For some people with Autism, silence does not exist.
Even in the quietest room, they might hear what others don’t – a clock ticking. The hum of a fluorescent light. The clacking of fingers on keyboards. The scraping of a pencil on paper. With sensory sensitivity, it’s all loud, too, and extremely distracting. (This video is a great demonstration!)
For most of his childhood, Matt Hart struggled in secrecy. He frequently felt overwhelmed, had a hard time focusing, and his thoughts were out of control. He tried to ignore it all, spending a lot of energy convincing himself and others he was ‘normal’, but as symptoms worsened, suicide began to seem like the only way to end the suffering.
At age fifteen, he couldn’t pretend anymore. Matt spent a month in a psychiatric ward where he was finally diagnosed. He had Autism. And he and his family were relieved to hear it. Now, at least, something could be done. There was hope.
What Is Autism?
“Autism is a severe, lifelong developmental disorder that impairs a person’s social interaction, communication and restricts activities and interests. It may also cause behaviours that are interesting and usually seen in society as weird or different.” -Rachel Penner (You can read her full post here!) The spectrum of symptoms can include challenges like an inability to communicate verbally, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, and sensory sensitivity (to light or sound, for example).
What It’s Like to Live with Autism
For Matt, Autism presents as anxiety, paranoia, and difficulty communicating verbally or making social connections. Sensory sensitivity also makes it difficult to focus his thoughts.
“What I like about Autism though, is the ability to think outside the box,” says Matt, “At work, I’ll come up with a solution to a problem that no one else thought of, and it will work out. That feels pretty good.”
Being in crowded places can be a challenge. What sounds to others like an indistinguishable blur of voices sounds more like clear, individual conversations easily identifiable all at once. It can be overwhelming and trigger panic. That panicked state can sometimes last for a day or two.
Coping with Autism
Prevention is half the battle in coping with Autism. When panic rises and threatens to overwhelm, slow breathing and deliberate muscle relaxation can reduce symptoms. Wearing earmuffs to deaden sound or earbuds piping in music are common coping methods too. So is ‘stimming’ (self-stimulation), which is a repetitive action meant to regulate emotions or sensory sensitivities, and can look big and obvious like flapping hands or wiggling knees, or can be more subtle like fidgeting with an object in one’s coat pocket. All these methods can help diffuse stress and prevent a panic attack or overload.
“Most of the time,” says Matt, “I take my music with me. To take an exam, go to the mall, or even go to church. It helps me a lot when there’s so much noise.”
Prevention isn’t necessarily avoiding, though. Rather than staying away from people or crowds, Matt deliberately involves himself with groups of people by working at his job, and volunteering at church.
“Working in a welding shop is a weird job for someone with Autism, I guess,” Matt said with a smile, “but it’s good for me. And they let me have my music, so it works.”
“I like helping. I can connect well with others who have mental illness, so I help where I can. Like in the InHimm Ministry.”
Advice from an Autistic
“The hardest thing about it is thinking you’re alone.”
By sharing his story, Matt hopes people with Autistic symptoms will see there are others like them. They don’t have to be alone. And life with Autism can be fulfilling and rewarding.
“If I could tell them one thing it would be to keep going” he said, “No matter how dark it is, good things will come. Never give up.”
Resources Recommended by Matt
Matt’s favorite YouTube Channel “Ask an Autistic”
This post was written by Kim Rempel. You can see Kim’s other work at www.kimberlydawnrempel.com.
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