Sensory Overload – what triggers it and how it feels for me.

I am writing this at half seven in the evening of what has been a fairly productive Monday. I was unsure when I woke up just how productive I would be able to be today because once again I am coming down from an overload. This particular overload lasted two full days; two days where I was unable to do anything, hardly even watch TV. I want to use this blog to talk a bit about why I was overloaded, and how getting this overload each time I go out to try and do something outside of my routine makes me feel.

So what brought on this two day overload? As you may or may not know – depending on when this blog goes up, and how closely you follow my blog – I went to an autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings on Thursday of last week organised by the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium and the N.A.S , and that is what brought on my overload on Friday and Saturday. This blog will not go in to any of the politics of the event, nor is it in anyway trying to criticize the event itself. It was a well run event that I enjoyed, and was glad to have had an invite to. But the fact that it was an autism-friendly event and therefore much better for me than a normal hustings would have been, and yet it still left me feeling so overloaded, should serve to drive home the point of the blog.

What does an overload feel like?

If we are talking about the lasting feeling of being overloaded, not the short-term feelings I get right before a meltdown – and for the point of this blog we are – then I would say an overload feels somewhat like I imagine a frozen computer might feel like. I can`t do anything. This might sound over the top, but I can assure you it is not; I can’t think clearly, I can’t make up my mind about anything, I can’t focus on anything, I can’t enjoy anything, and I can’t even do mindless things such as watch TV to relax. I am stuck; frozen for a day or two just wishing the time away till my overload clears and I can go back to my life. In fact sometimes this frozen feeling can last for a week or more. Sometimes there will be physical pain too; my ears and head will hurt to the point where the smallest of noises can induce pain, and my body will ache and feel tired in the same way it might after a heavy work-out. I find myself stuck in a state of feeling the time pass; knowing the day is going to waste, with me doing nothing more than looking at the wall and wishing the time away, and yet being unable to bring myself to do anything. And this in turn leads only to more stress, more frustration and often to meltdowns.

What brings on an overload?

For me, and lots of other autistic people, an overload can be brought on by doing things outside of our routines, and an increase of sensory input, for example noises, sights or smells and social interaction. All these things are hard for us, and I know that for myself it only takes a small amount of one, or all of them to push me to the point of overload. If we take the autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings, and break-down what I did that day you can see how it led to an overload.

First of all I had to go in to town which is not something I would normally do, so even the idea of the event itself started off the path to overload. There is also the fact that I don’t often go out on my own, and have hardly ever been to any kind of event with out my Mum or Dad with me. That in itself is a big change, and even though it was good to be able to go out by myself I am sure doing so for the first time still added to the stress. That day my morning routine had to change as I had to get myself ready to go out, meaning that even though I was used to the idea I had to put that idea in to practise – which, as I am sure you all know, is a whole different thing. In order to get to town I had to take a tram. Some days the trams are quiet, and some days they are noisy. The tram there was not too bad for most of the journey, but a few noisy football fans did get on around half way. This meant that before I had even got off the tram I had a lot of noise to contend with. I was early to the event as I try to be to most things, so I did not have to walk in to a busy room which was a plus. But as the room filled up it did become noisier, and it’s the build-up of noise that brings on an overload for me. A loud noise on its own might be unpleasant, but it won’t push me to be overloaded, but as the noises build-up: the talking, the moving of chairs, the scraping of shoes, coughing and such then it pushes me deeper and deeper in to an overloaded state. I was there for around two hours and there was something like seventy people in the room, so you can guess how much sensory input that was. There was also the matter of making small-talk with the people around my table. Now I did not have to do this; two of them knew me and would have been fine if I had not talked, but I wanted to. Talking and chatting might be hard for me, but I do enjoy it. I don’t want to go to events, and not have the chance to talk to people. But I am aware of the impact it has on me – as I said above social interactions play a large part in overload.

You can add to this the fact that I was meeting with and talking to political figures, and while I don’t feel intimidated by meeting people like that there was still the awareness that I was going to be on the spot talking to them, and asking them questions. It’s not a small event for anyone, but for someone with autism you can see how the day was full of things that can lead to overload, and there was no real way I was going to be able to do it without ending up with an overload.

Isn`t losing two days for one event too much of a price to pay?

This is what I found myself thinking on the Saturday. I enjoyed the event very much and loved having the chance to ask my questions, but after forty-eight hours of overload where I was unable to do anything I did begin to question if it was worth it. For one good event like that I will have two or three days where I have to do nothing, not even relax, just do nothing; drift around my house and wait for the hours to pass until I can get back to normal. It’s easy to ask myself should I go along to events like this? Should I give talks on autism as I sometimes do?, What’s the point of it all? But the question I always ask myself when I start to think like this is what would be the point of not doing it? Yes I would be avoiding the overload, but I can get overloads anyway from things I can’t get out of such as going to get my hair cut, or seeing family. I feel like if I were to give up the things that I enjoy, and that make good memories just to avoid overload I would regret it later in life. Yes it’s hard, and yes it’s not nice knowing that I won’t be able to blog about an event the day after I go to it, or have a nice relaxing day off after a day of hard work, but perhaps a better way to deal with this, than just stopping the things I enjoy, is to look at how I react to my overload.

