Most people look forward to the summer, but it can be an awkward time for people with autism. Not everybody likes the hot weather anyway, but if a person`s senses are heightened – as is often the case with autism – then a lot of difficulties can come along with the heat. This doesn’t mean that summer has to be impossible for autistic people, but it is good to be aware of these difficulties.
One of the major issues is sun cream. For someone who has sensory issues this can be an absolute nightmare. Not only might it feel absolutely disgusting to have sun cream applied, but the person has to have it rubbed on their entire body potentially. The feel of this is one thing, but it is not simply a passing feeling – they may be able to feel it on their skin for the entire day. Sun creams can also have a strong smell to them. It can be the equivalent to somebody who doesn’t have these sensory issues having to smear mud all over their face and body, and having to leave it on all day, and every hot day for the duration of summer. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t put sun cream on just because it is difficult for them – the consequences of not doing so could be serious, and could even extend to skin cancer. But it is worth remembering, if an autistic person doesn’t want to go outside much during the summer, this could be one of the reasons why.
Most people would put on a pair of sunglasses without even thinking twice, but for people with autism this can be very difficult. Some people find that the glasses feel heavy, odd, and even painful on their face. And other people hate the strange distorted view of the world this gives them; everything will appear tinted in a certain colour, or darker than it actually is. This is obviously the point of the glasses, but doesn’t make it any more comfortable.
This isn’t true for every country in the world, but in the UK, and other Western countries, it certainly isn’t hot for the majority of the year. It can be wet, cold and windy one week, and the next be boiling hot. As soon as the heat appears everything changes; people flood out on to any bit of grass they can see, men suddenly decide it`s ok to be topless in the street, and when somebody has sensory issues things can become very difficult very quickly. First of all there are smells; this might not sound pleasant, but in the heat everything and everyone smells. It may not be the case in a country that is set up, and adjusted for the heat, but certainly in the UK it is true. Bins in the street develop a stronger smell as the heat gets to their contents, people take on a particularly nasty smell at this time of year – equal parts sweat and sun cream. This might not be overly noticeable to everybody, but if somebody has a heightened sense of smell it can make being around people very difficult. Things instantly become noisier when it gets hotter; more people decide to be outside. The likelihood is the neighbour’s gardens will be full of people having barbecues, or people cutting their grass with noisy lawnmowers. Children will be playing in the streets, and overall there will be more people around making more noise. The light is so much brighter. The sun reflects off surfaces, and lights up rooms, and places that would otherwise have been darker. This sounds very minor, but if an autistic person does have sensory issues then even the most minor changes can be serious, and difficult for them to accommodate.
So with all of this is it any wonder that autistic people don’t always want to go outside in the summer? With the assault on the senses that summer can turn in to, it`s not really surprising that some of them choose to spend the majority of it indoors. Not all people with autism will do this of course, or some may feel compelled to, but not want to. The next article in this series will attempt to give some tips, and advice that will hopefully help autistic people, and their families to tackle some of these sensory issues.