Autism and Smell

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As I mentioned in last weeks post on taste sensitivity, this week we’re going to discuss sensitivity to smell in autism.

Image result for smell gif

As with other senses we have discussed, autists can be either hyposensitive or hypersensitive to odours. One autist may enter a malodorous environment without noticing anything amiss, another autist may wretch, or worse!

As a child, my nose was particularly sensitive to my environment (although judging by how I could taste the beer my friends were drinking yesterday evening from the fumes alone, this may still be the case on occasion 😛 ). Bad smells were especially trying- the smell of salads, fish, cigarette smoke, incense, even something so simple as a bag of popcorn could easily turn my stomach.

But it wasn’t all bad- this sensitivity comes with a heightened appreciation for pleasant smells too 🙂

Baking, chocolate, nice perfumes, the outdoors, the smell of metal (don’t ask me why I love this one so much- must be something to do with my taste in music! 😛 😉 )- in fact, such smells are not only a sensory sensation, but can also be used to help calm an autist.

As easily as an unpleasant smell could unsettle me, the right smell could calm me back down again as a child.  I always kept a teddy or a blanket near at hand that I could smell to help soothe and calm me and to lull me off to sleep- I couldn’t sleep without one particular teddy until I was 16!

teddy.png

^^^^My teddy was a lot more raggedy than this…😬

So why does smell affect autists so much?

Interestingly, some studies indicate that there are no differences in sensitivity to smell between autists and their neurotypical peers, however, much research points to the cortex of the brain. This region is heavily involved in smell processing, and yep, you guessed it- the autistic brain shows signs of dysfunction in this region. In fact, the pre-frontal cortex shows signs of overgrowth and excessive linkage in the neurons (just like an overloaded plug), so no wonder sensory perception is altered in autists! This region is also associated with the formation and retrieval of long term memories, which could also explain why smells are often tied to memory recall in autists (which I will explore in more detail at a later stage 🙂 ).

One study also shows that autists may not inhale smells in the same way to their neurotypical peers. Evidence suggests that autists inhale deeply and intensely for both pleasant and unpleasant smells, whereas neurotypicals will tentatively sniff in the presence of an offending odour, which could further explain differences in scent processing.

In addition to this, research suggests that alterations in smell can influence social behaviours. A recent study in fact suggest that autists cannot smell fear and that there is a reversal in their response to fear. In this study, a group of autists were calm when presented with a sample of sweat from a skydiver, whereas their neurotypical peers exhibited classic signs of fear. In contrast, their fear levels increased when presented with the sweat sample from a calm individual!

In other words, an autists social behaviour may be affected by an inability to interpret social cues carried in odours- the mind boggles!

So there we have it dear Earthlings- hope this post didn’t ‘stink’ too badly 😛 😉

bitmoji-2090425460.png

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Pain

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As I am currently recovering from the removal of my wisdom teeth (contrary to popular belief- my mouth is too small 😛 ), I’ve decided to write about pain and autism this week.

Image result for pain gif

One might imagine that autists have a higher response to physical pain owing to our sensory sensitivities, however, pain perception, as with all aspects of the spectrum, is entirely individual to the autist.

Some are hypersensitive (touching the skin or simply brushing your hair can cause pain), whereas others may in fact have very high pain thresholds. Yours truly unknowingly lived with a permanent ulcer in their mouth from an impacted wisdom tooth for a couple of years due this without batting an eyelid! I thought that was how it was supposed to look…😂😬!

oops.png

So why the polar responses to pain?

The evidence as to why this is is unclear. For many years, researchers believed that people with autism were insensitive to pain as they did not always respond to pain in the usual manner (crying, seeking comfort etc), in addition to the display of self injurious behaviours. However, more recent studies have challenged this notion indicating that people with autism show signs of hypersensitivity to pain in the brain, experiencing greater physiological responses to pain than neurotypical peers.

The autistic brain clearly demonstrates alterations in “normal” pain pathways, but is there a root explanation?

