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Coping with Overstimulation

One of the more commonly defined links to autism is the many differences in sensitivity to stimuli. There are some of us who experience extreme sensitivity to many things where other’s may experience varying levels of sensitivity to certain things like light, sound, temperature, textures, smells, movement and the like.

There are those who have heightened awareness of their surroundings, not notably uncomfortable for some, but may be over stimulating and even painful for others. I imagine for the NT brain the receiving of information is much less noticeable with little to no thought or even recognition of the process. But for those who are on the spectrum it is quite different. Information flows into the brain and is systematically compartmentalized into varying categories and subcategories. This can be felt. It’s like having a bunch of feelers with sensors shooting out from your body and the sensors are touching, feeling and absorbing information from everything, event the particles in the air. This is a constant sensation and can be quite distracting. It makes it difficult to focus, sleep or even be still.

Image what it feels like to receive input from everything around you at all times. Some of the input can come across as light and benign or disturbing, disruptive and even jagged like broken glass.

Humming or some other form of stemming behavior helps with the effects of overstimulation. It counteracts the discomforts of being overstimulated lending itself as a way to control informational flow. That way we are able to receive the flow of information and still be able to focus on an object, task or the sorting and purging of thoughts at the same time. When this happens it is as if the flow splits into conscious and unconscious. The unconscious flow is the constant and the conscious flow is merged into the constant, so one can put more focus on whatever one is consciously doing or experiencing with less distraction from the unconscious informational flow.

No matter what our cognitive ability or what level of functioning we are labled, our minds and bodies are always receiving information.

There are some of us who need physical help to calm from over stimulation like pressure applied to different areas of the body such as the arms, back, shoulders, base of neck and head. There are assistive technologies that can help with this such as weighted blankets, vests and bands. Bands are versatile because they can be placed on different body parts such as ankles, wrists or even worn as a headband. Some autistics may respond well to massage or brushing of the body or limbs. It all depends on the individuals need and what is most comfortable for them. Physical activity is another possible way to help like walking, stretching, jumping, running or carrying heavy items for short periods of time. All of these thing help to calm and center.

Lighting is also very important. It is crucial for me to be able to control lighting in my home because my sensitivity to light varies. I have also given this option to my son so he is able to control the lighting and light source in his room. He changes the lighting in his room several times a day depending on his need. He may start the day with curtains open. Natural light seem to help him be more alert. When he is settling into stemming mode he like a lessor light which he gets from a clip-on desk lamp. The lamp has an adjustable neck so he can angle it in any direction to get the desired amount of light. When we return from outings or when guests leave, my son likes to use either of his lava lamps which gives his room a worm amber or deep pink glow.

Sound is also something that can be soothing or excruciating. If silence does not seem to be calming and too many noises over stimulating you may want to experiment with other sounds such as a low snowy sound (like the sound made by old analog TVs when the station goes off) or perhaps the sound of slow flowing water. Music may be a little soothing. For some the sound of instrument and voice may be a bit much, so you may want to separate the two and try either all instrumental (one or more instruments) or a calm soft A Capella (one or more people singing).

I cannot speak for all of us. Each person is different and their experience is their own. I am one small voice on the spectrum.

Song and Sniffles pt. 2 (Repost)

We are back and I am eager to share what happened in Voices today.

We were just a few minutes late. Hunt runs into the class. The floor is wet, so I tip toed behind him hoping not to slip. The children are already signing the greeting song.  I take a seat not too far from Hunt. He likes me to be near but still far enough away that he has his own space or so it seems. I wait and I hope that Hunt will sing a little today.

The mood in the room is different. Oh, I see the founder of the group is here. That may change things a bit. Hunt is not accustomed to seeing her during meeting times. Even though he knows her, he’s still not used to her being here. The other therapist must have an appointment or is out sick.  That’s okay we’ll just have to adjust.

I look around the room and notice the chalk board where the lyrics are written. The lyrics…they’re different this week. Oh no, they changed from the chorus to other lyrics today. Hunt worked so hard to sing the chorus and now they’re going to go over lyrics he’s not familiar with. Here we go…The piano sounds and the therapist begins to sing. She sings one line and then the children sing. Hunter does not open his mouth. She sings another line and again the children sing. Hunt still does not open his mouth. I can tell by the way he turns his head that he recognizes the music, but he wont attempt to sing. I know it’s difficult for him to process new tasks, but I hope that may give it a try. I leaned forward and touched him on the shoulder hoping the prompt would encourage him…sing boo-boo. Instead he begins to wipe his eyes. He turns to me and I can see that his eyelashes are a little wet. My heart breaks. How sad this is, to see Hunt take the initiative to work so hard practicing the chorus only to be the caught completely off guard.

