The 5 Most Overlooked (and Common) Autistic Stressors

Blue solid foreground with text "The 5 Most Overlooked (and Common) Autistic Stressors" and to the side a picture of a pale skinned woman in a grey shirt smiling at the camera.
Here are five things that are so common in our modern lifestyle, that we often don't have a chance to experience life without them, so we don't see how much they affect us.

What’s stressing you out, that you don’t realize?

Lots of things can be more stressful for autistic individuals (from kids to adults), than for neurotypicals. Here are five things that are so common we often don’t notice they can stress us out and make life harder, and a few practical tips to work with each.

This is geared towards autistic individuals, but a lot of it applies to highly sensitive people, as well as people with sensory differences, who live with chronic pain, are neurodivergent in other ways, those who did not fit in to standard school models, or are trauma survivors.

This is a recording of a webinar hosted by Heather Cook of Autism Chrysalis on 28 June, 2022.

The recording

The 5 Most Overlooked (and Common) Autistic Stressors

Resources mentioned:

Loop earplugs:


Bose headphones:

Teraspecs fluorescent-filtering sunglasses:

Kelly Mahler interoception resources:

Jean weighted vest:

How to get the slides

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This workshop takes a lot of time and effort to create, and while I’m happy to put it on for fee, if you want more than that, like the slides, I think it’s reasonable to ask for a little return. This helps subsidize my out of pocket costs, most of which goes to a human editor to correct the auto transcription.

You get THREE files:

  1. All the slides, for quick reference or easy printing (if desired).
  2. All the slides, PLUS the transcript, links to resources mentioned, and space for notes.
  3. The companion handout, 5 Most Overlooked Stressors, which was free with the workshop (and is included here for your convenience).

I thought about what I would want if I were to put my hard earned cash toward this, and I’d want more than a file of the slides. I’d want something more useable.

So I’ve added the complete transcript, interspersed with the slides, so you can read along with them on your device or print them out (but that would be a lot of paper). With space for your own notes and thoughts.

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Downloadable handout:

5 Most Overlooked Stressors
5 Most Overlooked Stressors

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    Here’s the full transcript:

    All right. So today is June 28 2022. And this is a webinar that I’m doing called five most overlooked and yet common autistic stressors. So let me go back to the screenshare. And our plan for today is to talk to do a short intro, talk a little bit about what stress is, then go over five of the most overlooked stressors, these are things that are simply so common in our modern lifestyle, that we often don’t have a chance to experience life without them. So we don’t really see how they affect us. And then I’ll put a two to three minute shameless plug that is gonna be my only like sales pitch in this. And then we’ll have some time for q&a.

    So a couple of housekeeping details. I will be reading the slides for those who have reading challenges or aren’t watching the video actively or have visual impairments. But I will also be expanding on it, it’s not simply going to be just me reading slides.

    So you’re welcome to participate with your camera on or off. You’re welcome to move around to stimm to doodle. There’s lots of ways to pay attention. Please do what works for you.

    And during the q&a, you’re welcome to communicate via chat voice or just listen quietly. You’re also welcome to put questions in the chat box as we go. And I’ll try and answer them to the extent that I’m able, especially ones that are like on topic at the moment. But any that we don’t get to we’ll cover later on.

    Please keep yourself on mute to reduce background noise for those of us who have auditory auditory sensitivities. But feel free to unmute when you want to, to contribute especially during the q&a part.

    And please note that this is being recorded so and will be made available publicly on my website afterwards. So please make choices for videos on or off or what you want to say in the chat or on the on the recording that you’re comfortable with.

    Alright, so a little bit about me. My name is Heather cook. I use she her pronouns. I’m autistic. I’m highly sensitive. I have sensory processing differences. I live with chronic pain from a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and have a smattering of other labels. But how I identify is, I am strong, I am resilient. I have faced many challenges, including disability, poverty and trauma. And I have found healing, friendship, and compassion. And those are the things that I choose to focus more on.

    I also want to acknowledge that the land that I live in work on is the traditional homeland of the Omaha the southern Ponca, Ioway, Otoe, Missouri, and the Sauk and Fox tribes. And that I’m the beneficiary of both their hardships and their wisdom. It’s my hope that what we do here together today is one small step in the direction of dismantling the thought patterns that lead people to hurt each other and oppress each other.

    So, part of those thought patterns include how we live and work in in our modern era, so that includes what we often refer to as stress.

    So, a lot of times when we think about stress, we think about like a bad thing happening, a diagnosis that you didn’t want or your boss giving you a hard time or too many things to do. But stress actually can is a lot broader than that. So stress is at a scientific level, it’s anything that takes extra energy to deal with whether that’s bad or good. So, when you get when your boss gets on your case, or you get sick, those take energy, but so does learning something new, working on a relationship, challenging yourself with a new project or personal growth, frankly, personal growth takes a lot of energy.

