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Some people hear the word autism and are immediately scared by the word. However, when I was diagnosed autistic, I was nothing but relieved because I finally had answers to all of the questions I was constantly asking of myself.
To be honest I had decided if I was found not to be autistic then I was obviously just this weird human being that was completely devoid of any ability to fit in and consequently get on in any career I was destined to have because I couldn’t work out how to play this game everyone kept talking about.
I want to end this on a positive note so let’s talk about the difficulties I have as an autistic person and a little about my sensory profile to try and help you understand the difficulties I have and how I manage them.
Like many autistic people I suffer with sensory processing disorder. Although certain textures and lighting can be problematic (I prefer to work in natural or dull lighting rather than bright LED lighting), my biggest sensory problem is noises.
There are certain noises I really struggle to tolerate. By tolerate I do not mean like ‘oh this is a bit annoying I will concentrate a bit harder’ I mean if that noise does not cease to exist immediately my body is going to explode.
I get fight or flight in my body with noises people would not notice. These noises are typing on a keyboard, metal spoons hitting a bowl or scraping a bowl, loud eating with no background noise, Primark paper bags, rustling of packets (notice how when people pick up a bag of sweets in a supermarket they will examine the contents by rattling the packet). Noises are unpredictable. I can’t stop someone from making noises that is completely out of my control. What is not out of my control is leaving a room or shop or buying plastic bowls. When I am making the noise it is fine because I expect the noise I am in control of it, it is my noise.
Every time I left the house as a teenager it was usually leaving with a slamming door and a torrent of abuse out of my mouth at my brother who had woken me up from downstairs with the annoying sound of his spoon hitting his bowl. I used to hide that bowl and spoon and get told off for it (remember I wasn’t diagnosed). As with most things that change a woman’s temperament it was put down to hormones and I was told I would grow out of it. I would hate Christmas because it meant I would have to sit at the dinner table and listen to everyone eat. It was unbearable this is probably why I eat like I am in a competition.
My fear of noises meant I avoided things like the cinema, or public transport. If I did have to use public transport I would always try and take my Walkman with spare batteries and have an album on repeat. If I had to get on a bus I used to try and take a book (before portable CD players existed). Anything to keep me distracted. As my “fear” of noises causes disabling anxiety, I have to have a breeze to help me keep calm and not have a meltdown or be near a window so I can look out of it to help ground me.
Noise cancelling headphones have been an absolute life changer for me. I take them everywhere. I recently purchased Bose Sport Buds as they are easier to put in my pocket when we are out shopping and a bit more discreet than my Sony MX3000s.
I wear my headphones in the house, as soon as I get in they are on my head to block out the world and recharge. I only take them off briefly to converse with my partner. At work I have reasonable accommodations so I use my noise cancelling headphones and phone instead of the company ones everyone else uses, so I can cope with the typing of others.
If I did not have my headphones, I would not actually be able to do my job I would be paralysed and unable to focus. It happened once where there was a problem with my network and I was practically in tears telling my manager I couldn’t sit here all day. Luckily, he had purchased a splitter and we managed to come up with a work around. I love nothing more than the sound of silence which is why my favourite place is the deep end of a swimming pool.
There are certain textures of food I don’t like and if something is not consistent in texture (e.g. muesli) I can’t eat it. It makes me physically ill. However I am not fussy with food. I enjoy trying new foods and the only ones I avoid or have problems with are cereals and also anything with mushrooms.
I can’t walk on a floor barefoot because I don’t like the feel of small stones or grains of dirt. I can walk on sand because it’s all sand. I also can’t wear socks that are bitty inside. If I was rich, I would wear a new pair of socks every day. As much as there are sensory things I avoid, I also seek sensory pleasures.
I like to chew things. It relaxes me. I was addicted to chewing gum as a child and in primary school was severely reprimanded for chewing Blu-Tack, as chewing gum was banned. Sadly I can’t chew as much now as it doesn’t agree with me so often resort to pens or tassels on hooded tops or my lip.
I also struggle with the roller brush in the hairdressers because I find it painful and this is the same with labels. At work the dress code is quite relaxed and I often wear a designer polo top and jeans with shoes. I will often only buy designer clothes because I find the fit of the clothes and quality nice. I am a designer snob and only buy from certain designers I have my go to ones and don’t often defer from them. With cheaper clothes the material can be a bit strange and not soft. It can feel thin and a bit papery and I don’t like it. I often buy men’s clothes because they are a loose fit and more comfortable.
I have auditory processing disorder and I’m very much a visual learner. Therefore if I am given a new instruction at work it is followed up with an email so I can absorb it and ask questions if I need to. It can make my job tricky because I struggle understanding accents so if I am ringing someone who is Irish or Scottish it can take a few attempts before I understand what they are telling me even though I am asking the question. Auditory processing disorder is like someone speaking to you in a foreign language.
You hear what they are saying. Engage with it. Get lost then as soon as the conversation is over you completely forget everything that was discussed no matter how hard you try to recall the information. So when someone is telling me something I question it to death and may ask to same question in a different way to make sure I am processing and understanding what is being asked of me.
With auditory processing disorder if there is more than one conversation or background music on it means I can hear all three things at the same time. So the instruction, the radio and the conversation.
I am proud to be autistic. Yes, it is not always an easy life but if you gave me a pill with a cure for it tomorrow I would not take it because being autistic is what makes me, me. I can’t change who I am but I can try to make people understand who I am. That is the goal. To make the world a more accepting one.