Fred sent us a wonderful email telling us how helpful he'd found Calmer. He has since shared his experiences of his life and describes some of the different sensitivities he has.
We think that Fred's blog is such a wonderful read and it will help anyone who is interested in learning more about autism and the different sensitivities people experience.
Thank you so much Fred.
Hi, I'm interested in photography as well as playing the piano. I also enjoy going on walks with my Partner.
I haven't received an official diagnosis yet, but I've been trying for referrals to specialist services for just over a year. With a recent referral, I'm now awaiting contact from the specialist service about the next steps. However, I have been self-aware about being on the spectrum for around four and a half years; until the last couple of years I didn't feel particularly concerned or bothered about it. I decided to go for diagnosis once I started running into difficulties and problems/challenges I encountered and/or wasn't able to solve because I am autistic (for example, I started experiencing frequent autistic meltdowns) and in response to positive experiences from events ran during neurodiversity awareness week.
I didn't believe that I found sounds particularly stressful and didn't realise the impact they had (I think I just assumed it was like this for everybody). It wasn't until after seeing the Flare Calmer advert on Facebook did I even give it much thought. It became pretty obvious I was sound sensitive after that when I started pointing out sounds which felt painful that my Partner wasn't even noticing until I mentioned them. I suppose, the advert raised my awareness of the issue and made it possible for me to appreciate that I had it.
It’s difficult to describe being autistic, as it’s something I’ve always had and I have never experienced things being different. It makes me really good at some things and struggle a lot more at other things (compared to most people) as well as find some sensations much more stressful than most.
Unlike some other minority groups or disabilities, autism is not something you can see. This can be good because I have the choice of whether to tell others about it or wear a sunflower lanyard (for example) when I like. At other times, it means people make assumptions that I’m completely normal and fine/capable, and it can cause challenges.
Importantly, autism means I process information differently to other people. This means I can easily miss social cues, that my use of language is often very direct (it can be very frustrating when people try to read between the lines with me because I tend to say things as they are), and I can react to situations differently to most other people. It can be embarrassing and upsetting because this means at times I can be misunderstood, cause offence, or seem rude – none of which is intended. It can make social situations at all levels difficult, and also means that I can't understand why people would think or act in a certain way.
Autistics are often described as being heavily dependent on rules and routines; for this reason, I can find it disproportionately upsetting/distressing (compared to most people) when others do not follow rules or people don’t follow-through with something they say/promise. I can find things like people blocking a supermarket aisle difficult because I don't feel equipped with the same social skills to politely ask if I can get by (I might go in with good intentions but at times probably come across like a stress head or an arsehole, even if unintended) -- I have rules about being polite/respectful and aware of others, so personally would keep my trolley to the side/not blocking, and remain aware of those around me. I need to sit at the same seat at the kitchen table, and I hate it when cupboard doors are nearly closed (as a child I used to walk around my Parents’ kitchen and close all the doors). At what seems like unusual times I can feel a compulsive need to shower or clean my teeth before doing anything else (it has resulted in me showering at times around midnight or cleaning my teeth in the middle of the day because otherwise I would be unable to sleep or continue working, respectively) – these relate to being sensory sensitive.
However, despite all the challenges I wouldn’t change myself for the world. It makes me very good at my job (I’m a Scientist), and there are many things I can do which other people wouldn’t be able to, or even consider. My Partner is highly supportive of me, and we use each other’s strengths (she is quite good at talking/negotiating, so I leave that to her; I’m very good at predictions/calculations e.g. finances, house plans, so she leaves that to me, etc). I have a great (albeit smaller than most) set of friends who appreciate me for who and how I am, many of whom I've never told or felt the need to tell about me being autistic because it hasn't mattered or been an issue.
Sensitive to Sound
Sensitive hearing can greatly affect day-to-day life. Before I realised I was sound sensitive, my Partner and I would generally go to restaurants only on weekdays when it was quieter/less busy. When purchasing our home, we moved out of the city and into a quiet village.
In particular, I find squeaking/high-pitched sounds can be stressful. The most obvious and worst cases can include scratching cutlery on a plate (or just a clink), a car with squeaky brakes, etc. Since wearing the Flare Calmer, it’s become very obvious the vast range of sounds that can cause stress as I feel different (not stressed) when hearing them again with them in (dog barks, children, buzzing noises, pulling a wheelie bin and the rattling, gates slamming, etc)
It’s very obvious (to me now) that I am sensory sensitive.
