Experience the Comfort and Joy of Sensory Habits

Sensory Habits and Autism
I’ve many times given advice on sensory seeking behaviours in autistic children, how to aid them and why they may occur.

While explaining that a child spinning for example, is seeking to feed their vestibular sense or that a child stamping their feet is gaining proprioceptive feedback from the pressure of their soles bouncing on the floor, I’ve never described how it feels.

Tactile

I’m going to attempt to describe how, from my perspective it feels to run my fingers through soft fleecy material and the emotions I feel when I do:

It’s like a tickle running up my fingers.

It’s a warm comforting smiley feeling that gives me a compulsion to repeat the stroking action along with a gentle vibration that after a while can become overwhelming in the intensity of the pleasure it gives me.

Shaking my hands briskly helps regulate them back to a grounded state.

I can gain this feeling from rubbing my feet on a soft rug as well, it’s like drinking cold water through my feet, and I may have to hop up and down a little afterwards to rid my feet of the tactile ‘echo’ that stays on them.

Sometimes the intensity from a particular type of flooring makes me feel repulsion, I tiptoe until I can find thick sift socks to defend me from the floor monster that wishes, it seems to take my very soul away.

Rubbing a smooth surface such as a pebble or a counter top feels reassuring, cool and dependable and calms me when I’m anxious, pulling my fractured nerves down and anchoring them for me.

Oral

For as long as I can remember I’ve bitten my mouth.

It’s a self stimulating behaviour I have no wish to have replaced and I welcome the pain like an old friend. Familiar like the taste of blood from the crunch of my lip, the sting stimulates me and reassures me that I’m in control of at least this.

No chew toy could give me that effect.

I’ve also always sucked smooth hard objects such as clean pebbles, beads and spoon handles, the cold solid sensation of something in my mouth putting pressure on my cheek and gum satisfys a need for predictability.

Stroking a soft feather up and down my lips is a fond childhood memory that I often cannot resist up until now.

Auditory

How many of us have a favourite song or sound we replay for comfort?

The sound of a song that I love brings back memories fond locations, what I was eating or wearing and where I was.

It invokes the emotions I felt at those times, so a simple song on the radio in a cab can have my emotions soaring on a tidal wave of bliss or diving down deep with tears welling up with sadness tingling my very core.

I have sounds I grow addicted to, a note in a song or a word I may have heard that I replay or verbally repeat to listen to, happiness cradling me as I hear it.

I script, what I’m doing or an annoyance I have, my chores as I do them….to hear my thoughts out loud reassures me and makes them more concrete.

Olfactory

A smell can twist my emotions like a whirlwind, intense pleasure sweeping me round like a Disney Princess or aggravate my senses sending me into a fury that sickens and repels me completely.

A warmth spreads across my cheekbones and I may rub my cheeks to calm the buzzing feeling that comes from a particularly enjoyable smell.

Once I enjoy a smell I won’t want to leave it and may feel sadness as I walk away from it with a feeling of acute loss.

A smell I find offensive I run from mentally and physically, it literally triggers a fight or flight response scary in its intensity.

Visual

Waving my fingers or twirling string in front of my eyes can give me the most amazing visual displays.

As a slowed down effect in a film may appear, there’s a way of looking at them that can make them blend together seamlessly. A visual echo that dances across my vision colouring those seconds and presenting me with entertainment both stimulating yet calming simultaneously.

A beautiful picture or pattern can leave me breathless, a warm visual drink for my eyes on a cold day, like a hug from a sweet stranger, unexpected but welcome.

Vestibular

Honestly, due to my Irlen and spacial awareness I am not a vestibular seeker, spinning makes me feel nauseated and scared immediately.

I do love to swing, the higher the better with the wind stroking my the hair from my brow and the rushing of my feet dangling in the air spurring me on till the next height, an inane giggle may erupt from me as the joy I feel can’t be contained, and no reason why it should be!

Proprioceptive

I like to walk heavily, the ground pushing my feet back up to meet me reassures me I’m there. This happens in that moment when I am out and about and the sounds and sights leave me feeling disassociated.

So much to take in, so much to process that grabbing onto a wall or railing as I pass weighs me emotionally which I need at that moment.

As I walk down the stairs I struggle with depth perception so I trail my hands along the wall, again to prove I’m there.

In moments of extreme happiness or anger I may flap my hands, to celebrate the overwhelming joy and release it or to ward off the unseen enemy I feel pursues me.

Sitting down heavily, holding a cup firmly and feeling the curve of the handle feeds my need to prove I exist in a world that I sometimes seem to hover above.

I hope I’ve described the feelings a self-stimulating behaviour can serve to give, a stimm should not be withheld as they serve a purpose to us. We may need them to reassure or regulate, to comfort us in a moment of fear or to reinforce our joy in a palpable way unique to us.

No one has the right to stop that.

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.

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