Some evidence points to genetic mutations in such genes as the Shank genes (which have  recently been implicated in a number of autistic behaviours), however, the explanation could be much simpler. As discussed in previous posts, numerous neurotransmitters are dysregulated in autism- neurotransmitters which play an important role in our perception of pain.

Evidence suggests that Dopamine in particular plays an important role in the modulation of pain perception and analgesia in the body. Many studies have linked dopamine dysregulation to autism, which could explain why pain responses vary among autists 🙂

There we have it now Earthlings! 🙂 Hope this post wasn’t too “painful” for you! 😉

Okaaaay, that was a bad one! Sorry 😛

We’ll blame that pun on my wisdom teeth! 😉

bitmoji-630449596

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Light Sensitivity

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As twinkling Christmas lights are rapidly being erected around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about autism and light sensitivity this week.

Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia (although the phobia part has never really made sense to me! 😛 ), is quite common for autists.

Image result for the light it burns gif

We are hypersensitive to other sensory stimuli such as sound, so naturally, light too can cause sensory issues for many autists. The wrong lighting environment can cause a whole host of problems that can exacerbate behavioural issues.

If lighting is too bright, this can distort vision, cause headaches and sleep disturbances, and of course, sensory overload and meltdowns. Equally, some autists can be hypo or under sensitive to light. This can cause issues with depth perception, coordination and clumsiness in addition to blurred vision.

In my experience, I have some minor sensitivities to light. Bright lights don’t bother me as such, but I find that I sometimes need to wear sunglasses to take the edge off of a sunny day- sometimes even on a grey one. There exists many photos of me climbing a mountain in the midst of a rain storm wearing my sunnies without a care in the world!😂

rain sun.png

Getting to sleep can also be a minor issue for me if the lighting is wrong- a past trip to Norway during 24 hours of light was an absolute nightmare! (it’s just not right!! 😛 )

So why are we more sensitive to light?

Well, as with many aspects of autism, there has been little research into this particular trait. One study has shown that the pupillary light reflex (the reflex that causes our pupils to either shrink or dilate in response to light) is noticeably different between autists and neurotypicals. Results from this study indicated that this reflex is delayed in autists, where the pupils constricted at a slower velocity and a smaller amplitude (i.e. the maximum size the pupil could constrict to) to neurotypicals. If our pupils are not regulating the entry of light into our eyes as efficiently as our neurotypical peers, this could explain why light can sometimes overwhelm us.

Optic nerve hypoplasia (a condition where the nerve connecting the eyes and the brain is underdeveloped) has also been indicated in a number of cases of autism, with photophobia being one of the main symptoms. So perhaps the development of the optic nerve may be impacted in the autistic brain.

So what can you do to help navigate this sensory issue?

  • Wear sunglasses– Ah, my best friends! I carry a pair in my handbag at all times as you never know when the sun might unexpectedly peep out- even in Ireland! 😛 For night time, why not try an eye mask (although if you’re as fidgety as I am at night, this could end up on the floor before dawn! 😂)!
  • Install a dimmer switch– A useful tool to help optimize light levels to suit the individual (and loads of fun to play with! 😉 )
  • Coloured Filters (overlays or lenses)– These are designed to block specific wavelengths of light which a person may be sensitive to in order to manage visual stress; however, there is no real research to support this claim. But as I always say- if it works for you, give it a try! 🙂

sun.png

Hope you enjoyed this post Earthlings! 🙂

Have a great weekend! 😀

Aoife

 

 

Autism and Nail Trimming

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

So this post might seem a little unusual, but as the difficulties faced by autists when it comes to haircuts has been doing the rounds on social media of late (for the record- I LOVE getting my hair cut! 😀 ), I thought I’d write a quick post about something small that I find a sensory challenge- trimming my nails.