As detailed earlier, I can feel a compulsive need to shower or clean my teeth and I also really dislike my hands getting wet/messy/sticky (say from eating food without cutlery) which all relate to touch processing (feeling unclean, the way my teeth feel against my tongue, etc). I’ve described a few sounds above which could cause stress as well, but as an additional example I’ve always played the radio in the car quieter than everyone else I know. I have a strong hate of the smell of cigarette smoke and can easily smell if somebody is smoking sometimes as far as 15–20 metres away from me (depending on wind direction and speed) – it can be really frustrating when in a park and needing to move if somebody sits nearby and lights up, or can feel awkward at a restaurant if we need to ask to move tables (I wish outdoor seating had no-smoking areas, or better still in outdoor spaces there were designated pods to do this like they have at the airport). I tend to wear sunglasses in darker weather than most others would (light sensitivity). For some reason, I have some highly specific taste likes/dislikes; for example, I like the taste of orange-flavoured things (i.e. artificial flavouring), but I strongly dislike the taste of oranges/orange juice (yes, they are very very different, and most people think I’m pulling their leg when I tell them this).
As far as neuroscience tells us, I have the same receptors and ways of detecting senses like everybody else. As an autistic person, I process these differently – this means I can find many things stressful, distressing and/or distracting that many others would not notice.
To be totally honest, I didn’t think I was especially sound sensitive (as detailed earlier) and didn’t think Calmer would have much of an impact on my life. I had a particularly stressful day where several stressful sounds back-to-back (squeaky digger tracks, dog barking right next to me, a gate slamming, and a siren in the distance all within the space of 5 minutes on a walk) made me realise that sound can be really stressful and it was worth trying (still sceptical it would make a big difference).
I bought the Calmer first, and within a few hours it became quite obvious they were having a massive impact. The product name Calmer is very accurate, because it does what it says (on the tin). We went to a shop which had a loud tannoy which made a very loud bleep to indicate an announcement (and staff who seemed to forget what they were meant to say on the tannoy, resulting in lots of bleeping). Whilst wearing Calmer, I could notice the sound but I didn’t feel stressed. In a different part of the store, there was a bleeping alarm (like a freezer that has had the door left open) which again I noticed but it didn’t cause me stress. Until I pointed out the alarm, my Partner did not even realise it was going off.
Later that day, at dinner, my Partner was playing around and decided to purposefully clink/bash her cutlery about. I could hear the sound, but it was no longer causing me pain or distress. I joked after a few times that I could hear it, that it was clear she was doing it purposefully, but I didn’t care because it wasn’t painful (very different to before).
At work, there is an air vent in our office which creates a horrendous buzzing sound (almost everybody else in the office can’t hear it, I should add). I can find it extremely distracting at times, such that I keep a pair of headphones and listen to music whilst at my desk to drown it out. With Calmer, it’s now a barely noticeable sound and I don’t feel the need to always listen to music when at my desk.
With Calmer, it feels like I can do or experience things which previously felt impossible or extremely difficult (to the point that I wouldn’t try). I would liken it to glasses for somebody with myopia or hyperopia, crutches for an amputee, or hearing airs for somebody with partial deafness. It’s a device which helps me to carry out what are considered normal tasks, or live a more normal life than before.
In short, since wearing Calmer I have felt and been calmer and this is evidenced anecdotally (as what I appreciate is a biased single case study, not a randomised controlled trial) in no autistic meltdowns, more relaxed body language and behaviour at home (noticed by my Partner), and much greater enjoyment of daily activities and work.
Since this, I also read about Calmer Night and decided to give them a try. They’re more comfy, higher rated, and I’ve found my sleeping has much improved. I like the idea of carrying them round in the keychain, and if I find a situation extremely stressful it’s nice to know I could up the dose (so to speak), and have a backup set if (for some reason) I lose one (I’ve been running with the Calmer and they haven’t fallen out yet, but I appreciate at some point I might misplace them).
I also feel it’s worth noting that I really appreciate the relative low cost of Calmer, how they are quite discreet (for me personally I find social situations challenging and much of my behaviour revolves around trying to fit in, and so anything which makes me stand out can be distressing), very comfortable (I can wear them all day without issue). I think that it would be brilliant if the world could change in a way that allowed everybody to fit in and be a part of society just the way they are, but until that happens it’s a huge relief to know I have something which levels the playing field slightly for me.
Thank you so much for this brilliant blog Fred.