Sensory Sensitivities: Understanding Triggers

This is part 3 in a series about sensory sensitivities and atypical sensory processing. Read the other parts: Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 4

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While atypical sensory filtering is related to sensory sensitivities, not all unfiltered sensory data will trigger sensitivities. Remember the sounds I described hearing as I’m typing this? I’m not especially sensitive to any of them. I hear them and it’s hard to tune them out, but I don’t have a biological stress reaction to them. They’re just there and over the years I’ve grown used to having a lot of irrelevant aural data constantly pinging around in my brain.

In fact, I didn’t know until a couple of years ago that other people don’t hear all of those distinct ambient sounds when they’re engaged in an activity.

I suppose what’s happening in this case is my sensory gating is failing, letting the irrelevant sounds in. They get routed to an area of my brain that says, “oh, right, traffic, dog, sirens, rain, typing, closer traffic, harder rain, actually two dogs, footsteps upstairs” and on and on.

What should happen when I hear those repetitive background noises is something called habituation. The first time the dog down the hall barks, my filtering system might kick it upstairs to my decision making brain and say, “hey boss, is this something we need to worry about?” The decision making region would analyze the situation, decide that the dog is neither a threat nor any of my business, and say, “nope, ignore that from now on.” The filtering system would then flag that gate for closing, eventually tuning out the repetitive barking until I stopped noticing it.

Because that doesn’t seem to happen reliably, my conscious brain gets tasked with repeatedly  ruling out these sounds as unimportant. That’s distracting, but it’s not unbearable. 

What is unbearable is a TV playing nearby when I’m trying to fall asleep or the sensation of moving air from the fan when I’m sitting at my desk or the feel of anything gooey on my fingers when I’m cooking. Those are all things that trigger sensory sensitivities for me. I need to do something about them or my body starts physically reacting in a bad way. Anxiety ramps up. My tolerance for other stressors plummets. If a sensory sensitivity goes unrelieved long enough, I’ll end up in shutdown.

Reacting to Sensory Sensitivities

Everyone reacts differently to sensory triggers. Some people–including me–internalize their reactions. I get irritated, agitated, and eventually withdraw in sensory self-defense. Others react outwardly by crying, screaming, running away, covering their ears or eyes, or gagging. Often the final stage of both types of reactions is a full-on meltdown.

Because we’re having a natural reaction to an atypical stimuli, these reactions can look irrational. Often, onlookers will say things like:

“You’ll get used to it.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Jimmy got over his fear of it and now he likes it.”

“It can’t actually hurt you.”

“You have to learn to deal with it at some point.”

All you have to do is replace “it” with “eating raw chicken” in those sentences to see why they sound ridiculous to someone who is having an intense reaction to an atypical sensory processing event.

Those kinds of statements can also be damaging to an autistic person’s self-esteem and self-concept in the long run. Let’s look at them one at a time to see why.

“You’ll get used to it.” Remember my t-shirt fiasco? I was certain I would get used to that thread if I just stuck with it long enough. When I didn’t, I felt like a failure, like there was something wrong with me. Now I realize that if I haven’t gotten used to the tags in my shirts after 45 years, it’s probably not going to happen. Ever.

Some sensory sensitivities change and lessen over time. For example, as a kid I ate a limited number of foods. My parents never made a big deal out it, instead serving me the things that I was willing to eat. As an adult I have a varied diet. It’s not something I forced myself to habituate to, it happened gradually over time.

It’s important to remember that the reverse can happen as well. Sensory sensitivities can intensify as we grow older. We may develop new sensitivities. And some are just there for life.

“It’s not a big deal.” It feels like a big deal to the person with the sensory sensitivity. Being told that it’s not can make them doubt their own experience of their body. This can lead to “stuffing”–a method of dealing with unwanted feelings or bodily sensations by pushing them down deep inside and denying they exist–and other unhealthy coping strategies.

“Jimmy got over his fear of it and now he likes it.” This is assuming that a sensory sensitivity is actually a preference and if you’ve stuck with me this far, you already know what’s wrong with treating a sensitivity as a preference or an irrational fear. I’m not afraid of my t-shirt or lace collars or sticky substances.