My heart sank lower and my head dropped. I felt myself wanting to be angry as I hold back the tears and I tell myself there’s nothing to be angry about. There is no fault here. I look at Hunt and I wonder if he feels bad that his friends know the song better than he does. I shake my head and try not to impose my thoughts upon him. It is enough to know he is sad. I am silenced. So I put on a smile and continue clapping and encouraging all of the children to sing. My son turns to look at me again and I smile at him. I know he can see the sadness in my eyes. I’ve got to get it together and be strong. This is not the end of the world.

A few minutes go by and I see Hunt starting to perk up. He’s talking a little, responding to the questions. This is good…very good. Another song begins…but wait…Hunt’s mouth is moving…he’s singing. Yes!! I hear his beautiful voice among the masses. Sing boo-boo…sing. Pride and joy erases all sadness. What a relief to see him smile and to hear him singing. All is not lost. Hunt’s hard work is not in vein. He sang today. For the first time ever, my son sang with other children. Today has been a very good day.  

Song and Sniffles pt. 1 (Repost)

Today I’m seeing another leap in my son. He’s becoming so mature. It’s a little hard for me facing the fact that he’s growing up so fast, but at the same time I celebrate his accomplishments, his growing desire to learn more, try harder and achieve. This is monumental…

Hunt enjoys being in a music/speech therapy group called Voices Together. He seems to enjoy the group activity and is making friends, but reluctant to participate in the actual singing. Hunt loves every aspect of music and even shows an interest in learning to play a few instruments…drums, piano and guitar for now. He’s the oldest in the group by a year or so and his general demeanor depicts a measure of boredom as I guess it would be with any teenager who’s not totally committed to the cause. Whatever the case, he seems to enjoy himself, so I press on.

Each semester the children learn a new song. This semester’s song is very long and a popular hit. Fortunately we are to learn the chorus, only. I bring the words home and find the song on YouTube. We listen and then I sing… My son shows little interest as he usually does when embarking upon something new. It takes more than one exposure to something new before he reacts to it. Well, unless it’s a food item he does not like. That is when I can expect the tale-tale wiggling of the fingers accompanied by a very clear and stern “no” or “do not.”

I played the song several times, always encouraging Hunt to sing along if only a single world. He refuses, but does so with a sheepish grin. That tells me he’s receptive to my proposed notion, but will comply in his own time. There’s more school work to be done, so we’ll try the song again on another day.

Time for group again and as usual Hunt is eager to go. He runs into the classroom and greets everyone and takes a seat. The therapist “K” plays her keyboard and begins to sing. Hunt sits and listens to everyone singing and he grins. Song recognition is wonderful, but I do so want him to sing a little. “K” encourages Hunt to sing, but he only points and requests to play the piano. I clap and cheer at the end of the song and tell all, job well done. Hunt grins again and begins to clap. I am happy that he gets so much enjoyment out of this group. Perhaps one day he will sing along with the rest of his peers.

Today after finishing school work Hunt pointed to the YouTube icon and grabbed the clipboard having the words to the song we’ve been practicing. He waited with anticipation for the song to start and was particularly interested in the icons I clicked. As soon as the song began to play, he grabbed a pen, started rocking and pointed to the words of the chorus that were in front of him. At the appropriate time he began to sing the chorus. Oh my goodness, he’s signing the song!! I stared for a moment and then left him on his own to process the song in his own way. He must have played that song 20 times. I think he sang for about 30 or so minutes. He worked so hard to sing as much of that song as he could. And he did exceptionally well I might add. He sang and sang and I shed a joyful tear. He sang until he was satisfied and then announced that he was done. We have another group meeting tonight. I don’t know if he’s going to sing or not, but I know for sure that he’s learning this song. I guess I’ll have to wait and see. I’m so excited. Okay, time to get dressed.

I’ll be sure to let you all know what happened when we get back…

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