When you have sensory issues, life can be a constant search for constructive solutions. The problem is that most people aren’t dealing with sensory issues…and those that do very likely have them in a different way. As a result, it can be tough to find examples to learn from.
This means you often have to go it alone and develop coping strategies through a process of trial and error. It’s actually one of the benefits of sensory issues: they force you to become creative.
One of the great joys of reading blogs by people on the spectrum…and by parents of kids on the spectrum…is reading about all the different ways people adapt to their sensory experiences.
Here are just a few of the ways I’ve adapted, over the years.
1988: I’m 13 years old.
Mom calls the family to dinner. Before joining them, I open my closet door, take out a box. It’s filled with dozens of plastic utensils. I steal them from school…take a few from the cafeteria several times a week. At fast food places, I always visit the condiment counter, grab the disposable forks, fill my pockets with them.
A magpie of plastic utensils, I build up a huge collection so that I’m never in danger of running out.
Mom calls again. I choose a packet from the box…a spork/knife/napkin combo, this one from school.
I sit at the dinner table. I use my knuckles to push away the metal utensils my mom has laid out…I hate the feel of them. I lay out the plastic spork and knife, proceed to eat.
(Later in life, I give up the spork-hoarding and just switch to chopsticks.)
1990: 15 years old.
My parents offer to take me to the mall for new clothes. The new school year is beginning; they’d like to see me stop wearing the same old clothes I’ve had for years, stock up on some new items. I refuse to go.
New clothes are stiff, uncomfortable. Even when you pick out softer material, the threads still lack the worn quality that older clothes have.
I stand my ground. Eventually they give in, take me to the only place I’ll choose clothes: the thrift store. Most items there are not only soft, but broken in, more comfortable. I pick out some old, beat up clothes. My parents sigh.
I don’t think it bothers them that I’m not stylish. I think it bothers them that I never fit in. And used clothes, to their way of thinking, exacerbates the problem. They know High School can be tough. Thrift stores are my way of seeking comfort, so I just ignore everyone, wear what I want.
1995: 20 years old.
I need a haircut, something I dread: touch can be intense, and the random touching during a haircut is reliably annoying. Not to mention the social component: I hate having to navigate the compulsory small talk that accompanies every haircut. I’ve tried numerous barbers, looking for a quiet one. I’ve tried remaining stoic, not responding, hoping they’ll get the hint. They never do. Small-talk is a default setting for their profession, apparently.
I go to barbershops out of habit, but finally…in a random epiphany…it hits me: I can just cut my own hair. Why didn’t I realize this before?
I go to a salon, where products are sold. I buy a kit containing scissors, clippers…and most importantly, a how-to video. I watch the video over and over.
I stand in front of a mirror…use the clippers, then the scissors. I examine the final result: a total mess. My hair is choppy, uneven. I could care less. I’m thrilled to have avoided another trip to the barbershop.
The next time I cut my hair, I do a slightly better job. The time after that, it’s even a little more improved. I never get a total handle on the skill set, but it works out okay. I get by.
Removing wrappers from crayons. Working night shifts due to an aversion to lights. And so on. There are more responses than I can list here. Which is a good thing.
Scent, sound, taste, touch, sight: these coalesce into a perception of the world. And when your sensory experiences are different from those of other people, it means the world itself is different.
It’s just a daily part of life for people on the spectrum, and for parents of children on the spectrum: identifying sensory issues. Experimenting with solutions. And adapting…not to the world of other people, but to the world our senses make for us.