Sensory issues are a big part of having autism for many people. Sensory can be divided into two broad categories: hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. Hyper are the things that overload you. These are generally the more unpleasant sensations, like loud noises or bright lights. Hypo are the things you seek out, the things you need a lot of. Deep pressure is a great example.
There are many sensory issues people with autism tend to share, and we also each have our own very specific ones. Some of the most common include fluorescent lights, loud noise and crowded places. My biggest personal sensory issue is the shushing noise. I’m getting uncomfortable just writing it down! That noise causes an urge to hurt myself. When I hear the noise, a strong overpowering feeling rises up in my body. The only way to get rid of the feeling is to hit, pinch or scratch myself. I also hate holograms, like the ones on trading cards. I throw up instantly if I hear one scratched or even if I touch it briefly. I can’t wear a lot of fabrics as they feel like they are burning my skin. I had a lot more food sensory issues when I was younger, but I’ve gotten past most of those.
People rarely talk about the hyposensitivities. We seem to focus only on the negative sensory issues. My hyposensitivities are one of my favorite parts of having autism. I love the feeling of wind and rain on my skin. Whenever it rains, I love to go splash in the puddles. I also have a favorite type of concrete; I could spend hours rubbing my foot on it. I love deep pressure and hugs. I have cultivated all my hair and body products to my ultimate scents, with lavender being my favorite.
People with autism get to experience things so deeply. Yes, it can be a negative, but we also get to experience and feel beautiful things neurotypicals don’t perceive in the same way.
I have some coping skills for sensory overload. I can’t stress enough what a difference headphones and earplugs make in public settings. I also know the library at child story hour will cause me to tear my hair out, so I avoid it. Right now I’m working on being less self-injurious during moments of overload. I’ve downgraded from hitting my head to just pinching my arm, at least most of the time. Unfortunately, since sensory issues vary so much from person to person, what works for one person can very easily be a trigger for another.
Sensory issues can also change over time. They can get worse, better or just switch to something else. There was one point a couple years ago where I had to get all new clothes because my current ones started to hurt me, sensory-wise. My advice is to figure out what could be causing sensory overload for yourself or your loved ones with autism. It might not be easy to identify specific things, but once you do, you can work out a coping method that’s best for you.