Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From Dud to Overload

Last night the Special School District (SSD) had an Autism-Asperger-PDD Resource Fair. I was there working the TouchPoint booth and was amazed that five people knew who I was. "Hey, aren't you the guy that was seated next to Temple Grandin on the panel?" was one line I heard.

Sadly, this post isn't about starting to be recognized. At some of the booths the SSD had plates of candy. The booths next to us both had small boxes of Milk Duds and since I hadn't had a Milk Dud in at least a decade I decided I wanted some.

Moderation was not in play as I scoured the room for more. It may have been a decade, but every chance I got when the booth was empty I was making up for lost time and devouring Milk Duds.

I must have been enjoying them too much because, on what would be my final box, I bit my tongue like I have never done before. My tongue made a noise much like the crunch of eating carrots and the pain was intense. Later, when looking into a mirror, I would find out that I truly have a deep bruise on my tongue.

As painful as it was at first the pain subsided quickly (which is remarkable considering the way it looks this morning). The pain was mild and the only discomfort at all was the fact that my tongue was swollen and I could feel it pressing against my teeth. This is where the real story begins.

The room we were in wasn't that large and the room was somewhat loud. All night I had no issues with tuning the constant hum of talk out. This was up until the crunch of my tongue. After that I slowly lost the ability to tune out the noise. All at once I heard everyone at once and the noise continued to get louder and louder. Think of it like being in a car and slowly turning up the volume without stopping.

Louder, louder, and even louder the room got. The sounds of humanity quickly sounded like a raging river that not even the biggest dare devil would risk white water river rafting on.

I had never experienced this form of overload. I truly could not tune anything out and within ten minutes of this my body was exhausted. I heard dozens of people at once but could not distinguish anything. People would come up to the booth and they talked to me, but I could not hear them over the crushing volume of the room.

This had never happened to me and I am wondering if there is a connection between the bit tongue and the ability to tune out the room? I have no idea how the brain works, but because I never have had this happen, and it happened right after that lovely crunchy noise so I am wondering. I do know that I have heard stories of those on the spectrum having more severe behavior when they are ill or injured. Could the sensations of that hamper the brain's ability to tune out the world?

Of course I do not have the answer on the grand scheme of things and all I know is that last night was really difficult. I am thankful it happened because I never have felt so crushed in a room by volume. I can now empathize with those that have those issues because it was tiring, it was anxiety inducing, and most of all it was scary to hear everything at once without a filter. Yes, without a filter; I like that because last night, in that room, I lived life unfiltered and I hope I never bite my tongue again so I don't experience that ever again. 


  1. Aaron, I grew up with epilepsy. Any stress could bring on a seizure; illness, injury, allergy, birthday party, cold, heat, argument, SAT tests, public speaking. And it makes logical sense to me that biting one's tongue could lower your resistance to the noise in the room.

  2. @Annette D= I have a sister with epilepsy, but it's not as bad as yours and still even she is struggling. Kuddos to you for not letting yourself get down :)

    Once again I can relate. There's one restaurant nearby which is my favorite. It's called Atlantis. This isn't thanks to my first time there though, the good memories of it came later.
    The first time I went there, it was TERRIBLY busy. Almost every table was taken, so everyone was talking through each other. Now this is a difficult thing on itself, but my mouth was hurting a bit because of my new braces (I only ate the soft food there) and also I was very tired (remember, I'm also chronicly fatigued). It's safe to say it wasn't my day.
    While having pain and being very tired and being in a very busy room, I had the same experience you had. Everything just overflowed and I could hardly concentrate on anything. I explained my parents, brother and sister and they understood. The rest of the night I just ate for the sake of being there with my parents and siblings, but afterwards I was honestly crushed. I saw in the mirror that my whole face was pale and I was very dizzy. Took me some time to recover from that experience.

    I had some more similar experiences like this, because I'm already sensitive to a lot of different noises and on top of that am chronicly fatigued (which also gets my resistance low and thus ill more often). But the story above is the time I had it the worst (or at least as far as I remember).

