My sensory battle: sensory assessments

Nicholas Marshall wasn't diagnosed with Asperger syndrome until later in life as adult. In this article he explains his experience of sensory issues and how a sensory assessment has helped him in his day to day life. 

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My Sensory Battle

I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in 1997. I had previously been diagnosed with two disabling conditions: social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. I consider the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome as a best fit for my condition. I feel there should be no certainty for there is still so much that we don’t know – where would the fun be if we knew everything?

In common with many others, I find having a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome useful to help me understand my difficulties. It helps set me in the right direction and gives me a feeling of community, an identity.I see my condition as a difficulty with the way I perceive things, a processing difficulty. Imagine you can only take in half the information others take in – what would the consequences be?

As a child, it was hard for me to comprehend language. I had problems with verbal communication which meant that people often could not understand me. I would miss the endings of words because I would speak the words as I heard them - which wasn't always correct. I could not cope with sports, tidying up, or anything that involved processing movement quickly. What was going on around me was too fast, too noisy, too bright, but I was not able to identify this as being a sensory problem at the time.

I recently went for a sensory assessment at the Community Adult Asperger Service in Poole, after one year on a waiting list. This assessment only came about following a chance discussion and 16 years after my diagnosis. The occupational therapist that did the assessment asked me questions on how various conditions affected me and recorded the answers. This provided evidence that I have different sensory experiences from the general population. I was found to be particularly sensitive to light and fast moving vision. I am also sensitive to touch and I am under responsive to my own body movements. I was seen for six sessions over three months. At the end, the therapist drew an alert level chart. This shows when I am over-alert, just right or under-alert and it helps me be more aware of my own level of sensory arousal.  

Following the assessment I was given sensory equipment to help ground myself when I am over-stimulated (as this can result in a mini meltdown.)  I now wear a pressure inducing vest under the clothes on my upper torso when I go outside. I find it particularly helpful when I cross the road and it helps to relieve anxiety. The road is a noisy place (I wear earplugs as well) and the cars move too swiftly and some often seem too big; I end up feeling faint.  It’s more difficult for me to turn to the right to look at the green man rather than directly ahead, so the recent changes to pelican crossings are not positive for me!

At home I now have squeezy balls; I think these help to alleviate anxiety by burning up energy and providing a focus. I also like to go into my own room. This is something that I created before my assessment. It’s a darkened room where I can get away from things and have my own space, something I feel is important for the Asperger or autistic personality; it helps me feel calm.  I think this kind of space can make a big difference to how I, and possibly other people with autism, can function in society.

I feel that early assessment and intervention for sensory issues are needed for individuals on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know about my sensory problems and didn’t get an assessment for them until later in life. My sensory difficulties mean I can feel stressed just making a cup of coffee: it’s the changing position, the light moving and much more.

These difficulties need to be identified during childhood.  People shouldn’t have to grow up feeling they need to fit into the ‘normal’ environment, but be allowed to follow their own direction in the world. Employment is a good example: I was once told “voluntary work is not an option!”  For many, voluntary work is the best option!  If a person on the autism spectrum can work when they feel able to, without pressure and prejudice, they may do more and take pride in what they do. The employment route can be so stressful for many, especially for those whose sensory problems make everyday a struggle. Getting paid for employment motivates many, but some may need to be motivated in different ways. Remember everyone is different!    

Author: Nicholas Marshall

Date added: 17th March 2014