In children, the reaction to being asked (or worse, forced) to do something that triggers a sensitivity is fear. Why? Because that child knows that the outcome is going to be intensely uncomfortable and possibly even make them ill. The result is panic, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Also, Jimmy is his own person and every autistic person has different types and levels of atypical sensory processing. Just because Jimmy is autistic and he decided at six-years-old that he loves spaghetti doesn’t mean that will be the case for other autistic individuals. In fact, I doubt you could find two autistic people with the exact same set of sensory sensitivities.

“It can’t actually hurt you.” Again, this isn’t taking into account the biological reactions that sensory sensitivities trigger. Sensory overload drains our already limited coping resources, taking energy away from other essential activities of daily living like self-care, work, school or parenting. The sort of chronic stress associated with being repeatedly exposed to sensory triggers can lead to serious negative health effects. And repeatedly being exposed to a sensory trigger in the name of desensitization can result in long term trauma or PTSD. Finally, some sensory sensitivities are physically painful and literally do hurt.

“You have to learn to deal with it at some point.” Will it surprise you if I say this is true? But not in the way this statement is usually intended. It’s true in the sense that learning how to adapt to your sensitivities makes life so much better.

How can you eat a balanced diet while excluding foods that you’re sensitive to? How can you dress appropriately for work or school without triggering your tactile sensitivities? What is the best solution to feeling overwhelmed by the sounds of the grocery store or the lights in the classroom?

When we flip this statement around, it becomes not “how can we fix you?” but “how can we adapt the environment to be less triggering?” That should be the goal when it comes to learning how to deal with our sensory sensitivities.

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The final part in this series, Sensory Diet, will be posted next week. 

67 thoughts on “Sensory Sensitivities: Understanding Triggers”

    1. Perfect example!!! I can not handle TV background sound. I have to type my husbands sermons at night when the kids sleep. When I try to work while he watches an action movie it can send me into despair. First this fuzzy point between my eyes where my nose begins starts to itch like mad, same if I try to swallow a piece of cake with butter icing on, it is just horrible. I gotta press this point till it is numb. Then my ears begin to ring. And I just can not do it. I can not switch off the background noises at all. The same in conversations. If you talk to me while I try to prevent kids from falling off the playground equipment, I will nto remember a word you said. Sorry, nothing to do with me liking you or not.

  1. When it comes to “You have to learn to deal with it at some point.” the problem is that you cannot determine for another person how or when they learn how to deal with things. Yes, I’m going to learn how to deal with it, but not because that person tells me, not when that person tells me, and not in the way that person means ‘dealing with it’.

  2. This is fabulous – right on. My husband doesn’t understand that at age 44, I can make myself touch greasy things, or dirty things, or sticky things, but I also can not stop thinking about those sensations on my hands until I am able to wash them. The longer it takes to get done with the project or whatever, the more agitated I get. Taking deep breaths helps. I have three children now. One has mild sensitivities (only wearing certain clothes, regardless of temperature, refusing hair brushing, etc) and the other has enough of them that we do a lot of planning around outings, trying to figure out how we will help him manage. He’s seven now and when I read the part about a child panicking when they see a trigger coming for them, well, I flashed back to my son on the floor of the kitchen, I don’t know how many times, completely undone over something he was unable to even tell me about. I would just hold him and reassure him that we’d figure it out, that he wasn’t alone in this. Such a difficult thing with the young kids. I never knew how much patience I had till we struggled through his third and fourth year on the planet.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. I can’t stand to have my fingers sticky or slippery or greasy! I’ll go through a whole stack of napkins, constantly cleaning my fingers between bites, while eating chicken wings or a burger or any food that I have to touch to eat.

      You sound like a terrific mom. Your son is lucky to have a mom who gets it and who has the patience to be with him while he works through those scary feelings.

      1. Ha ha ha! I wouldn’t eat chicken wings if you paid me to touch them! And watching my husband eat french fries in the car and then touch the steering wheel makes my skin crawl, knowing that now there is grease on the steering wheel. I give him a lot of credit for sticking with me through all this. Once he asked me, after I complained that I usually have to wash my hands nine times in the first hour I’m out of bed between making peanut butter sandwich lunches for the kids, using the bathroom, wiping the dog’s muddy feet, etc., why don’t I just wipe the peanut butter off on the rag and keep going? Because the greasy feeling is still there! You can’t just wipe it off. It needs soap. And what’s really funny is I hate wet hands too, so every time I see that I have to touch something greasy, dirty, germy, sticky, etc, I have that sinking feeling in my stomach that now I’ll also have to wash them. It’s not OCD at all. If I can keep them from a sensation, I don’t have to wash them. 🙂

        Anyway, there’s nothing like knowing there are others like this out there. My husband once said it was good that our son has me as a mother, because I understand his “crazy”. Truth is, I think it’s probably genetic and there’s a darn good reason he has me for a mother. What do you think?

