“No two autistic people are alike…” just as no two any people are alike. In my household of five, there are at least three autistic people: myself, my eldest daughter and my son but our needs as people on the spectrum are very different, most notably in that my son is hyposenitive, whilst my daughter and I are hypersenitive. My youngest daughter is also hyposensitive. This makes for an “interesting” living situation to say the least!
What does hyposensitive mean?
When I say that my son is hyposensitive, I mean that his sensitivity is greatly reduced compared to the experience of a person who is typically sensitive.
He likes life to be fast and loud and he doesn’t seem to feel pain much, this combination means that he is often running into things or jumping/falling off things.
In six short years, we’ve had so many trips to A&E to have bones looked at and cuts glued up that I’ve actually lost count of the exact number of times he’s been.
In Dylan’s daily life he needs a lot of noise, touch and other sensations to help him feel grounded. His little sister (Heather, three years old) is the same and constantly wants to be in my arms or on my back. She needs lots of tight cuddles and is always making a racket.
What does hypersensitive mean?
As you can likely imagine, hypersensitivity is the exact opposite of hyposensitivity. My daughter and I experience noise and touch to such a degree that it is almost too agonising to bear. We are not huge fans of cuddling (in fact, my daughter despises cuddles!) and clothing labels, fabric running through our fingers and loud noise can cause us pain. A trip to the supermarket can be overwhelming with all the bright lights, noise, smells, colours, people and other sensations. It takes my daughter and I a while to recover from such a trip. We usually need time to alone, away from anybody or anything after being out in public for a while to recharge our proverbial batteries.
Our chaotic household.
Having two hypersensitive and two hyposensitive people living in the same house is not always easy. My younger children always want the TV on full-blast, my eldest daughter and I like it on quiet; my two younger children enjoy being loud and moving about at the dinner table, my eldest daughter and I would sooner eat in virtual silence, away from other people; my younger children want the lights on full, my eldest daughter and I would sooner have low lights…you get the idea! While the little two want everything to be loud, bright and busy, my eldest and I want things to be quiet, muted and understated.
We try to counter this by giving my eldest daughter a room to herself while the little two children share (we only have a three bedroom house). That means that the younger children can have toys scattered everywhere, bright lights and lots of colourful decoration in their room while my daughter can have a more sparsely decorated space with an empty tent to decompress in after a long day of people and sensory input. This also means that the little two can be as loud as they like, climbing, running and jumping in their bedroom as they feel a need to do while my eldest can sit quietly in her room reading or drawing as she feels the need to do.
Mealtimes can be tricky to navigate in our house, the smaller children bounce up and down and talk loudly and gleefully as they eat while my eldest sits quietly, shooting daggers at the smaller children and telling them to “shut up”. We get around this by arranging the seating very carefully, the little two children sit next to each other while Emma (my big one) sits away from them. Sometimes if we go out for dinner she will even find a little single seater table close to us and sit there instead of at the table with the rest of us, this draws some funny looks from strangers who probably think we’ve banished her from the family table! It’s what she needs though and the judgement of strangers doesn’t worry her or me; when you live in a neurodiverse household you learn to grow a thick skin and ignore the people who want to pass judgement.
Just to complicate matters.
Of course, life never likes to make itself too easy for us and a person who is one day hypersensitive can be hyposensitive the next. Humans, by their very nature, are fickle beings so it stands to reason that our sensory needs would fluctuate from time to time. My older daughter and I do have occasions where we become sensory-seekers and my younger children also have occasions where they become sensory-avoidant. I suppose this is positive in that it gives us a chance to see life from the other perspective, thus making us more empathetic towards each other’s needs. We muddle through in our household of varying needs, trying our best to accommodate each other where we can, even when we need very different things.