Autism 101

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder(ASD), as defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is “a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction”. The Autistic Self  Advocacy Network, or ASAN, defines autism as “a neurological variation that occurs in about one percent of the population and is classified as a developmental disability”. Essentially, autism is a developmental disorder that is known for affecting social and communication skills, though it certainly affects other things as well.
There used to be separate diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, but the two were grouped together into the current diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder(along with several other previously distinct conditions) as clinicians who studied the two found them to be extremely similar. I will make a separate post about the history of autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Autistic people tend to view the world in a black and white way, meaning that it can be hard to compromise or find a middle ground on what we believe to be right and wrong. We are very passionate about the things we believe in. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people tend to be extremely empathetic. However, we can struggle to recognize and predict neurotypical emotions, which leads people to think we do not care. We care a lot, but we are speaking a different language, and things get lost in translation.
Autistic people tend to have special interests, which is a fairly straightforward term. As I said above, we are very passionate, and this leads us to have special interests. A special interest is something we take an extraordinary interest in, learning everything we can about it and lighting up when we think about it. Special interests tend to relate to understanding how the world works(for example, my special interest for 8 years was black holes and theoretical physics), but a person’s special interest can be a tv show, or even a certain song they really like. It’s defined by the depth of interest. Special interests can be short lived, lasting only for a week or even a few days, or they can last years, and shape a person’s life goals and career choice.
An autistic person might want to infodump about their special interests. Infodumping, as the name suggests, is dumping a lot of info on someone. Essentially, we like to talk about our special interests. A lot. Infodumping can be a way we bond with people, and we might go out of our way to infodump to people we are close to, to share the thing that makes us happy with them to make them happy too. While it can be a little annoying to neurotypicals, it’s our way of trying to share our joy. It can also just be really hard NOT to infodump. When I really want to infodump to someone but I can’t, it feels like a balloon inside me is about to pop, and I feel like I am physically holding myself back from infodumping.
In another post I will go more into detail about executive dysfunction, but I do want to define it and say here that it is something commonly experienced in both autistic people and people with ADHD. Executive function is the skills that help us manage and regulate our lives and control our behavior, like the ability to plan how to do something, or keep track of time, or set priorities. Executive dysfunction is the lack of these skills. It causes people to have a hard time regulating their behavior and emotions, and can make it hard to be independent.
Autistic people are also known for having sensory issues, which may or not be part of a separate diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder, which I have already made a post about. Just like with Sensory Processing Disorder, the sensory needs of an autistic person can change from day to day or as the result of too much or too little stimulation. For more information about sensory processing issues, please go to my post about Sensory Processing Disorder. I have already mentioned masking, and I will make a separate post about masking to explain it in detail.
Fun fact- autistic brains actually light up more than neurotypical brains on an fMRI! This means that autistic brains have more activity, which is likely linked to our sensory processing difficulties, as I’ve read some sources that say that sensory processing disorder and sensory issues are caused by extra connections in the brain! On the topic of brains and sensory issues, a little known fact is that sensory aversions, or sensory things we reeeally try to avoid, actually light up the pain centers in our brains! So when we say that a smell might hurt, or the light hurts, or any other sensory aversion, we’re not being dramatic! Our brains actually react as if we are in pain, which I personally find fascinating.
Autistic people are the most iconic stimmers, and do repetitive actions in order to self regulate or stimulate as well as use it as a form of expression or body language. I have already made a post talking about stimming, which I recommend checking out for more information.
Something that is most commonly a trait of people with ADHD but is also seen fairly frequently in autistic people is something called rejection sensitive dysphoria, which I will make a separate post about as well. In short, rejection sensitive dysphoria is an extreme sensitivity to rejection, whether real or imagined. It’s often described as the worst symptom they experience for those who have it.
Autism is commonly ‘treated’ through therapy. I hesitate to say the word treated because as an autistic person, I, along with many other autistic people I know, do not feel we have a disease or condition that necessarily needs to be treated. It’s simply a different neurotype. However, as we live in a neurotypical society, being neurodivergent does come with its fair share of troubles. Autistic people are often sent to occupational therapy to learn life skills and some regulation skills. They may also be put on medications to help with symptoms that could potentially harm them, such as not sensing hunger or thirst, or to help with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression which are often co-morbid, or occurring with, autism.
I will make a separate post about this, but I will say here that I strongly advocate against the use of ABA therapy, as it is almost always abusive and traumatizing to the individual going through it. It forces children to mask at the expense of their mental health, and does nothing to teach them how to actually manage their symptoms and take care of themselves. It is much better for an autistic person to be able to meet and communicate with other autistic people and learn actual management and regulation skills and how to work around their sensory issues and social difficulties, not just ignore them.

