Things I have learned

This year has been one of personal growth.

I started this blog in January, thinking I could perhaps keep track of the things I am learning about my own autism and about getting older. I had decided that I wanted to share information about the things I have been learning just in case there are other older autistic people like me. At age 66 I thought I was most likely autistic, by 67 I was sure, but I did not get an “official ” diagnosis of autism until I was 68.

Everything in my life has changed due to my new self understanding and my knowing that diagnosis of autism. My disabilities are still there, I have the same struggles and the same weaknesses/ the same strengtsh. My unusual neurology has not changed, I was born this way, I will die this way.

Today I am looking at myself in new ways. I had not looked at myself or understood myself at all in the years before discovering my autism. I had learned to adapt my behaviors for survival and coping ( so very poorly with no understanding) and I can congratulate myself on living to the age of 65 without the knowledge of my autism. I am definitely a survivor.

Life is finally understandable with my knowing about autism. I can look back and see my traits through the window of autism and know that my failures, misunderstandings, pains, and sorrows were all affected by my autism and that nobody in those days knew or understood about that, any more than I did.

My life until diagnosis was an anarchy where autism ruled behind the scenes and nothing made sense because it was hidden. I was so busy struggling every day to understand what was happening, why, trying to keep my fears and anxiety and depression in check, and i went along putting out situational fire after fire. I did not have the tools of knowledge or the time for introspection.

Now retired and with much more time to spend on research, doing some soul and self thought searching and finally finding autism, I am anxious to share what I have learned and to attempt to share with other old folks the insights that set me free from all the years of self blame, misery, anxiety and desperation.

I was able to change the pattern because I could see how autism had worked in every corner and cranny, every dark and desolate place, every unforgiving and painful moment of my life.

It has been such a relief and such a freeing feeling to know and understand. I am not to blame for the way I was a spectacular failure most of my life. I am autistic and I did not have the tools or self understanding to make the adjustments I needed for a healthier and happier life.

Starting in January with this blog, I have tried to open the lid on the “toolbox” and to explain to myself as well as others how autism has affected me, how it works in others, and how I can have healing and better living now that I understand my autism.
I hope this blog has been useful and that it will help those new to autism at such a ripe old age to understand themselves and their history, their lives today, and to help improve their lives going forward with new understanding.
I salute you all as survivors, and encourage you to forgive yourself, take care of yourself, and to understand that it is not your fault, and you are definitely not alone.

What next? Now that I have my professional diagnosis, I can proceed with plans to reach out to other elders in my community, to raise the awareness of autism in the lost generations , particularly focusing on those who are of the “baby boom” generation. As elder autistics retire and need more support, I believe it is urgent to have understanding of their autism in order to provide safe and satisfactory conditions and to alleviate suffering and struggles whenever possible.
With self understanding we can become advocates for ourselves and others who are trapped in cycles of pain which they don’t understand and which might be helped with knowing about their own undiagnosed autism.

I will still write here about how autism can affect us and continue to try to explain the things I am learning. But I will focus locally on finding the 200 or more undiagnosed autistic people here in my own area. ( number based on population of people over age 20 in my county and city).
Feeling optimistic.

Details

Its ALL about the details!

Recent studies have shown the main differences in patterns of thinking between those who are “neurotypical” and those who are autistic is a matter of which comes first, the “big picture” or the details.
Neurotypical people ( NT) tend to notice and take hold of the general idea of any concept and then fill in details “as they go”. Generalization first, specifics to follow.


Autistic thinking patterns generally are to gather details as if they were clues and assemble them to create a complete understanding of the concept or idea.

Before we proceed we want to know as much as we can about it.

How does this work in every day living and communication?

I struggled with general concepts as a child. Vague non specific directions gave me fits!

