Aspergers and Lack Of Awareness of Body Signals

One of my biggest fears is vomiting. I can deal with other peoples vomit but I cannot handle being sick myself. This is one of the reasons why I don’t drink alcohol. I am also paranoid about food poisoning. The reason why I am so terrified of being sick is because of the memory of the last time I was sick. I was thirteen years old and ironically was staying the night at my grandmother’s house to be there in case she needed anything as she lived alone and had just been discharged from hospital following an operation. I had a headache that evening so took some Nurofen before I went to bed. I can only assume that it was a reaction to the Nurofen that led to what happened next as I hadn’t been feeling unwell at all. After being asleep for just over an hour, I woke up and felt the urge to cough. As I opened my mouth to do so, I promptly vomited and, every time I moved, more vomit came out. I ended up having to be collected by my dad in the early hours of the morning and I was mortified that, having been entrusted to look after my grandmother, I ended up being the one who needed looking after. Ever since then, vomiting has been one of the things I’m most scared of in life.

This leads me to the point of this post-the reason I have such a fear of vomiting is because I don’t feel nauseous beforehand like most people seem to. My brain seems to misinterpret the signals from my body so, that night, I thought I was going to cough, not be sick. Even now, signals from my stomach are rarely translated correctly by my brain. I often confuse hunger with nausea making me feel anxious about being sick until I remember it’s the middle of the night and I haven’t eaten in ten hours. The same thing happens when I need a drink and remember I haven’t drunk anything in hours. That’s another thing-I rarely feel thirsty. I only realise I’m starting to get dehydrated when I start getting a bad headache and feeling like I could go to sleep at any moment. I drink routinely with meals but have to really remind myself to drink at other times too. My brain and my body don’t seem to communicate with each other very well and this appears to be the case for a lot of people on the autistic spectrum in my experience. I believe it’s the reason so many people on the spectrum have extremely high pain thresholds. I don’t have this aspect of brain/body miscommunication-my own pain threshold is extremely low. I do experience other things that make me feel like my brain really isn’t that good at translating the signals from my body and the world around me. When I was little, people constantly told me off for wearing big coats on a blazing summers day or wanting to wear shorts and a T shirt in November. I don’t have a temperature gauge-I can have baths that are so hot my skin is streaked bright red and I almost faint when I stand up to get out of them but they just feel pleasantly warm to me. My mum used to have to wash my hair for me for many years because my dyspraxia makes this difficult and she’d marvel at how she couldn’t keep her hands in the water for longer than a couple of seconds but I would be able to lie back in the same bath water quite happily.

I also struggled for years to be dry both day and night. Even now, I don’t feel the need to go to the toilet until it’s a desperate, pressing need. This is why I still use the toilet before a long journey as I know how much it annoys others when I am desperate for the toilet 10 minutes into a 3 hour car journey! I believe this, combined with an irrational fear of black toilet seats which were the colour of the toilets at my primary school, is part of the reason why it took me so long to be reliably dry as a child. Staying dry at night took even longer but I got there eventually, although not until I was almost in my teens. There just seems to be a processing error between my own body and my brain. It is the case in a lot of people on the spectrum as far as I am aware. I know that people who are not on the spectrum can experience similar things but I think it is so extreme in people on the spectrum that that is where the difference is.

If you know someone with Aspergers or other conditions on the spectrum who appear to be unable to think for theselves about what to wear or whether they need the toilet or not, remember that this may be the reason why. Try not to get too cross with them-it’s not their fault-there’s a processing error between body and brain and no amount of shouting will help-it will just upset everyone involved. If there are no learning disabilities involved, often what you remind them of daily becomes routine to them and they are then able to take on this responsibility for themselves provided they are having a good day. People who have learning disabilities alongside their autism may always need their parents or carers to make these decisions for them but, again, try and make them feel as involved in this decision as possible. I know it can be frustrating-it can take me years to get to the stage where something becomes part of my daily life without reminders but tolerance and compassion go a long way and will be appreciated more than you may ever know. If you are the person on the spectrum, lists can really help and don’t feel embarrassed to admit that sometimes you get these things wrong. Everybody has their own things they find difficult-ours just happen to often be different to most people’s. That doesn’t make us inferior-it makes us part of the rich and glorious diversity that makes up life. We are all unique individuals and it does us good to remember that.

Aspergers and coming across as “ageless”.

A lot of people both with and without Aspergers have talked about the so called youthful appearance most people with Aspergers have. I have certainly noticed myself that some people I have met with Aspergers who are in their fifties or sixties look at least twenty years younger. I also find a lot of people who don’t know me personally tend to age me as in my early twenties when I am in fact nearer thirty. I believe that the reason why I may appear to look younger than I am is because, unlike most women, I don’t wear any makeup on a day to day basis so don’t look particularly adult. Makeup has never interested me although I do wear it on special occasions. I tend to rub my eyes a lot so any eye makeup ends up smeared around my eyes and I also have an overactive blink reflex so anything near my eyes makes me flinch and screw them up. Other people have theorised that the reason why people with AS tend to look younger is because they get less stressed over everyday things. I don’t agree with that though as I know a lot of people with Aspergers who look younger than they are but still struggle dreadfully with stress and anxiety on a daily basis.

People with Aspergers are frequently described in the medical literature as immature or lacking in age appropriate interests. I wouldn’t say we are immature-I prefer the term “ageless”. I am going to be thirty in just under a year and a half but I don’t feel it. I am not interested in makeup or fashion and I am interested in things that most people my age aren’t interested in. I am an avid watcher of human interest documentaries to an extent that could be considered by many as obsessive whereas most people I know aren’t interested in these. Emotionally I have always had outbursts that make me seem very childlike but, at the same time, I desire a marriage and children. I don’t feel as old as I am chronologically and sometimes I look at myself and feel that I am nowhere near as responsible as someone my age should be but then I remember that, in the workplace, I am hugely responsible on a day to day basis. I feel younger than I am but have certain views that make me feel as though I am living in the wrong era and should have been born in the 1950s. I feel like an enigma in ways. There are parts of me that function like a young child and other parts of me that function like someone 20 years older than me.

To this extent, I believe that most people with Aspergers are “ageless” rather than inherently younger than their chronological age. I see it as a sign of our eccentricity that we can function both years older and years younger than our actual age. Of course there are people without Aspergers who also function in such a way but I do definitely think it’s an Aspergers trait to display interests and behaviours that mean people think your age is vastly different to what it actually is.

As an end note, is it really important how old people think someone is? I have heard people take huge offence when someone thinks they are ten years older than they are because they see it as an insult that they look older. I personally don’t care how old people think I am-if people think you are older than you are, perhaps you should take it as a compliment about how wise you are and about how much life experience you have. Society needs to stop being so obsessed with age and start enjoying life as it is, wrinkles or not!