        1. i definitely think there is some sort of genetic link in autism. It has a strong tendency to “run in families”, if not immediate then extended families. Also, you make a great point about the difference between needing to wash your hands due to a sensitivity and due to OCD. I think this might be part of why sometimes autism is misdiagnosed as OCD.

    2. Yes, this!

      Funny story: when I was a kid, before I mastered cutlery, my parents had to have a washcloth at the table as I ate, since I would insist on having my hand wiped off between bites. If it wasn’t, I’d have a meltdown.

      To this day, I can’t do most finger food (popcorn and veggie sticks being the exceptions) without needing something to wipe my hand off on. 😄

        1. I used to eat any type of chicken, as well as spare ribs, with knife and fork until I was in my late twenties. I can eat them with my hands now, but not if they’re very greasy or with those sugary sticky marinades. And even when they’re “normal”, I still like having a finger bowl next to my plate with lemon water, so I can clean my fingertips between bites. Erm yeah, when I say “eat with my hands”, I mean “eat with my fingertips”.

    3. Are we sure we are the ‘abnormal’ ones about food on our fingers? My sister and I thought our mother was the abnormal one for allowing food to stay on her hands. Why would humans have invented eating utensils if not to keep their hands clean? In countries where eating with the hands is the norm, like India, children are taught to eat with their finger tips and only one hand, plus I saw a lot of dining rooms with hand washing sinks. Think of the napkins that are so readily available. Watch how many people go to the restroom after dinner. I think many NT’s have sensitivities to food on their hands to the point where it impdedes with everyday life. Some even break out in rashes if they can’t clean their hands. Others can’t participate in after dinner conversations until they have clean hands.

  3. “You have to learn to deal with it at some point.” People who say it have the best of intentions, but they make it sound like it’s something I can do overnight. That’s just not how it works; it took me at least 10 years to minimize my catastrophizing to a point where I can acknowledge it and still do something productive.
    As for sound sensitivities: I recently discovered that I can tolerate what sounds to me like relentless yelling if it’s coming from my right side, not my left or if I subtly cover my ears by resting my head on my hands. Life has been better since then.

    1. It also makes it sound like we’re just avoiding it because we’re too lazy to make an effort or not “brave” enough or whatever. :-/ It can take a long time to find the right workaround or to get to a place where a sensitivity is manageable.

  4. This post gave me strong emotions because I have been through most of these scenarios with family, friends and even my old family doctor “desensitizing me” and instead it caused more trauma, feelings of isolation, depression and feelings of failure in the end. Finally, years ago I came across books that had similar thoughts as this and I took my sensory feelings seriously and depression and failure started to life…because I respected what my body was saying…something others never did for me. Slowly and surely I am doing much better even though I have the same issues. But sometimes I still feel angry at all the years of discrimination, repression, and judgement. I am glad I am a mother who understands and respect my kids for their sensitivities even if others do not…we have a safe haven without many voices and it is FINALLY at a level that we can handle and enjoy:)!

    1. I meant the depression started to “lift” not life:) LOL…and thank you so much for writing this! I sent it to a few close family and friends. Awareness is a huge step to less discrimination, more understanding, and in turn allowing us to give back to the world in ways that we are able. I really appreciate your posts. This series esp has hit home for me and validated my way of existing:)

    2. After a lifetime of well-meaning but misguided direction, and impatient-condescending remarks from loved ones and authority figures, I have a strong negative reaction to anyone questioning my judgement about trivial things, others’ assumptions that I haven’t already given thought to the way I’ve done something. I need to work on becoming less reactive because of the immediate cortisol surge it brings on. Reflecting on your post has helped me realize that I need to seriously work on this with my therapist! Thanks!!

    3. Desensitization just sounds like torture, plain and simple. Especially since it so often doesn’t have any sort of positive effect. If there’s a fundamental wiring problem, repeated exposure isn’t going to cure that. Desensitization seems to be based on the assumption that someone has an emotional or purely mental aversion to something, rather than a physical glitch. I’m so glad you’re doing better! It has to be a very difficult thing to overcome.