Whenever I get an overload, and become frozen I always feel I should be doing something. “I cant just do nothing” I say. But as my Mum always says “Why not?” The idea of spending more time in bed on a day when I am overloaded never made sense to me. I get up at the same time, and sit around waiting for something to happen. But perhaps the key to all this could be something as small as training myself to do nothing; I don’t have to pick a film to watch, or a book to read if I can get myself in to a mindset where doing nothing is OK. In fact it’s needed.

I want to be a writer, and along with that a public speaker, and perhaps also a journalist and documentary film maker, and without trying to sound cocky I know I have what it takes to be all of these things. But I also know there will be a price to pay. I have to get used to the idea of paying that price, and try and work out how to lessen its impact rather than giving up on the idea of doing what I love. But on days when my overload is at its worst, thinking that way is hard to do. And I should also point out that I have cancelled a lot of stuff over the years due to overload, and I am sure I will cancel a lot more, but over all, and in answer to my own question, overload is bad, but yes it is a price worth paying for doing the things I enjoy – for me at least.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

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Making my first phone call.

A few days ago I made a phone call. I put in the number, waited for someone to pick up, told them who I was and what I wanted, answered their questions, was passed on to someone else,waited on hold, sorted the issue out, said goodbye and hung up the phone. I know what some of you will be thinking “So what? That’s a phone call. People make them all the time. I don’t see the big deal!”. But because of the nature of this blog I know there are some of you who will be thinking something more along the lines of “Oh God that sounds awful! I hate doing that/the idea of doing that!” Due to my autism I am firmly in the second camp, and that’s why I wanted to blog about making a phone call, because – as I only realised after it was all over with – it’s the first phone call of that kind I have ever made.

I have called my family on a couple of occasions, although I don’t even like doing that, or talking to someone on the phone when they call me. It’s hard for me to put my finger on quite why I find talking on the phone so hard (even harder than talking to someone face-to-face I mean) Perhaps it’s because it is so hard to tell when I should be talking as I have no visual clues; I can’t see who I am talking to – it’s just a voice with no face attached to it. Also, when you phone a call centre the background is often noisy, and while some people might not even notice this, if you’re autistic it’s hard to filter out that background noise. And there is the issue of anticipation; if you know you have to make a phone call the anxiety and nervousness can build all day. But you have to put an end to that; you have to be the one to pick up the phone and make the call. But you also have the power to put it off which means that you can fall in to a cycle of putting it off as it’s so stressful which means you wait longer, which means you grow more stressed. The stress and anxiety of knowing you have to make a phone call can be huge. Your chest can go tight and you can start to turn over and over in your head what you might say, and what the person on the other end of the line will say back to you. And sometimes this will help to calm you, but other times it will just get you more and more worked up to the point of panic. To then have to pick up the phone, make the call, and deal with whatever it is you are calling about can be a massive task.

What seems so small, and day-to-day to some people can be a skill that it takes a life time to master (or get to grips with but not quite master in most cases) for autistic people. I am twenty two now, and as I say I have only just got to the point of making a phone call for myself. However, just because I made one phone call does not mean that I would be able to make another, or even that I would feel confident enough to call the same people back about the same issue if it were to happen again. But even if I am able to call them again, and call other people up and talk to them, that would not mean there would be no impact. My Mum (who is also autistic) has been making phone calls all her life, and can talk on the phone for three or four hours when sorting out a computer related issue, still gets all the same worry and stress that I do from the idea of using the phone. She is able to do it yes, but it still leaves her feeling worn-out, and takes a toll on her.

So I am aware that there might never be a time when I am able to use the phone with ease and free from stress, I might always get a tight chest and a sense of panic at the idea of having to ring someone up and talk to them, and even as an old man I might still do all I can to avoid talking on the phone. But now that I have made a phone call from beginning to end I do feel a certain sense of accomplishment. I know that for most people this is no big thing, but up until a few days ago it was something I had never been able to do. And I am glad that to a degree I feel I have at least somewhat got the hang of a skill that has eluded me for years. As I say, I might not be able to use that skill again next week or in the foreseeable future, but the fact that I have been able to use it even once is good in itself.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

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Autism, and the confusion around receiving gifts …

Sometimes being given a gift can be awkward for anyone; they might be given something they don’t like and have to try and pretend that they do like it. But for people with autism even being given something they do like can be awkward: knowing how to react, what to say, how you should look, and things like that is not something that will come naturally to most autistic people. So why can receiving a gift feel awkward? And what can you do about this?

