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.

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8 Responses to Aspergers and Lack Of Awareness of Body Signals

  1. Thankfully steph I don’t really have this one or if I do its quite and manageable. Must have been horrible for you.

  2. Patricia says:

    Wow – that’s so tough. Virtual hugs/support your way.

    May I link to this on my autistikids.com website? I’m also putting a medical/autism FYI doctor type site and think this would be helpful for doctors to understand. May I link to it there as well? It’s under construction.

    Feel free to email me if you have questions – autistikids@gmail.com

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  3. Patricia says:

    Reblogged this on Spectrum Perspectives and commented:
    Interoception issues – body/mind disconnect. VERY important to know about re. autism

  4. Noah Weiss says:

    Very interesting. I also share a major fear of vomiting, although what often happens is that thinking about what I ate or fear of an upcoming event will often trigger a stomachache. Thankfully for me, Pepto-Bismol almost always quells the nausea to prove that it was all in my head.

    Sometimes, I do misinterpret or ignore basic body function signals. I feel little to no pain when suffering an external injury (though I suffer vagal reactions if I have my blood drawn… though not if I get a shot.)

  5. A lot of people also mistake thirst for hunger. Not realizing that thirst is already a sign of dehydration, we often go straight to a snack that’s (often) going to make us more thirsty. I’ve tried to encourage my children to drink a glass or two of water before having a snack and usually the feeling goes away and stays away. If the hungry feeling persists then a snack is a great idea; and we have a lot of healthy snacks in the house most of the time, like fruit and some snackable veggies (all of which are great providing fluids too).

    When my autistic daughter is having a difficult time, I try to help her go down her Needs List. Is there blood anywhere? No. Are you thirsty? No. Are you hungry? No. Are you sad? No. Are you angry? No. Are you cold/hot? No. Are you Tired? No. Are you having pain in your feet/legs/hands/arms/back/belly/neck/head/mouth? Hmm, this area is your jaw. It looks like you’re having pain there. May I see in your mouth? Let me see… oh! There’s a new molar coming in!

    Then she’ll think about it before answering yes or no and if I’m right she nods and I suggest a solution which she has the choice to accept or not. Sometimes the fact of identifying the feeling is enough to help her.

    When everything is settled, and she’s feeling better, she usually tells me I ask too many questions before getting to the correct one. 🙂 I’m not Sherlock Holmes, you know.

    I love your post. Thank you. I love your perspective and the time you took to explain it. Very insightful. I’d love to share it.

  6. Pingback: Another Reblog: Aspergers and Lack Of Awareness of Body Signals | Aspergers: Through My Eyes | Ever So Gently

  7. Interesting about the lack of communication between your body and your brain, so to speak. Understandable why it is so difficult to potty train a child with autism/or aspergers. I guess children with autism/aspergers lack that “cue”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the enlightenment!

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