Clean your room! (autistic thinking asks, ” how clean must I get it, clear it of clutter only? Sort the clutter or just get it out of sight in a closet or a drawer? Strip the sheets and take down the curtains, wash the walls? Wash the windows? Vacuum, dust, polish??? “)

Do the laundry! ( autistic thinking asks, ” just my laundry or the whole family’s? Just start a load or spend the day doing all of the stuff in the piles, drying, folding putting it away? Sort by color? Sort by fabric? Sort by family member? Can I put this set of dad’s work overalls in with mom’s best tablecloth?” )

Go get dressed! ( autistic thinking asks, ” play clothes, work clothes, dress up clothes?, are we going somewhere? What shoes to wear? Why can’t I find my favorite socks? I can put on my play jeans under my dress so I can be ready for anything! ” )

Walk the dog! ( autistic thinking asks “where should I take him, back yard, around the block, to the park? Should I use the long leash or the short one? How long should I walk him? Do I need my hat, coat and gloves? Should I bring baggies and his bottle of water and his dish?”)

There is a lack of understanding in the NT mind, that we NEED those details. It is not enough to state intent, it needs to come with specific information. Especially as a child with little experience in the world, statement of intent does not tell us what the expectations for each act we are told to perform are, nor does it explain how to do these things!

State intent, then be as specific as possible about expectations and give as much information as possible to any directions. This method still works best for me today at 68 years old.
As a young child, had to be taught in small and very specific steps to know how to clean each area of the house, how to do the laundry,how to iron each piece of clothing or linen, how to wash the dishes, what was expected of me when told to clean my room, how to empty waste baskets, take out the trash, How to use the vacuum, each specific chore had to be explained in detail.

Things that were evident to my NT siblings through observation were not obvious to me. Knowing today that I have very little neurological ability to process moving visual input, this makes more sense.

This pattern has continued all my life. If my husband says he wants to go to shopping, I need to know where we will go, what time we will leave, what are we buying?
If I must travel, I make lists of things to bring and I look up my destination on the map, view it on satellite programs, write down directions on how to get there, plan time of departure and arrival, think about where I will stop for rests, gas, and any other stops I might want to make.

Going to a meeting or program in town involves the same planning, how do I dress, what do I bring, how long will I be there, How do I find the place (mapping and perhaps even a day before recon if I am afraid i won’t find the place in time for the planned activity) Who will be there? How many are expected? Will there be food? What is the schedule for the program? Where will I park? These things may be intuitive to some, but they are conscious questions that need answers for me to be comfortable to proceed.

If I plan a new project or want to learn a new skill, i will seek information ahead of time on the internet or in books, and read about “how to do it”. I can not watch videos or listen to podcasts to get the information. Once I learn all I can about the skills needed and the correct ways to proceed, I am able to carry out most of these projects with little outside help. But if somebody just told me to simply ‘do it’, I would most likely not be able to proceed. I have to get all the details, line them up, and then I feel confident I understand.

I am often chided by others for not being able to “go with the flow”. I am aware that I irritate others by asking all of the questions I need to know to assemble a complete idea of what will happen in my head. I need all of those details in order to understand.

My husband amazes me. He could watch anybody do something, then do it himself.

I know he is NT because very little has to be explained to him. He sees what has to happen and is able to complete the project using things he has learned by watching and listening.

One of the best things you can do to improve communication and understanding with an autistic person is to state intent, then explain in detail, using as much detail as possible. Do this in every day activities, no matter how small they seem to you. It might be annoying to you to have to do this, know I am not trying to be a pain, but that I need to ask questions in order to understand. It might take extra effort on your part, but you will usually gain willing cooperation if I understand the “big picture” in any scenario.

This is especially true if I am in a medical setting, or in any new place where I am expected to comply or cooperate with issues that are new or require some form of participation on my behalf. Please state intent and explain what will happen in as much detail as possible.


Answering the questions of ” What, when, why, who, where, how?” makes my world and my place in it easier to understand, to negotiate successfully, and to perform satisfactorily.


Animals, Autism, Self Injury

Can we learn anything from studies?

One of the truly distressing behaviors encountered in some autistic people is the problem of Self Injuring behavior.
This can range from skin picking, hair/eyebrow/eyelash pulling, chewing fingernails and fingertips, to biting oneself, using sharp objects to self injure, head banging , throwing oneself against sharp things such as corners of a wall or a table edge. It can include self cutting, burning, piercing, and multitudes of other behaviors which can cause permanent bodily damage.