What do you do and say if someone gives you a gift? This might sound like an easy question to some of you – you just say thank you and then open it. But the fact that you are meant to say thank you is one of those unwritten rules that can be so hard for people with autism, and they might just not think so say thanks. This might be even more likely if the gift is not given on their birthday, but is a random gift. They are not in the mindset of being given something, and it will take them by surprise, and saying thank you just might not occur to them. That’s not because they are being rude, it`s just because saying thank you is not something that is automatic to them as it might be to someone who is not autistic. I know that when I was younger often I would not think to say thank you without being prompted, and once someone had pushed me to say it I would often feel embarrassed, and try and get out of saying it.

But even now that I do know to say thank you I still find it hard on Christmas morning to know if I should say thank you after each gift, or just once at the end. Should I say thank you after a big gift, but at the end if its just a few small things? Would it be odd to thank someone after each gift if you are sat next to them and opening the gifts one by one? Or is it rude to not say anything? Does it matter? I genuinely do not know.

I tend to say thank you at the end. I open anything I happen to get and then thank whoever gave it to me once everything is open. But even then I feel unsure. How long should I look at each thing for? I am going to spend a lot of time looking at them in detail later on, but is it OK to just turn something over in your hands once and put it to one side after someone has spent money on it? Even if you plan to look at it later on? Again I am not sure. I tend to do this, but I do not know if it’s the right thing to do or not.

Added to that for me – and I am sure for other autistic people – is the fact that it can be hard at times for people to read my face, and tell how happy or not I might be about whatever they have given to me, and even when I speak my voice may well be flat. I might look up with a blank face and say in a none-too-excited voice that I am very happy with what I have been given. It would be hard to blame someone if they though I was lying about that. Lots of autistic people say that they find it hard to put emotions in their face or voice – that’s not to say they will not be there from time to time, it`s just hard for us to force emotion to be visible.

There is also the fact that once someone has given you something you are no longer in the background; you become the centre of attention for a while as people watch to see how you will react. This in turn makes you think more about how you react, and makes you doubt and second-guess yourself more.

Like everything in life there is an unwritten etiquette to being given gifts, and like all unwritten rules they can be hard for autistic to people to understand. What I tend to do when I am given a gift is to say thank you once I have been given it, and again after I have opened it. If it’s a birthday or Christmas I will open them all then say thank you after that. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, and it`s hard to really ever be able to tell; as with a lot of things you just need to do what you think is right, or what comes naturally to you. Being given a gift is meant to be a fun thing, and whoever is giving it to you most likely would not want to think of you being worried about what you are saying or doing in response.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

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AUTISM: when you plan for a change that doesn`t happen …

It’s a well known fact that change is hard for people with autism. If we are going to cope well with it we need to spend time planning for it and be ready well in advance. But what if the time comes and in fact things do not change as we thought they would? Is that a good thing, and can we just get on with our old routine as if nothing has happened? I cant speak for everyone, but for me the answer to this is No. If I have spent days or weeks planning for a change, and going over it again and again in my head, and then the moment comes and I am told it is not happening that will throw me even more than the original change would have done. I can give you a recent example of this, and attempt at least to explain why it impacts on me in the way that it does.

Last month my Mum was due to go in to hospital for surgery. She would have been in for a few days but then after she came out she would have needed looking after for quite sometime. Things would have been very different; I would have been doing a lot of the jobs, we would not have been getting as much writing and ASK-PERGERS?social media done, and my Dad would have been coming around more. While none of this is bad in itself it would have been different, and therefore I needed time to plan it and get used to the idea in my head. We talked it over a lot, planned what time I might get up, what time I might do the jobs around the house, how we might still get some writing and editing done, what I might make to eat, and just about everything else. We knew we had to plan otherwise we were leaving ourselves open to things going wrong. As far as we knew we had everything planned and set up to deal with the change that my Mum going in to hospital would bring – only she ended up not going in.

I should point out that we did know her operation might not go ahead, and in fact I was not at all shocked when I got the text from her a few hours after she had gone to the admissions unit telling me there were no beds, and she had to come home. It’s just one of those things that can happen, and has been happening more and more lately. But even though none of us were surprised at this change of plans it did put us in a strange place. We were all ready for things to change; for the normal routine to be put on hold for a while and a new routine to take its place, and now none of this was going to happen.

So what is meant to happen in this or similar situations? Are you just meant to wake up the next day and get on with your normal routine – that thing you have been telling yourself for weeks you wont be able to do. For me it does not work like that; it has been a month since my Mum was meant to go in to hospital, and I don’t think we have really got back to any kind of normal routine with work, the house, going out or anything since then. That’s not to say we have not done anything productive, but we have not done it in a routined way. We spent so long getting in to the mindset that our routine was going to change that we have been unable to change back, and get in to our old routine when there was no need for change.

