Updated: Apr 15, 2021
I’m Autistic and experience Hyper-Sensory Sensitivity. It is difficult to deal with especially at work. I’m employed full time. Read on to learn the strategies I use and how I found answers to my question, “Why am I not able to handle this? Why do I feel like I’m going to break?” I found many ways to help myself. I hope my experiences and strategies will also be of help and work for you.
Photo of Bobbi Gibson in her music room. Photo taken by Bobbi Gibson.
I stood in the classroom repeatedly hushing the class over and over again. I paced the floor breathing deeply several times trying to cope with the sound in the classroom. It was overwhelming. Another whisper hit my ears. The sound to me was loud and too much for me to handle. I covered my ears and hushed the students. As I looked around the room at the class. I realized it was only a whispering. Whispering and nothing more. Why is it affecting me this way? Why is it so loud to me? Why am I not able to handle this? Why is it so overwhelming? Why do I feel like I’m going to break? I wondered and wondered about this issue I’m having. It is my Autism. I am Autistic and have hyper-Sensory Sensitivity. When I am ill or overly stressed it gets worse. Some days it takes nothing more than a whisper to overwhelm me. I have to stop, breathe, relax, and silence all sound to prevent serious overwhelm. I knew if I didn’t get a handle on this I probably wouldn’t be able to continue teaching. If a teacher can’t even handle a whisper that is a problem. I began to research on what I might do to help myself and manage my environment better. I found many ways to help myself. I hope these tips can help you too. No two Autistics are the same but many of us share certain struggles. If this is one of your struggles then try my strategies and adapt or change them to meet your own unique situation and needs.
PHOTO: Bobbi Gibson at the Doctor's Office waiting to be called. Notice the protective Headphones? I have to wear those or I can't handle the sound in the room. It's COVID-19 pandemic when this photo was taken. That is why I have the mask on.
HYPER-SENSORY SENSITIVITY—IT REALLY IS AWFUL TO LIVE WITH!
Desperate for answers and help, I researched and continue to research so many books and resources to support and help myself regulate better. It has been both frustrating and tough since the majority of the research about Autism focuses on children. We need to realize that Autism just doesn’t disappear as a person ages, but is a part of us through out our entire lifespan. There’s not a lot out there on how to help an Autistic Teacher who is struggling with Hyper Sensory Sensitivity in the classroom. Autistic Adults need lots of assistance and ideas to help them regulate and manage their place of employment, and different environments they are in. I found lots of help by reading several books. These books have been a great help to me. They have been like life preservers for me as I struggle through the challenges of being Autistic and working full time. I have felt so alone in this world that often feels like being lost alone in a stormy sea without support or understanding anywhere. These books are part of my tool kit and help support me through really tough times and finding some balance and ability to cope.
Useful Books I Researched to help solve my problem:
1. Take Control of the Noisy Class Chaos to Calm in 15 seconds by Rob Plevin
2. Understanding Autism in Adults and Aging Adults by Theresa M. Regan Ph.D.
3. Living Well on the Spectrum by Valerie L. Gaus, PhD
4. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
5. Too Loud too bright too fast too tight by Sharon Heller PhD.
6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 weeks: Retrain Your Bran by Seth J. Gillihan
7. Mental Toughness & Iron Will by Patrick King
8. The Highly Sensitive Person by Elain N. Aron Phd.
9. Sensory Processing Disorder: Self Regulation and Mindfulness Activities for by Stephanie M. Foster PhD
10. Always say Hi: The Introvert’s Guide to Overcoming Rejection by John Antonio
11. Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond by Jay Sullivan
12. Establishing Boundaries: by Patrick King
13. Flip The Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skills by Sheri Wilkins PhD, and Carol Burmeister MA
EXERCISE HELPS—YES REALLY!
I drag myself to the treadmill for 30 minutes each day. It’s hard but it helps lessen sensitivities I have. My goal is to exercise twice a day but lately I can’t seem to deal with exercise early before work. I walk after work. The more I can do towards being healthy and physically fit the better. I have been a very active person the majority of my life but after menopause my Autism has regressed. Life skills, communication, and relationships have all become very difficult. My physical health has become very poor and each day is a huge struggle. At this writing I’m 52 years old.