You may be surprised to learn that self injuring behaviors are not confined to autism and certain mental disorders in humans. Animals can and do practice very similar forms of self injury.

Early studies on primates and zoo animals, as well as domesticated animals seemed to show that the worst self injuring behaviors were to be found in confined animals. (Labs, zoos, farms, kennels, and in animals kept as pets where close confinement and lack of social interaction with peers was a common condition).
Some studies at first blamed the behaviors on conscious use of self injury to gain attention. One earlier study said such behavior should be completely ignored and not rewarded by offering interactions, distractions, or other attention or show of concern.


Many studies since have put blame on unnatural environment, poor socialization or lack of ability to socialize naturally, lack of enrichment of environment, and some more recent studies are finding that brain chemicals are skewed in many cases, the subjects being studies being found lacking in dopamine or cortisol.

Many self injuries seem to be linked to frustrated sexuality and frustration of natural social/sexual behavior patterns in captivity as opposed to what would exist in the natural environment, and were assumed to be replacement for thwarted natural sexual behaviors.

Exposure to stress seemed to be involved and often made the self injury patterns worse or more frequent.

Forward now to studies being done in the past and currently involving human self injury.

Among diagnosed children with ASD studies using reports from their doctors said 28 percent of the autistic children in their care had some form of self harming behaviors.

Studies involving adults who were capable of self reporting showed that about 50 percent were actively or presently dealing with self injuring behaviors.

Studies of lower functioning individuals in care facilities show up to 60 percent struggle with self injurious behaviors.

Studies with both animals and humans have shown those who self injure often have lower levels of dopamine, norepinephirine, or cortisol.
Some studies show that certain chemicals used for sedation or anesthesia, or other purposes can induce self injuring behaviors.
Animals coming out of surgery seem to have more propensity to self injury immediately after. Studies pointed to the chemicals used to anesthetize the animal, as self injury was more common when certain anesthetics were used, than with others. I have not found comparative studies involving anesthesia with humans but I am wondering if the many calming drugs given to people who have anxiety or other behavioral problems might not be involved in some way for humans as well?

One very interesting human study tied certain self injury patterns with different known genetic disorders or syndromes. Named in the study as having recognizable tendencies to certain specific patterns of self injury are Lesch-Nyhan, Cornelia DeLange, Smith Magenis, and Prader- Willi syndromes. There may be others!


Self injuring groups studied showed overall lower verbal abilities, fewer self help skills, low mood, poor social interaction, higher levels of impulsivity, and higher levels of stereotyped, compulsive, or repetitive behaviors.

Another study showed the worst self injury behaviors were observed among those who had more severe sensory impairments, and among those who had physical illnesses associated with higher levels of pain.

I am not able to draw conclusions from these studies, but it seems evident to me that they provide some very strong clues which need further investigation.
Chemical, genetic, and environmental conditions all seem to play a part here. What will we learn from further studies?
Are there clues here to actions we can take to help those with Self Injuring Behaviors today?


Autism : Teaching compliance

Making the perfect victim

One topic that keeps coming up on the autism discussion forums I belong to is how many of us have been victims over time.
We seem to have suffered more than average rates of crimes ( simple physical and or sexual assault, fraud, intimidation, manipulation for profit, use and abuse by those we believed were friends or even domestic partners, on and on).
One of the most asked questions is “how can I know when people are taking advantage of me, how do I figure out if what I am experiencing is abuse?”
What makes us so vulnerable to this sort of use and abuse?
I believe it is a number of factors.

One of the characteristics of autism is its “black and white thinking”. We take things literally and often do not see what is “behind” a statement or a behavior.
If we think we see a duck, we do not suspect it is really something else.
What we think we see is what we believe.

We tend to be anxious to find approval and friendship, and romantic love. ( Isn’t that human nature?)
But it seems we are not equipped to see (hidden motives) behind the face that is put on to gain our confidence.
We take things literally, so if my man friend tells me he loves me, do I even suspect he does not, but has more nefarious purposes? (gender used in this case is just an example and does not reflect that this can and does seem happen to all of us regardless of gender). Manipulative use can come from people we see as ‘friends’ , buddies from work or other situations asking for money, asking us to give them homes with us, help them do things, even directing and or pressuring us to do illegal things, either innocently, or knowingly.