My friends have been complimenting my nails a lot this week, which is a little odd seeing as I have not cut them since 2002! 😲

Image result for long nails gif

Yep- nail trimming freaks me out that much! 😂

Once my mother stopped trimming them for me, I have refused to put a nail scissors or file anywhere near them (save for a manicure in 2005- an experience I have not sought to repeat! 😛 )!

Don’t worry they aren’t freakishly long- I use my hands so much with my hobbies that they never seem to make it past a certain length!

Ow GIF

Trimming/filing my fingernails has always freaked me out. It’s really hard to describe, but for some reason it feels really wrong to me! There’s just something unnerving about nail scissiors cutting so close to the skin that it sends unsettling shivers up and down my spine. Nail filing in particular sends me into cringing convulsions-my hands are tensing up into balls just now at the thought of that abrasive piece of cardboard against my skin! 😂

Image result for shudder gif

Oddly enough I’m fine with toenails, unless I cut too close to the skin 😛

I know I shouldn’t be unnerved by such an innocuous every day process, buuuuttt my brain just doesn’t seem to want to deal with this type of stimulus! 😛

Nail trimming issues are actually quite common among autists. This can be particularly troublesome if an autist is prone to skin picking or self injurious behaviours.

But there are some tricks that can help:

  • Trim your/your childs nails after a bath– this can soften the nail to make the task more comfortable
  • Pressing down on the nail before trimming– this application of deep pressure can temporarily reduce sensitivity
  • Distraction and Bribery– if you are cutting nails for an autistic person, try using bribes or distracting the person with something (particularly their specialist interest) to get the job done
  • Try not to keep the nail too short– aside from the weirdness of cutting my nails, if they were cut too short, or if I sustained a bad break, I found (and still sometimes find) this particular sensation quite unsettling (for want of a better term)

And if all that fails, you can always allow life to trim your nails for you like me (just maybe try to steer clear of your siblings if your nails are a little bit on the long side…😬)

finger

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism Management- Sound

Greetings Earthlings 🙂

So leading on from my recent post about sound sensitivity and autism, today I’m going to expand a little bit more on the subject.

Fun Fact: Did you know that an estimated 65% of autists are sensitive to sound?

Being sensitive to sound can be quite challenging for those on the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be managed.

So here are some of my top tips for managing sound sensitivity:

  • Earplugs/Noise Cancelling Headphones- I know, it’s the obvious one, but it has to be said! Using these can really help to take the edge off for many autists in noisy environments. These can be especially helpful if you are a fan of live music, but find gigs too loud- I have genuinely seen people wear noise canceling headphones, earplugs and cotton wool to gigs, you will not be alone! 😀 Added Bonus– it can also discourage unwanted conversations 😉 Image result for headphone memesIf you’re in the market for a pair, the nice folks at reviews.com have a really good article comparing the best on the market:  https://www.reviews.com/noise-canceling-headphones/
  • Listen to music– if you don’t appreciate the sound of silence like Simon and Garfunkel, then hooking a set of headphones up to a music player is another great way to manage sound sensitivity. You can control what sounds you will hear, drown out potential triggers and have some fun while doing so! 🙂 This is particularly useful in the workplace to help focus your mind on your work whilst keeping distracting sounds out.

download (3)

Top tip– headphones for leisure (comfier for long journeys, seal in the sound better, and will stop your parents complaining about the volume 😉 ); earbuds for the workplace (drown out sound whilst still allowing you to hear if you’re needed by colleagues).

 

  • Try a silent disco- If sound sensitivity is keeping you from partying the night away in the club, why not go to a silent disco (as seen in the final episode of Atypical)? These are quiet, but loads of fun- and they enable you to control both the volume and choice of music. As an added bonus, you can take off your headphones at any time and have a conversation without the need for shouting 😀

 

  • Move away from the offending stimulus– I know it sounds a little silly, but sometimes you just need to take a step away from offending sounds.

