As I am sure you are aware the UK has been in experiencing a heat wave for the past few weeks, as has most of Europe and North America. Temperatures have gone in to the early 30s in the UK on some days, and while it has been a bit cooler the last few days the temperature is set to rise again for the coming week. Some people have been enjoying the heat and some have been putting up with it without much complaint, but it has driven home to me just how hard I find the hot weather. At times when the heat is too much I find it hard to do even the most basic of things. Let me explain why the heat impacts me so much.
I talked in a blog a while ago about how a cold for me is worse than pain a lot of the time. A cold brings with it a whole host of sensory issues, and sensory issues more than pain make it hard for me to do things, and lead to overload. The heat is the same; I sweat, my clothes feel uncomfortable on me, my skin is hot and overall my body feels different to how it feels for most of the year. These feeling might not mean much if you are not autistic, but when you do have sensory issues having your whole body react and feel different to the way you are used to can have a big impact. It’s not just that I am overheated and sweaty, it’s that those feelings – the feeling of sweat on my skin, the heat of the sun, and so on – feel wrong. There is no basic state you can go back to when sensory impact becomes too much. On a normal day I might go outside and find things too noisy or overwhelming, and come home. After a few hours of rest on my own, controlling my own sensory input, I would be able to get back to my basic level. There would not be any unwelcome sensory input, and that would help me avoid overload.
But when it’s too hot I find I can not do that. How can I go back to a basic day to day normal level of sensory input when I am sweating just sitting at my desk, when even just doing nothing is causing a high level of sensory input I would not normally have? And it’s not just that: it’s the smell of sun-cream, the constant noise outside (playing, cutting grass) and all the sounds, smells etc. of people trying to make the most of the sun. It might not sound like a lot, but a large part of it is the fact that for nine months of the year there is none of that, and then it is all day, every day, and that sudden change makes it harder even though you know it’s coming. This year it has also been the sheer unrelenting nature of the heatwave.
The more sensory input the more overloaded I become, and the harder it becomes to do anything.
Along similar lines I find it impossible to get comfortable in the heat. I tend to like to wear the same things all year round, but even when I do make concessions to the heat and wear a T-shirt without a top over it I find even that sticks to me. If I want to go outside or I have something I have to go to it’s even worse as I have to put sun-cream on, and there is not much I hate more sensory-wise; the feel, the smell and the way you can feel it on your skin for days. Too hot, too sweaty, clothes too uncomfortable, and extra sensory input from all sides – it’s pretty hard to feel comfy or relaxed. Even taking a shower will not always help. I find that if it is too hot I start to sweat when I get out of the shower, and I always feel the need to be fully dry before I put any of my clothes back on so this can make it quite hard. I feel the benefit later in the day, but when I get out of the shower and start getting dry, and find myself unable to fully dry off due to sweat it can make me feel even worse!
There is also the fact that it becomes harder to stick to a routine. Partly because of the heat and partly because of other peoples reactions to it. I might have a plan for the week only to find that it is far too hot to do something I was planning to do. This might be saying that I will clean the house before lunch only for it to be 30 degrees. I start thinking “Well if I do that cleaning in this heat I am going to need a shower, I don’t have the energy to do all that now”. Little things like this can add up, and make it hard for me to know what to do and when. Things that are not normally hard to do become hard because of how badly I cope in the heat which means it takes longer to build up to them, which can throw my whole plan for the day off course.
Add to that the fact that other people might change the plans, “Do you really want to do that on a nice day like today?” “Would it not be better to do something outside?” As soon as the summer heat comes you will find people wanting to change their plans and routines, which in turn can mess up your plans and routines.
Of course it’s not only autistic people who do not enjoy the heat, and not all autistic people dislike hot weather, but speaking for myself I hate it. I do like the way things look: clear bright blue skies, bees buzzing around, and sunlight shining in through windows, but other than that there is nothing fun or nice about the heat for me. It always knocks me back somewhat, and it takes me a while to readjust to it, and be able to get back some kind of work routine, but this year has been much worse than normal. Partly due to the fact that I have been having a hard time making and sticking to a routine anyway (hence the lack of blogs) and partly due to the fact that it has been so much hotter than normal this year. I was hardly able to do anything for about two weeks with the heat. I have been able to do a lot more over the past week due to working out a new routine that works for me and sticking to it, but for a while there the heatwave pretty much stopped me from functioning. It looks as if summers like this are here to stay though due to climate change, so in the years to come I might have to work out more ways of dealing with the heat.
How does the heat affect you? And if you are autistic and find the heat hard what do you do to help yourself deal with it?
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