It is my hope that writing about my own experiences and problem solving can help another Autistic soul who is struggling through life searching for answers and help. Life can be very overwhelming for an Autistic. Being Autistic means having both good and bad days. This can even change hour by hour and moment by moment. It’s important to understand that for ourselves. It is important to understand our own unique struggles, weaknesses, and strengths. It is important to support ourselves where we struggle and allow our strengths to shine. Each one of us will face our own unique challenges as we strive to be a part of the work force and have careers. No one will be exactly the same. It is important to analyze your own unique situation and self to make decisions on how best to help yourself. I was grateful to finally realize I needed to design my environments to best support myself. Once I began to do that things were better. Not a huge amount better but better than before. What issues do I deal with at work and in life? Yikes! My biggest issue it seems are my precious ears. I call them Super Hero ears because they seem to pick up everything and hear everything to the point of needing ear protection to survive the day. I have Hyper Sensory Sensitivity. Through books I began to understand the different possible reasons of why I get so overwhelmed. Knowing this allows me to then figure out how to better support myself. I learned that not only was it sound creating issues for me but also being in a crowded room full of children for an entire day. I learned that all of the sound, crowds, stress, and over stimulation I endure build up in me until I can’t take a bit more not even a tiny whisper. My research on how to help myself taught me that specific exercise-- resembling heavy labor—done several times through out the day can help to release this build up and overwhelm. Yes, this means the dreaded lunges, weights, push ups, pull ups, sit ups, jogging, jumping jacks, and so forth. I try to do a bit several times a day to help release build up, anxiety, and overwhelm from the day. It does help.
Photo Credit: This is actually my Bitmoji Avatar.
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?
I was reading about strategies to help. The directions say to brush my skin? What? Are they crazy? No way can I handle that! For someone who can’t handle a light touch or close proximity to others, I shuddered to read that one solution that greatly helps Hyper Sensitivity and overwhelm was brushing the entire body. UGH! I didn’t feel very keen about that technique. But I was so desperate I learned and tried it on myself best I could. I learned the sensory brushing technique helps to decrease being oversensitive. You take a brush and brush arms on all sides, then back, and each leg. You are suppose to put pressure on each joint but I do exercise to put pressure instead since I can’t do pressure myself. This is suppose to be done several times a day too. I found it to be helpful. It is called the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol. Here is a YouTube link that I found helpful for me to understand. There are several videos out there to learn how but I found this one helpful for me. https://youtu.be/t9LSbINc-y0
“FOOD IS MEDICINE”—I BELIEVE THIS IS TRUE!
Food and Nutrition is a huge issue for me and I assume it is for many Autistics. We tend to be picky eaters. I tend to focus in on just one particular food and only eat that same thing for months and months. Then I will switch to something else and eat only that thing for months and months. I choke on food constantly so I have to be very mindful as to what I eat and how I eat it to avoid choking. Through reading, I learned that healthy nutrition and getting rid of sweets and junk food will help ease the intensity of getting overwhelmed. This seems to help me to manage life better not feeling stress and overwhelm the majority of the time. I believe in the idea of Gut health being a contributor to the discomforts and struggles that come with Autism. I have not mastered healthy nutrition and probably never will. But I do try. I do recommend looking into resources that will help you understand nutrition that supports gut health. That’s currently what I’m working on. I also understand that many Autistics believe that a Paleo diet works best for them. As I understand it, a Paleo diet is basically natural foods and includes meats. I like to focus on eating non processed foods and try to eat healthy from the garden foods best I am able. Some of the people I follow for my food ideas and recipes are:
1. Potatoes Not Prozac: Simple solutions for Sugar Addiction
2. Books by Andrew Weil, MD (There are a lot to chose from)
3. Books by Mehmet C. Oz MD and Michael F. Boizen MD (There are a lot to chose from)
4. books by The Medical Medium
5. The Heal Your Gut cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett.
MUTE THE SOUND, DIM THE LIGHTS, AND TURN OFF THE HEAT
“Why is the heat on when the temperature outside is 110 Degrees Fahrenheit? My body is going to bake in this heat!” My classroom has no air conditioning and the swamp cooler doesn’t work when temperatures are above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And of course the heater thinks it needs to malfunction and blast on. Meanwhile the custodians can’t figure out how to fix it! What to do? And really? Do custodians really need to spend an hour sanding and drilling metal in my classroom during all this while I’m teaching? God Please Help!” I silently pray in unbelief as I experience absolute chaos. Yes, this really is my life at work. Chaos sometimes. Thank goodness I had earplugs.
