Voices From the Spectrum #27-1: The Silent Wave
The Silent Wave is a blogger and integrative medicine doctor. She blogs about life “through one female Asperger’s lens” and advocates for the acceptance of all people on the spectrum. This week “The Silent Wave” shares her experience growing up on the spectrum and struggling with sensory perception.
On your blog you reference your sensory/emotional perception. Can you give an example that illustrates a struggle you have with this?
Sure! My sensory and my emotional perceptions are two different things; for me, sensory perception is more of the usual five special senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and texture/feeling, whereas the emotional perception is more of a sixth sense/intuition/”vibe”-sensing of other people and even animals.
I tend to struggle with both. My struggles with the sixth sense intuitive perception mainly surface when I’m around people from whom I sense generally caustic or negative “vibes”. These “vibes” can penetrate deeply into my system/psyche, and affect me greatly, causing irritability at times. One example of this is when I’m in traffic or in a snobby area of town. I can almost feel the pretentiousness and senses of entitlement emanating from the surrounding people, and this causes me to go almost into a defensive mode. I can also sense aggression or hostility very keenly, even if I’m not directly interacting with the person, and I’m exceptionally sensitive to that, and try as I might, my brain can’t tune it out or “just deal with it”.
I also experience struggles with the sensory perception. For me, it’s kind of like the volume or “gain” has been turned up on my sensory function; everything is more intense, whether sight, sound, smell, taste, or texture. I feel the clothing on my skin, I taste food without salt or flavor enhancers, I smell scents from across a parking lot, etc. The one “saving grace” I have is a moderate hearing loss, which dampens the sound and lets me “turn down the world” when I’m not wearing my hearing aids. 🙂
Commercials/advertisements on TV or radio are a particular nuisance; they have a jolting effect by nature; this is intentional, of course, in order to grab one’s attention. They are produced with slick, penetrating full-spectrum audio and jarring visual effects; they move fast and bombard my nervous system with excess, rapid-fire sensory stimuli. My brain notices everything–every momentary flash of light, every sound, every annoying quality of the announcer’s voice, every fine-print disclaimer that scrolls across the screen, and so on, and much like the intuitive sixth sense perception, my brain can’t tune out any part of it.
What led to your interest in pursuing integrative medicine?
I love integrative medicine because I can look at it from another type of “operating system” point of view–an operating system of healthcare, a structured paradigm in which to process practically any health issue/concern that anyone has. Practiced “correctly” (in my opinion), it encompasses every aspect of human health, including the physical/structural, physiological/functional, genetic/ancestral, psychological/emotional, and spiritual/energetic realms. It’s full of details, patterns, and puzzles; I get to partake in the two activities I love best – easing suffering/improving lives and solving puzzles. I get to involve myself in my “special interests” all day, working with the numbers of lab test results, putting together flowcharts and diagrams, and balancing my energy between scientific (biology and chemistry) and creative (art and writing) elements. Answers in hand, I get to connect the dots for people in ways that make both logical and intuitive sense, and explain how my findings are connected with their main health concerns and goals, which gives them hope, probably for the first time.
Integrative medicine also allows me to consider every possible avenue of achieving those goals and alleviating those issues because I’m not constrained to one approach or another; everything’s on the table, anything is an option, and nothing is off-limits. Whether it’s an herbal formula, a nutritional supplement, a glandular preparation, a pharmaceutical prescription, a surgical procedure, a chiropractic manipulation, an acupuncture treatment, a therapeutic counseling session, or a massage therapy protocol, I can put together a treatment plan that considers all potential treatment avenues for all aspects of the person’s concerns.
What are some ways your parents helped (or didn’t help) you develop a positive social/emotional identity before you were diagnosed?
My mother has been a paramount figure in this area, and I’m extremely lucky and grateful. From day one, she has been keenly perceptive, saintly patient, astutely knowledgeable, unwaveringly supportive and encouraging, giftedly intuitive, and incredibly flexible. She has been an advocate, a teacher, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a powerful source of affection for me. She had her (reasonable) expectations of me, but she has also gone above and beyond to help me reach these expectations.
None of us knew that I was Aspergian/autistic at the time, but she did know definitively that I was different, and she respected and accommodated that. University-educated in the field of special education (on both ends of that continuum), her parenting style was the perfect match for me, and she was always in-tune with me. Whatever she saw that I was interested in, she did everything she could to make it happen; when I showed an aptitude for music, she sought an excellent piano teacher. When I started composing music (little ditties at age nine and full-fledged written songs by age eleven), she would ask me to play for her, which sent me surging skyward with encouragement and joy. Every night, we had a routine where I would be playing and she would make “requests”, much like an all-request line at a radio station.
My father loved me just as much, and he is a good man. However, he was going through many of his own struggles at the time, and he lacked many of the tools that my mom had accumulated. He wasn’t around much, and when he was, he was unpredictable and volatile. He operated out of love for me in his own way, but it came across as judgmental and critical at the time. He had come from an incredibly dysfunctional background, where men didn’t express their emotions, but drank away their pain/discomfort instead.
He was always there when it counted, though, and he taught me the harsher lessons in life that, although unpleasant at the time, and although he was gruff and authoritarian in his parenting style (he didn’t know anything else) and unrefined in his communication delivery, he still successfully instilled those important lessons, and he did this out of love and concern for me, knowing that the world is a cruel, hard place, and I had better be equipped to deal with it for my own good. He, too, loved my music, which was a blessing; we would have “jam sessions” in the living room; although he was not musically inclined, he wanted to be, and we really enjoyed our time together as he sat next to me on the piano bench and watched my hands as they struck the keys.
Visit our blog next week to hear The Silent Wave offer insight for parents trying to promote autism acceptance and raise their children with a positive autistic identity.
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