    And when you have enough energy, that you can deal with those things, whether it’s bad stuff or good stuff, you can have patience, you can face difficulties, you can overcome challenges, you can deal with all of the problems that come up. But but when you have, when you’re being pulled farther, than you have to give like you can think of that, think about it as a tug of war.

    So in this tug of war, you’re in the middle. And in the middle is your calm center, it’s the place where you have enough energy where things can happen. And you’re like, oh, I can handle that, oh, we’ll just change this, oh, we can deal with that we can find another way around this, we can try this new thing. This is exciting. This is challenging, this is fun. Or this is just this is within my realm of stuff that I can handle. But when things are being are pulling on you, whether it’s good stuff pulling on you, pulling you in one direction, or bad stuff pulling you in another direction, what really matters is not which direction you’re being pulled. But how far. Does that make sense?

    So when you’re being pulled, there’s a certain depending on how much energy you have, you can be pulled a certain amount in whatever direction. And if you’re being pulled more than that, you could end up flat on your face in the mud. Now that might look like getting snippy at people or being irritable. It could look like meltdowns or disengaging, shutting down. If you have chronic pain, it could look like an increased pain level, just because your nervous system doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the extra drain on its resources.

    So what I want to talk about today are five things that can pull you in one of those directions that can create extra stress. So I’m gonna refer to these as stressors, a stressor is technically a thing that causes stress, it’s just as simple as that. So these are things that affect many autistic people, but also highly sensitive people, or people with high background stress levels, such as chronic pain, or trauma, or other types of neurodivergency. And when you’re so these things can affect those of us who are just more sensitive or have neurodivergency or have pain or trauma more than most people, because if your nervous system is always ramped up, it doesn’t take a whole lot to push you a little bit too far. So even though these things sometimes are quite small, it could just be that one extra thing that’s a little too much.

    So how is this landing so far? Is this making sense?

    Yes. Okay, yeah, yeah, Heather. Yeah.

    Okay. So here’s five things that we may not even notice, because we’ve just had so little experience without them. And I want to say one note before we get into them, is that what I’m hoping here is to help you notice what’s going on or something that could be going on, no idea whether any of these individually will affect any of you particular, particularly, but it could.

    But whatever is going on, you have the power to figure out yourself to figure out solutions that work for you. So there’s no perfect solution. There’s no blanket thing that will always work for everyone or even for a single person that will always work all the time. But you can have a commitment to stay curious, to keep experimenting until you find something that works for you and for your family.

    So having said that, it’s always good to get some additional perspective and real world world ideas and I hope to give some really practical real world ideas here as well.

    Alright, so in no particular order. Here is the first stressor I want to talk about and that is lighting. So lights. So not all light is the same. Fluorescent lighting especially. It’s just frankly awful. It’s awful in my brain, it’s awful for a lot of people, fluorescent lights have been proven to show or have been proven to cause headaches, migraines, fatigue, visual distortions, a lowered immune response and more.

    Workplace studies, including 1000s of workers across very, very large workplaces, so we’re talking general population, not specifically autistic individuals. But in very, very large companies. They’ve done studies that show that when the company replaces all the fluorescent lights, with other forms of lighting, either natural lighting, or LEDs or incandescents, immediately, there are significantly fewer sick days, fewer mistakes, and increase productivity just from changing the lights.

    So it affects actually a lot of people, not just those of us who are more sensitive, but for those of us who are more sensitive, who are autistic, or have visual distortions anyway, or are neurodivergent, those lights can be especially hard to deal with. And so they affect us much more intensely. And yet they are in almost all doctors offices, almost all schools, almost all public places, almost all stores, frankly, just because they’re cheap, they’re easy, they last a long time. And yet, they really hurt us, they hurt a lot of people.

    So here’s a few signs that this might be a thing for you, this might be bothering you. So if you get frequent, unexplained headaches or migraines that you haven’t been able to account for in other ways, or you’re frequently irritable, especially in certain settings. If you make frequent careless mistakes, or you have difficulty focusing, especially in a workplace, or a school that has fluorescent lights, if you feel tired a lot, lethargy, fatigue, if you get poor sleep, or restless sleep, or you can fall asleep, but you wake up frequently during the night, and you haven’t been able to explain that in other ways. Or if you get minor colds very easily, or flu like symptoms, because it can lower immune response. So if any of these things, or several of these things sound familiar to you, this might be something that you want to test out, try it see if see if something else will help better.

    So here’s a few things that you might try. You can switch to incandescent light bulbs, or natural lighting as much as possible. LEDs are also an improvement over fluorescent, but honestly, they’re only a little bit better. As far as the the visual distortions and the headaches and tiredness and stuff goes. So you might test out one room or add lamps to replace the overhead fluorescents. Try it for a little while, try it for a few weeks, see if it helps see if you notice a difference.