  5. One thing I’ve found is that I can become atuned, near nurotically, to repetative stimulus and patterns. Quite possibly, though controversially, mirror neurons or something very similar provide an explanation. This, tuning, leads to synaesthetic and even strong placebo type effects and is used in things like Neuro Linguistic programming and advertising (e.g. the bt infinity series of adverts has some interesting dialogue and editing)

  6. Yeah, some of my sensitivities, I still can’t stand (texture of celery, greasy stuff on my hand, clothing tags, and high pitched noises, among others) Some of them, I’ve learned to manage (bright light, background noise). And some are no longer sensitivities at all (the taste of bell peppers).

    The one that was always the worst to me was “It’s not that bad” and similar things. Maybe not to you. It is to me.

    1. It’s not that bad is really a kick in the shins when it comes to self-trust. I never really thought about how so much of what autistic people are told about their experience of their bodies leads to self-doubt until I wrote this series. It’s a bit depressing, really.

      1. I was talking about this with my partner this evening.

        The only reason I found out my eyesight isn’t 20/20 is because one time, when I was 15, my mum made a comment about the writing on the side of a truck that was passing on a road about 200-300 metres off from where we were sitting. And I was like, “You can read that? IS THAT NORMAL?” I had just assumed up until that point that everyone had trouble reading things that were far off.

        The same thing happens with sensory sensitivities. Something makes you gag, and you get told, “Come on. It’s not that bad. Everyone else can manage to eat it just fine.” So you assume everyone else wants to gag too, but they are stronger than you and not gag and not “whine” about it and so you have to become stronger too. I definitely know that I’d always assumed everyone else could hear the standby light on the TV, and that they were just better at coping with it, that it was my weakness for not being able to cope. That’s the message you hear when people tell you, “Come on, it’s not that bad, just get over it.”

        You need an external factor, something like the writing on the truck, to suddenly realise that you do in fact experience things differently than others.

  7. The points you make in your post apply to everyone. Everybody has sensitivities or triggers. We shouldn’t minimize them – they are real to that person. Your post reminds us to step back and not judge. To accept a person for who they are. To accept ourselves and recognize that we are not broken, we are just different.

  8. My daughter has Aspergers, and since her diagnosis I have realised that I am probably on or near the spectrum too. I’ve always had acute sensory sensitivities, especially around sound. I’m really enjoying reading your blog and learning more about my daughter and myself. Thank you.

    1. That wouldn’t be unusual. Lots of parents end up getting diagnosed after a child does. The fact that my daughter isn’t on the spectrum is probably one of the reasons that it took me so long to get my own diagnosis.

      So happy to hear that the blog is helpful to you!

  9. Reblogged this on humanitysdarkerside and commented:
    Again, Musings of an Aspie (Cynthia Kim) expresses my thoughts perfectly. I’m sitting her in my new sweater just feeling the tag in back becoming more and more painful. Why I bother to leave them on for so long before I cut them off, I will never figure out. Stubborn and determined not to let a tiny piece of fabric win over me. Silly old woman.

  10. Your posts make me understand myself and my husband better. I am sure he is an Aspie too. He cannot touch food, and if he has to do it, he cleans his hands constantly. The biggest problem is when he eats nuts or seeds, because they have a thin layer of salt. He takes the seed, put it in his mouth and then spend 10-15 sec cleaning his fingers. After every piece. Washing his teeth is so complicated because the tooth brush and the tooth paste must have specific shape/taste/consistency. Touching his mouth or feeling his saliva on his fingers is unacceptable. I have such a huge list…..Thank you for posting all this. It hepls me a lot. Understanding my husband actions and their reasons, helps my marriage. Believe me, 2 Aspies together it not an easy living.

    1. I can tell that your list is extensive. 🙂 It sounds like your husband has some pretty significant tactile sensitivities and I totally understand because I’m a compulsive finger cleaner. You also make a great point here – even when two people in a relationship are both (likely) aspies, that doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically understand everything about each other. Our experiences of being on the spectrum can be so diverse.