I don’t know about anyone else with autism, but I can`t plan for two possible outcomes in a situation like this. I can plan for the change of routine, but that takes so much planning, and so much time to get used to I don’t have any space left to make a real plan for what will happen if that change does not take place. Just looking at this one situation, how can you make a proper plan for something that is so uncertain? It’s OK to know in the back of your mind the change might not take place, the operation might be cancelled, but what then? When will it be rearranged for? A week? Two weeks? A month? Will there be a set date for it? Or will it just be when ever they can fit it in? All these things would need a plan of their own, but we have no way of knowing which one we would be planning for until after the operation was cancelled. What about things that we decided not to do as Mum would be in hospital? Do we plan to do them now that she is not going to be in? Or would it be best to just leave them?

For me it’s too much to think about and too uncertain to plan for. I can plan for a change to my routine – even though that is hard enough – but I cant make any real plans for a change to the change. I just have to deal with that as and when it happens. But that is not easy to do; not knowing what is meant to be happening or when tends to lead to nothing or not much getting done, and the stress of this added to the stress of the change can lead to meltdowns. This has been the case over the last few weeks, and I am not to sure what we could have done to prevent it. As I say planning for something so uncertain is hard to do, and there is something of a feeling that with so much change back and forth meltdowns were bound to happen.

You can find my book here http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/

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How Dyslexia impacts on my writing and my confidence.

Most of what I write on this blog tends to be about autism, but I wanted to take the time to talk a bit about my dyslexia, and how it impacts on my work. I have written about having dyslexia in the past, but to tell the truth it’s not something I think about all that often. I get so caught up with my autism, and how that impacts on my day to day life that I tend to forget that I am dyslexic and dyspraxic too. However, at times I cannot help but think about it. When I work I am keenly aware of my dyslexia, and how much it slows me down and frustrates me.

My work is my writing; I write blogs, and articles about autism and disability in general, and, as yet unpublished, short stories and novels. I have co-written and published two autism books as well as writing my own autism-related book, and had that published last year. Like everyone who writes I go through times in my life where it is hard to write, and where I don’t get much work done at all. But most days I write something, and that has been the case for over ten years now, and yet I can’t spell or hand-write. If I were to be tested I don’t know what level my spelling would be at, but I know it would be poor. There are very few words I can actually spell right first time, and when it comes to spelling out loud that number goes down even more. When I type most of the words I get right I do so without thinking; my fingers just hit the keys. If I had to tell you out loud how to spell half the words I do manage to get right, I would not have a clue.

It will be hard for a reader to fully understand quite how bad my spelling is; by the time you read this blog it will have been spell-checked and edited by my Mum, so most if not all of the spelling or grammar mistakes will be gone. I could publish a blog without any spell-check or editing for you to get a full idea of what I mean, but I don’t think you would be able to read it. A lot of the time the inbuilt spell-checker does not even know what I am trying to type. It changes the word to what it thinks it is meant to be; sometimes to a word that is so close to being right that I don’t even notice it`s wrong until someone points it out – other times to seemingly random words. When this happens I have to resort to googling a word (as Google seems to have more luck working out what I am trying to say) and pasting it in to whatever it is I am writing.

My spelling has always been poor, and I am sure anyone who is dyslexic knows that feeling of frustration when you try over and over again to spell a word without getting any closer. But there is an added level of frustration when it impacts on what I do for fun, and my work. I write at a much slower pace than I would if I did not have to worry about my spelling, but its more than that – it’s the lack of confidence in my own work. A lot of the time I do not even feel like I can put a tweet out there without having someone else check it first to make sure I haven`t spelt everything wrong. I can’t ever see myself feeling confident enough to write a blog and publish it without having my Mum, or someone else check it over first. When writing is what you do it can be unbelievably frustrating to know that you are reliant on someone else to make even the most basic of your work understandable. I am a published author, and yet I do not even feel confident to send out a tweet on my own. As for making notes or hand-writing anything, there is next to no point in me even trying to do this anymore. I cannot even read my own handwriting! I have to type and I can type quite fast, so things now are a lot better than they were a few years ago, but there is still this underlying feeling of frustration at my poor spelling.

I don’t want this blog to be full of self-pity, but I felt that I needed to point out how much extra work myself, and fellow dyslexic writers have to put in to get our work ready to be read. There is a part of me which thinks that even with some of the difficulties that come with my autism, it’s my dyslexia that gets me down the most. That’s what makes it hard for me to do what I love, and that’s a huge part of what makes me so reliant on other people when it comes to my work. And even though I have gotten so used to it I might not think of it much, it’s the effects of my dyslexia that keep impacting on me day to day.

I don’t have any practical advice to leave you with in this blog as it was intended more as a way for me to vent some frustration, and explain how hard writing these blogs can be. But I might try and put together a list of tips and things that have helped me over the years, as well as things I might try in the future, and post that at some point.

You can find my new book: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34253.html

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Why are we still hearing that more Males than Females are Autistic?