    If changing bulbs isn’t possible, say at a workplace or a school, if they’re not willing to like change out everything, try covering them with a diffuser. Be careful though, with what kind of diffuser you get. There are a few different styles. There are styles that that sort of scatter the light and, and calm it like it actually sort of dampens the light, those are helpful, but there are some that, the the spacing between them is more than an inch apart. When I said the spacing between them, and like there’s little squares on the diffuser, if the spacing is more than an inch apart, it basically ends up refracting the lights so that it bounces off objects and actually hits your eyeballs more frequently than with just regular the the exposed fluorescent lights. So that can actually make it worse. Replacing with full spectrum fluorescents is a slight improvement. But replacing fluorescents entirely would be a much better improvement.

    And if you’re in a place where you can’t do that, like a public place, like a store or whatnot, you have absolutely no control over what lighting they use, and even complaining or suggesting that they make different options is really not going to make a difference. Try wearing a wide brimmed hat. This is the one that I use. I’ll wear this in stores.

    There’s something in there. Oh, my glasses.

    So try wearing a wide brimmed hat because the hat will block off a lot of lights, I also have these glasses, they’re called Theraspecs. They’re red tinted. They have a variety of different styles. A lot of them look cooler than this one, I got this one because it’s more wraparound. And they filter out the frequencies of the fluorescents. So that can be a thing. I often look a little bit weird when I go to stores. But I prefer that to going away with a headache. And sometimes it can get really bad for me. If I spend more than about 20 minutes in the store, I might be out for the rest of the day, or even three days, if it’s really bad.

    The glasses are called Theraspecs. That’s the right there on the slide. They’re a little bit pricey, there were around 100 bucks or so depending on which style you get. And as I said, some of them look a lot more like regular sunglasses, they’re just red tinted. So those are options. Any thoughts on the lighting stressor, before I move on?

    You might mention that you can get the incandescent lights from Amazon.

    Oh, that’s right. So if you are looking at incandescent so for the brain feeling incandescence are the best. I know they’re not great for energy, but I stocked up on incandescent bulbs when they started phasing out of manufacturing, but you can still get them on Amazon or various other places online.

    Alright, so the second stressor that I want to talk about is tense voices. So our brains are wired to react to signs of threat in our environment, specifically in other people’s voices. This was really helpful when we lived in small communities. And if someone else was worried about something, it was probably something that you needed to pay attention to for your own safety right now. However, in our modern era, we have a lot of a lot more options for ways that we can have tense, stressed, angry, upset, yelling, voices in our environment.

    So when we hear any of those, our stress responses kick into gear so that we will react if the situation becomes dangerous. And that’s a great thing when we’re actually in danger. But if we’re just watching a show, or listening to the news, our brains literally can’t tell the difference. And they will react the exact same way, they’ll react with a fight or flight response. So this might be something that might could be bothering you if the shows or news or games, podcast radios, audio books, that you tend to listen to have people talking with tense voices or reacting with concern or anxiety?

    Someone has their audio on would you mind muting, please? Okay, my videos went away.

    Give me one second. I’m sorry. Okay. I pressed the wrong button and my slides went away. Okay, so in.

    So in these shows and podcasts, radios, books and stuff that you’re working on? Yes, like working in a call center? Exactly. That is definitely an opportunity for this kind of stress. So I would suggest looking at those kinds of things, the shows the games, the audio books and whatnot that you listen to, notice the tone of voice that people use, are they reacting with concern with anxiety?

    What’s the drama level of the background sound effects or of the music? Because the sound effects and the music can amp up the stress can amp up the drama? So are your shows trying to rev up the drama intentionally or create suspense? So reality shows do this, competitions do this, only five minutes left, are they going to make it in time? Only one minute left? Will they finish? Who’s going to win? Bom, bom, bom! Those kinds of things.

    Do the shows or news or feature clips, or, excuse me. Do the shows or news feature clips of people in states of distress. Or are their sudden loud noises like gunfire or bombs or screeching tires in the background. So those kinds of things, those all ramp up our nervous system.

    Yes, Jennifer, you’re absolutely right. This is called neuroception. It’s a sense of unconscious perception of environmental safety. And if you’re. So if you’re unconsciously noticing cues of danger, your body is starting to create a fight or flight or freeze or fawning reaction. And it might be low enough that you’re not really noticing it. But it might not. It might be like, genuinely, you’re really stressed out. But it also could just be enough that you’re irritable, that you’re stressed that you’re not reacting with patience when you normally would in a particular situation, that you’re feeling tense or on edge. Or your anxiety goes up a little bit. So those are all things that I would invite you to pay attention to like, is that a thing for you?

    So if it is something that you want to check out, here’s a few things that might help. So those can all lead to higher cortisol levels and increased nervous system reactivity, even if you’re not actively paying attention to the content. So even if like the show’s on in the background, or someone else’s watching, and you’re just in another room, if you can still hear it, this could still be a thing for you.

    Try switching to shows that are more even keel or upbeat, or have non dramatic music, especially within an hour or two before bed. Um, try turning off devices that no one’s using. So turn off a TV if no one’s actually watching it. Turn off the radio in the background, the podcast that’s running just because you want to have sounds on or you didn’t think to turn it off. And if you do need sounds off sounds on in the background, try ambient music or nature sounds or even listening to a show where the speaker is has a calmer voice has a steady rhythm.

