture and taste), but nothing else. He might be a bit on the sensory-seeking scale when it comes to proprioceptive input, but not noticeably so. So he and I are very different in that respect, even though we’re both autistic and struggle with a lot of the same things in the social areas of life.

  22. thanks for your article. same thing is when I go shopping and i see all that stuff in the supermarkt. and advertisement in the radio all over the time hammering in your head. inhibitory skills appear to be reduced. it’s not possible just to concentrate on the thing you initially wanted to buy.

  23. I have a 19 year old nephew who was diagnose with Sensory Intergreation when he was around 5 years. This problem wasn’t addressed (long story). So now that he is an adult he has problems with his personal hygienes. He could go days without showing. Are there any things that could be done to help him overcome this? Any suggestions would be a help.

    1. That depends on why he’s not showering. Does he have sensory sensitivities related to showering, executive function issues that make it hard to remember to shower, does he just not feel the need to shower regularly or is maybe something else going on? It’s important to understand what’s happening for him first before trying to offer solutions.

  24. Hey Everyone, It’s been a few months since I have been active here. I know that the site is not so active these days but I thought I would post in hopes this might generate a response. After my ASD – Aspergers diagnosis in December 2014 I spent a couple of months of immersion in all things ASD and then the reality of my diagnosis began to unfold and trickle into me reviewing all of my identity. As I understand more I am slowly asking more questions. One of these questions is related to sensory processing. My doctor’s fantastic, however he does not have a lot of expertise in the area of sensory processing. Does anyone know what kind of a doctor I would see for this kind of testing? I know I’m dealing with it and have done for all of my life, and I’m looking for a few more answers. I just don’t know who I would see about this part of the ASD diagnosis. Thanks so much 🙂

  25. My son, too, has atypical sensory processing. He’s very much a sensory seeker for touch, but the opposite for noise and some visual inputs. What’s interesting to me is that, under certain circumstances, he thoroughly enjoys the very sensory input that overwhelms him at other times. It reminds me a little of trying to balance the various settings in photo editing or music. Too much or too little of one thing ruins the rest. If we bring some input down in other areas, he will enjoy loud music and boisterous dancing and laughing. But if other things are going on, it’s overwhelming. So, we just take his cue and do our best to tweak things for his comfort and enjoyment. With his communication difficulties, it can be a challenge to get it right. But he’s just 7 years-old, and we’re all learning. Thanks for sharing your story.

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