Women and autism has long been a controversial topic. For years many women were diagnosed as schizophrenic, depressed or just ignored instead of being given a diagnosis of autism. But now a lot of these women are taking matters in to their own hands, and forcing the world to look at autistic women and girls in a new light. You only have to spend five minutes on Twitter looking through their stories to see the common thread. They had a child/friend/husband with autism, or just read up on it, and felt that perhaps they were autistic, and then went to a professional to have that confirmed, and were either flat-out refused, or were told that they could not be autistic because, they had friends, children or could talk to the Dr/psychologist, and sent away again. A few years down the line the strain of living with undiagnosed autism, while trying to act and live like a non-autistic person, becomes too much, and they have an autistic crash. There are a lot of cases of late diagnoses or self-diagnosis, and as I say most of the stories follow a similar path. It should by now be clear to us that women and girls are autistic too, and that we need to take notice of this, and make sure that they can get the acknowledgement they need earlier in life. But there is one statement that is still thrown around far too much in my view, and perhaps it is one of the things holding us back.

`There are far more autistic males than females`.

Think about that for a second. It’s something I can recall hearing years ago, before anyone worked out a female profile for autism, and before the boom in autistic women coming out, and making the professionals sit up and take notice. But why do I still see it so much today? We know now that autism does not just present itself in one way. Now I don’t believe in a female/male profile per-say, as I know some men who would fit the so-called female profile, who therefore went undiagnosed themselves for years. That’s not to say that the female profile has not been a huge help and that a lot of women do not fit in to it, it’s just to say that we want to keep learning more and changing our ideas, instead of getting stuck in a whole new ridged way of thinking about things. There are a lot of autistic women out there now who would never have been diagnosed without the `female profile` though, and what it does show us is how blinkered professionals have been when it comes to giving out diagnoses of autism. When you think that we have known about autism for less than one hundred years, it seems strange that we should set such clear, unmoving statements as `There are far more autistic males than females. `

Let’s look at it this way – we hear some people in the media talk about an `autism epidemic` and about how `there was no such thing as autism in the past. ` We know that this is a silly argument. We found out what autism is, and the more we learn about it the more we can notice it in people. Therefore more people are being diagnosed as autistic. It’s not hard to work out.  And I think the same goes for the statement about more men being autistic than women, or boys than girls. We might have more males on the books diagnosed as autistic than females, but I would be willing to bet that this is only down to the fact that most of the women or girls who are diagnosed have to fight for years to get that diagnoses. It’s as if the system said “Women and girls cannot be autistic.” and then made sure it was so, and that fact would remain true by refusing to diagnose them for years. When we look at the amount of women who have been forced to the point of having an autistic crash, and losing their jobs, as well as suffering from related mental health issues due to this, it is clear that something must change.

Perhaps the first step in this would be to stop saying that more males are autistic than females, and just stop worrying about those numbers. Assess everyone on their own, and not as a male or female, and see if they are autistic.  Don’t let their gender play a part in your thinking.  We know that autism can present in different ways: sometimes in outbursts, sometimes in being quiet, sometimes in being unable to understand emotions, sometimes in being too empathetic to others to the point of neglecting yourself, and these points, along with other things, are what we should think of when we think of autism. Not one set idea that only applies to one small section of society.

You can find my new book: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34253.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

How Sensory Overload Impacts on Autistic People Part two – The Impact on my Body.

In my last blog I talked a bit about how doing events/talks, and going to do any kind of work can have a negative impact on my mind. I explained how the build-up of anxiety, added to the lack of time to rest after an event, can leave me unable to think clearly, and how it can take me weeks to even be able to pick what film to watch and to rest, let alone be able to work or go out again. But the impact of a stress and anxiety build-up and overload is not just mental, and there is also a physical side to it. I want to use this blog to speak about that, and explain what happens and how bad the physical effects of stress, and anxiety can be.

As I said in my last blog I did three events in November, all of which included talking to an audience, one-on-one chats, and busy rooms. There were build-ups of stress beforehand, and not much time to recover afterwards. But before I talk too much about these events and their impact I would like to go back, and talk about my book launch. On the night of the launch itself I was fine. I felt good and fully expected to feel fine the next day as well. And when I woke up I did feel fine, but as the day went on I started to feel worse and worse. By around eight at night my stomach felt as if it was being pulled and twisted from the inside. It felt as if it were piled with stones, and I could not even stay in one place for more than a few seconds before I needed to move to try and stop the pain building up too much. I knew full-well that I was going to be sick, and sure enough I was. In fact I was up till after three in the morning throwing up. The next day I was fine, I ate plenty and did not feel ill in the least. At the time I knew, or at least thought, that it must be some kind of physical release of all the stress that had built up before and during the event. As I said in my last blog I was not aware of feeling stressed before events, but I guess it must have been there inside – impacting on me whether I felt it or not.