    I get that sometimes just having something on in the background is helpful. But be careful about what you’re choosing to have on. Okay, other thoughts on this one? I’ve noticed a couple of people in the chat mentioned this might be a thing for you.

    It’s pretty bad for me because after I came out the army if I hear helicopter like here planes I hear shouting I just thought we start to freeze out. I used to get panic attacks.

    Yeah. So the big things. Hearing the helicopters, car doors slamming, fireworks. Those are the more obvious ones. But these ones that are just on TV, or the ones that are just on a show or a podcast. Those might those might even be triggering at a lower level without being big enough that it creates a complete panic attack. I would invite you to notice in yourself if if that is a thing, if this is triggering you in a smaller way.

    So brown noise in the background, possibly, Trisha so having background sounds like brown noise or pink noise white noise. Try them. See if it works for you. What will work for some people won’t work for others. It’ll just be annoying for someone else. But um, but yeah, some of them will work brilliantly for you. Try it out.

    I’ve actually discovered I got these earbuds which I can play certain music which drowns out noise in the background, but when I talk, it turns the volume off so I can talk to people and still have the earbuds.

    Nice. Cool. Actually, that reminds me. Oh, it’s rolled away. Okay, I just got these new earplugs. I don’t like a lot of earplugs. And so Elizabeth wrote that my house can be quite loud with three teens. I’m a huge fan of silicone earplugs. Yeah, so I don’t normally like earplugs because I don’t like the feeling of things in my ears. But I have heard so many people on online autism forums, talking about these ones called Loops, just that I just ordered them. And so far, I actually quite liked them and they don’t hurt my ears. And they come with several different size tips. So I can try different sizes that will fit.

    There’s another brand called erasers, e a, r a s, e r s, that are, I’ve heard are quite good. The loops block out I believe 27 decibels. And the pro one I got both the the silicone soft one and a pro version, which I haven’t tried yet. And that one I believe blocks out another five decibels. And so I’m going to be trying those in stores when I go grocery shopping or whatnot. Because what I’ve been doing for years is wearing construction worker headphones. And so I’ll wear these to the store.

    I like these ones because they fold up and will fit in my purse that I don’t like them because they pulled up because they the earplugs pop off. And I have to put them together almost every time. Anyway, I’ll wear those with my hat and my glasses. And I think it looks a little bit like an alien. But here’s the deal. I actually was quite nervous about that when I started doing that a few years ago, because I thought people would give me strange looks, and it would be a really weird thing.

    But it turned out that actually people don’t give me where it looks that much. Or if they do I don’t notice it. So it doesn’t affect me. But genuinely, it was not nearly as much as I was expecting. And that’s great. So it was It wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it was going to be.

    Yes, someone else mentioned noise Bose noise cancelling headphones I’ve heard those are really good too.

    Okay, so let’s talk about the third stressor. Another plug for Bose headphones, okay.

    Alright, so third stressor is visual distortions. So there’s, there’s a visual processing difference called Irlen Syndrome, which I have. And it’s estimated to affect about one in five people in the general population. And rates are significantly higher among Autistics, and neurodivergent individuals. And I don’t think there’s been any estimates done on highly sensitive people what the rates are, but I suspect it’s higher as well.

    So, this is sometimes misdiagnosed as dyslexia, or it’s called laziness, or you weren’t trying hard enough, or if you just put some effort in. Depending on the severity of the visual distortions, it can be very intense to the point that a child can’t learn to read at all, or has incredible difficulty learning to read. Or it can just be mild enough that you’re a slow reader or you mix things up a lot, or like, there’s little things but you can read, it’s just hard or you get tired. We’ll talk about that more in a second.

    It can affect reading, as well as math, handwriting, depth, perception, light sensitivity, and other things. And the pictures the bottom of the text are showing how some people can perceive a block of text if you have Irlen syndrome. So there’s like a ripple effect where the words just look like they’re sort of rippling on the page. Or it can look like a halo, or it looks like people are are seeing the words are doubled and there’s one copy of them is slightly above an off center of the other ones. It looks kind of like there’s a halo around it. Or it can make it look like the spaces between words are highlighted. And like the light between the words sort of runs down the page. And it can look like there’s a river of light running down the page.

    And Jennifer, no, it is not an eye issue at all, it’s not actually a visual issue. It’s about how our brain, our brain processes, the information that’s being taken in so is not caught in a standard eye test.

    There’s actually a number of other distortions, these are the ones that I see. So So here’s some things that you might pay attention to, to see if this is a thing for you. If reading or math is a struggle, or you’re just slow at it, or it tires you like you pick up a book, and you’re basically use that as a way to fall asleep at night, because you know you’re going to conk out. Or if when you read it, and you get to the end of the line, if you pick the next line, like at the, register return, and you pick the wrong one a lot. So you end up reading the beginning of the same line frequently or the line before it or the line after it and or if you do that, and it takes you a few words, or even half a line to figure out, I didn’t I just read this, that you’re not actually sure you’re probably not taking in all of the information. And that might be a sign of this as well.

