This week I have had another lightbulb moment of my own, involving something which I thought I had a decent understanding of.
At the time, I felt like a genius, I had single handedly worked out what was happening during sensory overload.
On reflection, I realise that I hadn't fully understood the whys and the wherefores of overload, so my assumption of genius is probably not accurate.
I will explain my lightbulb moment in case it helps someone to understand a bit better what might be going on with their child, or themselves, if they have, like me, spent much of their adult lives completely unaware of themselves.
I was walking home from school after dropping my youngest off. I passed a group of other mothers, all of whom had apparently freshly showered in perfume. The smell was all consuming. I literally had to stop in my tracks and wait until the smell had passed. I felt blinded by the smell, I could see, but couldn't process what I was seeing, I could hear, but couldn't process what I was hearing. I have no idea if anyone spoke to me or waved at me (or any other gestures that may have been appropriate to a large woman standing in the middle of the pavement). It felt like I had frozen, until the smell passed and I regained control of myself, although I did feel incredibly anxious and irritable for an hour or two after.
One of the differences between autistic and non-autistic people is that autistics need to process sensory input manually, the brain takes it in and needs to deal with each sensory assault individually. I think I am usually pretty good at this, although it does mean I am quickly exhausted during social events, where processing must happen alongside talking to people and being aware of what I'm saying and doing, all at the same time. Over the last year I feel that my understanding of this was pretty good, and sensory overload meant too much information going in, yeah, yeah, yeah, I've got it.
But I hadn't got it at all. I had on an academic level, but in a living, breathing way, I hadn't.
My brain, and probably other's like me, has a capacity for processing information, both in a listening and understanding way, but also in the way it takes in sounds, smells and sights. Some days my brain processes things better than other days, so it can cope with more going on. Other days, it cannot cope with as much and I am more likely to be overloaded.
Usually for me, overload for me means I need to be alone and quiet, I feel anxious, I can be angry and snappy and I need to recover.
Occasionally though the overload stops me in my tracks, and this is what led to a greater understanding as to what overload actually is.
In this case, processing the smell of the women (who I'm sure are very nice, if a little on the overpoweringly smelly side) took precedence over everything else. I could only smell that, and my brain went into overdrive to deal with that, leaving the rest frozen in time until it passed.
I really feel this has given me a greater understanding for PDA boy. I have often wondered at the back of my mind if his spacey out moods where he can't hear me or see me are deliberate ploy to avoid interaction, because of course he must be able to hear me call him, and it's only now I've experienced that for myself that I can truly see that he can't. On one level he will hear me, but not in a way that will mean he can hear his name, or understand that my voice, which has become a background blur, is meant for him.
My own diagnosis has proved to be a great way to start to understand my boys better. It doesn't make it easier to meet everyone's needs whilst my own need is to become a hermit, but understanding myself and spotting autism in many aspects of my life has definitely meant that I can pick apart behaviours and attempt to help in a way that I couldn't before I understood.
It does feel odd that I reached the grand old age of 40 without understanding so many aspects of myself, but along with my diagnosis I was equipped with a way to analyse so many incidents throughout my life in order to gain a better understanding of autism.
Understanding how and why sensory overload happens from a personal level feels like another important step, just like my realisation of my processing differences (which I blogged about a few months ago). I am learning to be me, and I hope that it will equip me in helping my family to come through the challenges we face.