I know one thing that made me very vulnerable was being taught to be compliant and obedient. This was the style of child rearing practiced in the 1950’s and 60’s. Kids were meant to be seen and not heard, they were to be polite and obedient to adults, neighbors, teachers, the minister, the folks in the stores and other public places. We were taught unquestioning response to adult demands.
I was punished over and over for asking why, although I was looking for clarification of intent or purpose and not questioning the actual commands that were given to me.
I was taught to sit still, to not speak unless spoken to, to be in all ways at all times a “nice little girl”, to be a “lady”, and society’s expectations for women to please men was role modeled for me.
I was taught to seek approval in everything I did, and to wait for directions, not to take my own initiative, and to in all things be subservient, looking for approval.

This ties in to lifelong struggles to appease any person I come in contact with. I must strive to please every person I meet. I learned this behavior as a very young child and it was the safest way to live in my world.
That approval was the only way I was able to keep myself safe, if I did not have approval and permission or direction from somebody else more powerful (and EVERYBODY was more powerful) then I did not proceed, for it was not safe to do so.

Thinking back, I realize I had learned these lessons and this behavior before I even entered school, and subsequent experiences throughout my childhood repeated and re-enforced the lessons.
I had learned not to be self assertive under any conditions, to wait for instruction , to seek approval. I was not allowed to get angry, and was punished severely for any angry or resentful behavior.
Combine that with my autistic lack of insight into human nature, lack of understanding of social and other interactions, lack of life experience and lack of explanation for any factors beyond ” Do it when I tell you to, and how I tell you to” … you can understand how I was ‘set up’ to fail. I was raised to be the perfect victim, and this is what I became.


Flash forward to today’s ABA , where kids are taught the exact same things to make them “socially acceptable” and “cure” their autistic behaviors.

They must endure adult pressure for extended periods of time, are taught to seek approval, act only when told to act and in the way that those adults choose, how and where they choose. This is performed for up to 40 hours a week usually before the child enters school.
ABA kids are taught to accept touch from those in power over them, uncomfortable, often sudden touch in the form of tickles, hugs, etc etc and taught to endure and act to please the controlling adult.
They are taught to do without protest the rote projects they are faced with performing.

ABA kids are taught to perform for approval or ‘rewards” such as a bite of a favorite food, much as dogs, or circus animals have been trained for years.


What will become of them when they are faced with demands from society, from classmates, from unreasonable bosses, co workers, high pressure sales persons, or demanding manipulative devious “user” adults who demand money, sex, or other unreasonable and unhealthy behaviors?
Will they have been taught to discriminate, or will they blindly try to appease those sorts for approval?

I can tell you which behavior I chose and used until a suicide attempt at age 30 sent me to therapy, where I learned how to become healthily self assertive.

I did not know there were alternatives to appeasement behavior. I had to be taught!

38 years later and I still struggle most days with appeasement behavior.
( for more information look up” freeze, flight, fight, fawn” patterns of behavior.)

See also “learned helplessness”

Are these early diagnosed children any better off than I was?


I can only hope that they eventually receive close attention to teaching about human interactions, how to spot people with devious intent, and are taught as soon as possible to become self assertive and to express their own personal boundaries and needs in a clear and healthy manner.

I greatly fear that in most cases this won’t happen.


There are so many autistic people in positions of being used and abused, we do not intuitively suspect others, it is something that needs to be taught, this self defensive questioning of other’s motives.
I have always said I had to have things explained that seem to be obvious to others.

Here above in this blog is a very good example of my spoken perception.


I wish somebody had taught me those things early on.

Autism sensory experiences

The senses of smell and taste

Since the sense of smell and taste are more or less intertwined in several ways, I thought I would talk about them together.

Some of us really have issues with odors and scents, and either/or/also have struggles with the way things taste.

Our senses can be either hyper sensitive, or completely oblivious, and for many of us, these states can alter from time to time. It is not unusual for me to tolerate unusual odors over and over, and then one day the same odor will make me feel sick or dizzy or cause a headache. This is my experience as an adult. I have read many reports saying that sensory experiences , especially smell and taste, can be very much stronger in youngsters.