    If you make a lot of little mistakes on in math on paper, but not in your head, so if you can multiply things in your head just fine, or you understand how to do the problem. But when you actually go to do it on paper, it’s a challenge.

    Or like dialing phone numbers, it’s like you’re constantly hitting the wrong number. If that happens a lot, especially on a smaller keypad where the numbers are closer together, if you’re bumping the wrong one. It might be because you’re actually not seeing where the button is not because you don’t know which number to press.

    Or if someone throws a ball at you, and instead of catching it, do you flinch? I do that. If you’re walking down the street next to someone do you tend to bump into them? Like walking straight next to each other is hard like you kind of keep sort of going like this and bumping. When you’re writing, does your handwriting tend to slope up across the page or down? And at night, do lights like car headlights look dispersed? So they could be they could be very focused. But like on this picture of the street, the car on the street at night, do the lights look dispersed instead of a clear pinpoint. By the way, if that doesn’t make sense to you, and you’re like, well, that’s just how lights look, that might be a sign that that you might want to get tested for this.

    So here’s a quickie home test that you can do. Just to see if this is something that you want to investigate further, you can go to an office supply store and get a pack of colored binder dividers. And they have these multi packs, they’re about $1 or two for a pack of usually six to eight. And what you do is you get some text, just a book or printout of text, straight black text on white paper and put the binder of the divider over it and read aloud. Aloud is lot more helpful because you can get very, very clear feedback on am I reading fluently or not.

    If you’re tripping up as you’re reading, then switch colors, try it with a different color. Try it with a different color, try it with all of the colors. Do some of them make you trip up more? Do some of them allow you to read more fluently? If some of the colors or even one of the colors is very easy to read with, it just feels more comfortable or it just works better, or things are smoother all of a sudden, or it looks clearer, then this probably is a thing for you.

    And the color dividers work because this is a light sensitivity specifically and what happens is some of the wavelengths of light our brain is able to process better and some wavelengths it has a harder time processing. So when you’re processing the the visual information that’s coming into your brain, some of it those particular wavelengths aren’t represented correctly and the brain recognizes that there’s something wrong with it so it tries to compensate and what you end up with is a slight distortion effect.

    And it’s it’s it is slight for most people, it’s very slight, but it’s just enough that it can make things like very detailed tasks like deciphering text in small print really challenging, or columns of numbers that we deal with in math a lot, it can make it very challenging. And it can affect your perception and your perception of light. So if this is something that you’re interested in you can also take a self test at And they have a short and a long form self test that asks you a bunch of questions. And if it feels like a fit, and you want to pursue it, they can put you in touch with a local screener to get a formal assessment and help.

    So the overlay colors, Megan asked, are the overlay colors that benefit you the same as the tint in the Theraspecs that you use for fluorescent lighting? Actually, no. The the Thera specs are all red, red tinted, there aren’t color options, because that that filters fluorescent wavelengths the best. The colors that I use for my Irlen, I…

    So these are official Irlen and overlays, the binder dividers are cheap, but but Irlen and does have color overlays overlays for all of the colors. And for me, I use a combination of like blue and green and makes a teal color. Like that’s the best one for me. So when I use the Theraspecs, it’s kind of my kryptonite color like reds are really, really hard for me. But because when I’m in fluorescent lighting, it seems to compensate, like I don’t see the red very much, because it’s filtering out the fluorescents. And I couldn’t deal with it long enough to get through that situation. And it does make it better. But in general red, like the red overlays make reading way worse for me, I need blues. By the way, you’ll notice that I have a lot of blue in here, my walls are blue, the chair is blue, if you look around my room, a lot of things are blue, because it’s a comfortable feeling. For me, a lot of my wardrobe is blue. Because it makes my nervous system calm down, it makes my eyes relax when I look at blues. And it makes me kind of tense up a little bit when I look at much red. There’s almost no red in my room, or in my house. Other questions or thoughts on this?

    No you don’t have to do your walls, I just like blue walls, it makes me feel good. They also the the people at the Irlen, the Irlen people will have color glasses that you can use the content glasses for you into any color that they’ve tested that is like your perfect color. And for every individual just depending on which frequency your brain has trouble processing, you’re going to end up with a different color because every color is a frequency. So if it’s more than just a reading thing, if it’s also like depth perception issues, colored glasses can be helpful. And I used those for several years. And that changed my life it it significantly improved my ability to function in the world. Yes, both eyes are the same because it’s how your brain processes it doesn’t matter which eye the information is coming into.

    Alright, so our fourth stressor is sensory differences. And I bring this one up. Even though you if you know that you have sensory differences, this might not be a new thing. But it might be a new thing to think of it in terms of, this as a stress for me.

    So, for those of us who senses work a little bit differently, the touch or the feel or smell of something can be a really big deal. Yet we’re often expected to deal with it or ignore it when it’s simply inconvenient. This adds stress by not only not fixing the thing that’s causing pain or discomfort, but by feeling like you’re alone at a time when you’re hurting.

