Sensory Issues – Smells

Not everyone on the autistic spectrum suffers from Sensory Processing Disorder, again I reiterate the statement that ‘One size does not fit all’. However, this is my personal tale of  how my sense of smell can affect me. I will deal with other sensory issues later on.

I decided to discuss this sensory issue today because, whilst going for a walk this morning, my sense of smell overwhelmed me. Now, anyone’s sense of smell can be evocative, certain smells bringing back memories or emotions, enhancing tastes or environment. For example, I had some lecturers who advised revising for exams with specific fragrances, which could be worn on exam day.

However, for me personally, I wear cologne and notice fragrances on a person – some to such an extent that it can be incredibly distracting – literally some scents can cause me to momentarily lose my chain of thought. I suppose that I notice some smells differently. This morning, I was walking at a busier time of day and the smell of traffic fumes was overwhelming; it’s something I’ve found to be intolerable for as long as I can recall. Growing up during the 1970s, with 4 Star leaded fuels and no emission regulations yes it’s more understandable that was unpleasant, but in modern motoring with far more environmental considerations in relation to vehicles, should it still be as severe?

This happened as a result of about three or four cars and a bus waiting in the queue at traffic lights this morning. It’s hardly like I was in rush hour in London or Beijing (both of which I have been), for me, this particular smell is overwhelming. At the time, I feel physically quite sick in my stomach and I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s one of those moments where if I could block my nostrils and mouth I probably would try to.

Another situation which I feel this same way is when candles are blown out. Now, I like subtle lighting for some things and I have ‘Smart Lighting’ set up at home, which helps. But the smell of a candle being extinguished is enough to cause me a lot of distress; in the past, people who have lit candles at home, have to ask me to leave the room for a period upon blowing out candles. Again, the feeling of being unable to breathe, nausea and that my skin no longer fits me sweeps over me like a tidal wave.

So, this how my olfactory sensory processing affects me. I would be interested in hearing from others who suffer from SPD.



Talking about obsessions

One of the key attributes for anyone on the autistic spectrum is obsessions or obsessive behaviour. Indeed, I have had countless obsessions. I have currently whittled them down to one main obsession; which sometimes feeds other from it.

As the title of this journal suggests, it’s mountain biking. I’m going to backtrack a few years by way of what one of my law lecturers referred to as “providing colour and texture”.

I used to run and cycle, a lot. my obsessive nature meant that I struggled with rest and recovery days, so I never really allowed my body to recover. Consequently I caused a serious injury to my knees. The result of this was that I had several surgical interventions and spent two decades on crutches. When I moved to Switzerland, I saw a guy who discovered that the patella was actually misplaced, as were the muscles. He rectified this and I walked out of the clinic; the crutches are probably still in my ex-wife’s garage. At pretty much that moment, I determined that I would return to cycling, but no longer having any interest in road cycling, I determined to try mountain biking.

My obsessive nature means that I have to be the best I can at anything, or I lose interest and find another thing. Therefore, from starting mountain biking in March of that year and buying  my first bike, I replaced that first bike about 6 months later and had started to enter cross-country races inside of that time. Cross – Country racing is an endurance sport, so it appeals to my need for commitment, fitness and the fact that I’m naturally gifted with a reasonable threshold for pain and endurance sports suit me more than short bursts activities, such as sprinting or weight lifting. Another factor in cycling, is that it tends to appeal to a person’s ‘inner geek’, it’s possible to spend a great deal of effort and time in considering any potential purchase or event. The internet has made this all the more available; in respect of races, I can review footage of previous events, view topographical maps and countless other ways in which to prepare myself. Kit, when I can and do buy anything, it’s a highly considered decision and one that can take weeks of research. These factors may be relevant for many others, I can think of several people on the spectrum who are just as passionate about the sport as me.

The negative point of having obsessions, for an autistic person is that the interest can become all consuming. The positive is that doing the thing which we love is likely to bring a great deal of happiness to our lives. Indeed, I rapidly become insufferable and highly depressed without having an obsession.

The issue is always in finding the balance.


I’ve mentioned before that we’re all unique and that the ND individual might have differing behaviour patterns to a PNT.