Stress can cause us to focus on one sensory experience and make it seem worse than it was when we were in the same room, smelling the same thing for hours without reaction. Or perhaps it is just that my overall self awareness is higher on certain given days.

Some days I might not notice a scent as though my sense of smell did not operate at all.
The same can be said for tastes.
It has been proven that the sense of smell enhances or provides much of the experience of things we taste.
Our neurology being uncertain or unreliable many times, we are often wary that we may have too strong a reaction to new experiences of odor or taste.
Some of us may become very fixed in our behavior surrounding going new places or trying new foods, because of strong responses of the past and unwillingness to experience such strong reactions again.
This fear of reaction or sensory overload is not only experienced with smells and tastes, but also with any sensory issues.

I have seen( and or experienced) these self defensive behaviors dismissed as being picky, obstinate, unreasonable, labeled “goofy” or “stupid” , ridiculed, demeaned, scoffed at, punished, dismissed as not important, and forcibly made to experience the undesired response again and again. I am sure many autistic persons can relate.
I remember being forced ( as avery small child) to eat everything that was put on my plate at risk of being spanked when I did not comply.

This was a common ‘child training’ procedure at the time I grew up ( in the 1950’s) you did something they said was wrong, you got spanked.

It did not take long for me to start screaming “no, no, no” with every spoon full I saw being dished onto my plate.
I was frequently spoon or hand fed , being admonished over and over to take just another bite. My face was held as the food was spooned in and I was punished if I dared to spit it out.
I refused to eat at all after experiencing that for a while, choosing to get the spanking over with rather than spending the meal time in dread of the inevitable.
When it was understood that I could not be forced to eat the items and the quantity that my mother chose for me to eat, when and how she wanted me to eat it, she finally gave up using force at meal time.
The damage was done, and meal time was traumatic for years.

Many autistic folks on the forums I attend report similar struggles with smells and tastes, and similar trauma as the result of being forced to smell or eat things that were offensive due to strong sensory responses.
Many report getting ill frequently in situations where they were forced to deal with adverse sensory input.
This too also applies to being taken places that were painful and distressing and being forced to ‘perform’ in many ways that were distressing, painful, or causing anxiety and fear.
It is no wonder that so many autistic adults (and children) are also diagnosed with anxiety and depression. We have had absolutely no say as to our experiences, have been forced repeatedly to endure what can only be described as stressful and painful circumstances and experiences, and scolded, punished and shamed when we were not equal to the situations we were forced into.

Strong responses to avoid sensory overload are seen as willfullness, issues of control or disobedience, dramas staged to gain attention, manipulative behavior to ‘have my way’ over parental/teacher authority. I suggest that it is self defense when faced with sensory responses that are too strong to control.
Meltdowns in the face of expectations to overcome intolerable sensory overload are not “tantrums” but true traumatic response to being asked to bear something that is actually unbearable.
One might perhaps be “trained” to endure more and more exposure to these sensory overload situations, but it is unreasonable to expect us to willingly submit to such demands, then to expect us to “enjoy it”, and unreasonable to expect us not to do all we can, especially as powerless children, to attempt to avoid such experiences.

As an older adult I can make my own decisions for what to eat, how much, and when.
I choose my own products to use for bathing, shampoo, cleaning, decide where smoking will be allowed, if at all, and I have the choice to use air fresheners, air cleaners, scented candles or ‘scent distribution’ products, laundry soaps, and other products.
I control the sensory experiences that surround me and I am able to excuse myself if the lady who sits next to me in public wears too much perfume or the smell of the burnt nylon coming from the neighbors garage is too bad – I can shut the windows.
I am able to choose my own meals, and season them to taste, I can find alternatives if I don’t like what is on my plate. I can choose something else.


Please consider young children at school, in day care facilities, even at home.
Consider please, older autistic people in care homes, hospitals, institutions, old age facilities and other residential situations where there is no choice.

How can we make things better for those individuals?
How can we make others aware of struggles which are not obvious but which cause so much distress and needless suffering for these individuals?

Autism and sensory processing

Texture, pressure, how does it feel to your skin and your body parts?