 

*As always, please let me know if there’s anything else you want me to talk about, or if I missed something! Have a great day!

Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction is…what made it take so long to get this post done. In all seriousness, though, executive dysfunction is a lack of executive function skills or difficulty with executive skills. Executive skills are things like being able to initiate doing something, keeping track of time, regulating your emotions, and other self-regulating skills. When you have executive dysfunction, those things can be extremely hard to do.
Executive dysfunction is most commonly seen in people with ADHD, though it is also seen in people with autism and other disorders as well. It’s often mistaken for laziness, but can be easily distinguished by asking one thing- why aren’t I doing the thing I should be doing? As opposed to laziness, where the answer is “I don’t want to”, executive dysfunction causes you to not do something because you either don’t know how or just can’t. I’ve seen it described as not being able to find the ‘start’ button. I know I need to do the task, but I just cant start it, I can’t find the button. A lot of people with executive dysfunction talk about how they know they should be doing the task, and wondering why they can’t do it. The internal dialogue could look something like this:
“I need to do the dishes. Time to do the dishes. Why aren’t I doing the dishes? It’s not hard, just get up and do the dishes. Alright, now do the dishes. You have to get the dishes done so you can cook. Just do the dishes.” And so on and so forth. To me it feels like being stuck. I know exactly what I need to do, but I don’t know how to do it, or I can’t get myself to actually do it.
One of the most common or noticeable difficulties children with executive dysfunction face is trying to keep their room clean. The parents might call their child lazy or dramatic if the child says they don’t know how to clean their room, or if it takes them longer than usual. What the parent doesn’t understand is the kid literally has no clue where to start. When I look at a messy room, my brain just goes blank, I have no clue where to start or even how to distinguish anything from the mess. Telling me to start with taking out trash might not help if I can’t find the trash because I can’t sort through what I see in my head.
Another, less known or understood issue people with executive dysfunction face is eating/drinking and using the restroom. I know someone with ADHD and autism who, even when he does recognize that he’s hungry, won’t do anything to fix it. The same thing goes for using the restroom. To him, the urge to eat/drink or use the restroom is like an annoying popup add. He just ignores it and hopes it goes away, because he can’t initiate what he needs to do to fix the problem.
Managing executive dysfunction is not easy, but thanks to social media and all the different stuff phones can do, it’s getting a little easier. Before you groan and say I’m a young kid addicted to my phone, I’m serious. And I’m not a kid, but that’s besides the point. Thanks to smartphones, a person with executive dysfunction can set reminders to eat or use the restroom or make and keep a schedule much easier than before. But besides using smartphones, creating a routine and sticking to it, hard as it will be at first, is a great way to manage executive dysfunction. Find ways to reward yourself for sticking to the schedule, possibly by creating a schedule that, when followed, gives you a chunk of free time at the end of the day. Something I do to help with cleaning my room is I keep a picture of what my room should look like when it’s clean, and then I just have to make my room match the picture.  This is especially helpful towards the end, where I only see small stuff left and draw another blank on what to do next.
I’m still learning ways to manage executive dysfunction, and if you have any tips or tricks, feel free to let me know!

Adressing COVID-19

***This post will be addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you are avoiding reading about it to protect your mental health, please be aware and exit the post if you need to***

