sensory issues

Stress makes everything harder

Autistic people are autistic all the time. Sometimes some difficulties fade into the background, then come back out again when someone is particularly stressed out. This is true across the board for sensory issues, communication issues, movement, and all kinds of other things. (This is also true for people with any other kind of disability).

The intermittent nature of some apparent difficulties can sometimes lead to them being misinterpreted as psychosomatic. They’re not. Everyone, autistic or not, has more trouble doing things that are hard for them when they’re experiencing significant stress. Some things are particularly hard for autistic people, and those things also get harder with stress.

This is how it actually works:

  • Doing the thing always takes a lot of effort
  • Putting in all that effort has become second nature
  • When you’re not exceptionally stressed, you might not notice the effort it takes consciously
  • When you *are* really stressed, you don’t have energy to do the thing in the ways you normally can
  • So you end up having more trouble than usual, and probably looking a lot more conspicuously disabled than usual

For instance, with motor issues:

  • For those of us with motor difficulties, moving smoothly and accurately takes more effort than it does for most people
  • This can become second nature, to the point that we don’t consciously notice how difficult it is
  • But it’s still there
  • And when you’re really stressed or overwhelmed, you may not have the energy to make yourself move accurately
  • So things you can normally do (eg: handwriting, not walking into walls, picking up objects, pouring water) might become awkward or impossible
  • That doesn’t mean you’re faking or somehow doing it on purpose
  • It just means that things are harder when you’re stressed

Or with sensory issues:

  • Living with sensory sensitivities means that a lot of things hurt
  • For the sake of doing things anyway, a lot of us build up a high pain tolerance
  • To the point that we may no longer consciously process things as pain even though they hurt
  • Ignoring pain takes a lot of energy
  • When we’re really stressed, we may not have the energy to ignore pain
  • And things we normally tolerate can be experienced as overloading or intolerably painful
  • That doesn’t mean we’re faking the pain to avoid something stressful, or that we’re somehow bringing it on ourselves.
  • It just means that everything is harder under stress, including tolerating pain

Or with communication:

  • Communication can be hard for a lot of us in varying ways
  • For some of us, being able to speak requires juggling a lot of things that are automatic for most people
  • Or being able to use words at all, including typing
  • For some of us, that’s true of understanding people when they talk to us
  • Or of knowing what words are at all
  • If someone can’t talk, understand or use words under stress, it doesn’t mean that they’re somehow faking it to avoid a difficult situation
  • It means that communication is hard, and stress makes everything harder

tl;dr Stress makes everything harder. For people with disabilities, that includes disability-related things, including things that we don’t normally seem to have trouble with. Sometimes we’re wrongly assumed to be doing on purpose or faking to avoid a difficult situation; it should actually be seen as an involuntary, normal, and expected physiological response to stress.




do you have any tips on personal hygiene/showers for someone with both chronic pain/mobility issues and severe depression? often i shower the very least i can and still get away with it, it’s disgusting how long i’ve gone without showers just…

ischemgeek said:

For me, certain shower head types are painful. It’s a sensory thing. Fine powerful jets are really painful for me, but thicker more powerful jets feel wonderful. 

So if it’s that the jet itself hurts your skin, consider trying a different showerhead if you can make that happen. I have an adjustable showerhead for because most people prefer the kind of jet I find painful.


High school graduation


My daughter graduates from high school in a month. She has Aspergers and had many challenges but managed to do well academically. However, she didn’t feel that the school dealt well with her. She is happy to close the door on that part of her…

twistmalchik said:

I didn’t walk for high school. I hated that place and those people, and I didn’t want to sit in hot robes listening to speakers drone on about things I didn’t need to care about anymore.

I walked for college. Looking back, I wouldn’t have. The only reason I did was because my dad said he wouldn’t help with costs if I didn’t walk. It was hell. I wore clothes I hated, with nasty robes made of synthetic fibers over top. It was hot and loud, and I had to shake hands with people. As an autistic person who isn’t keen on touch, it was awful.

If I go back for my masters or doctorate, I will not walk unless I am invited to speak. It’s not worth the sensory hell. And it seems pointless. It’s over; let’s move on.






[GJ] Great Post About ASD Diagnostic Process!



I don’t really know how to say this the best way, but apparently I “might” have Aspergers. I had been having some trouble at college, and the woman we spoke to at disabilities services said that…

wikdsushi said:

Hang on, forgetting to eat is an Aspie trait?

realsocialskills said:

It can be, yes.

For a couple of reasons:

  • Autistic people have trouble with sensory processing, and noticing hunger relies on accurately interpreting certain sensations
  • For some autistic people, this means that it’s actually hard to consistently notice hunger
  • Autistic people often have trouble with executive functioning that can make the process of getting food confusing enough that you end up not bothering often enough
  • Autistic people also often have trouble identifying things as edible and realizing that it’s possible to eat them and not be hungry anymore

I wrote a post a while back on how to cope when food is too hard.

slepaulica said:

I have a lot of trouble with the last one.  I will go into a store that only sells food and look at all the things and none of it will look like food for reasons I don’t fully understand and I will walk out of the store having only bought a chocolate milk.

it can help to have a plan for what i’m trying to make out of the food, sometimes. but not always.

it’s like:

me: are you food?

carrot: no, i’m not food. i’m an ingredient.

me: oh, oh well.

(completely forgetting that i like carrots and that they go well in many of the things i like to cook)

if I can hold it in memory that I’m looking for ingredients, and even better, that i’m looking for certain ingredients, my success rate improves.

realsocialskills said:

This. Or I’ll buy a random assortment of things, none of which seem edible when I get home.

dysfunctionalqueer said:

I tend to have really specific sensory desires for food, and if they can’t be met i’ll just not end up eating. Like if I’m hungry for salty chicken soup, and we don’t have chicken soup, i’ll just not eat, because even if we have something close it wont be the same. Plus terrible exec functioning skills means that even if we do have that food, i might not be able to make it. this is why i live almost entirely off of popcorn and diet coke, because those two are always sensory friendly.

realsocialskills said:

I do that too, so I try to always keep around the foods that are reliably edible for me.