Image result for step away gif

We can’t always walk around wearing noise cancelling headphones -they can really irritate your ears if you wear them for too long, especially if you happen to be wearing earrings at the time! 😛

Top Tip- If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an irritating sound, especially on a night out, take a few minutes to go outside or to the bathroom, or try stepping out to the quiet of the smoking area (although this may result in a different kind of sensory assault…)

 

  • Ask if an offensive sound can be stopped– Naturally, we can’t go around demanding that someone chew less loudly or ask the DJ to turn the music down (can’t commit social suicide!), but it doesn’t hurt to ask a friend/family member to turn down the car radio volume, not to pop balloons around you or to stop playing with that sonic app that makes your ears bleed (remember people playing with those in school as the teachers could never hear the frequency?)!

 

  • Magnesium supplements– Now this one is a little weird. Some people believe that magnesium deficiency attributes to our sensitivity to sound…this smells a bit like pseudoscience to me… but hey- if it works for you, who am I to question it!

So there we have it Earthlings, my top tips for managing sound sensitivity on the spectrum 😀

Have a good weekend everyone (unless you’re back to school next week- in that case, my condolences! 😛 😉 )

Aoife

Autism and Sound Sensitivity

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Leading on from my previous post on sensory processing, today I’m going to expand a little bit on sound sensitivity.

bitmoji-849393090.png

Many autists have a higher sensitivity to certain volume ranges and frequencies of different sounds. Also known as hyperacusis, this sound sensitivity can make encounters with seemingly innocuous every day noises a struggle.

For many, the wrong sound can even cause physical pain!

Sometimes autists can also be hyposensitive or under sensitive to sound, meaning that they may not react to certain sounds, or may even enjoy noisy environments- which would explain my preference for rock music 😛 😉

Luckily, I am only mildly sensitive to sounds, but I have my moments. Popping balloons, the unexpected blare of a drivers horn, a sudden change in the music I’m listening to- I may overreact to such sounds juuuuuust a teensy bit! 😛

I recently physically jumped at my desk after an unexpected change in the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera!

Mortified! 😛

Sometimes it’s not just the volume of the noise, but the frequency or how it sounds to me. A person was recently whispering a rosary behind me at mass and the pitch of that whisper nearly drove me insane- inside my head I was silently screaming! 😛

Image result for covering ears gif

A neurotypical may be able to ignore irritating noises like these, but I just cannot keep from focusing on it- it’s like I can’t concentrate on anything else.

For the most part I can keep my screams on the inside, but if a particular sound persists it can be quite upsetting, especially if I’m already stressed and on edge. A piece of lab equipment that kept backfiring with a giant pop one afternoon triggered a meltdown for example.

But why are our ears really so sensitive?

One study suggests that autists experience stronger autonomic reactions to noise (these are unconscious reactions triggered by the autonomic nervous system which controls a number of bodily functions such as heart rate, respiratory rate and digestion- i.e. “rest and digest”).

Another study, which examined the brains response to different sounds, found that certain areas are hyperactive in children with autism versus their peers. For example, there was increased activity in the Amygdala- an area of the brain associated with social and emotional behaviour, in addition to the cortices which process sensory information.

In other words, the autistic brain has an entirely different physiological response to sound!

So try to bear that in mind the next time you sneak up behind us to whisper in our ears! 😛 😉

Image result for sneak up behind gif

Aoife

Sensory Screenings

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Ah the cinema- giant screens, surround sound, confectionery counters, reclining chairs; a perfect treat in many respects (until you need to dash for the loo, or eat too much sugar! 😛 ).

Image result for cinema gif

But for many people with autism, a trip to the cinema can present a number of sensory challenges- the brightness of the screen and overly loud audio can be quite distracting for example.

In recent years, a number of cinemas have begun to host special sensory screenings for children with autism.

In case you hadn’t noticed from all of the autism on screen posts I write, I’m a bit of a film buff, so naturally when I saw that my local cinema was hosting a sensory screening of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul‘ I had to give it a try! 🙂

For anyone thinking of seeing the film, it’s not as good as the previous ones- the cast change didn’t really work! 😛

So what’s different about a sensory screening?

