Like many people on the autism spectrum, Sawyer has difficulty processing senses that most of us take for granted. Sawyer doesn’t recognise that he is hungry, or too hot/cold, because often he can’t separate those sensations from whatever else happens to be going on around him. If we go to a busy shopping centre, the many different sounds, sights, lights and smells can completely overwhelm and upset him.
These sensory differences affect Sawyer’s behaviour on a daily basis, and therefore make a huge impact on his life. Here are some of the things we have learned, that are currently working for Sawyer. Add a comment below if you have any other tips or ideas!
We avoided these for a long time, not wanting to put any additional barriers between Sawyer and the world. But giving in to them has changed his life for the better. We are teaching Sawyer to recognise when he is feeling overwhelmed, so he can choose for himself when he needs to use them. We find that when he is overwhelmed, knocking out one of his senses helps him to make sense of the rest.
Calming music at bedtime
Once Sawyer is asleep, he sleeps like a log! But it can take him hours to slow his thoughts down enough to drift off to sleep in the first place. Playing calming music as he goes to sleep seems to really help with that. I think the music distracts Sawyer from his other thoughts, and allows his brain to focus on only one thing – the calming sounds in his bedroom.
Stock up on plasters!
Sawyer hates the sight of blood. Even a tiny speck from a slight graze is enough to send the day in to a downward spiral of sensory meltdown. Recently Sawyer noticed a small cut on his finger during a trip to the supermarket and all hell broke loose. Since then, I have plasters in every bag I own, plus the house, car, my desk at work – everywhere!!!
Sawyer often forgets something even as basic as eating or drinking, because his brain doesn’t easily differentiate feelings of thirst/hunger from other sensations such as noise, being too cold, or being tired. We give gentle verbal prompts to remind him to think for himself whether or not he needs a drink, a snack, to wear his coat, etc. We also do simple things like leave a water bottle in his immediate vicinity, so that there is a visual reminder for him to have a drink. Sawyer is beginning to understand that if he starts to feel overwhelmed, he may benefit from having a drink/snack/taking his jumper off.
Sensory breaks (for everyone!)
I try to factor the breaks in to whatever type of day we’re having. Sometimes it just means getting somewhere early to sit in the car in silence for a few minutes before we get out. Other times it means escaping a children’s party and sitting in on the floor of the corridor with a sheet of paper for a fan. Whatever it is – I try to take the break. Sawyer needs it, and sometimes I find that actually – I do too.
Read more on Sensory Processing Disorder at the National Autistic Society website.