      1. I am more analitic, and I read everything you post. For him, was very hard to accept the idea of not being perfect. I try to make him hearing me, by giving me as an example. In time, he start hearing me, and slowly to relate to your post. I think it is a matter of macho education. He keeps his mind bussy with his laptop until he falls asleep on it. Beacuse he is very anxious, and even when he should be relaxed on the couch he moves his feet constantly, I start giving him some Aconitum homeopathic. It helps him very much. He is more relaxed, and he is not using his laptop so much, we can even have a 30 min normal conversation

    1. I think so. My sensory sensitivities mostly express themselves in a general level of background stress and exhaustion. For example, going to a mall wears me out far more than other people, but I can still manage it without shutting down. It does mean that I feel pretty exhausted for days afterwards, though.

    2. I think that it’s possible to have mild sensory sensitivities that don’t lead to meltdowns or shutdowns, but I don’t think it’s possible to be autistic and never have meltdowns or shutdowns. I rarely have a meltdown due to sensory overload but I do experience shutdowns if I don’t get myself away from the overloading situation quickly enough. My meltdowns, OTOH, have entirely different sources.

      I think more likely than someone on the spectrum never experiencing a meltdown/shutdown is that they experience those things but don’t recognize them. Some people have said that they thought their meltdowns/shutdowns were panic attacks, emotional breakdowns, depression, emotional instability or any number of other things. It wasn’t until reading about the different ways that autistic adults experience meltdowns and shutdowns that they recognized that they have them too.

      1. Oh. Could this be why people talking too loudly makes me cry if I can’t get away from it? I also can’t tell the difference between people talking to me or talking to themselves. No wonder the popular techniques to prevent social anxiety don’t work! No wonder I hate being around loud people but enjoy hanging out in crowded bars with live music.

        Will you blog on the different faces of meltdowns/shutdowns?

        1. Yes, definitely. When you say you can’t tell the difference between people talking to you or to themselves, do you mean you react the same to both or you don’t recognize the social cues that differentiate one from another?

          I’ve blogged about both. The shutdown post is here: https://musingsofanaspie.com/2012/10/17/where-i-go-when-i-shutdown/ and the meltdown post is here: https://musingsofanaspie.com/2012/12/13/anatomy-of-a-meltdown/

          I should probably make a “greatest hits” page to link to posts on popular topics. 🙂

          1. I miss the verbal clues. When I’m working side-by-side with someone (lunch counter assembly line) or we are each doing our own jobs within earshot of each other (computer programmers and customer service), I cannot tell if people are talking to me or processing out loud. My coworkers tell me that their volume changes, or they talk in full sentences to me and partial thoughts to themselves, or that they ‘aim’ their voice when they talk to someone. It all sounds the same to me.

            I used to stress about it, but now I just respond when I feel like or if the person uses my name.

            I looked for meltdowns and shutdowns under categories and tags, but didn’t find either.

  11. Your articles are really interesting and I’m so glad I stumbled upon this blog. I have a psych evaluation tomorrow morning and am supposed to get tested for aspergers as well. I can identify with so much of what you are explaining. I took the test with the 50 questions and scored a 32. It was difficult to answer many of the questions because I felt like every question needed to be elaborated upon in order for me to give the answer that best fit me.

    I have noticed myself having strong reactions to certain types of sounds in the last few years. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to scream, and then possibly cry it is so uncomfortable! Often I feel it in my eyes, as if I’m getting that satanic air puff at the eye doctor over and over!

    I’ve always had strong preference for really deep touch, and as a result my career as a massage therapist was short lived. I once read my therapists notes after I received a massage and she wrote that she didn’t think I was in my head/body because I wanted such a deep massage. It’s hard for me to gauge how deep I am going when I massage someone because it honestly only feels good to me when most people would be running. Light touch, especially if it is too brisk makes me feel too much, it’s almost creepy, uncertain, scary. It’s like I don’t know what to expect next.

    It’s ironic though because I feel like I’m trapped in my head. I feel everything so much. I also like really loud bass and repetitive music so when I’m in a club, listening to a good drum & bass or house dj, I’m in heaven. It’s the little noises, or the high frequencies, tv commercials, finger tapping type of stuff that makes my skin crawl.

    I feel less of a weirdo (been called that my whole life) if these are “normal” aspergers traits…and that’s exciting because I’ve never been normal before.

    I also tend to be long winded and overly descriptive.

