How to Start Investigating Your Sensory Differences

Blue solid foreground with text "How To Start Investigating Your Sensory Differences" and to the side a picture of a pale skinned woman in a blue shirt smiling at the camera.
Do you want to get better at figuring out your sensory differences, to understand your own body better? Here's a few ideas on how to get started.

You can figure out your own sensory differences

Do you know you that some sensory inputs bother you, but you suspect that there’s more to it than what’s obvious?

Would you like some ideas on how to start figuring out how your senses affect you on a day-to-day basis in your actual life? Not only what’s bad, but also what feels good to you.

Exploring your senses is actually not that hard once you get the hang of it. It’s even easier with some simple techniques you can use to figure out for yourself how they impact you.

This is a recording of a workshop hosted by Heather Cook of Autism Chrysalis on 19 October, 2022.

The recording

Feedback form:

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Here’s the full transcript:

0:02
This is how to start investigating your sensory differences.

1:22
So I do have quite a lot to get through, I was having a hard time leaving things out because there’s so much that I want to cover in this and I want to keep it super practical. So we’re not going to spend a lot of time with theory and stuff at the beginning, go just a teeny bit of that. But I want to really get into the meat of it and answer a bunch of questions. If I don’t get to some people’s questions that you wrote in, in the registration form to sign up, I will try and answer all of them by email within a few days.

1:56
So you are welcome to have your camera off or on. You’re welcome to use the chat to ask questions as we go through this. Or just listen quietly, that’s great. And you’re also welcome to move to fidget to stim to doodle. Those are great ways to help you pay attention. So often, especially in school, we were taught to sit still and look at the teacher. And for those of us who are neurodiverse, those actually can interfere with our intention attention. So please do what you need to take care of yourself. And I would ask to keep your microphone on mute throughout, just to reduce any background noise that you might not notice. And if I mute you at any point, it’s just because of background noise. I’m not trying to be rude. But if you want to speak up, intentionally Go ahead.

2:57
Alright, so here’s the plan for today. do just a little bit of intro about me about what we’re going to be doing then a little bit about sensory differences. That’s just our small amount of theory. And then we’ll talk about how you actually start investigating your sensory differences, how you can figure them out what’s going on how to help. And those will be looking for patterns and changes, working on interoception. Other both therapies and just self directed things that you can do at home to increase your ability to, to figure this out. And then some super practical situations, some of those came from questions that people wrote in beforehand. And I’ll be trying to answer as many of those just as we go. And there’s a few more that I have at the end. And there was a few also that just didn’t really fit with the topic too much. So I’ll be answering those by email individually, as well as I can. And then I’ll hopefully we’ll have a little time at the end for q&a, depending on how much I talk. Alright, so that’s the plan.

So just to make it clear, this is not a disguised sales pitch. I am not going to try and sell you anything at the end of this today. This is really just because I want to get this information out. It’s good stuff. And I want to make it available to as many people as possible. I would ask that at the end, if you could give me some feedback. So I can make these workshops better. I plan on holding a few of these throughout the year, like every two or three months, roughly. So there’s a link to the feedback form. It’s a short Google Form thing and I’ll have it at the end as well. And if you find this useful if you can share that with someone Now that you might find that you might think might like it, maybe share it on social media or email to a friend, I’ll be sending out the recording and you’ll be able to do that later. So thank you very much for those. Again, it’s just ways to get more information out.

Alright, so just a little bit about me, my name is Heather Cook, and she her. I’m autistic ADHD identify as highly sensitive, I have many sensory processing differences, including visual and auditory processing differences. I also live with chronic pain from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and have pots and a smattering of all sorts of other labels.

But how I identify myself is I am strong, resilient, I have faced many challenges, including disability, poverty, trauma, and I found healing and friendship and compassion. And a lot of that has come through self understanding. And that’s one of the things that I’m hoping that you’ll get out of this workshop is a way to figure yourself out a little bit better.

I also do want to acknowledge that the land on which I work and live is the traditional homeland of the Omaha, the Southern Ponca, Ioway, Otoe, Missouri, and Sauk, and Fox tribes. And then I’m the beneficiary of both their hardships and their wisdom. And I hope that what we’re doing here together and that my mission in life is to help deconstruct some of the thought patterns that lead people to misunderstand, to hurt and to oppress each other. Okay, so let’s get into the meat of sensory differences. And I’m going to talk just really briefly about what sensory differences are. And this is going to be a wildly oversimplified version, but it’s going to be accurate enough to make one point. And my point is simply that the signals that you get from the outside world via your senses, and your nervous system, are information that your brain and your nervous system together assemble, to give you information about what’s going on in the world around you. And it works roughly like this, you get some environmental stimuli, you smell a flower, you touch something you walk, balance, whatever it is, and then the sensory receptors throughout your body, throughout your nervous system, signal to your nervous system. And from there to your brain, which interprets that information.