I’m short on time today and I’m not going to write a massive article on each of my own traits, but I wanted to discuss just one: I talk to myself, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t. It’s something I tend to do for clarity of thought. Sometimes I simply mutter, whereas on other occasions I can express a full monologue.

For clarification, I do not walk down the street, shouting at lampposts and pigeons: I’m not insane. I simply find that my thoughts are clearer and more logical if I can vocalise them. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who does this and I take the attitude that, whilst someone might find the concept of a person in their forties talking to themselves, as ‘a bit odd’, it helps me to organise my thoughts and to get things done. I also have an incredibly loud personal monologue, so where one stops and then other begins can be cloudy.

Anyway, I would be interested in whether this vocalisation helps others. Feel free to leave comment


Acceptance and self-love

I’ve always felt different and, largely acted differently, therefore, I have always behaved or found things and groups which fall outside of the ‘norm’. My music tastes was always ‘different’, may taste in clothing was ‘outside of the norm’, being either one extreme (high-end, high-priced) or reflecting my interests in sub-cultures or other interests. (I was one of those strange people listening to Goth, rock and punk bands and dressing in Armani).

I found myself drawn to sub-cultures, particularly the Goth scene and it’s apparently tolerant attitudes and acceptance towards those who failed to find a place in mainstream society. Indeed, it seems to be a ‘scene’ which welcomes people on the autistic spectrum. However, it’s worth noting that interaction with any group or person requires communication and that’s something most of us struggle with. I’m not going to discuss the sanctity or the merits, or deficits of the Goth scene here as it’s digression.

I was once told at work, that I should I should make more effort to conform, honestly I could never see why perception should matter so much. I failed to see why I should appear ‘normal’ in an office environment which was far from normal and seemed to be fairly multi-facetted. Basically, it transpired that the bosses would have preferred someone in a senior position within a multi-national corporation have worn less Sisters of Mercy T Shirts on ‘dress down Friday’. The wanted to appear to allow us to be relaxed and open to have self-expression, but only so far as it sat within the corporate world; in my mind, they should have been more clear in what was an wasn’t deemed to be acceptable, in which case, I’m simply expected to replace one suit with another and I’ll stick with the ones I wore for the rest of the week and save the effort.

My point is that learning about neuro-diversity has been a revelation in my life. I’ve struggled with many aspects, and with knowledge comes the recognition that there are reasons that I have found certain things incredibly challenging and more importantly why, I find these things a challenge. Having struggle extensively with my mental health for the biggest part of my life, I can honestly state that awareness, growing understanding and knowledge is making me a lot happier than I can recall in a long time.

The moral of this allegory is that knowledge leads to power and self-understanding. For those of us on the spectrum and for those involved or around people on the spectrum, I highly recommend learning all you can about our strange, interesting and brilliant minds. You may open up a world of appreciation, love and understanding.

Calming behaviour

Neurodiverse people are all different, however many of us have certain common behaviour patterns. There is no ‘one size fits all’ pattern and just like a NT person, we’re all unique and we all have our own ‘quirks’ and strategies. It should also be pointed out that I am still learning to accept, acknowledge and love my own quirks as part of myself. This is all part of accepting my autism and how it helps to make me, me and that helps enhance my own uniqueness self.

I am learning and my own personal growth is important to me, it also means that I am starting to recognise my own behaviour and it allows me to accept it or try to change. There’s always going to be points of high stress during which, I will want to find a quiet corner and sit and wait for the world to slow down, or for my ND brain to process it.

So what do I personally do in order to help balance me?

I find huge benefits in following my obsession, which is mountain biking. I spend probably far too much time thinking about it or talking about it. I enjoy other things, which support the bike; I run (which again, I do enjoy and I find my competitive streak) and I use the gym (after my work out yesterday, I’m not sure that I enjoy the gym!)

