by | 1 Aug, 2020 | Autism

Dealing with the heat when you have sensory differences

As stereotypical Brits we all hate the heat (then again we also hate the rain), however, when you have autism (ASD) and consequently sensory differences, a little bit of sun can be almost impossible to cope with.

As I will always emphasise, ASD effects each and every person differently, that’s part of the reason we call it a spectrum. I can only write based on my own personal experiences so what I say may not help everyone but I hope it can least help somebody.

As my sense touch is heightened one of my biggest issues is finding clothes that are comfortable yet cool enough to wear in intense heat. Admittedly finding any clothes that suit my sensory needs whilst remaining fashionable and flattering is a challenge, but that’s a whole other blog! Personally I can’t bear feeling any of my skin touching other bits of skin. This becomes even more uncomfortable if I’m sweaty so even a vest top can become irritating after a while as I begin to feel my armpits rubbing together. Shorts are an even bigger issue as to avoid my inner thighs rubbing they have to be tight around the crotch whilst also reasonably long. When sitting for a long period of time I often drape a thin blanket across my lap and dip it in between my legs. I also don’t like feeling my hair on the back of my neck so the neckline of my tops also needs to be quite high, I’ve found that collared shirts work really well for this and their often very thin too.

A second problem I have is that if one part of my body is more exposed and colder than the rest the whole of me feels cold. If I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt but then put a jumper on when the sun goes in I may begin to shiver even if it’s still 20° or more outside. If I’m in a car and someone opens a window or puts on the AC I feel it far more significantly than other people, especially if it’s only coming from one direction or isn’t equal on both sides. So over the years I’ve found that I’m much more comfortable being too hot than even a little bit cold.

The one part of my body I cannot bear being hot is my feet but I struggle walking around bare foot as I feel every little crumb on the soles of feet. To put this in context, last night my extremely diligent mum thoroughly vacuumed and mopped the entire house, yet I still found myself walking around on tiptoes and wanting to flick small bits of dust off of my feet. I literally feel everything so I either wear sports socks which absorb sweat or walk around in my slides.

All my life my main stim has been fiddling with a blanket or a rag in my fingers, I particularly like it cold but this is hard to maintain when your palms are clamming up and holding anything just makes your hands hotter. An additional add-on to this problem is that I get very dry hands and have eczema due to me not liking the texture of towels and not drying them well, so when I’m constantly feeling sticky it’s not a great idea for me to frequently wash my hands as one normally would as this makes my eczema flare up and can cause pain and discomfort.

Over the years as I’ve matured and learnt to understand my condition better my tolerance has improved and I’ve found ways of coping but it’s not just touch that is an issue.

Bright sunlight can be very difficult to deal with for anyone who, like myself, has an increased sense of sight. As a kid I was obsessed with sunglasses and my parents would often tell me it was rude to wear them when having a conversation. It’s only now that I understand wearing them was a need not a want.

On a slightly different note, when the sun comes out the societal expectation is that one should socialise. Family barbecues and summer parties are a big thing but for anyone that has social difficulties and/or anxiety this can be very stressful, especially when trying to cope with sensory overload.

So here are my top 5 tips for dealing with heat:

  1. Find clothes that you find comfortable, ignore the fashion of the season, shop for you!
  2. Always make sure you have a pair of sunglasses or a hat with you.
  3. Wear multiple layers and/or take spare clothes, that way you can regulate how hot or cold you are no matter what situation you are in.
  4. Know your limits! Just because it’s hot you don’t have to go outside! 
  5. Stay hydrated and don’t forget to eat. It sounds obvious but when dealing with multiple discomforts one can often forget the basics and sometimes that may be all you need.

I hope this has been insightful and potentially helpful, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. And if you want to know more about sensory differences visit the National Autistic Society’s info page here.