I did not feel anything of the sort after the first event of last month, or the second, but the morning after the third event there it was again. That feeling of carrying around a pile of bricks in my gut. Pain and discomfort, but more than that. There was a sense of hopelessness. I knew then that the feeling was without any doubt due to the stress of the work I had been doing. It was a direct result of me going out and selling my books and doing talks. It’s hard to explain my feelings, perhaps pain most of all, to people in a way that they can understand, so you might think I am making a big deal out of a bit of stomach ache. But I have been sick and had a bad stomach plenty of times in the past, and I can tell you that this stress induced stomach pain was much, much worse than any I have ever had before.

There was a point, when I was bent over in pain the morning after the third event, where I began to wonder if I would be able to keep on doing that kind of work. Would I be able to commit to planning for an event knowing how I would be left feeling the day after? And more than that, was it worth it? I was in a huge amount of pain and I felt miserable. I should point out that despite what you might think I don’t often complain of pain. For me to react to pain at all it has to get to a point that most others would find hard to cope with. More than once in my life I have gone to see a doctor with an infection in my foot, or ear after weeks of saying only that “It’s a bit sore” to be told that it’s one of the worst they have seen, and they are shocked that I could even stand the pain of putting my shoe on, and walking in to the building. The point being that when pain is bad enough to make me feel miserable you know it must be bad.   So I have to admit I spent that morning feeling sorry for myself. But as time passed the pain began to grow less and less. By that afternoon I was able to relax and watch a film.

I realised after this that I would have to plan events better, and try to do something to stop the onset of pain like this again. I am sure that it is due to a build-up of stress. The stress builds up before the events without me feeling it, and once they are over and done with I feel the full force of the stress in a physical as well as mental form.

I know now that I need to make plans before events to try and stop this from happening, but I don’t know what will work, and the only way to find out will be to test things out. And that means that I might have to try a few things that do not work, and find myself in pain once again.

Because pain, or at least physical discomfort, is nothing new to me – I would say I feel uncomfortable much more often than I feel comfortable, at least when I am outside anyway – If I know I am going out, even if it’s to do something I enjoy, I will have pain in my gut, feel hot and sweaty, and have a tight chest sometimes for hours. And it’s not something that I ever get used to. When I used to go to Judo I would feel like that for an hour or so before going out, then after a few months of going, when most people would be getting used to it, I would start feeling that way in the afternoons, then in the mornings, and in the end I felt that way from the morning of the day before I was due to go out! In my head I wanted to go, I knew I would enjoy it, and as soon as I got there and got going I did enjoy it. But still I could spend up to twenty four hours in physical discomfort just because I was due to go out.  And for this reason I no longer go to judo.

So I don’t know what will work to rid myself of the pain and discomfort that stress, anxiety and sensory overload, can cause, but I want to do all I can to deal with this issue so that I can get out there and do my talks, and sell my book without feeling again like it might not be worth it.

Do any of you suffer from the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety?  Or the physical or emotional impact of sensory overload? If so do you have any tips or hints as to how to deal with them?

You can find my new book: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

 

How Sensory Overload Impacts on Autistic People Part One – The Impact on my Mind.

It has been quite a while since I wrote a blog, and now that I am writing one it is about something that happened at the end of last month. Now part of that might be due to the fact that this month is December, and as I am sure most of you will know this can be a hard month for autistic people. It is all change, and routine and normal life can go somewhat out of the window. But we are still only in early December, and the bulk of why I have not been writing much, if anything, this month is to do with the events of November. The best thing for me to do is to explain what I did in November, and why that is still impacting on me now.

In November I went to three autism events. Twice as a speaker, and once just to man a stall selling copies of my new book. Now I should say before I go on that I enjoyed all three events, and was happy to go to them. Nothing in this blog is meant to be a comment on those events themselves. But it is worth looking at why I, and other autistic people, can find events like these so hard. And some of the particular after-effects that I have had to deal with.

 

  • Build up: I don’t feel nervous or worried about the events beforehand, or at least not that I am aware of. But I know the feelings must be there somewhere. I find it hard to focus on doing work or even doing something relaxing like watching a film if I know I am going to have to go to a busy event in the next few days. Even though I might not be aware of this build-up of stress and anxiety, it can take its toll.
  • Overload: Events such as the ones I went to, full of stalls and guest speakers, tend to draw quite a lot of people in. They are noisy, full of people moving around, and all in all very difficult places to spend much time in if you have sensory issues. Perhaps I must take my share of the blame for not going outside and having a break from time to time, but once I get started on something I find hard I like to just get it all done. If I take a break to go somewhere quiet there is a high risk that I might not be able to go back in, and get on with the work I need to do. So I end up spending anywhere from two to five hours in a busy, noisy, and overwhelming environment. Again this leads to a build-up of stress and anxiety.
  • One-on-one talking: When I am at an event, be it on a stall for ASK-PERGERS? or doing a talk, I end up with people chatting to me. Now this is a good thing: it gives me a chance to sell my book, and also to make contacts. Plus the whole point of what we do is to help other autistic people, or their families by giving advice, so a chance to talk is good. But it does take it out of me. It’s fair to say that in a normal month I might chat one-on-one with five people at most. Now this is partly due to me not being at university at the moment, and if I were it might be more. But five is about average for this year. But at an event like this I might talk one-on-one to fifteen people in the space of a few hours. If I do two or three events in a month it might be something like fifty people over the space of those events. All that one-on-one talking wears me out, and pushes me more and more in to overload.
  • Not much time to recover: If I do a few events in a month then I don’t have any real time to come down from one before I have to start planning for the next. It might take me a week or more to fully get back to normal after something like this, but of course I do not have that time if I have more events to go to.