    So it might be bothering you, if you already know that you have some sensitivities, but you also feel tired a lot or irritable or you’re quick to anger or you get frustrated over little things. Then there might be something more going on that you’re not aware of, in terms of sensory stuff, like there might be more sensory things than your then you’ve noticed. For myself, when I started looking into this, I have always known that I’ve been sensitive to loud noises and bright lights and tags in clothing and a few things like that. But I didn’t really understand how much it was affecting my life until I really started seriously looking into my sensory issues.

    So things that are often labeled as complaining, or attention seeking or avoiding or difficult behaviors. Those might be the only way that a person knows to communicate that something hurts them. And whether they can explain it well or not, what they’re experiencing is real. And with experience, and practice, you can learn to describe better what’s going on.

    So what I’d like to talk about briefly is some things that can help you first of all, notice what’s going on, like how much sensory issues are affecting you and also help to describe it better. So you can develop your awareness of your own sensory sensitivities by developing what’s called interoception.

    So interoception is our is our understanding or not understanding, but our feeling of our internal body state, it’s knowing what’s going on inside. Now, this can be things like I’m tired, or I’m hungry, or I need to use the bathroom, or I have a pain in my right knee or I’m a little bit uncomfortable in this position, let me switch a little bit. Like it’s noticing how you’re feeling inside.

    And as you start actually noticing it, you will notice more things. So there are things that you can do to develop this. There’s a woman called Kelly Mahler, she’s an OT. And she has a lot of resources available, I highly recommend her stuff. K e l l y m a h l e r, and it’s just But it doesn’t really take a lot like this is not actually difficult. It’s just something that we don’t do much in our society. Like we’re not taught how to do this. So it can help to have someone to help you get started, like, how to ask questions, how to notice what’s going on. But it’s not really that difficult.

    And you can start by things like like when you’re washing your hands, notice the feel of the water on your hands. Notice the temperature, notice the the wetness. Where is the water touching your hand, and where is it not touching your hand? How does it feel to be wet? When you’re eating, notice the feeling of the food in your mouth? Where is it in your mouth? Is it warm? Is it cold? What does the texture feel like?

    Notice like right now, where you’re sitting, notice the feeling of the chair underneath you or the bed or the ground. Notice the feeling of the clothes on your body at this moment. Where is it touching you? Does something need adjusting Is it Is there a crease somewhere that’s bothering you. And as you start to notice those things, starting to put words to those things, you’ll be able to understand what’s going on and to communicate that to let people know what’s going on.

    If you’re working with someone who’s autistic, you can model this for them by simply describing what you’re experiencing as you’re experiencing it. Like if you’re driving somewhere in the car, you can say, Oh, the seatbelt is pulling a little bit here. So I’m going to adjust it, or it’s a really hot day. I’m feeling a little bit sweaty, I’m noticing the sweat on my skin. Like talk about your actual physical sensations on a daily basis just throughout life. And as you start being able to put words to it, your awareness of what’s going on will continue to increase and it will grow.

    And you’ll be able to to talk about what’s bothering you. So you might be able to say oh, there’s that smell from that dirty wash rag there that’s really bothering me. I need to move it away. I need to turn the sound down from the radio and then I can pay attention to what you’re saying. Might be as simple as that.

    One other suggestion is, when you do notice what’s going on, like what sense is being bothered, try pairing that with another sense that is happy at the moment. So like, for example, I have a weighted blanket on my lap right now, I do a lot of the time, because the weight helps my helps my body feel relaxed, it helps my muscles relax, and it helps my nervous system calm down, so that I can look at the screen and notice people around me because that’s kind of distracting for me. It’s something that I have challenges with, especially with a lot of people. So I do have the weighted blanket on, I have some essential oils on in the room right now that are like a happy uplifting citrusy smell. And that is calming my nervous system so that I can do this right now. And and that helps me get through things. Does that make sense?

    So there’s things like the ear plugs and headphones and the Theraspecs that can help you block outside noises and block the sensory input that’s difficult. But you can also calm down the nervous system in general, by pairing one sense with another that so that one challenge can be compensated by another one that is happy. So there’s two different strategies there.

    So Deborah was writing difficult though, in a work environment, say a warehouse restocking job to figure these out and speak them out loud. Right, so you don’t necessarily have to speak them out loud all the time. But you can talk to yourself about it, you can just notice what’s going on. Oh, in this warehouse, there’s a lot of loud noises, there’s beeps, there’s a smell that’s bothering me. So there’s two different things there you can say. You can just noticing noticing for yourself is one big thing. And you may not be able to fix all of those things. But for like the beeping, or the the smell or the temperature, whatever, like the environmental things that you can’t change in a particular work environment, that’s where you can use the strategy of pairing it with something else. Like I have a weighted vest that I wear to stores a lot. And it just looks like a jean jacket. It’s a really nice, sort of stylish thing. But it’s weighted, and it helps me because my proprioceptive input needs a lot of extra input. I use weighted things a lot. I also have these weighted ankle weights. For me weight is a big thing. But for you, it might not be weight, it could be something else. It could be having something that’s tight, like a tight shirt or a tight undergarment. Or it could be having like, an essential oil bottle with you that you can smell and it can kind of calm you down. So there’s a number of things that you can do. We don’t really have time to get into lots of different options, but there are tons and I would love to talk to it.

