Growing up, I often felt overwhelmed without knowing why. The hustle and bustle of school, the raucous children, the crowds, made me feel stressed and confused. I could not concentrate on my work when there were lawn mowers outside or other mechanical noises. Fire-works and party crackers terrified me. I found it very hard to concentrate at school, and I struggled to decode instructions. Too much information, too many demands. At the time I just blamed it on my strange otherness, the inexplicable difference that set me apart from the other kids whose laughter and conversation bombarded me from all sides. I did not realise that that this had a name: sensory over-stimulation.
As a child and teenager I could not place my bare feet on the ground because it felt uncomfortable, and I wobbled and became unsteady. Therefore I tip-toe walked. This sensitivity reduced when I was in my late teens, but I still prefer to walk on tip toes when I am bare footed or just wearing socks. When I am wearing shoes, the sensitivity disappears because I have a barrier between my feet and the ground.
Because I am so sensitive to noise, I can only read and understand information if the environment is quiet. People talking, the sound of car engines, lawn-mowers, metallic tapping, any aversive noise, will make the simple task of reading or watching TV incredibly laborious. I will try my hardest to concentrate, but the effort involved makes me feel very stressed. My brain has to work at a frantic pace in order to try and filter out the background din, and therefore I often miss key information or fail to form a full understanding of what I am reading or hearing.
Peace and quiet is restorative and calming. Unfortunately, because of the busy world in which we live in, I very rarely get to enjoy a state of relative tranquility. I blame that strange creature called homo-sapien. If it were not for homo sapien maybe I would have peace. Only bird-song and natural sounds would be heard, which are bearable. The modern world that humans created is not compatible with my brain, and my brain needs quietude in order to function. Life can be very unfair !
Noise also affects my sleep. I have to put my fingers in my ears in order to block out noise, because otherwise I will not be able to relax and fall asleep. Modern flats are incredibly noisy, and it feels as though there is no privacy. I feel suffocated, angry, hemmed in, imprisoned. I want to be alone, both physically and mentally. I want to shut myself away from the world so that I can process the day’s events. Modern life does not allow me that luxury!
My sensory sensitivity negatively affects my mental functioning. It slows down my thought processes and hinders decision making. My brain cannot switch off, it is always on hyper alert, and because it spends so much time and effort processing noise and movement, there is little processing power left for every day decisions and organisation. Consequently I feel that autism has reduced my intellectual capacity, and I am probably not operating at my full potential. I speculate that this is probably the case for many autistic people: all their intelligence is being used to process the sensory world, which means that other skills suffer. In severe cases this can perhaps make them seem less intelligent than they really are. Alternatively a person can appear more capable than they really are, because they cannot apply their intelligence in the real world because of the sensory confusion. This is just a theory of mine, but maybe autism is, at heart, a sensory processing disorder.