Monthly Archives: April 2017

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/ 

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

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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

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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/ 

If you need any help or advice abut 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