Floating Focus - Bella's Experience
“My autism…it affects me mentally more than anything. So sometimes I find it hard to concentrate. I get easily distracted.”
When our surroundings are bursting with various lights, smells, and sights, concentrating can be difficult for anyone. For many autistic people, these senses are heightened, and it becomes more of a challenge to tune out the distractions.
With stimuli coming from every direction, it can quickly become overwhelming and fracture your thoughts.
At the same time, a lack of stimulation can also disrupt focus. This may lead to sensory-seeking behaviours, where the individual actively seeks out stimulation to regulate their sensory system.
Bella said: “It is when I’m paying full attention to someone or something and I need that extra bit of stimulation.”
When the task or conversation isn’t providing the brain with enough stimulation, individuals might turn to other sources. In Bella’s case, fidget toys come in handy. If that’s not available, she might turn to whatever’s nearest to help her focus and take in any extra information.
She continued: “Everything is sort of bouncing around, I can’t really sit still. I’m always fidgeting, always moving around, trying to do something else to be able to release the energy I have.”
By channeling that extra energy into another object, she can then direct her main focus to what’s important. It helps to sustain attention and filter out distractions.
Fidgeting offers a much-needed outlet for any additional energy, tension, or anxiety, whilst meeting her sensory needs and centering her focus. When you take away that outlet, she can feel trapped, as though she can’t move.
“Sometimes when I am out in public, I do get a few stares…And I get quite uncomfortable when people are staring at me for too long because I can never tell whether they’re staring because they’re curious or whether they’re just being rude.”
Some of these outlets may be misunderstood and viewed as ‘unusual’ by onlookers. As a result, Bella often finds herself masking these behaviours.
She added: “I can’t use that outlet because of how society will look at me. I have to try and either ignore the fact that I have autism or try not to do what I normally do.”
Fiddling with different objects really helps her to concentrate – and taking that tool away only makes things more challenging. Instead of responding with rude or curious stares, it’s important to nurture an accepting environment where everyone is comfortable being themselves without fear of judgement.