    1. I hope your evaluation goes well. A lot of what you describe here sounds like spectrum traits, including needing the questions to be more detailed before you could answer. 🙂 Those are all very normal things for aspies and I know exactly what you mean about finding that idea exciting. There are people like me! Whee!

      What you say about massage is interesting. I’ve had two professional massages and both times I felt very physically ill for about 24 hours afterwards. And the first time around, the massage therapist actually snapped at me, saying I was too tense and working against her. It was a very confusing experience. I wonder if what you mention about needing deeper pressure than most people would consider reasonable is part of why my experience was so negative and atypical. Sorry, that was kind of a tangent.

  12. I cannot thank you enough for this post. My daughter, though not autistic, has sensory processing disorder. Throughout the last 2 years since her diagnosis (and the several years before the diagnosis) I have read multiple books, articles and blog pieces about SPD. Your description of what living with sensory differences is like, is the absolute best piece I have ever read. Because she is only 7, my daughter cannot put into words why she needs all of her clothing so tight and soft; why brushing her teeth is utter agony; why taking a bath is so distressing; why watching TV with the lights on is a must; why mac and cheese is only eaten with peas or fries and not broccoli or carrots or a million other little things that seem small and insignificant to me but which are of earth shattering importance to her. Every parent of a child with SPD should read your blog. My understanding of what it’s like to be my child has grown tremendously. Thank you again!

  13. Wow! This makes so much sense. I have no idea if I’m on the spectrum, but I am very sensitive to lights and sounds and I’ve heard those same platitudes such as “It’s not that bad” all my life. “Normal” sounds (or so I’ve been told) bother me. Examples are that I can only sleep when the room is pitch black and quiet. I cannot study or concentrate on anything if someone is talking, listening to music or watching TV in the same room (or even in the next room) to me. I have torchiere lamps in my house because I cannot deal with overhead direct artificial light (don’t even get me started on fluorescent lighting). Sometimes too much noise or lights that are too bright will cause a migraine so bad that even the flickering light from a candle is too bright. I also cannot handle most perfumes/colognes for the same reason–boom, instant headache that will become a migraine if I can’t get away from the scent. This post and the subsequent responses have definitely given me food for thought. Thank you!

    1. I’m glad the post was helpful! It’s possible to have atypical sensory processing (usually called sensory processing disorder) without being on the spectrum, but sensory sensitivities are also universal in autistic people.

  14. Dear musingsofanaspe,
    I read your comment about the ability to ignore an ailment or pain until the illness or pain suddenly could no longer be ignored . . .
    I can not find the exact place where it is at this time in your site here . . . but I share the same ability … or curse as it may be defined as both I think . . . I am always amazed at people who run immediately to and are highly dependent on some med when they’re just feeling like they MIGHT be ABOUT to have a headache . . . you can not just go around taking asprin to keep from ever getting a headache . . . lol
    Anyway, the comment you made helped me clarify how to explain my mind very well . . . I scribbled it down so I could come to the library and get on this site as I have used up my internet time on my cell phone . . . I am going to send this to my daughters and 1 close relative bc they are either going to finally ‘get it’, meaning hopefully less misunderstandings, or they will not be able to process it, which is ok bc I know how to live with that disappointment in others.
    The good thing is, trying to explain this to them can do no harm or create any problem.
    Meanwhile, I have a list of questions to ask you and I think you do not give out your private email address, so at some point in the future, as I continue to ‘mine’ the various links to things on this site, I’m going to find the best space to post the questions to you . . .

    Meanwhile . . . (you do not have italics here so I have to use caps where italics would normally be)

    The ability to ignore pain, WHILE being un-able to tolerate or ignore uncomfortable or itchy apparel, WHILE communicating with another person, WHILE fidgeting and scratching, or biting skin around the fingernaisl, WHILE trying to figure out the other persons full intentions, WHILE noticing the colours, lights/shadows, textures on and around that person which spark interesting creative images, WHILE you contemplate those images, WHILE noticing distinctive, interesting, irritating, and/or pleaseant sounds from the voice of, and/or around the person, WHILE listening to what is being said and processing the points of the conversation, WHILE I form mental pictures from the word exchange, WHLE interrupting to blurt out some very interesting creative idea (which may or may not be pertnent to the conversation) AND then interrupt with pertinent information or questions (suprises people bc they always think I’m not listening) WHILE . . . must be the reason(s) we seem so self-absorbed and unable to guage intention in the other person’s facial expression . . .
    I’m just talking about being in a familiar room with a familiar person . . .
    Imagine being in a slightly less familiar room with a slightly less familiar person . . .
    Then, I went to New York City.

