April 28, 2014

Tracers, Auras and Other Sensory Overload Experiences

Mashable put together a nice collection of autistic/sensory overload experiences on video. Each video tries to simulate what it's like to be autistic. It's really hard to capture sensory experiences on video - it's the sort of thing where it would be great if people could just spend time in each other's heads. But since we can't, these videos are close enough.

I especially like the taking a walk and Wal-Mart visit videos. My vision does not become as blurry though. For me, I see what I call "tracers" and "auras" (and not the fancy coloured New Agey auras). Also, these experiences are not as fun as they might sound!

Auras are easy enough to describe. It's a fuzzy glowing light, a halo, around people and things. Everything.

Tracers are like a bad seventies music video where lines of light follow any movement of a person or object. So, let's say I were to wave my hand in front of my face. There would be hundreds of hands just like it, like a paper fan spreading out, following its movement.

I also sometimes see flashes of light go past my eyes. I have had my eyes checked by an ophthalmologist and I have had brain scans. There is nothing physically wrong or different to explain why I have these experiences. It's just crazy sensory overload.

Seeing either or both of them usually mean I am tired and/or over stimulated and need to get away to a quiet place quickly. If stuck, I will become dizzy, get a headache and then nauseated. My body will start to ache. This happens often in shopping malls, especially crowded ones. I cannot think straight.

Because of this, I usually stick to small stores. I do a lot of my shopping online. I also completely refuse to buy Christmas presents for anyone but children now - you will not see me in a store at holiday time! Instead I "gift" donations to charities of people's choice - again something easily done with a credit card online and I'm also doing something good. North Americans have too much stuff anyway.

Looking at me, you wouldn't think or know anything is wrong. I continue walking around like nothing is happening, maybe rubbing my eyes more than usual. I may have to concentrate more on where I'm going so I don't run into things and this might make it harder to approach me. I typically don't want my thoughts disturbed, so those people in malls trying to get you to sample something are even more annoying to me.

Add to that the annoying mall "muzzak" and scents from perfume, soap or candle shops and I start getting agitated. Basically, if I have to go to a mall, I run in and run out, getting only what I really need, so I don't get to the overload point. Knowing my limits and having them respected is really important to being able to be productive. Otherwise I could be ruined for days.

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