Sometimes it is not obvious that we have sensory struggles with the sense of touch/feel, yet so many problems in every day life are based in processing touch or feel of textures and issues with over or under stimulation regarding the sense of touch.

The way something feels to us can be one of the biggest hurdles of all to overcome.

Let us start with over stimulation or hypersensitivity.

For many of us bathing is a very distressing experience. The feeling of our skin being wet, or slick with oils and lotions, the feeling of powder slipping and spreading lightly over our skins, or the use of cloths, sponges, brushes, or any of the numerous tools sometimes used during a bath or a shower can cause immense distress. The feeling of the water moving over us as in a shower experience can cause fear, anxiety, actual pain, cause panic and an immense desire to escape the feel. As children, bathing chores are signals to fight against the sensory overwhelm.
Please understand that not only all the ‘feels’ of a shower or a bath are ‘wrong’ or distressing to sufferers, but add in the sounds, the lights, scents and other distressing sensory input and perhaps our resistance is more easily understood and perhaps even cause for a bit of sympathetic insights in devising plans to ‘get the job done’ with least discomfort to the person who must bathe ( shower, shampoo, brush teeth, clean or clip nails, etc.)

Resistance to many situations is probably more likely due to sensory struggles than it is due to deliberate disobedience or obstinancy, or naughtiness. If we are fighting your ‘agenda’ it is more likely due to the sensory distress that your plans for us will bring upon us.

Many autistic people are acutely sensitive to the clothing they must dress with. Seams on socks, cold prickly zippers, sticky labels with pointy sharp edges, garments that are stiff, scratchy, itchy, have seams, are fluttery/noisy, crinkly, too tight in the wrong places or too loose or flappy/flowy- can all cause the person wearing them pain, anxiety, distress, discomfort. No wonder those little kids can’t sit still!!!!!

Many hate the feel of a breeze or wind or water on their faces, arms, exposed legs or torso.
We may hate the pressure of hats or scarves or fear things across our face even momentarily. I remember how difficult it was to wear glasses as a child, even though I needed them desperately. I simply hated the feeling of pressure across my nose and resting on my cheeks and digging into my ears.

Sudden touch, touch of either light or heavy pressure, the feeling of being squeezed or tickled or pinched can send us over the roof with anxiety and fight/flight.
Some respond with relief to overall pressure such as hugs, wedging oneself between cushions or in any small place where we can give our bodies more pressure will be soothing.

On the other hand many will panic and feel trapped or overwhelmed. Trying to imagine Temple Grandin’s famous “squeeze/hug machine” and its use on myself gives me shudders and makes me feel panic.
Weighted blankets work for those who may seek sensory pressure, as will compression clothing or bandages…. the idea of any of those will send others ( like me) into fight/flight at even the thought.

Issues of touch can be tied into proprioception and struggles in processing what we feel. I must touch a wall or rail as I go up or down stairs to ensure I know where my body is on that staircase. I rely on feeling the pressure of my body weight with my feet firmly on each step before I proceed to the next one. If I walk from a room to another, my hand touches the furniture and the wall to make sure I am negotiating the space safely. I was repeatedly corrected to “keep your hands to yourself” or “keep my grubby hands off the wall” or furniture because those who cleaned behind me found my hand and finger prints annoying.
I have a poor sense of where I am in relation to my location in my world at any time and my sense of touch helps me keep upright and from crashing into things.

Texture of carpets, blankets, clothing, upholstered furniture all caused problems for me when I was quite small. I remember one house we lived when I was age 1 to almost 3, in which the living area included an ancient wool carpet. I refused to play on it repeatedly, much to my mother’s annoyance since I always moved to the edge where the cool smooth wood floor was not prickly and sharp. I was then in the traffic zone and underfoot. But I had solved the issue of the painful carpet. The sofa we had at that time was covered with tiny tufts of nylon and very bristly to the touch. This too caused me distress, and it was difficult to make me sit on that thing in a dress or a pair of shorts/sun suit… I didn’t mind when I had on the winter clothing which protected most of my skin from such insults. We had that sofa for years and I remember the color, the rows of bristles of the fabric, and the smell and the feel of it with no pleasure! I don’t believe others experienced that sofa the same way.

