Abnormal Sense of Taste in an Autistic Person

I didn’t think my sense of taste was abnormal as an autistic person. This makes sense because an autistic person can’t experience a non-autistic brain and vice versa.

With an abnormal sense of taste, it’s possible for the person to be a picky eater, or not trust his or her sense of taste.

I remember avoiding flavoured potato chips. I tend to stick to plain chips.

There are foods that I don’t seem to mind such as green smoothies and cacao. Interestingly, some people find cacao bitter but I don’t really notice its bitterness. Since dark chocolate is healthy, this may be desirable. It’s also possible easily to eat too much of it even though some people find it difficult.

With an abnormal sense of taste, I might not be able to trust my sense of taste enough for food safety issues if there’s no heads ups. What if the food was spoiled or contaminated. Fermented foods have some similarities to spoiled foods. I’ve accidentally consumed alcoholic cocktails and didn’t remember tasting the alcohol. I ordered the drinks because I misread the menu. I found out only after I was told about it.

 

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Do Autistic People Tend to Look Younger Than They Really Are

Sometimes, I’ve been told that I look younger than my age. Even some autistic people on forums agree that they look too young.

People even thought that I looked younger than my sister who’s younger. It’s likely that autistic traits played a role. The autistic traits may include mannerisms, facial expressions, difficulties reading social cues, taking too long to answer questions, relying less on intuition, getting distracted easily, taking things literally, style of clothing, and gait.

I disclosed to an interviewer that I was autistic. He thought that I was shy possibly due to the lack of eye contact and taking too much time to answer. Acting shy might make a person also act too young.

You might think it’s always a good thing to look much younger than your age. I’ve felt the same too because I associate it with high energy levels, being active, good health, being young biologically, being fit, not smoking, good diet, good stress management, self control, good genes, and good sleep.

There are cases where we might not benefit from looking too young if it means passing as a person under 20. What if the person needs a job? Would it give the impression of a lack of experience even after having degrees under the person’s belt. It’s likely that autistic traits have more effect on employment than looking too young. I’ve heard of people under 20 who don’t have problems with interviews.

What I’ve been doing is getting support and discovering what else I need. I learned that I needed to speak up in order to get the accommodations rather than ignore my concerns, thinking that I will outgrow them.

Attemping to Prevent Sensory Overload While Driving

Today, I drove a car without an instructor and attempted to prevent sensory overload.

I’ve tried different ways of preventing sensory overload such as:

  • Keeping the windows closed.
  • Keeping the fan low.
  • Turning off the radio.
  • Using only one ear plug. In BC, you’re allowed only one headphone in an ear.
  • Covering the other ear when it’s noisy if it can be safely done. For example, when there’s a loud passing vehicle.
  • Avoiding excessive noise even when stopped between driving sessions so that less recovery time is required. For example, while shopping.

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With sensory overload, it’s easy to get distracted by irrelevant sounds. Non-autistic people tend to even agree that it’s easy to tune out many kinds of irrelevant sounds but for autistic people, it can be a different story as shown in Willow Hope’s sensory overload simulation video.

When driving, it’s important to be alert and fit to drive. That’s why I feel it’s important to avoid sensory overload when driving.

If you find noises distracting for driving, you should minimize them if possible. At the same time, you need to be able to hear warnings. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s hard to say whether sensory overload becomes less of a concern when we get better at driving. Maybe driving will be easier as we get used to it which frees up brain resources. Maybe we’ll learn other ways of driving more cautiously.

Do you think sensory overload is a concern for autistic people when driving? Please let me know by commenting below.

 

Can Sensory Overload Affect Driving Performance and Safety

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Before learning driving, I had concerns that sensory overload can affect safety when driving.

Even before I drove a car, I felt that the lack of alertness from sensory overload may be a concern in terns of safety. I found out that it may actually be valid when I started driving lessons!

In cars, the noise sources include engines, traffic, vibrations, wind, fans, radios, and conversations. Even with the windows closed, it can still be loud enough to trigger sensory overload in autistic people. I measured at least 80 dBC with a Scoche decibel meter in cars. That’s comparable to a vacuum cleaner! With the windows open, it can get even louder.