    1. I hope that the people you share this with find it helpful in understanding your experience better. It seems to be really hard for those who don’t have sensory sensitivities to grasp just how pervasive they are and how strongly they can impact our lives. And yes, feel free to leave questions on whatever post seems relevant. I like how the comments so often create an archive of additional information for readers that discover older posts.

  15. Oh gawd I’m so sorry if I’m coming across as some sort of a fanboy or something but I actually cant believe you speak my language. Nobody ever understands my language. I was telling (infodumping on) my brothers about these gates you speak of and [felt like I] had to introduce cows and fields to fill out the analogy for them. Of course thats sort of when I lose people.

  16. Oh goodness, those statements have made me so mean!

    “You’ll get used to it.” “Like how you’ve gotten used to me?”
    “It’s not a big deal.” “Neither is hair in your food, but you totally freak over that and I don’t.”
    “Jimmy got over his fear of it and now he likes it.” “Then let Jimmy deal with it while I find something more appropriate for me to do.”
    “It can’t actually hurt you.” “Neither can most spiders, but you make me deal with them for you.”
    “You have to learn to deal with it at some point.” “You’ll have to learn to deal with my decisions at some point.”

    I don’t understand how to be sensitive to somebody being insensitive to me.

  17. Auditory: Whistling, nail filing/sanding, tattoo machines or high pitched drills like dental drills. Mosquito whines, buzzing insects. Chalk and pencil writing noises

    Gustatory: tomatoes, tinfoil, greasy food, sweet n sour, anything with bones in smaller than a leg of lamb (little fish you’re supposed to eat whole, chicken legs and wings etc). Clotted blood, skin, gristle and other non-meat bits on meat.

    Touch: sandpaper, nail files, powdery dried paint, paper, concrete and dry bricks, clothing tags, tickling, light touch, insects. Chalk.

    Visual: bright blue-white light

    Olfactory: strong perfume, lavender, aspirin, tarmac, falafel. I also have this odd thing where I can strongly smell what someone has been eating coming off their skin.

    Absolutely the worst one, though, is hypodermic needles. It’s not that they’re the worst pain ever (even though I’m very sensitive to pain, I’ve had worse than shots and IVs), just the specific kind of pain that they are has me complaining even with multiple numbing agents applied to my skin. Phlebotomists have told me that it can’t possibly still hurt after EMLA and freezing spray and a counterstimulation device. It does.

  18. wow foxtears … I can identify with a few things you mentioned … I pretty much outlined my continous mental process above – all these things said, it should be a no-brainer why most people with Aspergers love solitide, or after being out in public, even alone, much less with even just one other person, we need to get alone and recoup, unwind, & re-establish some semblence of serenity.
    With my particular brain, which never stops ‘seeing’, imagining, and creating, the only way I can acheive a little relaxation is with a good movie.
    And even then I may have to pause it a few times to study some interesting scene or prop which I may photograph for creative reference later. But the point is, my brain is mostly still during a movie … or sleep – but then I dream quite vividly and have to write/sketch most of those …

    So … these thoughts inspired a fun game we could play … is anyone game? Just finish the statement. There’s no right/wrong answer … just ideas . . .

    “The human brain is pretty amazing.
    The human brain ‘on’ Aspergers is ….”

    Mine is …

    “The human brain on Aspergers is … limitless.

  19. Thank you for the article, and providing points for why someone with sensitivities can’t necessarily “just get over it”. This hits home, as in the last year I was diagnosed with both DID and asperger’s. One of the keys to realizing why I have in the past and still continue to dissociate is because of sensory processing and overloading.

    I have extremely intense reactions to temperature, sound, pain, lights, etc., and have been intensely sick because of those things since I was a child. I had no idea that all of the things triggering my illnesses were connected, nonetheless asperger’s. I also had no idea that I had developed a coping mechanism called dissociation, to deal with those sensitivities (DID was already something I had due to childhood abuse..but the sensitivities were enough of a trauma to keep me in a constant dissociative state since then).

    So thank you for shedding light on the fact that an inability to manage (or recognize or give credit to) these symptoms can cause SEVERE trauma to those experiencing them.

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