When I imagine what it's like to spend a day looking through the autism lens and experiencing the world as they do, I find myself feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. What must it be like experience the world with autism? Sounds of traffic, flickering bright lights of the TV, barking dogs, scratchy metal buttons, unpredictable behavior, last minute changes, itchy seams, close talkers, smelly foods, car exhaust...the world seems like a lot to take in.
Most of us think about adults in high pressure jobs or busy, multi-tasking people suffering from "burn out" or adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is where your adrenal gland, responsible for producing your "fight or flight" steroid hormones, is not in optimal function. These steroid hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine are not only responsible for the "fight or flight" reaction but also can affect sleep regulation, glucose metabolism, weight gain or loss, mood regulation, digestion, allergies and immune function.
I know the look on my child's face, her dilated pupils and skin flushed. That look that tells me she is scared or overwhelmed by what may be just a simple walk down the street or an ordinary visit to the grocery store. As I watched my child experience stress triggers day after day, I began to wonder can a child get burnt out?
Conditions like blood sugar dis-regulation causing mood and imbalance, immune deficiencies, sleep disturbances, food and environmental allergies are all very common conditions for people on the autism spectrum. It seems that stress can play a role in the health of even young children on the spectrum. If you can reduce the child's stress, you can alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms.
About 8 years back I decided to try to reduce the audio/sound stimuli in my child's daily life to see if that would help reduce her stress. I decided to not not play music or the TV in the house anymore. By simply moving the TV in my bedroom and wearing headphones to listen to music this greatly reduced the ambient household noise. I became mindful to avoid areas of the city that were loud with construction or traffic noise and if we ended up wandering into a loud environment by chance, I would observe her stress response and cues in that moment and leave to a quieter spot. In the classroom at school, I arranged to have a quiet desk with a study carrel set away from the fray to avoid being overstimulated and stressed by the murmur of the room. In truth, this process forced me to become an extension of her hearing in a way, and I realized just how noisy the world around us really is. Sound pollution is real!
After only a week or two of these small stress reducing changes, her overall mood improved, she was less prone to act out or meltdown at school and she began to settle down to sleep more readily and even her digestion improved. In the long term I have seen an overall improvement in her well-being and health and these modifications have just become part of our everyday life. I would say, this not only improved the quality of our child's life but our own.
For more ideas on how you can help reduce the effects of stress in your child's life, contact me.