So what does this all mean? Well it leads to a build-up of stress and anxiety that can only truly come out when I am done with all the events I have planned. Not that it does not affect me in-between events. It does. Last month I was so overloaded that I found it hard to do anything other than the events I went to. When I talk about that a lot of non-autistic people nod their head and say something like “Oh yes I will need to crash out for a bit too.” Or “I get tired as well.” They do not, nor could they fully understand what an overload is. If your lap top overheats and shuts down because it cannot cope with the overload to its system it can’t do anything. It just crashes and goes blank. And I find it to be very much the same for myself. If I am overloaded I can’t do anything, not even things that relax me. I can’t pick which film to watch, and in fact I don’t even want to watch anything. I can’t sit and read, or do anything else fun that might relax me. I spend most of the day just walking from room to room not knowing what to do, and doing nothing. It’s not a case of going “I am tired now, better just watch some TV then I will feel fine.” I might be unable to do anything, and I do mean anything, for days, or if it’s really bad even weeks. The truth is November was such a comparatively busy month for me that it took me quite a long time to come back from the overload. It’s really only this past week that I have been able to start doing things of any real worth, and like I say this is the first writing I have done this month.

I do want to do more work, and my hope is as I do it I will become more used to it, but also work out ways to minimize the impact of the overload. But I wanted to take the time to try and explain to you how even though I might be more than able to stand up on a stage for twenty minutes and do a talk, or man a stall for five hours, the unseen impact of this can last for days, or even weeks.

I also wanted to take the time to write about the physical impact the build-up of anxiety can have, but I feel that should be a full blog on its own. So that should be out later this week, or early next week.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

I, Daniel Blake: why this film is so important …

I, Daniel Blake is the new film by acclaimed director, Ken Loach. It stars Dave Johns as the title character, a joiner from the north east of England who is now unable to work following a heart attack on the job.  And Hayley Squires as a young single mother (Katie) who he befriends after he takes her side in an argument at the job centre. The film follows his attempts to help Katie and her children as they adjust to their new life after being forced to move from London, and away from everyone and everything they know, to the only house that is available for them.  At the same time he is trying to navigate his way through a benefits system that seems to be set up to push him back at every turn.

On the surface this is a simple film; an older man who never got the chance to have a family meets up with a young Mum and two kids, and does all the things with and for them that he would have for his own family. But the truth is that the film is about so much more than this.  It is, at its core, a film about people vs. state. About how faceless bureaucracy, and red-tape grind normal men and woman down to the point where they no longer have even a shred of self-respect. A film about how the systems that are meant to help people lack the common sense, or the compassion to even acknowledge when someone is in need.

i_daniel_blake

It is a deeply important film, and that fact in itself speaks volumes. Fifty years ago Ken Loach made Cathy Come Home. A film about a young woman, who along with her two young children, is forced from house to house by a system that is rigged against her.  At times moving far away from any family to the only accommodation they are willing to give her – failed by people who would pass her from one department to the next until she had no clue what was going on. She spent time in a homeless shelter, and found herself brought to her knees by a system that was meant to help, but instead acted against her, and against common sense at every turn.

The fact that fifty years on Ken Loach can make a film about people forced to move from their homes, in fact to different cities, at the whim of the councils, and about people being failed and lied to by a system meant to help them, is shocking. And it should shock you. It might be that you come out of watching this film thinking it is being heavy-handed, that it`s exaggerating.  Well let me tell you that as someone who has years’ worth of experience dealing with the benefits agency, that’s just not true. Everything about this film rang true to me. The hours spent waiting on the phone, medical assessments carried out by people who have no clue what they are talking about, and yes, even people who are being told by their Drs that going back to work would be bad for their health – or perhaps even fatal – being forced to look for a job. I am autistic and can’t speak on the phone myself but I have spent hours watching my Mum deal with the benefits agencies and seen first-hand how much stress and anxiety this causes her. That being said I am lucky, I have someone who will make the phone calls that I myself cannot make.  Lots of autistic people are not this lucky and find themselves alone. Unable to get the help they need they end up on the street, or even starving to death.

I wish that I could say the film does exaggerate, but no.  It is a true and tragic portrait of modern day England for a lot of people.