    Ian, what’s APD? I’m not sure I know that acronym.

    Audio processing disorder.

    Gotcha. Okay, so if, if audio processing is a thing for you, like it is for me. It’s another thing where you can either cancel out, like it could be noise cancelling headphones, but also just like ear plugs, whatever, you can block the the input, or you can pair it with something else. It could be pairing it with a smell, it could be pairing it with a weight, it could be pairing it with something else, just anything to make the nervous system calm down. Anything to make you feel better in general.

    And it’ll take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. That’s something that we could talk about if you’re interested at a later time. I might do a webinar just on that. It’s not a bad idea.

    Okay, let’s get on to stressor five though, because we are running out of time. So socializing. Again, this is something that you might not know or, you might already be aware is a challenge but might not think of as a stressor. For many of us it can be.

    Sometimes simply being around people can feel like a minefield of hidden rules and expectations that are about to blow up in your face anything time. And to make matters worse, some people, for some people being around people is great, it feels good. So they encourage you to socialize more hoping that that will somehow make it a good thing. But for some of us, it just reinforces how bad we are at it.

    So, it might be an issue for you, if you often don’t understand people around you, or you misunderstand them, or you, or people frequently complain at you or correct you or chastise you for something that you said or did, yet you don’t understand what was wrong with it? Like, why was that rude? I was just trying to say some, say a fact or give a compliment, but it didn’t work out right.

    Or if you avoid, or dread or complain about or sort of on purpose forget that there’s a group or an activity or a person that you need to attend or get together with. Okay, so are you ready for my big, kind of scary suggestion?

    Quit. I suggest quitting. Yeah. And I really mean that, quit all of the social classes, the group’s the people that are causing stress. Keep the ones that are fun, keep the ones that are low stress, keep the ones that you enjoy the ones that you look forward to. But if social time is dreaded, if it’s painful, or if it reinforces feelings of confusion, or failure, it’s not really going to do anything good for you, more of it is just going to lead to higher anxiety and depression.

    So you can’t get comfortable with people when you’re constantly expecting the worst. So what I suggest is to take a step back, and instead of forcing yourself into the situations that cause you anxiety, you work on the thing that’s causing you anxiety, first. Work on the feelings, the, the being comfortable around people. And, and then you can be comfortable around around other people like. Keep the social time that feels good, throw out the rest, and use that time and energy and money instead, on working on things that can make you better, you can lower your nervous system reactivity, so that when you choose to start to engage, you’re likely to have a better experience. And then things will feel good, and you can gradually get better at it. Does that make sense?

    Can I ask a question about that?


    So my son is one of those highly sensitive, you know, gets upset with the tags on his clothes and gets tired having to deal with a lot of people. And last summer, when he went to sleepaway camp, he got comfortable with that group. You know, in social interactions, he will get really high anxiety and not wanting to engage. And so he’ll not answer a text or not go to a party and just, you know, back off. But when he was around that small group, he found that it, he sort of broke through, it was almost like exposure therapy in that way. And so I feel like maybe this is one of those super highly individualized things. For people. I don’t know. Can you comment a little bit more on that?

    Yeah, I’m sure I’d love to talk a lot about that. But we are running out of time. And I’m going to answer you, Elizabeth. Before I do that I just want to be respectful of honor that other people may have time constraints. So if you need to go please take care of yourself. If you’re willing to stick around for a few more minutes, I’ll be happy to be here.

    Okay, so about this situation. So your son tends to avoid things but he took the risk. And he tried this camp, and it actually worked out well. And he got comfortable with these people. So what I think I’m hearing is a question of, but sometimes it can work out so shouldn’t I push him occasionally to try it and see if it works, and see if this is going to be a good experience? Is that what you’re?

    Well I feel like that same environment can’t really be replicated here at home because he lives at home, you know, he’s not going to be around a group of same age boys day in and day out and kind of grow comfortable in that in that familial way, because they’re together so much. And it’s very awkward when you’re sort of coming and going and have to make plans with each other and that kind of stuff, you know.

    So there’s definitely a lot more to it. Than living in a cabin with all of them are in a dorm. They’re just there. Yeah. But I’m guessing that there’s going to be more to it than that, like, in that group, with those boys. He, they were probably just more accepting of him. They clicked, they fit together, they didn’t give him a hard time about stuff. And that’s not necessarily going to be the case with any random sleepaway camp that he happens to sign up to. This one worked, and that was great. And that’s not something that you can always predict. And so sometimes, yeah, it’s great to try it. But if you try it, and it’s not working out, that’s why I would say like, okay, so this one doesn’t work, quit. You don’t need to keep pushing through just because you started it. You don’t need to keep pushing through just because it might work over time. That’s just likely to cause more stress.