For me one of the worst things is sudden touch from strangers. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike touch from those close to me too, unless I have time to prepare for it.
( slow touch can do this too- I can’t stand the idea of massage… a stranger touching and rubbing, pressing, etc etc on my body is just unimaginable horror, even though I can imagine the horror part very well. )
I suspect that some of that comes from the association of sudden touch with motherly spankings and siblings’ torment such as tickling and pushing associated with aggressive treatment of my very early childhood right on through adulthood. “conditioned response”? But still the immediate first reactions to avoid touch could be because it is simply too alarming. I am afraid something I don’t understand is going to happen before I have any idea what that ‘something’ will be. Usually it was some sort of discomfort, so that sudden touch is first alarming. I don’t have time to prepare for whatever is coming. Maybe it is instinctive. I doubt many people welcome sudden touch.
My reaction is simply on the more extreme end of things. I startle very easily and am constantly hyper vigilant to avoid situations where I will be startled or grabbed, probably because of my hyper sensitive initial reactions as a child and the pleasure so many people over the years have taken in stimulating that response for their own purposes?

Texture of foods and the way they feel in ones mouth is something that is repeatedly discussed on the online forums I participate in. So many people avoid foods because of the texture, rather than the taste… too sticky, gummy, too hot or cold, too greasy, crunchy, stringy, slimy, gooey,chalky, chewy, lumpy, grainy, runny, chunky….

You name it, somebody somewhere in these forums have lists of foods they don’t like because of the way they feel in the mouth or going down one’s throat. It would be interesting to take a poll to see what foods repel the most of us and why. For many autistic people sensory issues can interfere with eating and cause dietary problems, failing to get proper nutrition due to avoidance of things disliked due to texture or feel. ( add the way things look or smell or tastes to be avoided and you can see how distress over the way a food feels can contribute to the struggle )

Understimulation of the sense of touch can also cause problems for us. Many seek pressure, seek sensations of hot, cold, or cause pain simply for the experience and possibly for endorphins released due to some pain inducing behaviors.
Self injury is one of those frequent autistic behaviors that are often not discussed on open adult forums. There is a deep sense of shame and self blame, fear and anxiety, and emotional pain surrounding the person who seeks sensory stimulation by self injury, and most are afraid to discuss this issue for good reasons. The social stigma of such damaging behaviors is real and strong, and I believe many are afraid to bring this issue to the forefront or ask for help because of shaming and blaming that goes along with it.
In the near future I will be discussing this issue involving the sense of touch and feel in greater detail.


Autism sensory processing

VISUAL INPUT what do you see?

I knew years ago that visual input was upsetting to me. Long before I knew about my autism, I knew I could not handle moving images or images of violence, suffering, or anything emotionally significant.
Seeing those sorts of images, whether moving or still give me emotional reactions that stay with me to re-live the feelings they evoke repeatedly and randomly, never knowing when thoughts and memories of those images will haunt me and torment me.

There is nothing I can do in most cases to alleviate the horror of these visual images once I have seen them. I learned as a pre-teen to avoid the nightly news broadcasts. The war in VietNam was the focus of almost every broadcast, the bloodier the better.
Repeated images of the Kennedy assassination when that happened, standards for what visual images were allowed on TV , newspapers, magazines, etc changed rapidly in the 1960’s and anything gruesome or horrifying was usually the opening story. “if it bleeds it leads”.
Not only do I struggle to understand moving visuals and always have a processing “lag”, whether it is something on the screen or a photo or actually unfolding ‘in real life”, but I find I am filled with a rush of emotions in the graphic visual input which seems as if it has no place to go. I experience horror, fear, angst, all the intended emotions meant to be drawn out by these images and the experience is immediately and continually emotionally overwhelming. I am battered emotionally and continually when I allow myself to be subjected to such images, whether real life images or scripted fiction being enacted. I choose to avoid this experience whenever possible.

I can not sort and file the experiences and tell myself “it is over” “It is just a movie” or use other filters which most people use when they have visual input. Those filters for me have never existed.