I won’t go in to the film`s ending, or people’s reaction to it, as I think it’s only fair to let you experience these for yourself.  But what I will say is that as I left the screening people were talking. Not about the normal things people might casually chat about when leaving a cinema. They were talking about their own lives, about memories and feelings the film had dragged up. There were voices raised in anger, and stories being told of past injustices, because that’s the point of this film. Yes we are watching Daniel Blake and the events of his life, but he could be anyone. A man who has worked all his life, and done no harm to anyone can fall prey to the system – so could you, and so could your friends, or neighbours.

As I watched Daniel toil against the system I could recognize all that he went through, and understand how he felt.

This is an important film. Not because it deals with a tragedy from years ago, or atrocities committed in some far off land.  No, it`s important because it deals with what is happening now – in this county, and in the very streets where we live. The sad thing is that a lot of people who might be affected by the issues in this film probably could not afford the transport costs, or admission fees to go and see it.

I would urge anyone and everyone who can to go and see it – not only because it is a very well made and moving film, but because it tells a story that means something. There is no drama for the sake of drama, or forced emotions.  The drama and emotion come from the brutal and unflinching depiction of real life.

Much like Cathy Come Home did for the 1960s I, Daniel Blake shines a light on a corrupt and hopeless system that is failing those most in need of its help. Yes it is an unashamedly political film, but why should it not be? It tells a story that needs to be told, and it does so while still remaining a moving and effective piece of cinema. One of the most important films of recent years, and one everyone should watch if they have the chance – especially politicians and those working within the benefits system.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Post Halloween – why November can be such a difficult month for autistic people.

There has been a blog on this site before which talked about how hard Halloween can be for autistic people, and gave some tips for how to cope with this.  But what I want to talk about today is the weeks following Halloween. It`s easy to think that because the event itself is over that’s the end of it, but the truth is that with autism overloads and meltdowns often don’t kick in until much later. It might be a week or two after Halloween that all the change and sensory input finally catches up to someone. By this time the people around them, and perhaps the autistic person themselves, is no longer thinking about Halloween, and does not make the connection. But it is worth keeping in mind that any overload or meltdowns can be due to the impact of something that happened weeks before.

It’s not so easy for someone with autism to just change their routine overnight, and that’s what Halloween requires a lot of the time. Everything changes for a few days as you eat different food, and people’s houses take on a different look (if they decorate them). And along with this there is all the sensory input from children knocking at the door or running around outside doing trick or treat. You can’t just wake up the next day and be over that.

It might be that you take a few days to ease back in to the normal routine of things.  But this is where it becomes a bit tricky because things don’t quite go back to normal at all. November is a strange month anyway; there is Halloween leading in to it then Bonfire Night, and after that people start the count-down to Christmas. Fireworks go off all the time, and there are a lot more people out and about on the streets. It’s a month where you are meant to just get on with your normal life, and yet the world around you is changed. Everyone starts to talk about Christmas, and it feels as if things are changing all the time. Or at least everyone is getting ready for them to change. As I say fireworks start going off sometime in October, and don’t stop until January. It might be that some people with autism enjoy fireworks, and like going out to see them, but for a lot of autistic people having them going off most nights, and even in the daytime is too much. It`s added sensory input that comes at random times, and can be extremely stressful for autistic people.

It is important to remember that while November is meant to be a normal month, it is far from it. Part of it is spent getting over the impact of Halloween, and all the change/sensory overload that can come with this, and part of it is spent anticipating the change, and stress that can come with Christmas. Even if you do work around these two things it might be worth taking the time to talk about the month of November itself with your autistic loved one, or give it some thought if you are autistic yourself. How do you get around the fact that it is basically a month spent dealing with the events of the month before, and the anticipation of events to come in the month after?

Writing about this and planning might be the key; write down what will be different about November, for example fireworks, and Christmas decorations in shops. Write about what the positives of this change might be, and also the negatives. And try to see the last three months of the year as one big time of change, and sensory stimuli. Don’t look at it as one big time of change, then a break, and then a second change.

Even if you just take one part of November – the fireworks – and think about the impact they can have on autistic people, you can see why it can be such a hard time of year.  Loud noises can be enough to send some autistic people in to melt down, and even if this is not the case the build-up of noise/lights plus the unpredictable nature of them can take its toll. It might be worth investing in some head phones either to play music, or just to block out sound. You might not want to, or be able to keep these on all the time, but if you know fireworks get worse after it goes dark then you could have them to put on at this time.

November is a hard month. Perhaps harder than October or December due to the fact that everyone around you wants you to get on with it as if it were just a normal month. But keep doing whatever works for you on Halloween, or start doing whatever helps you get through Christmas early on. Talking, writing things down, planning, talking about what change will happen, and what it means as well as just being aware that things might be hard can all help. I know myself that even though the last three months of the year can be a lot of fun, they can also be a lot of hard work. Of course everything changes again in January but that is a blog for another time!

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762