When I had driving lessons, I seem to need reminders from supervisors even though I had more than few months of lessons. The reminders include shoulder checking, 360° scanning, mirror checking, signalling, and turning off the signal lights. In the first few lessons, the instructor was happy with my performance. After more lessons, there was a lack of progress.

In today’s driving lesson, I learned something new about my sensory overload. Thankfully, my instructor noted improved performance when the windows were closed even though they were open at least 10 minutes ago.

Signs of sensory overload in driving may include

  • Not noticing the clicks from turn signals which can make the driver seem forgetful when the turn signal is left on after turning or changing lanes
  • Not driving confidently
  • The need for excessive double checking
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest
  • Difficulties staying in the lane
  • Slower reaction times
  • Driving more slowly so that there’s more time to react
  • Forgetting safety procedures such as mirror checks, shoulder checks, and signalling
  • The need for more reminders from the supervisor
  • Lack of improvement in performance
  • Variability in performance
  • Not noticing that noise sources are distracting or noisy
  • Reduced performance in other areas such as socializing, work performance, and school performance
  • Other autism symptoms becoming more serious

From the symptoms, you might see how dangerous driving may be with sensory overload. With driving, since it tends to be at higher speeds, alertness is very important. At high speeds, a small change of time means a large change of distance. It can also make it harder to pass road tests. I agree that we should only drive when we are fit to do so for the safety of the driver, passengers, and other road users.

I don’t know how sensory overload can be prevented while driving since ear plugs and ear muffs aren’t options as we need to be able to hear car horns and sirens. Some motorcyclists use them to protect their hearing. It makes sense for them because they’re not in an enclosed space. Closing the windows, turning down the fan, and turning off the radio can reduce but may not eliminate it. Would it make driving safe for the driver?

It would seem like autistic drivers need restrictions such as noise levels to be able to drive safely. I think predictable performance is important for our road safety. Maybe they should look for safety features when shopping for a car or if it’s still unsafe, use a self-driving car instead.

I can’t conclude that my sensory overload is less serious than in other people on the autism spectrum. I’ve personally met autistic people who drive and are sensitive to noise. They wear hearing protection most of the time at work. I don’t know how much it affects their driving.

I think if a person zones out, distracting noises are less noticeable. That doesn’t mean the person became immune to them. It’s possible that since it’s too subtle, the need for accommodations are easier to be overlooked. It might be mistaken for a lack of sleep, not having the natural ability to learn driving, a lack of interest, and daydreaming instead when the performance suffers. The person may need reminders to use hearing protection or cover the ears.

I think even if an autistic person doesn’t seem too sensitive to noise, it should still be checked out especially when the performance is unsatisfactory. The person should still be allowed hearing protection. We should look for subtle signs of partial shutdowns too. Not just the more obvious meltdowns or ears being covered. Not all autistic people are very expressive and their symptoms may be different from those listed above.

Do you know how autism or sensory overload affects driving? Please feel free to comment below.

I Discovered the Need for Sensory Overload Accommodations only Recently

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In the past, I didn’t get much accommodations for sensory overload because I wasn’t really aware of the need.

I missed the pattern between noise levels and difficulty concentrating. I tend to think that there’s other causes. Noise sources during college include vehicle cabins even with the windows closed while commuting, traffic, crowds, music, wind, cafeterias, hallways, computers, ring tones, other equipment, air vents, and classrooms.

I didn’t think of getting hearing protection. Even non-autistic people can be distracted by noise.

Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing autistic people in special ed programs wearing hearing protection regularly in high school or field trips. What I did notice was that most or all of the people in a group of autistic employees wore them for desk jobs. Thankfully, some companies actually hire autistic people for their skills. Other than people talking, I don’t remember their work environment being very noisy maybe because I got used to sensory overload and didn’t pay attention to it.

Just because an autistic person says that he’s not affected by the noise, it doesn’t rule out sensory overload. It’s quite common for autistic people to have trouble describing their emotions, possibly making it difficult to estimate stress levels by feel. Once I get used to the feelings, I might think it’s normal and forget about it. I think it’s similar to not having perfect pitch. Without perfect pitch, you tend to need a reference note in order to identify a given musical note.

