Over-Stimulation & Ticks
Let’s talk today about something that affects most if not every Autistic Person/ Person with Autism, and that is issues with different types of Stimulation. With that, we’ll also be touching on the subject of ticks as well.
It is useless making a blanket statement in how Stimulation affects each person on the Spectrum as we are all so vastly different and experience the world differently. Negative Audio Stimulation may be perceived differently in my brain than in someone else with Autism. I have also met many people with no issues when it came to wet clothes while that is the absolute bane of my existence.
Returning to Audio Stimulation for a second, let us elaborate on that a bit more. When I say those words, I mean any sounds that may be produced in our environment. I have an oddly vivid memory (because my memory is garbage) of an educational film on Autism they had the class watch when I was in elementary school.
There was one part where they had a static shot of a school cafeteria, and it was something like “This is how us normal people would hear this room” and then suddenly they cranked the volume up past ‘Holy Shit.’ (Which thinking about it, why do that in an Autism Education film when you know there is most likely at least ONE person in the classroom with Autism.)
They told us “This is how an Autistic Person perceives the room,” and I was so confused because that is not how I perceived the room. Do not get me wrong, that IS how some people intake sounds, however defining that as the singular answer leads to stigma.
For me, voices are actually incredibly quiet (which is partially my CAP) and it tends to be sounds with heavier bass or certain tones that can Over-Stimulate me. For an example if somebody coughs in a small room beside me. If they cough into the wall on their side, or cover the cough, it won’t bother me. However, when it is uncovered, towards me or even facing the wall we both face; it can overstimulate me depending on how loud it is.
When something overstimulates me to a point like this, my entire train of thought brutally derails and I need to take a couple seconds to reboot.
Many of us also have issues with certain frequencies that others cannot hear. The lights used in schools and offices and old CRT Televisions are two examples that produce a buzzing sound that is so grating on the ears.
Therefore, I am a strong advocate for allowing students to listen to music during test and exam settings. Sorry about it, but I don’t think it’s an “unfair advantage” or “cheating” to allow people to use tools that allow them to succeed. Some students have absolutely no problem with background noise, but when any noise tends to distract you from your paper, I have no problem with someone using Headphones and Music to help them focus.
I was often accused by other students and even teachers of trying to cheat because I needed a distraction like that to focus. My train of thought was derailed easily by the sound of other students fidgeting, people walking and talking in the hallway, cars on the street outside, people outside, random school building sounds and the friggin buzzing of those damned lights.
“Just take the test in another room” they would say, as if that didn’t only get rid of ONE of those Over-Stimulation factors. (and that is IF you could find an empty room to take the test in anyway.)
If someone really wants to cheat on their tests and exams, they, are, just, going, to, do, it. By adding headphones and music into the equation, we are not going to suddenly be hooligans up late at night recording answers into .mp3 files just so we can get a high score on a math test. I promise you we are using this so that we can keep our train of thought consistent like others.
For physical stimuli, it is a little more nuanced, for me at least. I cannot talk for the wider community, but I do see this same sentiment a lot; shopping for clothes is a nightmare.
There are other things related to this topic but let us start with this first. It really is not as simple as find a size and a few materials we like. Not all clothes are created the same size (despite saying the same damn size!!) and have small differences that don’t usually bother non-Autistic people. These can be seam placement/material, minor shape differences, and how thick the material is.
Physical stimuli are what I personally struggle with the most out of all stimuli. I wear very few clothes, and always laughed extra hard at cartoon character closets full of the same outfit as a kid, because that was me. The problem is, often when I can find clothes that fit all these criteria, they end up being pricey. That is why I will only buy one or two things at a time and take remarkably close care of my clothes!!
When I am wearing something that over-stimulates me, it will be the ONLY thing that I can focus on. Every thought in my mind is “fix, fix, fix” and if it is mixed with other stimuli can make me spiral admittedly.
Physical stimuli do not end with clothes though. It can really be anything that we can physically feel. I know that is not a satisfying explanation, but that truly is the best way of saying it. Let’s say having something sticky, dry, or irritating on your hands.
I HATE having sticky hands, and I don’t care but as long as the water is clear I’m tossing my hands in to get whatever the hell is on me off. It truly feels like the sticky feeling on my hand is slowly leaking under my skin, and ripping it up, which for obvious reasons becomes the only thing I can think about! I also worked for a while in charge of bulk spices at my store, which was fun but filling some of those things was like spilling a nightmare cloud. I always kept wet cloths with me just to immediately clean my hands.