I will try not to make too lengthy of a post about this, but I do want to take a moment and address the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is affecting everyone’s mental health right now.
If you’re in an area with cases, and you probably are, you’ve heard over and over again as people tell you to wash your hands and stay home. Even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard all of this.  PLEASE listen to them. I know it’s hard to put your life on hold, but doing so will help stop other’s lives from being cut short. Please read about cross contamination when wearing gloves or using masks. Do your research and pay attention. Don’t panic, but be prepared. If where you are has no cases, do what you can to help those in areas that do have cases, or get together anything you know you will need or put together a plan for when you have cases in your area. Don’t panic buy, but make a mental list of first aid stuff or other you might need to start getting(little by little not all at once), and make plans for if you end up having to stay home. And please look after your mental health.
Some of the things that are helping me the most are writing, singing, indulging in my special interests, and letting myself stim and not mask as much. The last 3 are super important, especially if you’re autistic and/or have ADHD. Try to encourage yourself to just be yourself. If you are uncomfortable unmasking around those you live with or are unsure how to unmask, try doing it step by step in your room or wherever you can be alone. Do things like letting yourself stim and reading about your special interests. Don’t worry so much about eye contact. One good thing is that you don’t have to worry about unwanted physical contact. Listen to your body and let yourself do what you need to do to cope. Trust me, we’re not judging. Quarantine rules are airport rules, everything’s fair game. Try not to be hard on yourself if you have a lot of sensory overload, or meltdowns/shutdowns. This is not an easy thing to go through, no one is coping perfectly. Try to focus on things you can control, and remind yourself of the times you’ve picked yourself up in the past. You can do this.
I also keep a journal where I write my thoughts of the day and anything else I think should be written down. This helps me focus my thoughts and let go of some stress without venting to others. This also helps me give myself a little bit of CBT by analyzing my thoughts and struggles of the previous day and thinking about why they happened and what I can do to make tomorrow better. There are some apps that are meant for logging thoughts and guiding you through simple CBT which I’ve used before with some success(I just got annoyed with the notifications to write in the app, to be honest). The apps I used helped you break down your thoughts and confront why any negative thoughts occurred in order to prevent or lessen them.
Other activities you can do to manage your mental and physical health without breaking isolation and quarantine protocol are walking your dog, dancing, sitting on your porch, yoga, stretching, and simple home workouts. Doing family activities such as playing card games or even doing around the house scavenger hunts can help with needing to socialize, and of course there are video chatting options as well. If you are an introvert like me and need space to recharge from your family being home all the time, I usually hang out in my room or do activities with my family that don’t require as much active participation, such as having a movie night, or supervising my brother making brownies. Be sure you talk to the people you live with, and communicate if you need more space or want to do more socializing. Remember, you’re all going through the quarantine together, and helping each other get through it will make it easier for everyone.
As far as maintaining and managing your physical health, please do what the CDC is recommending. Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, stay indoors, and isolate if you start to feel sick. Even if you don’t think you have COVID-19 and you think you just have a cold, it is better to be cautious and isolate until you are better. Even if it is just a cold, you could come in contact with someone who has a suppressed or compromised immune system, and they do not need a cold to make it harder for them to stay healthy. For anyone reading this who has a compromised or a suppressed immune system, firstly, I hope you are self-isolating and staying home. Secondly, if you have a suppressed immune system, you may never know you are sick. My mother has a severely suppressed immune system and is staying home and we are all being extremely careful because the doctor told us that we might not know if she’s sick because her body might not be able to react and try to fight the virus strong enough to cause symptoms such as fever or to some extent coughing. I don’t say this to panic you, and I want to emphasize that I am NOT a doctor. But I am saying this because I want all of you to stay safe and healthy.
Please stay updated on the COVID-19 pandemic as much as you can without panicking yourself, and do all the necessary precautions. If you think you might have it, immediately self-isolate and call your doctor, and follow the CDC guidelines for those who think they might be sick.
You can do this. I am here for all of you and care about all of you. Please take care of yourself, and don’t lose hope. I want to see you all still here when this is done. Be safe and be careful. ❤

 

CDC COVID-19 PAGE- https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Stimming 101

In my last post about Sensory Processing Disorder(SPD), I mentioned stimming. Stimming stands for self stimulatory/stimulating behaviors. Essentially, it’s any repetitive behavior done to fill a sensory or emotional need. Stimming is a tool that allows people to not only fill sensory needs, but to also regulate their emotions and self-soothe.
Everyone stims. Yes, even neurotypical people. In neurotypical people, stimming usually looks like twirling your hair when you’re bored in class, or chewing your fingernails or tapping a pen when your anxious, as opposed to the stereotypical hand flapping. The main difference between neurotypical stimming and neurodivergent stimming is frequency and necessity. In neurodivergent people, stimming is done a lot more frequently, some people even stimming almost constantly, and it’s more of a necessity. Forcing a neurodivergent person to repress or hide their stims leads to burnout, sensory overload, and meltdowns. The ONLY time a stim should be stopped is if it is harmful to the person and it is safe to redirect or stop the person- I will go into more detail about this in my ‘meltdowns’ post.
The neurodivergent groups that are the most ‘notorious’ for stimming, are SPD, ADHD, and autism. These are all neurotypes that process sensory input differently and who tend to take in more information about the world, and stim to help themselves regulate and manage the information better. When interacting with someone who is neurodivergent, it is incredibly helpful to learn the person’s happy stims and upset stims, because those usually different. For example, my stims almost always involve flapping my hands or arms, but when I am happy, my hands will be higher up and my arms might be outreached, whereas when I’m upset or anxious, my hands will be low and the flapping will be quicker but more contained. When you learn someone’s happy and upset stims, you can help them recognize stress or overload before they may be even aware of it, and it also just shows that you care about the person. Stimming is also a form of body language, especially for autistic people. We use it to express ourselves. It’s as natural to us as facial expressions are for neurotypical people.
Stimming is a beautiful thing, and there is a big movement to embrace stimming in public and in general. Embrace your stims, and see how much better you feel.

