Asperger’s Syndrome and Sensory Over-Load

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This picture says so much. I want to smack it clear off the page and stomp on it.

I do find it cute and sweet that my child is mowing the yard, but I can’t stand that bright, blaring light. It’s frustrating that the picture is also so blurry. I can hear that loud-ass lawn mower right now.

I do not have Asperger’s, that I know of, but I do have sensory issues. Five out of the six of my family members have sensory sensitivities. It makes for an interesting household.

Everyone is familiar with the five senses of taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch. I believe that there is another, very intense sense that is labeled “empathy”. Those people are accused of being “too sensitive”, or in the shows and literature on the paranormal, they are labeled as “empaths”. These “empaths” soak in the moods and feelings of other persons nearby without being mindful of it. It is overwhelming at times, and can over-power the other five senses, ultimately affecting the mood of the empath herself. That topic is for another post.

Why am I bringing up the senses? Sensory sensitivities control our family’s environment and routine every single day. It makes life very tedious and difficult for my son, each and every day of his life. Having sensitivities and sensory over-load issues make learning such a struggle in even the most controlled of environments. Hunter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome six years ago. Along with having been bullied by both peers and by teachers alike, it is the main reason why he is unschooled and why we homeschool, or better yet, facilitate home-based learning for our other three children.

(Home-based learning can occur in every household. Each time an adult teaches, or facilitates learning opportunities for the child, even if the child attends a public school, it is home-based learning. Homeschooling can be any form of schooling done at home in place of sending a child to a brick and mortar school. It is debated whether or not online public school, such as k12, or an online charter school falls under the category of homeschooling. Unschooling is the newest, most radical idea of education as of late. Unschooling is child-led learning, rooted in the firm belief that a child will learn naturally from her surroundings, and will continue to hunger for knowledge and seek out knowledge in an independent, self-motivated manner. If there is a problem, they will dig in to find the solution. If there is a need to learn, they will find a way to gain the knowledge that they need.)

So what is sensory over-load? What does it feel like? Using the photo of my son, Parker, mowing the lawn, it is similar to walking through life as if every moment of each day is this bright, this blurry, this loud; all the while you are trying to process a conversation a parent is having with you, or a lesson that a teacher is trying to explain to you, in the midst of such a picture.

Have you ever been to a state fair, or an amusement park? Imagine being hot and sticky, sweating in the sun, as you walk through the crowd. The air is thick with humidity and of the smells of corndogs and garbage from the nearby bins. The sun is super bright and it is hard to see five feet in front of you, because you have forgotten your sunglasses. You are walking through a crowd of people, stomach to butt-cheek, hitting naked legs, with other sweaty naked legs, pushing through like cattle squeezing into the gates of the stockade. Meanwhile, the friends you came with are trying to tell you about last night’s party that you missed, yelling above the crowd so that you can get in on all of the details. You just want to know which ride you and your friends can hit next, but you have no idea where you are in the park now, and you can’t see above or through the crowd.

“Are you listening to me? Dude! I am trying to tell you about that jam you missed at last night’s crash session, and you can’t give me enough respect to at least let me know that you are listening? Hello!”

Eesh! This is every moment of every day in public school, in restaurants, in a shopping mall, in Target, in just a family’s living room, for persons with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is my son on sensory-overload. Let me not even attempt to explain how horrifying the Disney World experience was to him at the age of 9. It was right before we got him diagnosed. We had no idea what we were doing to the kid!

This year is going to be slightly different. He is 7 years older to the day. He knows exactly what he is getting into. So do we. We are better prepared and he is old enough to stay at the condo if so desired. We are armed with headphones, his own bedroom, and permission to exit situations when the need arises.

Check out future posts on how to help those with sensory over-load issues, cope with everyday life and vacations!

Are there any questions that you may have, or ideas to share with the Asperger’s Community? Please throw them at us in the comments section below. Your input is very much appreciated!

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