This article focuses mainly on sensory issues relating to summer, and ways in which they can be dealt with. All of the issues listed are things that many autistic people have said they find difficult about the summer, and the tips given below have worked when put in to practise. As with all tips and advice articles it is important to stress that not every tip will work for every reader. There is no one thing that will suit everybody, but hopefully some of these tips will prove useful
- Smells – as stated in the previous articles there are a lot of smells that come along with summer which aren’t present at other times of year. Some of these, like freshly cut grass, or the smell of a barbecue might not seem too bad. But others, like sun cream and sweat, are not pleasant for anybody. For someone with autism, all of these smells can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with. One simple way to tackle this is to carry a tissue around that has another smell on it – an example of this being lavender oil, which can help to calm people. If the person is becoming overwhelmed by the other smells they can take the tissue out, and have a smell of it. If done discreetly this will simply look as if the person is wiping their nose. There is a long history of people doing similar things, and even though it is not widely done today, in the past carrying something around with a familiar and pleasant scent would have been considered the norm.
- Sunglasses – sunglasses are important, but this doesn’t necessarily make them any easier to wear. They can be extremely uncomfortable for people with autism. But it is not a good idea for autistic people to avoid wearing them; they provide crucial protection to one of the most delicate areas of the body. One potential way of making them easier to wear is to try them on at different times during the year to become accustomed to how they feel. This way the person isn’t going in to the summer having to wear them each day unprepared, as they can practise wearing them around the house at other times of the year. For children it can also be helpful to buy sunglasses with certain characters on, for example Pepa Pig or Minnie Mouse. This makes them more entertaining, and fun rather than just practical and useful.
- Noise – summer can be a very noisy time. People go outside a lot more, especially children. They stay out longer, and can be playing out well in to the evening. There is nothing wrong with this, but the extra noise can be distressing for somebody with autism. One way of dealing with this is to wear headphones, and maybe play music to drown out the sounds, although earplugs might be more effective as they block out the sound without having to replace it with another sound. It is also possible to put on a favourite CD to block out noise from outside. This way the person doesn’t have to cut themselves off entirely from what is going on around them, but they can cover up the noise.
- Bright light – summer is obviously a much brighter time of year than any other, with the bright sunlight and reflections. And this can be difficult on people`s eyes. One of the best ways to deal with this is by wearing sunglasses. As discussed above this might not be easy. But they can be a useful tool. Having blackout blinds can also be helpful. Not necessarily in every room in the house, but specifically in the bedroom. The bright sunlight can come through the windows early in the morning, throwing autistic peoples routines completely off if it wakes them up too early. Or depending on what time they go to bed, the light might make it difficult for them to fall asleep, especially if they are young children going to bed when there are still three or four hours of light left. Black out blinds stop the majority of this sunlight getting in, and can help to preserve the persons routine.
Despite all of the problems that may arise summer can still be an enjoyable time of year for people with autism. There is no need for it to be distressing and difficult. But like many other situations, it can become so if not managed correctly. The tips and advice in this series of articles are things that have worked for other people with autism. And hopefully they will be helpful. They might not always be easy to implement, but the most important thing is forward planning. Summer, like Christmas, will come round every year, and therefore it can be adequately planned for. When it comes to autism, and helping autistic people with things they find difficult, preparation is key.
The next article in this series will look at how to plan for summer, and the preparation that might need to go in to implementing the tips listed above.