The body is a wonderful thing, complete with a glorious system of nerves for experiencing our resplendent world. Most individuals seamlessly navigate their sensory environment. But for myself and other autistics, simple tasks lay at the mercy of sensation. I am forty-one years old trying to make each day of my life matter. I have the same drive for success as any other woman: career, family, autonomy and financial stability. But too often I have been paddling upstream against a current of external factors I can’t control. Finding ways to turn the boat downstream and work with those factors can afford me the energy to do the things I want to do rather than just trying to stay afloat. This isn’t about sensory therapy. This is about living. Here are six kindnesses, some mindful and some using practical tools from Happy Hands Toys that help to steady my life passage:
1. Accept My Nature
If the sun is beating brightly off the water I don’t question my need for sunglasses. So why not also accept that I need to stim and use fidget tools in my everyday life. I accept I am Autistic. Instead of hiding or denying my sensory overwhelm, I find therapeutic ways to prevent exposure, use the positive experiences to my advantage and reduce negative impact.
2. Avoid the Rough Rocks
If I must portage over the land, a less rocky path is preferred. I cut the tags off and wear only comfortable clothes and shoes. I keep my home as calm as I can, having less things around that distract me, adjusting the lighting using dimmer switches and using essential oils to create a scent environment I enjoy. These are things I can control and I allow myself the pleasure of owning them.
3. Don’t Fight the Current
I used to try and control everything. For example, as a child my legs would swing high so I learned to still them by tightening them around my chair legs. I was building a rickety dam on a torrent river instead of turning around and following the ease of the stream. Elimination of a stim doesn’t work. Alternatively, keeping a regular schedule that includes movement and creativity in my daily life allows me to fulfill my need to explore the sensory world. I therefore have less I am trying to forcibly control and I am experiencing more. For example, I can use the bright colours I perceive to heighten my creative art. If I need to move, I can exercise or dance, using the energy to benefit my body or I can stim with a fidget I enjoy.
4. Tame the Internal River
Sometimes my body experiences a physical rushing sensation in my limbs and shoulders. I require deep pressure massage and skin desensitizing to be comfortable. Since I have not yet found a masseuse available for house calls day and night who will work for free, therapeutic tools have become my go to essential. The Spikey Light up Ball is lightweight and portable with just the right amount of resistance and pliability to rub it into the pressure points on the neck. To address surface skin, I use the Magnetic Spikey Balls. These hard golden orbs offer the perfect amount of desensitizing scratchiness on the skin without being sharp. The inexpensive Finger Massage Sensory Ring can be rolled up and down addressing all sides of your fingers all at once. They are very discreet and so easy to tuck in a pocket or a bag.
5. Explore a Light Breeze
When I was a child I had a stuffed bear I would carry everywhere. He had the most glorious ears that I’d rub along my face and between my fingers. I found similar effect with the ears on the Furry Key Chain. I keep this soft fashion puff clipped on my cross body satchel, sitting perfectly at hand level for relaxation when I am out of the house. I like light touch on my fingertips, between the fingers, under my lip and on my back (my husband tickles my back with his fingertips and that is delightful). I am more receptive to light touch if I maintain deep pressure in my arms, shoulders and legs. The balance of both types of touch suits me best like a light breeze on a warm day.
6. Use Tools to Stay Focused When a Storm is Brewing
Focus aids are especially important during auditory chaos. Imagine trying to hear someone talk to you while thunder is booming and rain slamming on all the surfaces around you. A good set of ear buds will help reduce noise level but having something in my ears can sometimes get in the way. Tilting an ear towards the area of focus and closing my eyes to block out light and movement helps. Often I use a spinner ring. Sized to my index finger I can use one hand to spin the outer surface of the ring around the inner base. The bike chain key ring can also be used subtly in one hand. Both my husband and I enjoy rolling putty in our hands while having a conversation. It is fun to pull apart and break it into pieces. I used to do this with a bit of tissue but the putty is much more favourable, less messy and reusable. If stress is heightened putty also can assist with emotional regulation. It can be squeezed and torn at will. That may or may not be why it is perfect for a couple’s verbal encounter…
As a woman, I can’t afford to deny my true self. These forgiving kindnesses allow me some comfort from the chaos of extreme sensation. I can itch with inspiration rather than physical discomfort and set higher goals towards a balanced and authentic life. There is no greater benefit than being able to live more freely.
About Jennifer Lisi
Jennifer is a writer from Toronto Canada diagnosed autistic as an adult following a change to a minimalist lifestyle. Stirred by fresh perspective, she determinedly sought out as much information and strategies as she could towards living a truly authentic life. Jennifer is a regular contributor to Autism Nova Scotia’s Autistics Aloud, a copywriter for Happy Hands Toys and a member of Autism Canada’s Advisory Committee. She also volunteers as a cantor for three local choirs and teaches Latin Chant. She lives with her husband, teen sons, bunny and puppy. For more you can visit her on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram @BiteSmaller.