I began to experiment on how to better manage my workplace so I didn’t get so overwhelmed and sick. I began wearing ear plugs to dampen the level of sound. It took trial an error for me to figure out what works for me. I tried Eargasm Earplugs which I’m sure most people might prefer because they were mostly hidden from view but people still noticed them. They didn’t work well for me because I just couldn’t fish them out of my pocket quickly enough when needed. I didn’t really like them for me. But if you are a person who needs earplugs to dampen sound but worry about people seeing them and staring at you then these are probably what you should try. I purchased mine on Amazon.com. Link: Eargasm Earplugs on Amazon
PHOTO: Bobbi Gibson at work. You can see both the VIBES Earplugs around my neck and
the IQ Buds in my ears. You can see just a hint of the pink headphones behind my head on the shelf.
MY EARPLUG NECKLACE IS A GODSEND
There are a few things that I use now which are working for me. First, I ordered VIBES earplugs and found they really work well for me. It is my preferred earplug choice. They are easy to put in and pull out. They have been the easiest I’ve tried. In addition there is a cord you can order that fits on both ends of the Vibes earplugs. This cord allows the ear plugs to hang around my neck when I’m not using them. If I suddenly need the earplugs they are right there on my neck. I wear my Vibes earplugs every day around my neck. I slip the earplugs into an easy to undo knot with the cord so they look more like a necklace than earplugs. It took a little bit for people to get use to seeing me with earplugs in my ears. Now no-one says a word and it’s accepted by my work colleagues. I think it is the cord that makes the VIBES earplugs so useful to me. I have to order the cord separately. The cord is worth getting and it is what makes the vibes so useful for me. Here is a Code and link to order the Vibes earplugs and a separate link for the cord. Use the code QUIET to order the Earplugs and receive a 10% discount on your order. Here is the link: VIBES Earplugs Link .
Here is the link to order the cord for the Vibes earplugs. I highly recommend the cord so the plugs can simply hang around your neck and be ready for instant use when needed. Vibes cord link: Vibes Cord Link.
Photos of my Double Ds taken by Bobbi Gibson.
THE BIG DOUBLE D
The Next ear protection purchase are headphones. I ordered a cute pink set that was labeled specific for Autism use. But they didn’t dampen the sound enough for me to not get overwhelmed. I ended up getting the highest decibel defense I could find. These awesome headphones are called DD Decibel Defense and they work great for shutting out the sound. I wear them everywhere except work. I wear them to medical appointments, church, and have several pairs of these headphones. One in the house, and one for each vehicle. The original cute pink headset made for Autism is at work. I only use it now and then like when the fire alarm won’t shut off at work -this happens frequently- (Those are joyful times-sarcasm). It took a lot for me to just decide to wear the ear protection because it is big, bulky, and super noticeable. But I need them so I don’t get so overwhelmed and have so much struggle. I’m glad I finally got past being self conscious about how noticeable they are. People are now use to me and my many ways to protect my ears. Here is the link to check out this Double D ear protection. You can see me wearing this in the photo I showed earlier of me in the Doctor's Office. I wear these every where but work.
Photo by Bobbi Gibson of her IQ earbuds.
THE BIG TICKET BLISS
The promise of easiness, less bulk, and the ability to quiet the world on demand was too much for me to pass up! I decided to put out the money for IQ buds. I read about them and decided it was worth it to try them out. From the literature on them the IQ buds were suppose to adapt to each room I’m in. I thought they would work very well for work since I’m dealing with a lot of different sound environments there. They have been wonderful. I wear them everyday. They are not the perfect solution but they are really great for me and my work situation. I tap them to close the world of sound off or to let the world or even just one individual in. They do help to close off all sound but if a person tries to speak to me, I just give the IQ buds a tap and I can hear the person but the rest of the world is dimmed. The IQ buds have been very helpful and I’m so glad I went ahead and purchased them. It took me time to get use to the feel of them and how to use them. I’m not perfect at it yet. One great blessing is they can blue tooth to my phone. When the sound is just way beyond annoying and I can not bear it even with the earplugs, I make sure my IQ buds are blue toothed and turn on the white noise sound of my phone. I know to most people white noise would be really annoying but it isn’t for me. It is the opposite of annoying. It is calming to me and my nervous system. It provides instant relief. So that is something my Vibes and Double D headphones do not have. The IQ buds also have a test so the IQ Buds are programmed to your specific hearing needs. Wonderful! I love technology! Here is the link if you also would like to learn more about the IQ Buds: Link for IQ Buds.
PHOTO: Bobbi in her layers and Maxi Dress to help with Temperature Sensitivity. I'm getting ready to head to work in this photo and it is during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Clothing and I do not get along very well.
STRIPPING DOWN AND COOLING OFF!
