Category Archives: Sensory Overload

Stimming (Self-stimulatory Behaviour / Repetitive Stereotyped Activity) – 1

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In her seminal book “The Autistic Spectrum” (1996), Lorna Wing, OBE, FRCPsych, described what she identified as Repetitive Stereotyped Activities, to be “the other side of the coin of impairment of imagination” (pg. 45). The Autistic community has come to embrace the term stimming (as the shortened form for self-stimulation), which unfortunately acknowledges only one of Wing’s identified types, the simple ones, as these activities were further categorized as simple and elaborate. As she explains, “the simplest forms of these activities involve repetitive sensations” such as:

-tasting

-smelling

-feeling or tapping or scratching different surfaces

-listening to mechanical noises

-staring at lights or shiny things

-twisting and turning hands or objects near the eyes

-staring at things from different angles

-switching lights on and off

-watching things spinning or self-spinning

Sometimes, especially when “someone has no other way of occupying themselves“, self-injury can become a repetitive behaviour.

As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, Stimming vs Fidgeting… I believe there is a fundamental difference between fidgeting and stimming, with stimming as a mainly autism-specific Repetitive Stereotyped Activity.

In an attempt to make this article more ‘user friendly’ I’ve photographed some of my favourite stimmers (a term I use and suggest instead of stim-toys), a small American-football and two different hand strengtheners, one of rubber and the other as a small mechanical contraption, with a fountain pen as a dimension guide.

First of all, allow me to explain why I suggest stimmers. One of the reasons is the unnecessary association with toys in general which automatically follows the use of stim-toys, and the other being an even more unnecessary association with ‘toys’ of a more ‘adult’ nature…

Secondly and probably unknown to many, the word stimmer means in German amongst others tuner, used to tune musical instruments.

Now, as I explained in my  Stimming vs Fidgeting… post, stimming is fundamentally different from fidgeting because it requires the individual’s dedicated attention, and somewhat similar to a tuner, it seems to help the individual tune their sensory, cognitive and behavioural functionality.

For example, you may notice in the picture of my stimmers, that due to their material structure, they have particular surfaces, some smooth and soft such as blue rubber strengthener, rough and soft such as the small brown ball, cold and smooth such as the metal coil, strong smooth such as some parts of the mechanical strengthener or strong and rough such as other parts of it.

One may think that these differences are negligible, which may be the case for fidgeting, but not for stimming, because -at least in my case- the surface structure follows a typical need which cannot be met by any structure, but only specific ones. When I use for example, the blue rubber stimmer, my four thumb opposing fingers automatically seek the comforting ‘feeling’ provided by the four small velvety depressions found on one of its sides, and while the thumb provides support, the other four fingers are becoming anything in between trumpet key dancers and Morse code transmitters, and the choreography is endless.

In an autistic’s hand, an object becomes an objective, an instrument which tunes the complex functionality of the autistic brain, with its unusual capacity to process sensory stimuli in more areas than the specialised neurotypical brains.

 

A next post will cover the Elaborate Repetitive Stereotyped Activity, or stimming…

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Seventh of Asperger’s Ten Traits – “We simply feel like we’ve landed on the wrong planet”

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“7) We are sensitive. We are sensitive when we sleep, maybe needing a certain mattress, pillow, and earplugs, and particularly comfortable clothing. Some need long-sleeves, some short. Temperature needs to be just so. No air blowing from the heater vent, no traffic noise, no noise period. We are sensitive even in our dream state, perhaps having intense and colourful dreams, anxiety-ridden dreams, or maybe precognitive dreams.

Our sensitivity might expand to being highly-intuitive of others’ feelings, which is a paradox, considering the limitations of our social communication skills.

We seek out information in written or verbally spoken form, sometimes over-thinking something someone said and reliving the ways we ought to have responded.

We take criticism to heart, not necessarily longing for perfection, but for the opportunity to be understood and accepted. It seems we have inferiority complexes, but with careful analysis, we don’t feel inferior, but rather unseen, unheard, and misunderstood.

Definitely misunderstood.

At one point or another, we question if in fact we are genetic hybrids, mutations, aliens, or displaced spirits–as we simply feel like we’ve landed on the wrong planet.

We are highly susceptible to outsiders’ view points and opinions. If someone tells us this or that, we may adapt our view of life to this or that, continually in search of the “right” and “correct” way.

We may jump from one religious realm to another, in search of the “right” path or may run away from aspects of religion because of all the questions that arise in theorizing.

As we grow older, we understand more of how our minds work, which makes living sometimes even more difficult; because now we can step outside ourselves and see what we are doing, know how we our feeling, yet still recognize our limitations.  

We work hard and produce a lot in a small amount of time.

When others question our works, we may become hurt, as our work we perceive as an extension of ourselves. Isn’t everything an extension of ourselves–at least our perception and illusion of reality? Sometimes we stop sharing our work in hopes of avoiding opinions, criticism, and judgment.

We dislike words and events that hurt others and hurt animals. We may have collected insects, saved a fallen bird, or rescued pets.

We have a huge compassion for suffering, as we have experienced deep levels of suffering.

We are very sensitive to substances, such as foods, caffeine, alcohol, medications, environmental toxins, and perfumes; a little amount of one substance can have extreme effects on our emotional and/or physical state.”

Used with permission from @everydayaspergers. Originally published in Samantha Croft‘s -now former- blog, Everyday Asperger’s, as The Ten Traits.

Nothing to add, nothing to deduct…

Just perfect.

Thank you Samantha 💐

Stimming vs Fidgeting…

MagnificentHummingbird flapping is living

I personally think it is unfortunate that many NDs have so easily accepted that stimming is “just” the autistic version of fidgeting, because as I see it, the difference is actually neurobiological.

The problem starts with wrongly associating stimming with anxiety relief, concentration and other similar, secondary types of human behaviour, because while fidgeting does certainly and most of the time unconsciously assist with especially concentration or stress relief, stimming, as a behaviour sequence mostly specific to autistic conditions, is actually a primary neurobiological undertaking, with a very clear role in an autistic individual’s life.

If an autistic person would observe themselves while stimming, they would notice that the stimming activity they are engaged in, requires their dedicated attention, through which the stimming routine is carried out according to a deeply ingrained routine. Stimming is as important as any other autistic routine, probably even more important, because while other routines, e.g. replacing the toothpaste tub in the same place and at the same angle after each use (as the routine’s objective), has the toothpaste tub as its object, stimming’s object & objective are identical, permeating actually the person engaged in stimming. While stimming, the autistic individuals employ all their task specific dedicated senses. Now this wouldn’t be unusual, if the respective sense(s) would be analysed, evaluated and responded to, as usually in NT cases, by specific areas of the brain. But since autistic brains are thought to analyse, evaluate and respond through the entire cerebral cortex to all/any stimuli (this being the very reason of sensory overload), an overlapping of sensory receptor(s) and stimulus happens, with the stimulus remaining nevertheless auxiliary in achieving the desired stimulation, with the brain and its response as the ultimate goal. Let me exemplify.

You sit in your car, and start drumming on your steering wheel, knee, door armrest, etc. But this is not your usual drumming on your favourite tune, or unconsciously fidgeting with your fingers while looking at the red light. No, it’s none of these, but your well known, always the same rhythmic sequence, the perfect product of your autistic brain’s systemising function, which combines not only the same audible rhythm, but the sensory impulses received by the same areas of your fingers’ skin from the soft, always the same areas of the wheel, the soft rotating movement of your wrists, dwelling always on the same areas of your legs, while your vision has switched to enhanced peripheral vision, seeing the beginning and the end of your journey, your next WP post and the irregular helix of steam arising from your next coffee, just to name a few…

Having said that, I hope I’ve answered any unasked question about “autistic fidgeting”, which yes, it is certainly possible, but in my opinion never to be mistaken for stimming.

Stimming is like the magnificent wing flapping of a hummingbird, in which all its neurobiology is implicated, which defines its entire being.

What about self-harmful, injurious repetitive actions, one may ask?

According to Lorna Wing (The Autistic Spectrum, New Updated Edition, p.45, 1996), a self-injurious repetitive action such as self-biting, head-banging, etc, “more often […] is a response to distress, anger or frustration […] but self-injury can be a repetitive habit in someone who has no other way of occupying themselves”.

In light of the above, having also witnessed this type of behaviour in non-autistic children and adults with congenital or acquired learning disabilities or limitations, also in animals confined to very small places, I would suggest that such behaviour isn’t necessarily autistic, but a physiological response to pathological stimuli, and therefore shouldn’t be necessarily considered stimming, except in cases of severe learning disabilities when according to Wing “self-injury can be[come] a repetitive habit in someone who has no other way of occupying themselves”. In such cases, protective gear and pharmacotherapy are considered as means of ensuring that the individuals themselves and their environment are protected as much as possible from harm, while maintaining the highest achievable degree of dignity and autonomy.

Fifth of Asperger’s Ten Traits – “… people aren’t as open or trusting as we are”

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“5) We learn that to fit in we have to “fake” it. Through trial and error, we lost friends. We over-shared, spilling out intimate details to strangers; we raised our hand too much in class, or didn’t raise our hand at all; we had little impulse control with our speaking, monopolizing conversations and bringing the subject back to ourselves. We aren’t narcissistic and controlling – we know we are not, but we come across that way. We bring the subject back to ourselves because that is how we make sense of our world, that is how we believe we connect. We use our grasp of the world as our foundation, our way of making sense of another. We share our feelings and understandings in order to reach out. We don’t mean to sound ego-centered or overzealous. It’s all we know. We can’t change how we see the world. But we do change what we say. We hold a lot inside. A lot of what we see going on about us, a lot of what our bodies feel, what our minds conjecture. We hold so much inside, as we attempt to communicate correctly. We push back the conversational difficulties we experience, e.g., the concepts of acceptable and accurate eye contact, tone of voice, proximity of body, stance, posture – push it all back, and try to focus on what someone is saying with all the do’s and don’ts hammering in our mind. We come out of a conversation exhausted, questioning if we “acted” the socially acceptable way, wondering if we have offended, contradicted, hurt, or embarrassed others or ourselves. We learn that people aren’t as open or trusting as we are. That others hold back and filter their thoughts. We learn that our brains are different. We learn to survive means we must pretend.”

Used with permission from @everydayaspergers. Originally published in Samantha Croft‘s -now former- blog, Everyday Asperger’s, as The Ten Traits.

The early period of my assessment and diagnostic of Special Learning Difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s (Twice Exceptional, yay… 😊) was the hardest…

I oftentimes felt like a convulsing, unborn breech baby, arriving into what would prove to be an unwelcoming world in a most peculiar way, unsure to go into the light, or stay in my unspacious, rocking wombcraft…

Having lost a managerial job because I didn’t ‘manage’ to do three people’s jobs, of which two have fallen out to undue workplace stress, and the third was the area manager’s acting butler, I arrived to my next station, just to realise that my curse of being “too educated and overqualified” followed me, obviously…

“Drama queen” because I shared my honest opinions and concerns, “victimiser” because I raised concerns of unfair workloads, “arse” because of being sincere, “with an overly attitude” because I expressed my frustration for being bullied, just to mention an average page from the “Diary of an unsuspecting Aspie…”

But one of the most intriguing happenings was the “why have you gone cold?” after being told that “you ask too many questions, be more confident…” episode.

As Samantha so brilliantly put it, “We share our feelings and understandings in order to reach out. We don’t mean to sound ego-centered or overzealous. It’s all we know”. As a consequence, I was sharing feelings and understanding, literally trying to reach out, genuinely thinking that it’s what’s expected of me, just to be quite sharply “advised” to show more confidence and do not seek approval for everything…

It felt really humiliating and inconsiderate, but I swallowed my hurting dignity and did the only thing I know, i.e. if it’s not one than it must be zero, and went quiet…

Guess what, after a week or so, the same person asked what happened, and why have I gone “cold silent”? Is anything wrong? I said, no, but since I was told that I talk and ask too much, I respectfully obliged and gone silent… “Oh but that’s not how that was meant” came the excuse…

In the end, we clarified that my mind comprehends only yes/no, black/white and one/zero, with not much in between, which when my Autistic Traits were diagnosed, made much more sense to my environment.

Did my environment adapt at all after my assessment? I must surprisingly say that yes, to some degree, for which I am thankful.

But overall, it’s me who’s learned that in order to survive, the show must go on…

 

 

Yiruma against meltdowns…

Yiruma

There are times when, at least in my case, only heartfelt music restores some balance to my chaotically racing mind, savagely trying to escape another meltdown…

If You are looking for some soothing piano tunes to calm the storms, consider Yiruma…

Piano played with the heart, perfect for my quiet chamber of self, where my neuro-divergence can be ME, not something the world says I have…

Sensory Overload, my hidden foe (hearing)…

As I have mentioned before, I am going through a process of discovering newer and newer details about my own condition(s), and as a result, I am learning how to better cope with life’s sometimes fair, but oftentimes unfair demands.

In this process, I notice similarities between what I experience and what others experience, therefore if I find anything worth considering for myself, I think it might be useful to share some of these thoughts, of course never as a substitute for professional help.

For many, many years, or better decades, a very distressing incident kept repeating itself, especially in crowded places like shopping centres and supermarkets, with all that cacophony of loud music (why’s that needed in the first place?), trollies, voices of people chaotically racing always too close to me, children’s tantrums, flood of artificial light and the subsonic vibration of industrial fridges. After a short while, I always noticed first some sort of mind-foggy confusion, when the shopping list became my only reality anchor, which rather shortly started to morph into a very uncomfortable anxiety, followed by an intense feeling of distress. Unfortunately, my family had to witness nearly every time, outbursts of anger for absolutely trivial “reasons”, which I -most of the time- blamed on my oftentimes crippling chronic lower-back condition. But, as I noticed sometimes, the lack of pain in my back, didn’t really change much. And because of the intensity of my distress, and the draining effort of coping without causing what from outside looked sometimes like a petty family argument, I never noticed WHY on very rare occasions, even with some back pains present, I could remain socially reasonable (it turns out it was always when we went shopping either very early, or very late, when the shops were nearly empty).

Since realising that I am living on the Autistic Spectrum, displaying nearly all the symptoms of Asperger’s, I started to consciously experiment strategies learned from specialized literature, but also from other Aspies.

One of these strategies was/is protection from Sensory Overload, especially its Audio aspect, my hidden foe.

A few good weeks ago, I started to look around for some good quality earplugs and ear defenders, and started using them (the pictures display my own protective devices).

And the miracle just happened!

It took some time with my earplugs, to learn the tricks of inserting them and taking them out, or adjusting the ear defenders to the -considerable- size of my head, but the miracle happened indeed: I can go shopping without the fear of another meltdown, without chasing my family out of the shop as soon as possible just to escape the audio nightmare, and without the soul scarring guilt of having done it, “again”. And interesting enough, the earplugs allow me to still hear voices and most of sounds, but without that horrendously painful “vibration” which my brain just can’t take…

One more thing I noticed, and that’s about mornings. I usually get up quite early, giving myself time to go through my precise little routines and rituals. I noticed though, that if any family member joined around, minding their own routines, it made me feel anxious and distressed. First I thought that I might be their interference with my established routes of routine, but for the past few days, I noticed that it may be something else. For some reason, I plugged my ears, and I noticed that the stress started to decrease. I took them out, and had a bit of conversation over the coffee with my wife, just to realize that some of the sounds of her lovely voice, acted like sledgehammers to my brain. I plugged my ears back, and the hammering stopped, even as we continued chatting. And I’m sure this wasn’t the first time in over twenty years of marriage, but it was the first “conscious” occurrence.

What I realized is that probably, early in the day, when the ears adapt from the quietness of rest to the sounds of a new day, there could be a period of transition when they are overly sensitive, especially in the case of individuals susceptible to Sensory Overload.

So, I don’t know how others might feel about it, but earplugs first thing in the morning seem to be working fine for me J

 

More to come about Sight, Touch, Smell and Taste…