7:46
But the information that you’re getting from your environment, is interpreted by everyone a little bit differently, because we all have different nervous systems. And we all have different brains. Even those of us who have similar types of ways that our brain work, if you were, if you’re autistic, or ADHD, or OCD, or highly sensitive, or whatever your your version of how your brain works, even within those categories, everyone is different. And so no two people ever experience anything exactly alike. Even when there are two people who are, say, from the same family and in the same place, experiencing the same thing touching the same thing, you’re not going to experience it entirely alike. Because you have different nervous systems, you have different brains.

And so when we experience things differently, neither of you are wrong. If you’re the only one who’s cold, but everyone else around you is hot, you’re not wrong, you are actually cold. And it’s not wrong to feel cold. It’s simply that your body is experiencing that temperature differently than the other people’s body. So who’s right? Actually, everyone is, if someone feels hot, they really are hot. If another person feels cold, even in the same environment, they really are cold. It’s not wrong to feel one thing or another. A lot of times growing up in our society, we’ve gotten the message that it’s not okay to feel what you feel. And my point here. What I really, really want to drive home throughout this is that it is okay to feel what you feel. And and it’s valid and it’s appropriate. So what’s normal? I don’t even know what that word means. Honestly, a more useful question. A practical question that you can ask is what’s normal for you? So instead of comparing your sensory system to other people’s senses, I find it far more useful to figure out what is going on within yourself. Is this making sense?

10:25
Okay. Okay, I’m getting several yeses in the comments. Great. A couple of nods, thank you very much. All right. So I’m gonna spend the rest of the time talking about how you actually figure yourself out how you investigate your sensory systems. And it’s, it’s not difficult. And yet, it’s something that most of us don’t do, because our society doesn’t teach us how to do this as a matter of course, in fact, they often teach us how to ignore our sensory experiences, because you were the only one who was cold in that situation, everyone else was hot. So you, of course, are in the wrong, stop complaining, oh, don’t go on about it. It’s not cold, really, we get those kinds of messages that it’s not okay to feel what you feel. So we, some of us stop complaining about it, but we still feel it, some of us actually stop feeling things as much. And because it’s, it’s a way that our brains and our nervous systems adapt to the repeated experience of creating a sensation that you don’t respond to, like you, you don’t act on the sensation of pain or cold or discomfort or confusion, or whatever it is. And so over time, some of us will have the reaction that our bodies will literally stop sending us the signals. So that we don’t have to use up that energy. It’s a type of energy management that our bodies go through. But then when we don’t get those signals of say, hunger or tiredness or whatnot, we get confused about whether you’re actually hungry or not, whether you’re tired or sleepy or excited or awake. And then when we we don’t get those signals very well. Life can be very confusing, and it can be difficult to sort this stuff out when you’re ready to start figuring yourself out. Does anyone relating to any of that?

13:04
If you don’t, please consider yourself lucky. Okay, so yes, definitely. Okay. All right. So here’s the basic process. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll find that it’s actually quite simple. And you can do this for yourself and just keep doing it. You’re simply going to ask yourself questions, you’re going to look for clues, look for patterns, look for differences, and piece the information together the same way a detective would. And you’re going to ask questions like what makes me feel comfortable? What feels good, what feels bad? How does this feel? When do I feel this? Under what circumstances do I feel this? Things like that? I’ll get into more details in a minute. But this is the just the general overview. And I do want to mention that these answers to these things can change over time. So stay curious, keep looking for things keep trying to figure yourself out. Okay, so let’s talk for just a moment about what your senses are. Most of us were taught at a very young age that you have five senses, vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Those are the ones that we all probably are quite familiar with. There are others. And these are less well known, you might have heard of some of them might not have. So I just want to briefly mention them, because they’re also going to be part of exploring your own sensory differences. So proprioception, is how you can tell where your body is in space. This is like I think of it as like a mini gyroscope inside your head, where it can tell you where you are.

So try this out, can you close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with a finger. If you can do that, then that’s great that because that is your, your brain having information is feedback from the nerves in your hand and in your arms and in your shoulders. And in your head in your face. To know where the finger is, especially as it’s moving through space, and where your nose is where the target is, and being able to put all that information together to to guide your finger to the tip of your nose, you can also close your eyes so that you don’t have the visual information. Can you put the tips of your fingers together? And how close do you get to the tip to tip I’m usually off just a little bit. If I really concentrate, I might be able to get most of the tips together. Okay, so if this sense isn’t as well attuned for you, you might, for example, bump into the corners of furniture bumping into the doorframe instead of going straight through the door, you might grab something and quite not quite miss or like just slightly Miss where it is. Or if you’re putting a cup down, you might put it on just off the edge of the table when you’re meant to put it on the edge of the table and it might spill. Sometimes people who have whose proprioception isn’t as well attuned can be described as clumsy or a klutz. It’s not necessarily the same thing. Or being clumsy might actually be a sign that your proprioception might be just a little bit off.

Yeah, someone mentions that I walk into things all the time and so much apologizing. I’m very common experience. Okay, so similar or related to this, but it is a different sense is your vestibular sense. And that’s how well you can balance and tell which way is up. It’s your body’s way of sensing motion around you and inside you. If you get nauseated in a car, or motion sick Well, while reading and moving at the same time, like if you can’t read in a car or or if you get seasick, like seasick on the sea or sick on a swing, things like that, then your vestibular sense might not be very well attuned.

18:03
If you on the other hand can spin around in circles and not get super dizzy or if that even feels really good to you, you might be seeking more of that vestibular input in order to regulate your nervous system. Okay, the next one is interoception that is your internal sense of what’s going on inside your body. That can be the sense of hunger, fullness, tiredness, wakefulness the need to go to the bathroom feeling sick or not well inside

18:39
okay

18:42
nociception is your abilities to sense pain and other noxious stimuli. And if you are if you’re if you get one sec. If your pain tolerance, that’s the word is very high or very low compared to other people around you as well as you can tell. You might have very high amount of nociception or low amount of nociception there

19:18
Okay, so there are other senses as well. These are sort of the top ones that are that I want to hit on. And so these are some other areas that you can start asking yourself questions about as you’re investigating your senses Alright, some people are putting a few stories in the chat about motion sickness mostly that when this is a big issue for me, okay, so as your senses, senses as you grow up or go through your life, senses can change. This is what a couple people are mentioned like One person wrote, I was traveled sick on buses till I was 23.

20:09
So yeah, like as we grow up our senses change from when you were an infant through your, your early years, also in our golden years when we’re, when we’re aging, our senses change again, our bodies change and every time our bodies change our senses adapt with them. Our our senses change quite a bit during and after puberty also during and after pregnancy and again in menopause. Also, some women’s hormones will change their senses during different parts of their menstrual cycles. If you’re the long term primary caregiver of an infant, regardless of your gender, your senses will change. This is most common in women who’ve just given birth, but even for adoptive parents and for fathers, whether they’re the biological father or an adopted father or just a caregiver. Not just but if you’re another caregiver of a child, if you are the primary caregiver, your sense of smell has been known to heighten your hearing. Not only heightens, but it becomes more attuned to certain frequencies, generally the frequency that babies cry out.

So also during illness, especially if it’s a long term illness, your senses will change. And like during the illness itself, even if it’s a couple of day cold, your senses might get heightened or suppressed. And so things feel different while you’re sick. Even for a short time, if it’s a long term, illness or an injury, or if you have chronic pain that can also change your senses.

During times of increased stress, or anxiety in your life burnout that can change your senses. And during an after a trauma, whether it’s a single event trauma or a chronic trauma. Those can change your senses as well. So our senses do change throughout our life. So if you find answers to something that like how your body works, it’s not necessarily going to say the same.

So keep looking, keep asking these questions. Okay. So so how do you actually start figuring yourself out? Sometimes it’s easy, as easy as simply asking yourself, what hurts? Or how does this feel? Sometimes it will take patience and creativity to sort that out. But it is possible. And I liken this to a detective who’s stuck investigating a crime or a scientist investigating a natural phenomenon, or a good doctor who’s investigating some symptoms, or compassionate parent just trying to figure out what’s wrong, honey, where does it hurt? That kind of thing? Pick whatever metaphor works for you. Okay, any other thoughts? questions before we get into doing this? Is this making sense? Okay. All right. So my first big suggestion is to look for patterns.

So notice, do you consistently meltdown after work? Or are you consistently exhausted after work? Or after certain places? Could be the grocery store? Or maybe it’s are you more argumentative? After you’ve spent time with a particular person? Well, maybe there’s a reason why you are more argumentative after that person. And it might not be that they’re particularly argumentative. See, this one is interesting. Some of us get more argumentative when we just don’t have energy. Or when our stress level is higher, or we can’t deal with the, with certain feelings that that person or place or situation brings up. And that might come out as being argumentative or irritable or stressed or whatever it is. So just notice those after this, I feel this. Another one is do you get jittery when there’s less structure? Or do you get annoyed when there’s less structure? Do you get whatever or when there’s more structure when there’s too much structure?

25:01
Are things consistently easier to deal with when you’ve had enough sleep? Or when you’ve had breaks throughout the day? Or when you’ve had snacks, whether you think that you need to eat or not, especially if you’re interoception makes it difficult for you to tell whether you’re hungry or not. If you eat at regular intervals, whether you think you need to or not, does that actually help? Maybe? Yeah, someone mentioned getting snippy. Yep, that could be a thing if it’s consistent. So when do you get snippy? Do you get snippy? When you’re with a particular person? Do you get snippy when a particular thing happens? Do you get snippy when certain emotions come up?

25:58
So try and put together like what kind of circumstances lead to what kind of physical sensations? And I want to emphasize the physical sensations without judgment. Because and this is answering someone’s question in the chat, they wrote, it makes me feel weak, because other people don’t seem to have the same issues or don’t melt down. Yeah, and I’m guessing that that feeling of I’m weak because other people don’t have to have these issues, other people don’t melt down, other people don’t have to deal with this stuff. I’m guessing that’s comes from a lot of messaging that you got that something along the lines of, you’re too much work, or you shouldn’t have to have to deal with this stuff, or you take too much energy, or you’re always a problem, or you’re there’s always something from whoever it is. So when we get those messages, that it’s not okay, to have these issues. There, yeah, that’s true, I’ve been told them high maintenance, etc. So when we get these messages, that you’re high maintenance, that you’re too much work that it’s, it’s not okay to have your needs, it’s not okay to have your experiences that can really hurt first of all, but it can also teach us that it’s not okay to be us like that I’m not okay to be me. And then when we start to look for what we need, it’s bring up, oh, I need different things. And it can actually retrigger those, I’m too much feelings, or I’m lesser than feelings, or I’m high maintenance feelings, like all of these judgment things, and it can, it can actually make it hurt to try and figure ourselves out. And that’s coming from that dirty pain of believing that it’s not okay to be yourself.

28:35
Which is why I wanted to talk at the beginning of just like, what you feel is going to be different from what other people feel. And it’s okay to feel what you feel. It really is.

28:57
So, we’ll talk more about that later if we have some time. But just recognize that when you’re starting to figure yourself out, whether it’s sensory stuff or anything else, if you’re constantly getting these feelings of it’s not okay to figure myself out, or it’s not okay to have these names, or when you figure out in need, that you get the thought in your head that that’s too much or that’s not appropriate or that’s not okay. Just notice that. No judgments about it. Just notice, oh, I’m having that thought. Yeah, that hurts. And people have told me that a lot. Just notice it. You don’t need to do anything about it, although you could if you want to, but you don’t have to simply notice and recognize that that’s coming from a place of pain inside you.

30:00
And notice, I’m curious whether just noticing that and saying, oh, that’s coming from this place of pain, or this is coming from this, this message that I’ve gotten a lot. Notice if that changes how you feel about it, to try and figure yourself out? Yes, well, throughout that I suppress my feelings a lot so that others will accept me. It’s very common among us. I would ask, if you could start with simply noticing that that’s coming up. And wondering if you can accept yourself? Okay, so this is the first step is look for patterns. When this happens, I get this physical sensation. And without judging whether the physical sensation is okay, or not, without judging whether it’s appropriate or not, simply notice the patterns, this leads to this, this leads to this look for things that are consistent. Okay, so the next suggestion is to look for the things that are different look for changes, when does the pattern break? Or when does when a routine changes? When does that make a difference? So you can ask questions, like what changed recently? I put this in context, like when you get a different type of reaction or different needs something that’s not common for you ask what changed recently? Or what changed just before this? Or what happened just before this? So, notice things like, when routine changes or things in your life change? Does that affect your body language? Does that make you feel more argumentative? Or do you start avoiding people? Or are you more likely to say things that you regret? Are you going to shut down? Do you melt down and you can also reverse engineer this, if you shut down or melt down or say something that you regret or start avoiding people you can say okay, so what changed just before that, or what’s changed recently, or what was different recently and start questioning it and sometimes it’ll be something that happened right before it sometimes it’ll be a while before and you’ve been trying to deal with it and you just couldn’t anymore. And so once you run out of energy, then the the reaction happens. Like just when you can’t suppress it anymore, you can’t push it down anymore. So notice those things the things that have been tried before and if that’s not an obvious something happened, look farther back and see whether you’ve been trying to cope with trying to deal with trying to suppress trying to manage that you just simply can’t any more and again, notice these things without judgments without weather without thinking about whether they’re right or wrong or appropriate or not. Simply see what’s going on

34:03
right this making sense? Okay

34:28
so a few people are sharing stories in the chat. That’s great. So here’s another suggestion that I have when you’re finding something

34:46
or someone asked, Could it be that I’m worried about what is coming up? Yes, it can be. So instead of like what changed in the past or what just happened, it could be. Are you having anxiety about something in the future? We’re going to talk in a little while about anxiety management, not so much how to do that. That’s beyond the scope of what we’ll have time for in this hour. But it does make a difference to your sensory experiences and to helping them. Okay, so another good question is, what don’t I like about it? And the more specific, the better. So you can also start with looking for things like, Sorry, one second. So when you know that something bothers you, but you’re trying to figure out more about it, ask yourself, what is it about it that I don’t like? So if you don’t like going to the grocery store, ask what is it about the grocery store that I don’t like? Or what is it about restaurants that I don’t like? Or what about these clothing that I don’t like? Pick things that are always an issue. So is it the fluorescent lights that you don’t like at the grocery store? Is it the chewing sounds at the restaurant is the field buttons on this particular piece of clothing. And here’s why this makes such a big difference is for example, if you don’t like a certain pair of shoes, just saying I don’t like it, it’s not super useful. If you don’t like the shoes, then your only option is to get a new pair of shoes and hope that they’re better. But if you can express it, the shoes are too tight, or they make your feet sweaty, or you don’t like the color that is useful information. So that when you try and replace the shoes, for example, you can get shoes that are less tight, rather than just any other pair of shoes and hoping they’re fine. Or the shoes that let your feet breathe better, or that are a color that you like, whatever the situation is. But the more specific you can get about what is it about this thing that I don’t like, the more useful information you will have towards actually finding a useful solution.

So if it’s at the grocery store, if it’s the fluorescent lights, and just the sheer number of noises and the types of noises, then you can wear earplugs and put on a wide brim hat, this is what I do at grocery stores. And it’ll block a lot of the light, it’ll block a lot of the sound, you don’t necessarily have to avoid the entire situation, you can deal with the parts of it that are difficult for you. Or you can get someone else to do grocery shopping for you, and you do something else for them. That’s what we do at my house. But occasionally, I still have to go to the grocery store and, and I can deal with it with my hats and my fluorescent blocking glasses and my earplugs. And I look weird. And I don’t care because I can do that and then not have a migraine and not drain my energy so much that I’m wiped for three days.

Okay, so yeah, so some people who aren’t able to speak with words are still communicating is more of a challenge. Some people are able to use AAC devices, some people are used, able to point to letter boards or use a picture exchange system to communicate. Some people don’t have those options to them either. And yet, there’s still ways to communicate. If they simply leave the room when something happens when this thing happens. Look for the patterns and that they are they avoiding the same types of things over and over? That’s still communication. Are they melting down when the same things happen consistently. That’s still communication. I still look for the patterns and look for the changes in patterns. So something that is consistent for them. When that consistent routine changes.

39:38
Look for what happened just before that, it’s going to be it’s going to take more detective work, it’s going to take more investigation and more patients and more curiosity, but it can still happen and the more they can, their stress level can Lower, the more they’ll be able to communicate creatively with you in other ways. All right. Questions about this, or other thoughts if you do want to tape go ahead and put it that in, we’ll come back to it. But I want to continue going on because we still have a number of things to cover. So I’m going to also emphasize, it’s so so easy to focus on all the things that bother us. And I know I am seriously guilty about this too. Especially at the beginning of my figuring myself sensory issues out, it was just like, oh, this bothers me. And this bothers me, this bothers me. And the problem with that is this. And the problem with that is this and that never works. And those are all accurate. But focusing just on those creates this feedback loop in our brain where the thing that we focus on grows, and then all we think about is the negatives. And all we think about are the things that hurt us. And it can be really, really easy to just think that everything sensory is awful. And it’s usually not true. The things there might be many things that are genuinely painful and awful and difficult to deal with. And the more you can start noticing things that are neutral sensations or positive sensory experiences.

They can actually refocus your nervous system, it can retune your nervous system. So that the the overwhelming feeling of, of pain and hurt and overwhelm gradually gets replaced. It starts out with just teensy bits. But if you keep doing this like focusing on neutral or positive things, it lowers the reactivity of the entire system. And it doesn’t make the bad things disappear. But it can lower the intensity of them. So they can feel like they’re more manageable, like they’re easier to deal with.

And it can bring online parts of our brain especially the the right brain, creative, artistic, problem solving aspects that can help us find solutions to deal with those things that are still hurting us. That makes sense. Okay, getting a few yeses, a few knots. All right. So, ways to pay attention to the neutral and positive experiences. Ask yourself, what’s something in your body that doesn’t hurt right now? You can actually do that right now.

Just what’s one part of your body that doesn’t hurt right now? And it feels like everything hurts? Try investigating your left pinky toe. Does your left pinky toe hurt? What about your right shin? Or your left shoulder blade? What about the tip of your nose? Does that hurt right now? And I’m not saying that to be sarcastic or facetious. I’m genuinely curious. Does it hurt? It might. I don’t know your situation. But if you can find any part of your body no matter how little no matter how much we normally overlook it. Focus on that part for just a moment. Is there any part of your body that actually feels good right now?

44:09
Yeah, some people do have chronic pain all over and it really does hurt can you find a place that hurts just a little bit less than the other parts? And there are times in life, especially when you’re dealing with very severe chronic pain that’s throughout most or all of your body. And there are people who deal with that and I fully get that. Can you find the part that hurts a little bit less?

44:52
Sometimes the question isn’t so much what feels good but what feels less bad. And if you can move to words, the less bad thing. Over time that starts to grow, and it does the same exact effect, it becomes this spiral of things that are a little less bad. And then okay, it’s a little bit less bad. So they wrote that doesn’t help me personally, the last thing I need to focus on is my body at all. Fair enough, I got that. And for you right now, that might be the best thing is just not to focus on it. I’ve got a few other options later.

45:37
Okay. So when you’re at a place where you can notice your body, I would invite you to notice when your nervous system is happy, and let it be happy. This is something that my first sensory integration therapist told me on our first meeting, and it really struck me because I was at a place where just everything felt overwhelming all the time. And there was genuinely a lot of pain. And it felt like anytime there was anything that wasn’t terrible, I was just bracing for the thing to be terrible, again, was bracing for a new pain. And what that does, it’s a it’s an adaptation response. Basically, when, when your muscles, your nervous system, your brain is so used to, for example, a muscle being tight. Just stick with that example, if your muscle is used to tightening up in order to deal with, with the world with having to be used, it actually saves energy for it to simply stay tight all the time, rather than relaxing and tightening and relaxing and tightening. So we it adapts to the feeling of being tight all the time. So when you try to relax it and may not relax very much or at all, it might take a lot of convincing for it to relax. But if you can, it, it’s probably going to tighten back up very, very quickly and easily. It’s like that waiting for the other shoe to fall experience. So if you can notice those moments in your life, and they’ll probably just be moments to start out with when things are okay. Or when things feel good, or when you’re happy. And simply instead of just waiting for the next bad thing to happen or the next pain to come. If you can just be like, Oh, it’s okay. Right now. It’s okay. It might be bad in the moment, but for right now, it’s okay. And if it is bad in a moment, all right, let it be bad in the moment. But right now, just be okay. And the more I noticed those, and at first it was just noticing it for a moment at a time. The more I noticed those, it was sort of retraining my brain to notice that it was possible first of all, and it gradually over time expanded, so that I noticed it more and more often. And I became more able to let the happiness in let the goodness in let the okayness in. And and it did help me cope with the things that weren’t okay. It made them feel less intense. And again, at the beginning, it was just teensy, teensy, teensy bits, but it did grow over time.

48:57
Okay, so another thing you can do is to improve your interoception. So we talked about the interception being our internal body awareness of what’s going on. And if you’re one of those people who don’t get a lot of body signals, or all the body signals are negative, you can improve your interception, it might be a little bit uncomfortable at first, because especially if a lot of the a lot of your sensory experiences are uncomfortable ones, noticing them more might not be the best, the most comfortable experience. But as we are able to do is back up a second. Pick and choose the times in your life when you want to do this. If you’re in genuine, full bodied chronic pain, this may not be the time to experience that more. Fair enough. If you’re healing from trauma This may not be the time. But if you’re in a time where you want to increase this, just notice that it might be a little uncomfortable occasionally, it will also be very inconsistent for a long time. As this grows, sometimes you’ll be able to feel it and sometimes you won’t. But you can increase that our interception ability is actually the one that is most responsible of all of our systems to be able to, to adapt and increase or decrease depending on what you how well you use it, or how you use it, whether you use it.

Okay, so start, my recommendation for increasing interception is to start with one body part at a time, and spend a week or so just noticing all sorts of situations involving that body part. And if you start with your hands, for example, simply notice how your hands feel when you’re washing them. Like do they feel wet? Or do they feel cold if the water is cold? Notice them when you’re out in the sun on a hot day, notice how they feel after you’ve been writing a lot or when you’re mixing food in a bowl, or when you get something on them or just touching something, just notice how your hands feel. And there’s there’s no you don’t have to do much besides just notice. And if you want to put words to it like to describe it, use specific sensory words like hot, cold, tight, sweaty, tired, cramped, things like that. But you don’t have to describe it in words, simply notice. And that’s it like that, there’s no more steps to it, simply notice, and I suggest doing it for a week per body part roughly because it takes some time. And it’ll just help you explore that body part. And then move on to your arms next, or your knees or your toes, your ears. And simply notice over the course of a week or so every time or at times when you notice that body part, it doesn’t have to be that consistent. Because if you if even if you do this inconsistently. Over time, you will start to notice things more. That’s a very odd experience to start with. But it will grow. And you’ll start to notice what’s going on inside. And these small tweaks the small questions that we ask add up to big results over time. It may not seem like these are profound and great questions to ask like Oh, notice patterns, notice changes, ask what I don’t like about it. Notice my body parts, it might sound laughably silly, but it’s works like it really does if you do it even inconsistently. Over time, it does actually add up to experiencing your senses better. Small changes can make a big difference over time.

53:21
Okay, how are we doing? So I want to talk for just a little bit,

53:40
very few minutes, or almost out of time, about different things you can do. Once you’re once you’re in this process. And I tend to favor a holistic approach of using different sensory therapy stuff, anxiety reduction and anxiety management. Because our anxiety can feed our sensory discomforts, when we’re anxious, we, the sensory experiences get worse and more overwhelming. Taking care of whatever traumas you might have had, because those can add to an increase sensory discomfort. And what I was talking at the beginning about is like reframing those, those expectations of I’m too much I’m high maintenance, it’s not okay to feel this. If you can reframe those and unlearn those ableist expectations of what you should and shouldn’t feel that can help you to be okay with your own self and that helps you feel better in general.

Okay, so here’s a few different options if you are interested in sensory therapies. The ones on the left column are more like official therapy stuff. The ones in the right column are just stuff that you can do on your own mindfulness practices sensory toys, dim stuff, weighted blankets, I’ve got a weighted blanket on my lap right now it helps me control my nervous system. Seeking out sensory pleasures and sensory euphoria, just that’s just anything that feels good.

55:25
And then, here’s a few options for helping deal with anxiety I highly recommend Byron Katie’s the work or the ACT tools of Steven Hayes, I use those in my practice with my clients frequently. can also do mindfulness practices meditation stuff, yoga, time in nature is great. We’ve evolved to be in tune with the rhythms in the natural world. So most people find time with nature, or even just like houseplants to be helped to regulate their nervous system, and then connecting with safe people. And it doesn’t have to be like socializing time, but if you just have someone in your life that you feel comfortable with talking to them about it, or just being with them can help lower anxiety.

56:21
So I want to ask, like, Why do autistic people have difficulties being embodied or living or being not comfortable in their bodies, a lot of that comes back to, like, our sensory experiences are just different than a lot of people’s. Not that anyone’s actually the same as anyone elses. But ours is a little bit farther out. But we get those messages that it’s not okay to be different. And so we try and ignore that, instead of actually responding to it actually meeting our needs. And when our sensory needs aren’t met, when they’re ignored. They’re stigmatized, that increases anxiety and higher anxiety activates the stress responses in the nervous system, which makes sensory processes processing even more challenging. Perfect timing for that question. Hello, Helen, this exactly what I was wanting to talk about. That higher anxiety, the stress creates more sensory difficulties.

Okay. So I am not going to get to most of the questions that people asked that I didn’t already built into the talk. But I do want to mention this one. Someone asked, What do you do? Like how can you investigate your sensory stuff when you’re overwhelmed? And my answer to that is another question. My question is, what color is my shirt? What color are the walls around you? Can you pick something up? Feel it right now. Use anything that you can any physical thing around you to ground yourself in the present moment and focus on one single sensory experience. And that could be looking at the color of someone’s shirt or the color of the wall. I don’t really care what the answer is. It it’s about focusing on one single sensory experience at a time. Can you ground yourself in one thing that’s happening right now? And use that to, to focus to get out of the overwhelm to just be in one experience.

Okay. All right. So we are at time if you need to go please go ahead. I’m going to continue on for another maybe five minutes or so, to answer the last couple of things here.

Someone also asked about, some of us struggle with both over stimulation and under stimulation, how can you find that sensory balance and different senses have different needs, sometimes at the same time, and you can address the needs of different senses to make them both more happy. So for example, I have a weighted blanket on my lap right now, that’s 17 pounds, it makes me feel very happy. I also have a bowl of essential oils that are creating a pleasant smell that I’ve picked this one out specifically because I like it. There’s lots of smells and perfumes that I dislike, but I’ve spent some time finding ones that I do like that feel really good to me. And that helped me and so having them with me feels good. And I’ve got a pillow under my arm because I have chronic pain in my arm. So I’m trying to give it some support, so that I don’t have to deal with the pain right now. And I can think about what I want to say to you all and respond to your questions. And I’m just like I have plants around me and I can look at those and they help regulate me because there’s a lot going on. Right now I’ve got questions and comments coming up in the chat. And I’m seeing people in the view and trying to semi read the slide slips me remember what I wanted to say there’s a lot going on. And my ADHD brain is loving that, frankly. And it’s a lot of executive function stuff. But my having these things, the smells, the weight, the support under my arm, the pleasant things to look at the nice color in my room, I, I’ve specifically painted my room to be my favorite soothing colors.

And I can arrange my environment so that some of my senses are soothed and combed and happy. So that when other senses are struggling, it’s not overwhelming. It’s just, oh, there’s a lot of this going on. There’s a lot of noises, there’s a lot of whatever. And I can deal with that a lot easier when other senses are happy. And I go out of my way to make sure that other senses are happy on a regular basis. And figuring out what works for you, is going to just be a process a process of trial and error, this little setup that I’ve got here is not going to be the same thing that works for you find what works for you.

1:01:20
Try it out. Okay, and the last question that I wanted to address is simply Where’s, like, doesn’t matter where the sensory issues are coming from? Someone asked is doesn’t matter whether it’s from my autism or my EDS? Well, yes, and no deal with the sensory issues that you’re dealing with right now, no matter where it’s from. And if say a flare up of chronic pain is causing more sensory discomfort, then dealing with a chronic pain is going to be the best way for you to lower your overall nervous system reactivity, so that you’ll be able to deal with all of it better.

1:02:14
Okay, so someone wrote, I find it difficult because a lot of things that other that help other people with sensory difficulties. I can’t use because of my physical disability, or sensory difficulties. Yeah, and it’s going to be a process of figuring out what works for you. And I get it, that’s exhausting. And everywhere, there’s something. Yeah, I got it. And like, I can’t make it all go away, either. I can simply help myself to deal with it better. And if it’s not as overwhelming, I can deal with the things that I can’t make go away. I’m sorry, you’re having to deal with that. It is exhausting. I fully get that. I’m in a better place now than I was when I started this process seven years ago. But it’s still a lot.

Okay, so here’s the feedback form. One more time, I do appreciate if anyone is willing to give me some feedback, I’m putting that link in the chat. And if you want to contact me, there’s my website, and you can email me I’m also on Twitter and YouTube. And I teach classes for teens on out school. Alright, that’s all I have. Thank you so much for joining me. And I do want to offer if anyone has any last minute questions. I’m happy to stick around for another minute or two.

Yes, I will put the the feedback form in the email. So I will be emailing everyone with a recording of this so that you can look back through it later. Yeah, and go back to the contact page. Sure. Okay. Any last thoughts?

Thank you so much for joining me. I hope that you found something helpful in this. Even if you found like one or two little things and use them even inconsistently. It can make a difference. Thank you very much for your time. Take care.

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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, every science ending in -ology, and all things Star Trek!

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