What are your particular temperature likes? Do you like a warmer or cooler temperature? Are you able to tolerate heat and being in the sun? I struggle greatly with both temperature and lighting issues. It’s always too hot and too bright for me. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to manage clothing. I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet since recently I wore my dress to work all day backwards and didn’t notice until the end of the day. I often don’t realize my jacket is inside out either. I even walked to work with my house slippers on and had to return home to change them. Being dressed well might be something I never master and I’ve actually given up and just do the best I can. I need a specific cloth and most clothing isn’t made with cloth that works for me. If I’m not mindful about comfort with clothing the heat will cause me to become ill and greatly fatigued to the point of not being able to work, getting very sick, and having to call the office to have someone come and replace me so I can go home early. Even my shoes need to be very specific. They need to be light weight and barely noticeable. They need to easily slip off for when I become overheated. I learned taking off my shoes is a quick way to help my body regulate temperature when overheated and return to a more normal state. I’ve learned that Maxi dresses really work well for me. They cover everything clear down to my ankles. I’m a fairly active person and can climb ladders, play football, and do everything I need to in a Maxi dress. I’m not really a person that has ever liked to wear dresses but it’s what keeps me from overheating and they look professional. So Maxi Dress it is for work. They are sort of like big comfortable light weight blankets. They allow air to flow and are just perfect for trying to look professional and still being very comfortable. I can only wear short sleeve dresses or I will get overheated. I can wear a light weight jacket if I am cold which is easy to take off when overheated. That has been my best solution so far. Dress in easy on and off loosely fit layers. I have seen others who are also Autistic with the same sensory issues as myself. They didn’t know how to dress and became easily fatigued, ill, and overwhelmed. I knew why these individuals were becoming overwhelmed. It was the heavy sweater on a sunny day. All they needed was to be able to take that sweater off and cool down but they had nothing underneath so they couldn’t. I suggest to others who have this issue to always dress in easy on and off loose fitting layers if you have this same issue.
To look half decent outside of work, I wear light weight, loose fitting sports wear that are like Khakis or a more dressy sport pant. I also wear simple T-shirts. But it can’t be just any material. Not for the pants or for the T-shirts. It has to be light weight, cooling, and loose fit. This is never easy and how I figured out what material I like is simply by looking at my favorite clothes and reading the material they are made out of. I only order items made with that material. That is what I do and now clothing and I have a better relationship.
To lounge around the house and yard, I wear scrubs. You know the Health care scrubs. Not just any scrubs but quality ones. They also need to be light weight and loose fitting. They seem to last a long time and can take a lot of use. I don’t particularly like the scrub tops though. The tops feel too heavy and tight. I tend to only wear scrub bottoms with my favorite T-shirts.
Lights and the Sun being too bright for me to handle is also another issue. At work I usually have the lights off in the room and the sunglasses on even indoors. Light can really affect me and in order to be successful and get through a work day without severe fatigue I need to be very mindful of the lights and all the things that drain me as an Autistic person. To regulate that part of my life. I have two sets of glasses. Both are the same prescription with bifocals. One has transition lenses so that they are normal indoors and sunglasses outdoors. But when everything is bothering me, I exchange them for my darker glasses. They are the same glasses in the same prescription lenses but very dark and not transitions. They always stay the same darkness. This little glasses situation costs a bit out of pocket for me but is a life saver when it comes to work. If I didn’t have them it would result in me calling in sick during the week and also having a migraine. So, if you are struggling with lights there are specific glasses you can order that are made for people who are sensitive to lights or do what I do with the two pairs of glasses.
Trying to manage life better so there is more thriving in life instead of just barely surviving life takes thought, research, implementation, and perseverance. It takes a hard look into you life and situation. Analyze how you are doing, what areas need support, and a reality check on employment and careers. You may need to make career changes, adaptations, or modify your work situation a bit. My reality is that I will be changing careers and leaving my present situation. I’m giving myself two years to make this transition. In the meantime I’m using every tool and strategy available to me to support me at my current position. It is my suggestion for an individual to be as independent as possible by providing the support you need in order to be as independent as you can be. If you are struggling find self help books and resources and also reach out to a psychologist who diagnosis Autism to request some sort of guidance in careers and life skills that will help you be on a path of success and independence that you can handle. Know your limits, strengths, weaknesses, boundaries, values, and goals.. Many people can thrive in life regardless of their Autism. Many find it gets easier as they get older. That is not true for me. It is my hope that you are or will soon be successful and thriving.
Here is to happiness and peace in your life and mine.
Blessings from Bobbi at bobbilynngibson.com
You can read other articles I have written about my journey with Autism here: