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My Sensory System Works Differently

January 10, 2024

Meet nonverbal teenager Navneet, who is on the autism spectrum, and gain insider insight into a life with sensory processing differences.

My Sensory System Works Differently
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/sensory-system-works-differently/

My sensory system is very different: different in seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling. It is also different in terms of my sense of touch, sense of motion, sense of body movement, and sense of thinking and feelings, emotions and pain. 

In my body, all senses work together; there is always a blending of senses. It is so confusing for my brain to get information from all senses at one time. My whole body experiences triggers. Because of this high frequency in electric vibrations, my senses become very active. My brain waves are like ocean waves. My mind becomes hampered. I try to balance my mind, but sometimes it cannot be controlled. My senses sometimes lead me to become very distracted. I want to tell you about my senses and how I feel differently when processing information through them.

Hearing

My auditory system functions passively most of the time. It means I listen very deeply without providing any response, without paying attention. I can hear all sorts of sounds when a person talks. God gave me a very sensitive auditory system which makes me listen to all surrounding sounds. Some people talk very softly and some people talk very loudly. From the sound of talking, I feel the person using animation in mind. Hearing a person talk, I use intuition and feelings, a gift from God. 

To balance out my sensitive auditory system, I advise people to talk less. Instead I prefer gestures. When you give instructions or call me while I’m inside, I will reply to you through humming or sometimes by approaching you, showing response through body language.

Don’t assume autistic kids are deaf. They may hear perfectly well, however, the processing of language is a very difficult task for those on the spectrum. It takes time, so allow enough time for thinking. Allow enough time for the formulation of a response. You could even provide clues or use communication games to aid understanding of verbal messages when talking to a child on the spectrum.

 Some kids respond very well when pictures are incorporated during communication, so use more picture talk. Encourage participation in activities that promote turn-taking; it develops communication skills. Please remain patient as shouting causes distress in kids with sensitive auditory systems. The sensitivity of their auditory system will mean certain sounds make them feel irritable, going as far as causing ear discomfort. Perhaps you can lower your voice to encourage feelings of comfort to facilitate understanding of language.

Vision 

My vision is also very sensitive. I experience bright light as touch inside my eyes. My eyes get tired in bright light. Sometimes I experience headaches because of bright lights. So, I like sitting in a dark room to “calm” my eyes.

Having sensitive eyes means having the power of seeing in a dramatic way. My vision “allows”  me to read people’s minds. It makes me feel like I can “see” people’s character.

When someone tells me to make eye contact it hurts my eyes. In a sense, eye contact makes my eyes feel overloaded. I know the importance of eye contact in society, but I do not need eye contact for communication as I rely on my intuition.

I may not look you in the eye, and sometimes my behavior may look very funny to other people. For example, I sometimes observe myself moving my fingers up and down to control my emotions. It is important to note such behavior is used by those on the spectrum for self-regulation.


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Touch

 My sense of touch is always fluctuating; sometimes I feel like touching different textures to create awareness of my body. Tactile touch provides a way to connect to my own mind and body. To me, connecting to my body and mind is possible when I use tactile methods. Sometimes I feel calm when I touch different types of textures, for example, I love to feel hot things. I also love to have hot food. Sometimes I crave misty air, so I open the freezer door to feel it. My skin cells become active with such sensations. 

The touch of a mother’s hand on a kid’s head feels like all worries are wiped out…it creates a feeling of security and long lasting joy. God made the sense of touch in a very gentle manner. Since birth I feel loved when my mother touches my head and kisses my forehead.

Touch is the quickest and easiest way to calm someone down. Touch increases levels of dopamine and it helps to release stress and anxiety. Touching different textures can also bring out emotions. For example, when I touch soft textures, like a pillow, I feel relaxed. While sleeping, I hold a soft pillow and I use another pillow to cover my head. I sleep with soft blankets as it helps me sleep better. 

Hard and spiky textures, on the other hand, help me feel alert, so I like touching spiky balls and I also like walking on spiky door mats. Sometimes I take a comb and I rub it on my palms to feel more alert.

I do not like most hugs as they cause me to feel irritable. I do, however, like hugging my mother. A sensitive child may be irritated by your touch; often, these kids prefer initiating any touch (rather than being touched).

Scent

I love to smell food items. I connect smell to moods and emotion—I feel very happy when I smell frying garlic, and I love the smell of Sambhar, a popular Indian stew. I love to smell different flavors like mango, vanilla, mint, and strawberries. I use certain scents like the smell of strawberry lip balm to calm my senses and to stabilize my mood. Taste

I am a foodie; I love to have spicy food. I use my imagination when I taste food. For example, I relate sweet tastes to my heart!

I like crispy food; my jaw muscles relax when I eat hard food. It provides proprioceptive input, and it calms me down. I used to feel discomfort when having soft food. I had trouble feeling the soft textures in my mouth. I didn’t know whether to chew or swallow; it was so confusing! Now I like all textured food because of oral massages.

Vestibular

My vestibular system also functions differently. I love to swing―I feel like I’m flying high in the sky, rocking with rhythm. Swinging is a very good activity for spatial awareness. Sometimes, the motion makes me fatigued and my vision becomes blurred, so we have to control it by slowly swinging sideways.

Rocking is a stimming behavior that should not be stopped because it’s calming. It may look bad to rock in front of other people, but it does not hurt others, so please do not stop it. 

You could replace it with some good fidgeting toys―I always like to fidget when I’m not doing any activities. It helps me to self-regulate and it makes my thinking, focus, and attention span better. Fidgeting makes my body motion feel balanced; I balance the motion accordingly with my hand movements.

The vestibular system maintains the balance of auditory processing, as vestibular activities balance the ear muscles. Some good vestibular activities are swinging, jumping on trampolines, ball bouncing, sliding, skipping, animal walks, rocking on a rocking chair, etc. If a child is hypersensitive to the vestibular system, their auditory stimulation will get overloaded, their vision becomes blurred, and sometimes fatigue takes place. Try swinging or rocking in slow motion along with some soothing music; it helps both auditory and vestibular functions.

My feelings are very deep and my emotions run high. I always control my bad moods, internalizing it instead of showering anger and frustration on others. I do not always keep my emotions hidden, I express myself to my mom. I also express my thoughts and emotions through my writing.

I have problems with verbal communication because I feel my tongue movements and jaw movements rarely coordinate with sounds. I believe God made me nonverbal. No speech means no communication failures! I can talk through gestures and through typing. God has made my life in such a way that I am giggling.

I used to feel pain when people discussed my nonverbal way of communication. Now I ignore it because talking is not my goal; my goal is to communicate with people in a great manner!

This article was featured in Issue 127 – Nonverbal Communication

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