If you know me outside of Full Spectrum View, then you know I am a major foodie! Knowing that, you probably think this post is going to be about food. Well, spoiler alert: it’s not, sorry! I will be covering my primarily whole food, plant-based diet in future post and how I think that’s helped my autism, so stay tuned for that. BUT, getting off that tangent, here’s what today’s post is about: autism sensory overload and how that affects what I can do.
Daily Plate Size
The amount of things we can get done in a given day varies. Things take longer, something more urgent comes up, or we get distracted. It happens to everyone; we have super productive days and ones where getting up off the couch is just not happening.
For this article, picture everything that needs to get done daily as fitting on a dinner plate. Each day, the size of the plate we take is different. We need at least a tiny plate each day, making sure our basic needs like food and water are being taken care of. I am also the sole caregiver of my service dog Monty, so my minimum plate is a little bigger. Yours might be, too, if you have a family of some kind.
To continue with the food analogy (I LOVE analogies, by the way!), as you decide you are hungrier or not as hungry, getting more or less food, you might change the size of the plate you take. In the “real world,” this would be like needing to do something you hadn’t planned on, or someone taking care of something for you, so one less thing that you need to do!
Now, you’re hopefully not picking up any earth-shattering new information. You also probably have no idea how this relates to being autistic yet. I promise I’m getting there, just wanted to lay some ground rules first.
One other very important thing: if you think that getting things done is all about being motivated or pushing through even when you don’t feel like it or that people who struggle to get things done are lazy, stop right here. I appreciate the visit, but I don’t think this is the article for you. Please check out some of my other posts though!
However, if that is your mindset, but you are open to change or another perspective, then please keep reading!
Neurotypical Sensory Processing
Yay, you kept reading, glad to hear it! Ok, so you are probably wondering what the size of your plate, aka what you can get done each day, has to do with autism and sensory overload, right? Great question!
To the outside world, I often can appear “normal,” whatever that means. Therefore, it makes sense that I can handle what most people can in terms of both daily and long-term tasks, jobs, etc, right?
Well, actually, not so much…
For most allistic/neurotypical/non-autistic people, your brain realizes what’s important to pay attention to and what can be ignored. For example:
- Cars coming towards you if you’re about to cross the street = PAY ATTENTION
- The feeling of your feet inside your shoes = Not so important
This is all happening automatically, without any conscious effort on your part. Pretty cool, huh? Therefore, your brain can devote more energy to other tasks, like thinking and getting things done.
Sensory Overload + Plate Size
Unfortunately, autistic people like me basically lack that filter, paying attention to every stimuli. When more information comes in than we can handle, our brain becomes like the spinning wheel on a Mac computer. We go into autism sensory overload.
When I’m in sensory overload, I literally can’t function. I shutdown, and nothing gets done until my brain calms down. This shutdown can occur in one of two ways. First, I basically stop all functioning, as in often can’t talk, eat, or really do anything other than watch tv and zone out from the world. This is typically the most common, and as long as I don’t try and fight it and give myself the time to recover, I can be ok. The second one is a full on meltdown, typically yelling, screaming, stomping, essentially throwing what looks like an adult temper tantrum, even though it’s not. These are fortunately very rare as they are exhausting. They often happen if I try to push through the first type.
When autism sensory overload and/or a meltdown happens, if I already have a pretty big plate for that day, I better find a way to shrink it because not much is going to get done. If I “catch” the overload early, I have a shot of being productive. If not, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I have a comfy couch!
So, what’s the point?
“Ok, I get it, sensory issues are real and being overloaded can cause meltdowns. I already knew autistic people have meltdowns, so what’s the point of this whole plate-size thing?”
Glad you asked! Part of being autistic is that I can sometimes ramble on about topics I’m passionate about, so let me wrap it up for you.
These days, being busy and overloaded is almost the norm, yet people keeping taking more and more “food” and adding it to their plate when they’re not even hungry or can’t eat what they have. I don’t think this is sustainable for anyone, but for an autistic person, it will inevitably lead to disaster.
Fellow autistic people: it is ok to say no to something! Allistic people: if we say we’ll get to something, but we just can’t today, even if it seems like we’re not that busy, don’t push us!
Being autistic in a world that doesn’t understand and often accept us is challenging enough. So, if we take a smaller plate, please respect our current “hunger levels” and be glad we’re eating at all!
Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!
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