Add a sensitivity to sounds of suffering ( screaming, crying, pleading, anguish and pain) I find many tv or movie/video experiences too painful to subject myself to willingly.

Even in day to day life, I have always struggled with visual demonstrations of “how to do” from teachers, medical explanation videos, employers visually demonstrating how they wanted the work done, etc etc etc.
Give me a booklet with line drawings and printed explanations to illustrate these things and I will understand.
It all happens too quickly for me to sort the steps and expectations, listen to instructions and see what is being done… “are there any questions now?”
I always annoy the presenters of these things. Yes, there are plenty of questions.

It is as though I don’t have a working filter or a thermostat for the emotions aroused by seeing such things and hearing them.

My first memory of this effect is when I was taken to see Disney’s original Fantasia and my screams of fear at the skeletons in the bald mountain scene and the trouble Mickey Mouse was getting himself into (NO Mickey, NO NO!!!) and simply being “shushed” because it might annoy others around me. I was about 4 years old. I have been able to protect myself from such distress since I became old enough to choose not to participate in activities that are likely to lead to such distress.

It is said that visual processing is a strength for most autistic folk and that being able to visualize is our greatest ‘gift”. Not for me, and maybe not for many of us. I can not visualize a thing!
Don’t let generalizations lead you to forget autism is experienced on a spectrum, and not one of us is the same.
Is my reading considered a form of visual processing? Perhaps, but it is at my pace and although I rely on seeing the words to read them, my “inner brain” speaks the words and I have always thought my reading experience was more sound oriented (the sound of the words in my head to myself) than visual.

Perhaps my inability to visualize in my head has much to do with the processing of visual things. I do not recognize people out of context, this includes in movies when there is a change of scene and wardrobe. (who is that guy? Oh, that’s the hero of the story?) I am repeatedly made fun of because I recognize none of the movie stars, tv heroes or other popular characters. ( OK, I just realized I do still recognize Mickey).
I do recognize voices after listening to them just a few times. I surprise my tv watching husband when I announce that the voice belongs to X actor or actress… I am usually right. Can’t recognize a face to save my soul, but give me a voice.

Sometimes I imagine myself in a nursing home at some point (one out of 3 people eventually spends at least a month in a care home before end of life) and can only be horrified thinking about the managed use of the common room several times a day , and me being forced to listen to dozens of people, a blaring music intercom and a TV turned up to accommodate those who are hard of hearing. If I am unfortunate enough to be unable to move myself, I could be plunked down somewhere facing a TV with horrible images, screaming and crying, in a room full of din and things I would never choose to see, people I would ordinarily hide from, and subjected repeatedly to this…. There are no ways to describe the resulting misery. Perhaps you can imagine for yourself.


Edited a few days later to add more content.
Visual processing issues can also cause much distress in everyday living. One often reported distressor is light that is too bright, light that flickers, light that is the wrong color or too direct, too focused, too diffused. Think of all the ways we see light in our day. I get motion sick due to the rapid changes in light/flicker effect/ inability to process moving images. I can get sick in a car, or I will get sick watching any rapidly moving images on TV, Movies, Videos, and video games. I always do better in a vehicle when I am driving, perhaps because I can correct the motion of the vehicle and affect it in a direct way, or because I am more in tune with the motions of braking, turning, stopping, slowing down or speeding up and can prepare myself for such things and correct for them. Wearing very dark wrap around sunglasses seems to help keep shadow flickers from affecting particularly my peripheral vision, and I am sick a lot less now that I finally learned that trick.

Visual struggles and issues with bright light, colors, patterns, and shadows can cause much distress for those unwillingly subjected to certain conditions.
In many cases, those of us who are prone to seizures (about 30 to 60 percent of autistic people, depending on who is reporting the issue) will react to flicker and rapidly changing visual input by seizing.
Reports of meltdowns caused by the flicker of a fan throwing shadows repeatedly across a room, motion observed through a window and resulting reflected light changes, etc. are frequent. The affected person might not even recognize what is distressing them.
If you experience distress when you are in certain situations you might be able to seek out causes when you recognize problems with light and visual processing. Many autistic people wear sunglasses or colored lenses which seem to help change how we process visual input.