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Sensory spotlight

On July 5, the Education Awards will descend upon The South Holland Centre and in the lead-up to the big night, I will be honing in on particular facets of my community such as what it may be like to be autistic and have dementia at the same time, autistic people on-stage, autistic activism and more.

I also want to examine the sensory segments of our life and give the casual observer, as well as the more direct connection to an autistic person, a quick analysis of how we can best attend to some of our sensory needs.

And this is our column's focus today, starting off with the sense of touch. Remember the trend of fidget spinners? Well, it's not just a fad for an autistic person, in fact it can be a lifeline of support and communication tool. I fiddled and doodled in school and it was seen as a lack of concentration when in reality I could still concentrate but often just needed something to help with my twitchiness, my energy. I was also annoyed that others did not seem as interested in learning as I was!

Autistic people sometimes need something tactile to help them focus, to help them feel comfortable, to tell a story through or simply because it feels good. It could be anything from straightening tassels (that was me), running their hands through their hair or flapping their arms. This need for focus or to feel comfortable because of a certain texture etc can be why we can be rather persistent/picky!

Asking an autistic person to have 'quiet hands' or to stop fiddling or doodling, in a broader sense, stripping them of their tactile input is asking them to sacrifice part of themselves. Give us something to play with!

For an example of someone telling his story through an object which may or may not have tactile implications, please research Jamie And Lion. I cannot and will not speak for him but I know that he is a great source of information (as are all autistic people...)

When thinking about what is appropriate with the sense of touch in certain situations, think back to making knowledge contextual, consensual and consequential. (Sex, Sexuality and Stigma)

(By the way, I am flapping away whilst I type this to you and I am unashamed)

Next, we will think about the sense of sight. How lights reflect onto us, their brightness or dullness and the patterns made or the business of general footfall may affect how autistic people react, for examples, in environments like shops, classrooms or at home.

We may need to have special glasses or plan beforehand to avoid such a sudden mental contrast coupled with the visual overload. What we need to be mindful of is the automatic exclusion associated with this visual overload. Sometimes it's as simple as dimming the lights or avoiding busy shopping times. Some of us seek the brightness, the people, the excitement of it all and there is no issue but it's about knowing that there is a possibility that I want to convey here.

Onward we go into the sense of smell. Again, the way something smells can mean we totally dismiss it or clamor for it or we may not smell anything at all. We can be viewed as persistent/picky/narrow-minded but I promise you that we do it all because we need it and not to annoy anyone. Combining our sense of smell with our sense of hearing then, the same principle applies in that we may want a specifically coloured set of earphones to help us block out the noise of the autism-unfriendly world.

Perhaps we may just want whatever comes first as we are hurting from how said unfriendly world tends to work. Reiterating the previous note about sacrificing our autistic selves, making us behave in socially acceptable ways such as sitting at the table amidst noisy eaters, playing with food or wearing earphones in assembly or in a church, let's say, is really damaging our identities and the world we ought to live in.

I will have reiterated a lot throughout the Autistic Lincs columns and this is because it really is about the application of the education that counts.

It is pertinent to each sense that we recall the rainbow filter I referenced in the Autistic Lincs column Rainbows Unfiltered and, before that, the inaugural Autistic Lincs (Autism: A Human Story).

There is nowhere near enough space to go through each sense individually in as much depth as it deserves, unfortunately, but my parting message on our senses is that we should always have the autistic person as a whole being in our minds and start thinking about elements of our shared world, that the majority takes for granted.

As I prepare to take the stage and enjoy the Education Awards with all of you, I know what we cannot take for granted; Autistic people.

Why? It makes sense, doesn't it?

If you can't wait till July 5 to chat with me about this and other stuff, feel free to contact me on Facebook and Twitter @Callum Brazzo, call or text me on 07528 810 172 or go to callumbrazzo.com to connect with me.


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