  3. Aaron - I've done enough reading, research, listening, and observing my darling ASD child to know that your experience isn't surprising to me. You've obviously learned many coping skills to handle challenging sensory input and function. But even well schooled individuals with ASD who have amazing coping skills can succumb to new and challenging experiences.

    I don't presume to tell you what you likely know, but for those out there that find your experience odd, it makes complete sense. Frome what I know, people with ASD/Asperger's/PDD/SPD with help and guidance learn to cope with sensory overload over their lifetime - a constant struggle for many. When you layer two very distinct sensory experiences over top of each other, and you aren't skilled to deal with one of them at the time you're feeling the other one, any coping skill you've mustered in your life can be severely degraded, making you vulnerable to your experiences at the moment. I've seen this with my son time and time again... he's coping well with an over-stimulating environment, and something happens to him (hurts himself, something scares him, he's over-tired, etc.) and he loses his ability to cope with pretty much anything at that point.

    It totally makes sense your night was difficult. Good that you recognized how it impacted your ability to cope and communicate. I have, probably like you, seen individuals with severe Autism, and how overwhelming sensory input can drive a person to completely clam up or lose their ability to effectively communicate, or in some cases, behave in a self-injurious way.

    We definitely can all learn from your lesson here. Even though I understand as a parent of a child with ASD, it's important for others who aren't as knowledgeable to understand from your perspective what it's like to deal with sensory overload. It can perhaps provide that well needed perspective to enable recognition, compassion, and acceptance during a difficult and overloading moment.

  4. My 5 yo daughter has Asperger's and extreme hypersensitivities. When she is not feeling well, she is definitely more beat up by sensory overload. As we've addressed many of her medical issues, she has improved drastically, but I was reminded today at the urgent care clinic how sensitive she is. The restroom toilet was the horrific volume vacuum sounding kind. She was exhausted & ill from flu & infection. She nearly crumbled on the floor instantly & began trembling. It broke my heart. I very much dislike the noise, but is doesn't cripple me.

    Thanks Aaron for sharing this experience.

  5. Hi Aaron, I have realy enjoyed reading your blog. My cousin has Epilepsy and Asperger's and lots of the things you have said have helped me to understand him better.

    I work as an Irlen Syndrome Diagnostician and have many clients with Asperger's Syndrome who have been dramatically helped by Irlen lenses. Including; being able to make eye contact with others when wearing their glasses, experiencing less sensory overload, being able to hear better, having a reduction in their anxiety and a greatly improved ability to read and make sense of written text.

    Research indicates that 50% of Asperger's and Autistic people benefit from Irlen lenses. Have you considered them? Going on the information from your sunglasses experiment it looks like they would help you too!

  6. @joyousjen

    Heya from the Netherlands here. I've been looking at the website of the company you work for, but it's hard. I can't find where I can get these glasses and if there's sunglasses for people who actually need glasses (don't know how to call this in English) and how they look... But I can't really browse a lot through the website either, because of the text sample changing all the time! It draws my attention, making me read bits of it everytime I look at it, but then in the middle of the sentence changing again, hurting my eyes. I'm actually getting tired because of that text sample and I still have my day to live through, so I'm not risking that. (I'm chronicly fatigued because of neglected Asperger's)

    So yea... Could you please explain a bit more in here? Because I'm actually interested in what's the difference between your glasses and any other coloured glasses (like those of sunglasses).

  7. Hi Heya, Our glasses are based on wavelength rather than just colour and when a person is assessed the process involves going through all the wavelenghts in visual light to find the right ones. When you get the right combination the person usually feels calm and comfortable and can see really clearly. Often they say things like "the lenses are taking my headache away" or my eyes and head feel good".

    I don't know if youtube clips would be easier for you to watch (or listen to) but the following are really helpful in explaining Irlen Syndrome and particularly the effect on Autistic and similar people:
    I would be happy to explain more, just let me know.