Friday, October 22, 2010

Pushed to the Limit

Last night I attended the Crisis Intervention Team banquet. The banquet is a function to recognize the officers, volunteers, and agencies that make the program the huge success that it is. I had no idea that attending the event would push me to the limit the way it did.

It happened at the start of the program when the colors were presented. Bagpipes were played along with a snare drum and a big bass drum. The snare drum and bag pipes didn't effect me, but with each hit of the gigantic bass drum I felt shock waves throughout my body.

As the officers with the flags marched towards the stage the drum kept being hit. Hit after painful hit happened and I started to slip.

No one outside my house has seen me in full sensory overload. It isn't pretty and will be covered extensively in my 2nd book. I am happy no one has seen it, but I was worried as with each bang of the drum I felt pain, and lots of it.

I tried to phase out of the room in my mind and quickly tried thinking about my upcoming race I am flagging in Las Vegas, but that didn't work. I thought of the presentations I have today, but nothing was drowning out the low level bass noise of that over sized drum.

If you haven't followed my blog, or know me, you should know I have sensory issues. For the most part they are mild such as my discomfort I have wearing jeans. However, when exposed to the right frequency of a low level base noise, well, I try to avoid it at all costs and at this point in time I was in a corner.

There was no where to go. What am I going to do, walk out of a patriotic moment in a room full of officers? I was so close to the drums though, perhaps 15-20 feet away and never have felt such power from the noise.

The base was overwhelming and I could feel it. The sensations are primarily felt in my legs and that's where the pain starts. It feels like an internal fire that starts flowing through the veins and quickly reaches my arms. My pulse quickly escalates and I feel internally hot by externally cold.

I tried everything I could to try and not hear it, but I could feel it. Slowly I drifted away as I was giving into the discomfort. My head slowly drooped to the left and just as I was about to scream the noise ceased.

In all I doubt the song was over 45 seconds long, but for me it was unmeasurable. The amount of will power I exerted was beyond anything I thought I could do.

During the dinner portion a person I know asked me how I thought the program was going and I told him about my struggle with the drums and he said, "Wow, that is something that us normal people never think of. Furthermore it is something I would never even imagine causing any discomfort in a person."

I once came across a person who debated whether or not sensory issues are real or not. This person asked me, "Is it not simply a power play?" I assured them that they are real, but if you have never felt the fury of this type of overload then how could you imagine it? How can you imagine the pain if you have never felt it? How can you even try to comprehend how something that most people find enjoying can cause one of the greatest pains possible? I don't know if you can, but that's why I write.


  1. Thank you. As a former teacher of children with Autism this beautifully describes what I see passing over them as they struggle. I will be passing this blog on to ALL the parents I know who have children on the spectrum, including my sister in law. My wonderful niece is autistic and I'm hoping she will also find your blog helpful. You are doing an amazing thing.

  2. Aaron, having read your book, when the drums started last night, I started to watch you. I could tell from my position on the other side of the table that with each beat of the bass drum, your body was reacting to what appeared to be very intense pain. You did a remarkable job maintaining your calm. Thank you for continuing to share your experiences with the world.

  3. Oh, just reading this I can recall the feeling... My dad and brother were in a marching band once and they loved it, so sometimes we also went to watch other bands perform.
    Usually I enjoyed this, because I love the trompets and the flags and twirling sticks, also the softer drums are fun.
    But always there was this part where a hard base drum had a solo... I didn't know yet back then what caused it and I thought everyone must've felt that, but that I just couldn't bear it as much as they did. My dad always tried to point out how cool that part was and couldn't understand that all I wanted at that point was cover my ears and wait for it to be over.
    Just reading this blog leaves me thinking back to that time and squirming.

  4. One thing I always preach to OT's now to teach individuals with autism is the ability to have a plan A, B, and C in the event of a sensory overload. Aside from that, individuals with autism (if they are able to) need to learn simple social scripts to get themselves out of the situation (given the situation allows).

    I have put it into practice now for 2+ years and the system worked like a charm for me. Unlike a lot of individuals with autism, I am calm, cool, and collected even when there is a sensory overload episode and my OT peers have always praised me for me being so adaptive and appropriate in these situations!

    My system is this-

    1. Before you walk into a new environment, ALWAYS scan for potential places to escape. I can assess an environment in seconds because of my OT training (as my peers don't really know I am doing this). For a lot of individuals with autism, however, it may take a walkthrough around the area when the environment is not too busy.

    2. I analyze the task I am doing when I walk into the environment. Are there potential things that might trigger a sensory overload episode? If there are, can I avoid the it or I have to work around it?

    3. In the event of a sensory overload, what is considered socially acceptable and appropriate for the situation?

    4. In the event I have to try to press on, what do I do if things keep on getting worse?

    5. Once I make the escape, where is my nearest BEST escape?

    6. Once I regroup, do I have to come back in the environment again? If yes, then do I have to explain to people who might not know what just went on? If yes, what is the reason I can give?

    With my professional training, I can do this on the fly. But for a lot of individuals with autism, this must be carefully planned out with someone who understands them and has great social skills at least 30 minutes before they go into potentially sensory overwhelming environments.