Sensory Sensitivities - Sophia's Experience
What does it mean to you?
Sensory sensitivity can be defined as visual, audible as well as how touch and sensation can make me feel and the responses they generate.
On a personal basis I don’t struggle specifically with the visual and audible elements however I do find that different materials and textures a problem; I find clothing can feel itchy and uncomfortable, however this can change hour to hour and day to day, There is no specific rationale as to why something may be comfortable one day and not the other, but I have to try on different outfits to decide what I can tolerate against my skin. This can be extremely frustrating and mentally exhausting as there is no consistency to this phenomenon. It can be something as simple as having washed an item of clothing and this can be the cause or reason as to why I can’t wear it or tolerate the sensation it gives me.
I also struggle with textures on sofas and chairs, and as a result I will use blankets to sit on so that I have a ‘barrier’ and this makes it tolerable and does not cause me discomfort or anxiety. The same issue can arise when I use public transport such as trains, the bus or on an aeroplane; the seats and material used can all instigate sensory problems for me. Over time I have been able to manage these sensitivity issues and can quickly identify what I can tolerate and what material or fabrics I can deal with against my skin..
What do you experience?
Personally I experience the sensation of feeling an itchy discomfort which could be described as ‘painful’, and the feeling of being cold. Some materials make me feel like I have been wrapped in barbed wire and this can be a surreal sensation and extremely unpleasant. These sensations are very individual and will affect different people in different and unique ways; as such people have different coping mechanisms and routines in order to cope with the reaction it causes.
I quickly recognise and identify which textures and materials cause these reactions. I find that cheaper materials don’t seem to cause the responses which I have described but I can say that wool is one thing which is a major trigger and this has been the case since I was young. I have to be very selective when it comes to choosing blankets and bedding and chairs.
During my career as an opera singer I found wearing Opera costumes very difficult as some of the outfits were very itchy, however I managed to relieve this by wearing pyjama bottoms underneath.
One of the strange things I experience is when I buy an item of clothing that at the time feels very soft and perfect for me, however within the space of a week, it can suddenly become uncomfortable and feels itchy, to the point that I think I can never wear it again. However, time passes and then for no reason in particular I find I can wear it; this can become a repetitive cycle for me.
Sometimes an item is absolutely fine until it gets washed, then I can never wear it again, or use it again if it's a bedding or a blanket. Subconsciously I probably rotate the clothes in my wardrobe and find I can wear items which at one point I probably thought I would never be able to feel against my skin because of the extreme reaction it caused me at the time.
When these reactions are extreme, it's like a painful itch all over my body, sometimes in specific areas, at its worst, there have been occasions where I have resorted to extreme action and have cut the arms off of t-shirts.
What happens if you can't do it or your regulating techniques don't work?
My default is my pyjamas or nightwear, for some reason this is the most comfortable clothing and what I feel most comfortable in, I ensure that I am kind to myself and don’t try to fight the feelings this can generate, I have found it is better to try every piece of clothing in the wardrobe untilI find something comfortable and it doesn’t matter how long this takes.
There are no hard and fast rules or techniques which can resolve this, it’s how you’re feeling on the day and every day is different, there is no consistency or rhyme nor reason as to why it can vary so much.
What do you wish other people knew?
The condition of Autism isn’t visual and cannot be identified by looking at a person, the associated sensory and sensitivity issues are exactly the same, we suffer in silence and no one has any idea as to how it can make us feel. It would be an eye-opener if other people could live in my skin for a week and experience the same extreme responses as I do, it would undoubtedly make others appreciate what I endure on a daily basis. I wish people could understand how much of a challenge this aspect of Autism is, to understand the discomfort and different sorts of pain it can cause me and others.