A sensory screening differs from the average cinema experience in the following ways:

  • A special sheet of acetate (it reminded me of a giant plastic pocket) appeared to cover the usual backdrop to reduce the screen brightness
  • There are no trailers (woohoo 😀 !)
  • Sound levels are reduced
  • The lights remain on throughout at a dimmed level

This last part was quite nice actually as I did not emerge from the cinema with the usual vampire-esque response to daylight! 😉

Image result for vampire light gif

So what did I make of the experience?

Well, to be honest it was a little weird for me at first as someone who frequents the cinema quite regularly. I wasn’t expecting the lights to stay on, but you adapt pretty quickly. It was quite a pleasant transition to go from dark to light scenes without feeling blinded! 🙂

This did however, make it a little bit harder to see any of the night-time scenes which I found a tad distracting.

But all in all I found the experience quite nice and would highly recommend it for anyone who struggles with sensory issues 🙂

However, I would have a slight critique to make in the choice of sensory films that are shown. Any films that I have seen advertised as sensory friendly here in Ireland fall into the family friendly/childrens category. While it is brilliant that many children with autism are afforded the opportunity to attend these screenings, we often forget that children with autism grow into adults with autism, adults who may want to watch the latest Marvel or James Bond movie, or a racy rom com in sensory comfort.

As they say- a lot done, more to do.

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

bitmoji1352147995.png

Aoife

 

 

Autism and Skin Sensitivity

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

So today I spent much of my time screaming inside my head- “Why does this outfit itch so much???!!!” 😛

Image result for itchy gif

This is a fairly common complaint for autists when it comes to clothing.

A single sharp fiber in your skinny jeans, an irritating label on your neck, a twisted bra- the niggling is a killer to the autistic brain!

When my skin is irritated, I find it very difficult to concentrate on much else until the offending stimulus is removed. It drives me insane- especially if I’m not in a position to remove or adjust the offending item of clothing. I’ve often had to find creative ways to navigate clothing irritation when out in public such as well placed blister plasters (I did this to the irritating clasp of a lanyard once!) and toilet roll to create barriers against the fabric!

Needs must after all! 😉

bitmoji1326577628

But is my skin really this sensitive?

According to science, the answer is yes!

Research suggests that gene mutations cause problems for the sensory nerves in our hands, legs, arms, fingers and of course, the skin covering them. Mutations cause these nerves to be excessively sensitive- described by scientists as having the volume turned up to the max setting. When these nerves relay sensory information back to the brain, the brain feels the touch of certain stimuli at a heightened, exaggerated level.

Hence my internal screams! 😛

Another study, which tested the response of autists and neurotypicals to sensory stimuli (e.g. a scratchy wool jumper) in a brain scanner, found that the autistic brain reacts more strongly. The primary cortex of the brain (involved in sensory processing) and the amygdala (involved in emotional regulation) were both hyperactive during this experiment, suggesting that autists a) process sensory input differently, and b) struggle to regulate their emotional response to stimuli.

So what can you do to help an autist with sensitive skin?

This is a tough one to advise. Sensitivities vary from person to person. Some may favour loose clothing, others enjoy the comfort of tight clothes which provide calming deep pressure. In my experience, the best tip that I can offer is to use a seam ripper to properly remove labels (the remnants of the tag can be just as irritating). After that, trial and error is the best way to find out what works for you/or your child 🙂

Some days, sensitive skin can be a pain (especially where undergarments are concerned 😛 ), but hey- it also makes puppies all the fluffier! 😉

Image result for petting fluffy puppy gif

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Sleep and Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Did you know that between 40% and 80% of autists reportedly have sleep problems?

bitmoji-1207141827.png

I have spent many a restless night tossing and turning whilst my mind races. Like a washing machine on the highest spin setting, my mind keeps going round and around when I turn out the lights.