Aside from this, I also have my ‘stims’ this is behaviour which helps me to keep calm, to relax or to express stress. These include tapping my fingers, clicking my forefinger and thumb, like many people with autism I use very rigid hand gestures: my fingers rigid etc., I have also noticed that I rock when I’m deep in thought or concentration and other have pointed out that I rub my scalp. I also, struggle to sit still for any length of time. I’m an avid film fan, but I rarely go to the cinema as I find it difficult to not get up at least once part of the way through a film: I’m not being rude or disrespectful of whoever I might be with, nor do I have an overly sensitive bladder. I simply find moving, pacing, or doing something for a couple of minutes helps my focus to return. At home, I watch a lot of movies, although frankly it can take all night to watch a two hour film, with various stops, pauses and self-distractions. This behaviour simply helps me to express myself or to self-soothe. Those around me can often tell from my actions that something is on my mind.

When I worked in an office, I would disguise this with trips to the printer, the filing cabinets or the coffee machine. In teaching, I can be a more active person, moving around the classroom environment and involving myself with my pupils.

I must admit that I had a couple of very interesting conversations recently in which two different NT people  has ‘learnt behaviour’ from a ND sibling. I am lead to understand that this is common and there are certainly academic articles to support this.


Stress stops well, more or less everything

Well, it has been a stressful week, for one reason or another. However, I’ve got through it, intact and my senses seem have settled down.

This week has consequently been lousy in relation to riding or any form of exercise.

Stress and anxiety affects us all differently, but for me, the sense of my stomach knotting, feeling of nausea and increased sensory feelings. My own awareness of this means that I now notice my stimming, something I never used to notice.

Anyway, this is very short post as I have studying this afternoon. But, I can state that our obsessions; in my case, mountain biking, really does make the world that much less overwhelming. So, in short, whilst our obsessions may be all consuming and we may on occasions, be reminded to get back on track with other things, these passions do help to bring us a great deal of happiness. I will sometimes need reminding to stop talking about them…

Sunday Social

Behind the mask

I had a conversation only yesterday in which I was told that “I thought that only girls mask their autism”. I think that this is both incorrect and deceptive. Most of us mask our autistic traits to some extent, in some circumstances and I don’t believe that this is specific to either gender.

So, what is masking?

Masking is where a person with autism learns to act in a PNT manner in order to ‘fit in’ with a PNT world. For myself, I have worked in areas which require me to be ‘very socially overt’, I can do this, if I’m ‘playing the role’, but the reality is that whilst I can be a social creature, I favour small groups of people, or even better, just one to one interaction.

Using a personal example, for those of who struggle with making direct eye contact, I find that finding a point on a person’s face and focusing on that point, leads the other person to think that I am making eye contact with them. I can make eye contact, but it’s not comfortable for me for me to hold eye contact with a person (cue an earlier post in which I mentioned not recalling the eye colour of several ex-lovers). If I know you and recall your eye colour, you are very unique. Honestly, it’s not my being disrespectful or inconsiderate, it’s simply not natural for me to stare into someone’s eyes.

As a child, I was taught that manners dictate that I should look at a person when they talk to me. I was in school at a time when an ASD awareness would have followed pretty much only as a direct result of social, communication difficulties, combined with obsessive tendencies coupled with a substantial learning delays. So, I am one of many who fell within the ‘missed generation’. Therefore I was taught things as a course of simply good manners, I also had manners and etiquette drilled into me, although as I like rules, following them seemed normal, at least during childhood.

On a similar fashion, I could pretend to be loud, confident and extrovert. Hell, I’ve run club nights and events, as well as performing stand up comedy amongst other things and these are all within the realm of someone who can deal with people (apparently). The truth is that I love music and I’m happy to entertain, because I can control that, in a world in which I don’t have enough control over the outcome of events or sufficient comprehension of how to interact with people; so ‘holding court’ is another method in which I excel at masking my autism. (Again, I can talk at people, rather than with them!)

Should we mask? 

That’s a difficult question and one I wouldn’t wish to dictate how someone should behave. I’ve recently opted to reduce the amount that I mask my autism; in my opinion, I am a person with autism and that autism is part of what makes me unique and, without it, I feel like I’m not letting people see the true person. However, in professional life, it’s necessary to blend in a little and I’ve no doubt that a certain amount of masking within the workplace will always happen. Outside of the workplace, I see little benefit in hiding who I am.

Is it gender specific? 

There’s nothing scientific that I’ve read to prove this, nor would my own experiences say so. Again, I remind anyone reading my blog that I do not extend myself as any kind of expert, in anything other than being me; in fact, I am the best person I know at being me.