Wet clothes are another example, or even having wet skin and completely air drying. When I shower, I have an extremely specific air dry to towel dry ratio to ensure my skin is perfect! If not, it truly feels like my entire body is pruning. It is even worse with wet clothes because they just keep re-wetting your skin! Not only that, but the way they sit on your skin truly feels like there is no difference between your skin and the clothes anymore. All you know is you need to rip it ALL off, skin and all.
I know everyone has physical stimuli that they don’t like, but the truth is that it most likely isn’t to the degree that we are feeling it. While it is nice to empathize with these things, be careful not to belittle the issue or deny that the problem is any worse than what you can feel. There is no rational part of me when physical stimuli get too much, and that is why I stay incredibly careful in avoiding these problems.
The third major stimuli are social stimuli. This one really has some of the most public stigma out of the three and is the most commonly connected to Autism. Different people across the Spectrum will face this to varying degrees, and some people can handle social situations than others.
I am more socially strong, and consider myself well-spoken and introspective, but I also have a time limit on how long I have out of my safe zone. Some people genuinely take less social energy than others (usually to do with how accepting they are of people with Disabilities) and chipping away at my social energy tank is not an insult at all. Everyone who isn’t me takes some level of social energy to see.
The more people in a situation to, the more stressful it can be. The thing is, the opposite is also true and I am often super uncomfortable one-on-one with people because there is just so much pressure on you to not blow your half of the interaction. Three’s a crowd, but it is also the perfect crowd for this Autistic man. Well, I mean three to five I feel is like the social sweet spot, where everyone has a chance to contribute but there is no major pressure.
There is of course a social wall, and even if I am good at masking it does not mean it is immensely wearing on my mental health, the longer I am out past this wall. I’m usually pretty good at telling when my wall is coming up, but sometimes it can catch me off guard if there are external factors, or if my Bipolar dips just want to say hi. If you see me hit my wall socially and I try to head out, most likely it is NOT something you did, and more just that I hit my wall.
Unfortunately, when I do get overstimulated it can have adverse affects on myself and my actions. There is a nuance to this too, because it truly also depends on our state of mind when overstimulated, the type of stimuli, and how we specifically handle these stimuli.
Usually, when I get over-stimulated and somebody asks me a question, or I try to speak with urgency to someone, I can lose control of my volume and tone. This doesn’t mean that I just get over-stimulated and yell at people, what can happen is I have a slightly raised volume, and I am told that I can have a hostile tone. These are rarely my intention, and often if I get called out on it now, I am better with catching it right away. The problem before was I would always just get told I’m yelling at someone, or being an jerk, and I would get defensive because in the moment I wouldn’t realize my outward tone and it wouldn’t be actually brought up.
My longest record of sticky hands was the last bit of a date once. I was holding our ice-cream while we walked to the park and had nowhere at the park to wash my hands. I impressed that woman so much that day, she married me. (It was our first date, and they were DQ Blizzards)
The final thing I wanted to briefly touch on was ticks. They are actions that most, if not all people on the Spectrum have. They can take many different forms, but for the sake of today’s conversation lets focus on their connection to stimuli. Even if somebody doesn’t often have (obvious) ticks, they can come out more, and become stronger when faced with over-stimulation and avoiding train derailment.
Some of the more famous (and unfortunately often mocked) ticks that appear on the Spectrum are hand-related ticks and rocking our bodies. I do both things, but often the latter only comes out for over-stimulation. These are self-soothing behaviours, and we should not be shamed or ashamed for doing them because they are healing behaviours.
When I am self-soothing, it is a chance for me to push the stimuli out of my brain (or stave off negative feelings long enough to correct the stimuli)
Now don’t get me wrong, I also have ticks that can cause problems as well. For me, laughing is a tick that I learned young. It honestly started when I read something that it is harder to cry when you laugh, and now here we are. I use laughing as a mechanism to lighten uncomfortable situations and try to detach myself from pain.
I also have a terrible tick of messing with my hair. In moderation it isn’t so bad, but you have to be careful you don’t start ripping your hair out!!
I hope this helped clear some more things up about stimuli, ticks, and over-stimulation. Hope you have a fantastic and stimulating day.