This is a fairly accurate (and cute) representation of my efforts to sleep at night:

gif.gif^

I struggle to get comfy and start thinking and stressing about my day, about tomorrow, about that embarrassing time when I got an answer wrong in class and everyone laughed at me…and it keeps rolling on in a similar never-ending loop. The pillow starts heating up (did you know that thoughts produce heat? ), I start stressing about not sleeping and how soon the alarm will go off, get frustrated and inadvertently end up even more awake than before!

Eventually I pass out, and when the sun comes up the next morning…

ugh.png

….I wake up feeling like death in a tangle of bedclothes, wearing my sheet as a scarf! 😛

It doesn’t happen every night, but on occasion, especially if I have to be somewhere important or catch a bus early the next morning. I spend so much time thinking about needing sleep that I end up chasing away any tiredness! 😛

But why are we prone to disturbed sleeping patterns?

As with many aspects of autism, it’s unclear why exactly we struggle with sleep, but the experts have a few theories on the subject:

  • Melatonin, the hormone which controls sleep and wakefulness, is thought to contribute to sleep issues in autism. The amino acid tryptophan is needed for the body to produce melatonin, an amino acid which research has shown can be either higher or lower than normal in people with autism. Ordinarily melatonin is released in response to darkness (to induce sleep) with levels dropping during daylight hours (to keep us awake). However, studies have shown the opposite in some autists, where higher levels of melatonin are released during the daytime and lower levels at night. So that explains why I’m often inexplicably dying for a nap in the middle of the day!                                                   sleepy.png
  • Sensory issues are also thought to contribute to these sleep problems. Many autists have an increased sensitivity to such stimuli as touch, light, noises, etc. During my first year in college I became somewhat of an insomniac due to city noises, late night fire alarms and paper thin walls…
  • A number of autists, such as myself, are night owls. Recent brain imaging scans have shown that there are physical differences in the brains of night owls and morning larks. Night owls show signs of reduced integrity in the white matter of the brain (fatty tissue that enables brain cells to communicate with each). This compromises the speed of transmission between neurons which can cause insomnia, daytime sleepiness, antisocial personality disorder and interfere with cognitive functioning. Differences in the integrity of white matter have been linked to ASD’s, so this could explain why we struggle to sleep at night. But it’s not all bad- some studies have shown that night owls are more productive, have more stamina and can display greater analytical and reasoning abilities than morning larks! 🙂
  • Anxiety problems are also thought to contribute to troubled sleeping

So what can you do to improve your sleep?bitmoji-330321839.png

Weighted blankets are often recommended to help manage autism. As I’ve discussed previously, autists have higher levels of stimulatory neurotransmitters and lower levels of calming neurotransmitters. Weighted blankets contain metal or plastic beads in the quilted layers to apply deep, calming pressure to the user- like simulating a hug. This pressure is designed to stimulate the release of serotonin (which helps regulate the sleep cycle and temperature) and dopamine to relax and calm the mind and to better help us to sleep.

Some studies have shown that weighted blankets do not noticeably improve sleep for autists, however many people, neurotypical and neurodiverse alike, have found that they get a much better night’s sleep from using them- so it’s worth a try!

I’m dying to try one myself, so I’ll let you know how I find it if I do! 🙂

Personally, I’ve discovered that using screens too close to bed time can make it harder for me to nod off at night. Scientists have found that the blue light emitted by most screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. If melatonin disturbances are indeed contributing to your sleep issues, it would be wise to decrease screen time in the night time.

Aoife’s Top Tip: Ditch the laptop before bed, read a book instead! 😉

Experts also recommend avoiding caffeine, getting more exercise, establishing a routine and taking measures to manage stress.

In my experience, stress management is key to getting a good nights sleep. My memories of being an angsty teenager are littered with sleepless nights spent fretting about everything! Once I got on top of my stress, peaceful sleep was quick to follow 🙂

Sleep will come, you just have to find what works for you.

Goodnight dear Earthlings, I’m feeling a nap coming on 😉

Enjoy the weekend!

bitmoji1631749140.png

Aoife

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