Asperger’s Syndrome and Sensory Issues

Life with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome can be very hard, not understanding social skills is one of the main symptoms of the disorder. Aside from that, kids with Autism often are very sensitive to sounds, touch and sights. This is called either sensory integration or sensory processing disorder. They also tend to react so sights and sounds that typically don’t bother most neurotypicals. As a result of this, they can’t participate in many every day activities that people do. The thing that really bothered me was loud noises. I couldn’t go to things like restaurants and amusement parks because the loud noises would overpower me. This really stressed my parents out because they couldn’t do things that most kids really enjoy doing, such as going to amusement parks, birthday parties, firework shows and some school events.

I was about four or five years old, and we were waiting for our flight back to Pittsburgh from the McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas. We just finished a week long visit at my aunt and uncles house who lived in town, and from what I heard, our plane was delayed until about three or four o’clock in the morning. We were sitting at the gate and waiting for our plane until we heard a real loud “whoop, whoop”.  Somebody seemed to have set off the airport security alarm, which went off throughout all the airport gates. I sat, held my ears and dealt with it for about three minutes, when my mom put ear plugs in my ears. The noise became very overpowering and I started crying and screaming. My parents, along with my sister decided to get on the tram and go into the terminal. It was noisy in there, but at least we didn’t have to listen to the security alarm in the gate. We stood there for about thirty minutes and we had to go through security to get on the tram back to the gate. When we got off the tram and went back to the gate, the alarms were finally turned off. We sat down at the gate and I was fine. We got on the plane and we went back to Pittsburgh without problems. I am sure there are parents out there who would just sit there and let the kid scream because they thought that I was crying just to get attention.

I can’t stand going to parties, it’s not necessarily because of the loud music, but it is because of how shy I am when it comes to meeting new people and social interaction. When I was younger, one of the things I couldn’t stand was loud parties and balloons popping. Anytime I would see a balloon, and I would tense up and become very irritated and nervous because of the fear of the balloons popping. I was afraid of them popping because of how sudden the popping sound was. It always happens when you least expect it to, and I would cry and scream when they would pop. Most of the people around me when I would go to birthday parties thought I was upset because I was trying to get attention, like a baby. One of my neighbors down the street was babysitting me, and they had balloons left over from a family member’s birthday party. One of them popped because they were sitting underneath the heating vent, and I started crying because the sudden noise frightened me. The balloons were in their kitchen, which was next to the living room. I would not go in the kitchen or the living room because I had the fear of the balloons popping again. I didn’t stop crying because of that fear, I cried for about thirty minutes because I was so afraid of the balloons popping. My mother came and picked me up later on, and I finally calmed down. One of the things that upset me when I was at my neighbor’s house was the change in the environment. One of the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome is the difficulty adapting to change, I think that was also one of the things that upset me when I was at the neighbor’s house. They thought I was only upset about the balloons popping, but I was also upset about the change in the environment.

A few years ago I went into Mrs. Casey’s third grade class at Buffalo Elementary School. They just finished remodeling the first part of the school building. We were all adapting to the change of being in a brand new building. A few weeks into the school year, we were getting ready for lunch. When we went in line to go to the lunch, we heard a very loud, high pitch chirping and screeching sound. I had no idea what the noise was, until I saws the alarm strobes flashing. When we walked outside, I held my ears and cringed from the shrill, loud noise. When we went outside, everybody complained about how loud the alarm was and how their lunch time got interrupted. When we went outside and walked to the cafeteria, I started talking about how loud the fire alarm was and how it scared me when I first heard it. I went on about the fire alarm for about thirty minutes until somebody finally blurted out “Derek, we are sick of hearing about the fire alarm. Stop talking about it”. It was obvious that they didn’t want to hear about the alarm anymore, I kept myself quiet the rest of the lunch period. Looking back at that situation, I realize that I talked about the fire alarm because I had the fear that it was going to go off and hurt my ears. My method of getting rid of the fear of the alarm going off was obsessing about it. I didn’t understand that talking about the fire alarm and fire drills got them angry, because there are other things to talk about besides that. When I would start talking about it, they would just ignore me or rudely tell me to talk about something else.

Aside from the fear of balloons and the fire alarm, there were quite a few things that have bothered me in school and at home. These, however are not fears, they are just sounds that really bothered me and distracted me from my schoolwork. I remember when I was at Buffalo Elementary, we had these carpeted areas around each of the grade level sections called “pods”. Our teachers would send us out there to study or finish homework assignments. The thing that really bothered me about these “pods” was that they were right beside the hallways. When people would pass by, it would really distract me. The school had a “no talking” rule when we were in the hallway because people are usually sitting in the pods working. When teachers were not looking, they would still talk and goof around. My teachers aide always took me out there to finish worksheets, and anytime I would get distracted from people walking by they would rudely yell “Derek, look at your paper and quit looking around”. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that annoying line when I was at home and at school.

Another thing that really distracted me when I was in elementary school was when the heater or air conditioner would come on. I would make a comment about it, and most people usually don’t even notice it when it comes on. When I did that, people thought it was strange. That was one of the things that caused teasing, name calling and labeling. I have gotten over my fears of loud noises like balloons popping and the fire alarm. As I got older, I naturally found out appropriate ways to deal with sensory issues. Kids need to be sure to tell somebody that a noise bothers them. People won’t know something bothers you unless you tell them. Parents, if you have a school that is unwilling to address your child’s needs, it is time to find a different place for them to get their education. If you stay with the school that is uncooperative with you, school life will become miserable.

To wrap up, when I look back at situations like this, I realize that it is typical for many people with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. I have been in many situations where people have thought of those things as “weird”. I think the people who label and make fun of me because of my differences are the “odd” ones. My best advice for that is to just sit back and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It is not worth getting upset about people who label and make fun of you. Hopefully after reading this entry, you learned more about me and my Asperger’s Syndrome. Thank you for reading!