    But so this is kind of where that that bad stress versus good stress comes in like trying something new. Like, I’m going to take a chance I’m going to try this sleepaway camp, I’m going to try this group, maybe it will work. That is a stress, and acknowledge that. And there are things that you can do to lower your reactivity to lower your nervous system, stress levels, you can do things that help you that help you feel better in that situation. Getting better at communicating what your needs are, knowing what your needs are so that you can communicate them better. That can help increase the odds that a new situation will work out. And, um, and sometimes, yeah, you just need to try it.

    But if you’re in the middle of a group, like you’ve been going to this thing for a while, and it’s just something that you hate something that you’re always stressing about. It’s you’re always dreading it, you’re always avoiding it, you’re complaining, you’re trying to get out of it, you’re negotiating to not have to go to this, like, those are the things that I’m saying you just cut your losses, that that’s not going to be it’s not going to get better. It’s just going to reinforce bad feelings.

    Makes sense.

    I’m really glad that your son had a good experience with that group.

    Yeah, and he is super hesitant to do anything with anybody at school, you know, he feels way more exposed. It’s not that accepting environment. And he doesn’t. And he’s not. Yeah.

    Okay, so actually, that leads me into one bonus stressor that I wanted to add, which is feeling alone, feeling like you’re the only one who has to deal with this stuff. Like you’re the only one who’s sensitive, the only one in your family or the only one that you see regularly, it can feel like we’re a minority, like, you’re just the weird one or the broken one or the one who doesn’t work right.

    And I want to put a bid out there, we need more positive role models who admit that they’re sensitive, or neurodivergent.

    But here’s the truth about things. We’re really not a minority, or rather not a not a small minority. We’re a large minority, approximately 5 in 20. People have sensory processing differences of some kind. Those are the gray dots, I’ve got 100 dots over there. Out of every 100 people about 5 to 20 of them have some form of sensory processing differences, approximately 15 to 20 are highly sensitive, about 30 to 40 are neurodivergent and approximately two to four are Autistic. Now that two to four, the statistics at the moment are roughly two in 100 people are Autistic but I think that the rates are actually around double that because it it doesn’t take into account the vast number of autistic women, people who are assigned female at birth who are female presenting or gender non conforming or non binary or gender expansive, whose profile doesn’t fit the standard stereotype of an autistic profile. So I’m I’m guessing that it’s closer to four, maybe even five in 100. But anyway, this is a vast quantity of people who are who are highly sensitive, who are neurodivergent, who have differences in how we process the world and how we processes our senses. We’re not the only ones.

    Okay, so here’s the bad news. And you knew there was gonna be bad news, right? So some of you are going to have a couple of good ideas here, and you’re going to go away, and you’re going to implement them. And that’s awesome. And some of you are going to have the best of intentions, but you’re not going to do it. And that’s where coaching is really helpful.

    So it can help you work through those mental blocks where you say, Okay, I want to quit that social club, or I want to let my kid quit that, but am I just going to be screwing him up for life? Or what if What are other people going to say? Or like? Is this going to just backfire? Like, it’s going to be awful. Or if I wear noise cancelling headphones to a store, will I look weird, and people won’t accept me, like, those voices, those doubts, those fears, that’s where coaching can be really helpful to work through that. And to, to let yourself be who you are. To be who your kid is, your loved one is the people who you work with. And to, to deal with those fears, the the voices of doubt, and anxiety.

    And also to kind of figure out what works for you. It’s like everything here that I’ve mentioned, is very general. But you need to figure out what works for you personally. So that’s my two to three minute shameless plug.

    So if you’re interested, here are some ways that we can work together. I do one on one coaching. My website is And I will be having I also do sorry, I read a comment and got distracted.

    Okay, so I do one on one coaching, I offer, I also am a provider for a listening therapy called the safe and sound protocol, which can help reduce the stress in the nervous system. And sometimes can help with integrating sensory processing so that audio processing disorders and visual processing disorders and whatnot can be reduced and can start integrating better, but it can also just help people who are seriously stressed out to lower that that general background, nervous system reactivity.

    I also have classes on a platform called out school for teenagers who are neurodivergent. I have sensory classes, anti-anxiety classes, social groups, like the fun groups, and book clubs, featuring neurodivergent characters.

    And we’ll have another webinar in August on how to use body signals to make better decisions.

    So for those of us who are making decisions is difficult or executive functioning is difficult. Here’s another option for how you can do that. All right. So that was what I had for the presentation. Any last questions?

    Just take a few more minutes. If there’s anyone who wants to ask me something, I’m happy to stick around.

    And you’re very welcome to all of you.

    I’m getting a bunch of thanks in the chat, so.

    All right. Well, take care. I hope you all have a neurowonderful day.

    Bye bye

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    Picture of Heather Cook

    Heather Cook

    Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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