It may be more clear to ask if the noise is making it difficult to concentrate rather than if it it’st too loud. Also, if we feel the effects of noise, at what point should we start avoiding them? Maybe we should start wearing hearing protection when we notice the first signs of sensory overload, and remember to wear them at that noise level next time.

If there were symptoms of sensory overload, they were likely overlooked. For example, if I zoned out, it can look like I’m daydreaming. It’s unlikely that quiet work places are suggested. I might ask my classmates to clarify missed spoken instructions or team members might end up doing too much of my work. I might be reminded to pay attention.

I started experimenting with hearing protection after doing my own research and monitoring my symptoms. So far, the main problem is sore ears and face. I sometimes loosened or removed them to prevent pain.

If I regularly wear them, I might need custom fitted ear plugs. When properly fitted, you can wear them comfortably all day. They’re more expensive than reusable ones which you can find at hardware stores but I don’t mind it if they enable us to work.

I think it can be very important to address sensory overload for optimal performance.

Even with hearing protection, I might still need a quieter work space especially for lower frequency sounds. They only reduce the volume. If there’s a lot of bass in the music, you’ll easily hear it.

For safety, it’s important to have enough hearing. It’s also important not to be exposed to too much noise because it can decrease the ability to concentrate. Being able to concentrate is important for safety. If the work place is otherwise quiet, you can try covering your ears when there’s intermittent noises such as sirens and loud vehicles.

I’m now considering sensory overload accommodations in the future. That could mean quiet rooms, dividers, or hearing protection at work, exams, interviews, and schools.

For people with autism, I recommend not ignoring their symptoms or concerns thinking they will go away even it they seem subtle. I recommending treating their causes rather than just trying to mask them or get used to them. It’s possible to get the support from employment services and disability resource centres.

Besides sensory overload from sound, there’s other concerns in autistic people not covered by this article.

 

Examples of Sound Sources that may Increase Sensory Overload

To prevent sensory overload, its triggers should be removed.

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Here are some examples of noise sources that can cause sensory overload. Some of them may be easier to overlook than others or masked by white noise.

  • Air conditioners
  • Cafeterias
  • Clothing dryers
  • Computers
  • Concerts
  • Construction
  • Conversations
  • Crowds
  • Dishwashers
  • Echoes
  • Fans
  • Fluorescent lamps
  • Fume hoods
  • Furnaces
  • Gas tanks
  • Hair dryers
  • Keyboards
  • Lawnmowers
  • Leaf blowers
  • Microwave ovens
  • Mice
  • Photocopiers
  • Power tools
  • Radios
  • Refrigerators
  • Restaurants
  • Ring tones
  • Shops
  • Traffic
  • Transformers
  • TV’s
  • Vehicle cabins
  • Vents
  • Washing machines
  • Water heaters
  • Water sources
  • Wind

You can experiment with hearing protection near those sources. Look for improvements. Make sure that it’s safe to wear hearing protection.

Can Sensory Overload Affect Traffic Safety?

When I get sensory overload, I feel the need to be more cautious in traffic.

In Downtown Vancouver, I had a close call last year. Shortly after work, I was making a left turn from Beatty St onto a bike lane on Smithe St and a car going straight had to swerve and I braked when I noticed it at the last moment. Thankfully, the light just turned green at that time since slower traffic meant there was more time to react.left turn.png

It’s possible that the road markings were confusing at that time. I was in the green left turn lane turning into a bike lane on the left side of the road. It was my first time left turning in that intersection. Beatty St now has a protected bike lane.

I most likely had sensory overload or a partial shutdown at that time. I only started wearing hearing protection for suspected triggers this year.

It not only affects cycling but also driving and crossing streets when there’s sensory overload.

I recommend taking quieter streets if possible, being extra cautious when you think you have sensory overload, avoiding left turns on busy streets if possible, using bike lanes instead of busy traffic, avoiding the triggers, and studying the route ahead of time to improve safety.

You might be able to predict shutdowns with noise levels, exhaustion, and a change of route or routine.

You can try hearing protection at work or school to reduce sensory overload. You might be able to find products that can effectivly block wind noise. You can try making them.

Do you or someone you know find traffic safety affected by sensory load? Do you have any advice? If so, please share your comments below.