Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Personal Experience with Sensory Sensitivity

Although I was not diagnosed as an Asperger until late adulthood, sensitivity to certain places and situations has affected me all my life. Disturbing reactions began in early childhood, as I remember, when I was about three years old. The severity of my reactions, notably nausea, fear and panic, and an overwhelming urge to flee, were judged by adults to be a willful state. There was little awareness back then, that any manmade products (such as pesticides) affected humans, or that the sounds produced by machinery (from airplanes or in industry) could be harmful. It seems unbelievable today, but cigarette smoking was promoted as positively healthy!

We're not as smart as we think we are. Denial
persists as to the harm produced by products.
Our pediatrician believed that nothing in the environment could be a trigger or cause, and she advised my parents that I did have control of these physiologic responses, but was using them to get attention. (It was all in my head.) She simply concluded that I was a bad and selfish child: Punish me and I would soon "shape up." This pronouncement left me even more desperate and vulnerable. Not only did I fear the strange mystery of people and places and circumstances that caused pain (that's what sensory sensitivity is.) A new layer of anxiety was added: I must hide the pain. If I didn't (and I couldn't) the consequence would be further reprimand, isolation and emotional abandonment.

The adult view of my strange behavior did not include compassion or empathy; it was self-centered. The environments that elicited upsetting reactions in me were benign for them, so how could it be other than my fault? It never crossed their minds that I was suffering, and I was repeatedly told to just stop being upset or afraid. End of concern. Other people suppress their emotions, why can't you?

I refused to enter certain houses; to me they smelled like death. Being in a crowd of people disrupted my equilibrium. The cacophony of sound was like information that had been chopped to pieces in a blender and thrown at me, and it physically hurt. The panic and urge to flee that overwhelmed me were immediate and instinctual, commanding me to 'just get away' and find a quiet place. I was admonished by my mother to stop embarrassing her and was forced to remain in situations that were almost unbearable. Blame, blame and shame was the consistent message. Is there any reason to wonder why Asperger children (and adults) become reclusive?

The tragic mistake was that everyone concerned assumed that I was experiencing a 3 or 4 on the pain scale, when my pain was actually shooting off the chart. I assumed that other people lived with this same pain, but were very strong and courageous and could control fear and panic. The adults around me had no clue as to the level of pain I lived with. Their conventional and conformist social orientation completely discounted that there is anything personal about human sensory experience. The brain? Just some blob stuck in our heads into which information can be stuffed.  We're all supposed to be the same, and anyone who isn't is just plain bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are encouraged but will be moderated. Thank-you.