You can find some great stim toys here(NOT an affiliate or sponsored link)- https://www.stimtastic.co/stim-toys

Sensory Processing Disorder 101

Sensory processing disorder(abbreviated as SPD) quite literally means that your brain does not process information from your senses correctly. This makes people who have sensory processing disorder experience the world differently. They may be under-sensitive to some sensory stimuli like cold and over-sensitive to other sensory stimuli like grainy textures.
I should not that sensory ‘issues’ do not only occur in those with sensory processing disorder. Autism, for example, causes people to also process information from their senses differently, and while autism and sensory processing disorder can coexist, they don’t always, and you can have one without the other. The difference between sensory processing disorder and autism is neurological. The sensory sensitivities and under-sensitivities are caused by different things happening in the brain.
When it comes to sensitivities and insensitivities, most people with SPD tend to mostly be sensitive or under-sensitive to sensory stimuli in general. So, you may have one person who is under-sensitive to most sensations, and will actively seek out sensory input, and you may have the opposite, a person who actively avoids sensory input due to being over-sensitive to it. However, that doesn’t mean that the person is over or under sensitive to absolutely everything. Like I said, they tend to be mostly under or over-sensitive, but overlapping is very common. For example, I am very under-sensitive to the cold, and very over-sensitive to the heat and to grainy textures. I am generally over-sensitive to stimuli, but there are areas, such as cold, movement, and proprioception, that I am under-sensitive to, and actively seek out.
It’s important to note that a person’s over and under-sensitivities can and likely will change over time or as a result of over stimulation. A person who is feeling everything trying to get the right texture sensory input may become overloaded from so much input and become over-sensitive to anything against their skin. It is important for people with SPD or sensory related conditions to lean how to recognize the signs of sensory overload and how to self-regulate.
Something else that is important to know that most people don’t realize is that people have more than just 5 senses. I’m going to focus on 7, because those are the most common and the others I’ve read about are debated as to whether or not they are actual senses. You’re familiar with taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound, but you also have a vestibular sense and proprioception. Your vestibular sense is your sense of motion, like when you rock back and forth. Proprioception is similar, but is the sense of where your body is in space.
Proprioception and your vestibular sense overlap quite a bit, but usually figuring out which sense you’re trying to seek or avoid can be figured out by asking if you yourself need to be moving your own body or if you just want to feel movement. For example, would you be satisfied going on a merry go round, or do you actually want to do the moving yourself and rock or flap your arms? If you want to do the moving yourself, it’s more likely your proprioception. Proprioception is also related to deep pressure input, such as using a weighted blanket or stomping on the floor, when it comes to feeling your own body in space more, if that makes sense.
Speaking of deep pressure input, I want to clarify that deep pressure in and of itself is not proprioception. Deep pressure falls under your sense of touch. Within your sense of touch, you actually have different receptors responsible for sensing light and deep touch or pressure. The Meissner’s corpuscles in some areas of your skin are responsible for light touch, and your Paccinian corpuscles are responsible for deep pressure and vibrations. Pretty much, the receptors closer to the skin sense light pressure, and the ones further down sense deep pressure. Easy enough, right?
I want to make stimming, or self stimulating(essentially sensory regulating or seeking behaviors) an entirely different post, so I guess this is where this post will end. I hope that answered your questions about SPD, and if not, let me know what else you want to know!

About Me

Hi and welcome to my blog! I wanted to make a post to introduce myself to you all, so here goes!
My name is Enya, and I am 20 years old. I have been diagnosed with ADHD, autism, Sensory Processing Disorder(formerly known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction), OCD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a depressive disorder not otherwise specified, claustrophobia, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, and trigeminal autonomic cephalagia. I love theatre and enjoy writing. I have 3 siblings(1 twin sister, 1 younger sister, and 1 younger brother), and most of my family is neurodivergent. I have a pet dog who I love very much but is an anxious mess(kinda like me haha).
I wanted to create this blog to help share information about sensory issues and really a bunch of mental health stuff in general. But, most of my content will be focused around stimming or sensory information, so I named the blog Simply Sensory. I also just couldn’t think of a different name. If you think of a good one, let me know!
Feel free to comment about topics you want me to cover, or comment with any questions you have for me! I’m more than happy to answer you questions! Thanks for checking out my blog! Now, onto the good stuff!