Autism Tech Support

Autism Tech Support: Sunglasses

One of the things that can really mess with my mood is light. I am extremely sensitive to light and most of the year I feel tired and irritable simple because the light is constantly hurting my eyes. The pain is, most of the time, followed by headaches and irritability. Who doesn’t get grumpy when they have a headache and other people are noisy?

It’s not just a summer thing either. In the winter, when there’s lots of snow, it can be almost as unbearable as on a bright summer day. The snow reflects the light, and it hurts my eyes. It’s the same with beaches and lakes and such, because water also reflects the lights. The light hurts my eyes a lot more than you may think. Some days, it’s so bad I can barely think.

I love being outside, but I also hate it at the same time. I love the quiet and the beauty of nature, but on most sunny days I would much rather stay inside because I know as soon as I go outside the light is too bright for me to handle.

People have often been surprised, because I only need to step outside, and then I’ll immediately know if it’s too bright. Sometimes, they’ll try and convince me to come sit in the shade, but that doesn’t really help a lot. The light still hurts my eyes even if I’m sitting under a tree in the shade. A large covered area is better, but there are days when even that isn’t enough.

It’s not just a question about how bright it is, what time of day or such things, it is also a question of how strong my filter is that day. When I talk about my filter, I use it to describe how well I can filter out sounds, smells etc. Essentially, it is about the degree of hypersensitivity at that particular moment.

If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that for me the level of hypersensitivity depends on many different things – on good days I can filter out a lot of the background stuff, but on bad days I almost can’t filter out anything. The background stuff that I am talking about is all that stuff that most neurotypicals filter out without even realising that they do.

Neurotypicals can generally have a meaningful conversation in a coffee shop because they can filter out all the background noises, smells, light, people and well, everything else that isn’t really important to them in that moment. I can’t automatically filter out anything and have to actively work to do that – so yeah, coffee shops may be popular and a cool place to hang out, I just generally prefer not to.

Light is one of those things that really mess with me and annoyingly, one of the things that I feel like neurotypicals understand the least. They often say the light hurts their eyes too and then that’s the end of it, but the level of pain I experience is in no way the same level of pain they experienceI know, because if they felt it like me, they wouldn’t disregard it the way they do.

The thing that makes those of us on the autism spectrum different when it comes to our senses is not that we experience something they don’t – it is that the level we feel that is different. It’s the degree of sensitivity that is different, nothing else.

My advice may sound simple, but if you are anything like me, you know it isn’t as simple as that.

Wear sunglasses. Or, perhaps, a cap or hat.

Stop worrying about how you look silly wearing sunglasses inside or how a hat makes your head look tiny. Hats are cool, maybe you just need to look a bit longer to find something that suits you.

Yeah, it sounds simple, but honestly it’s not.

People will often complain, think you are acting cool or sometimes they assume you are hungover – they will think and say all sorts of things about it! Especially if you wear sunglasses when you are not supposed to.

Sometimes, people think it’s not polite to keep a hat on or wear sunglasses and in those cases, we have to decide in that situation whether we want to be polite and be in a bit of pain, or if the pain is simply too much. Sometimes, the pain is too great, and we have protect ourselves, but there are times when it’s not very painful and with determination we can get through it. Sometimes, I go through the pain because the situation calls for a different sort of behaviour and I can accept that.

Knowing what situations demands a specific behaviour is very difficult for me and therefore I rely on others telling me what is and isn’t appropriate. I do this, simply by discretely asking someone I can trust.

The best part is, after promising myself to always wear sunglasses when the pain is too much, I have come to realise that a lot of the time I really don’t care what others think about me. I’m in less pain and it is just such a big difference in my life.

For you and me, assuming you struggle with this like I do, what it really comes down to is this: How does allowing yourself to wear sunglasses or a hat make you feel? Better or worse?

Well, in my opinion the choice is easy now. A few years ago, it wasn’t so easy though. I was so worried, and I hate when people look at me, because I never know what they expect from me, so I would only wear sunglasses if I was outside in a situation where sunglasses were “acceptable”.

I don’t care about that anymore. At some point I realised that every little thing that makes life easier for me makes life easier.

Sure, some things may only make life 1% easier, but if you make 10 of those changes in your life, then suddenly, life is 10% easier and that is a lot. You can feel that. I felt that.

So, every day I remind myself that every little thing that I can change to the better makes a huge difference for me in the end. Sunglasses are not always important, but there are days when sunglasses truly make ALL the difference between a happy day outside and meltdowns.

Some days I used to stay inside all day because the sunlight hurt my eyes too much for me to go outside. On days like that, if I need to go out, sunglasses make that possible, even if not entirely comfortable.

Kai

I graduated my masters in 2017 with a major in Japanese studies and a minor in international relations. Since my graduation I have focused on figuring out who I am, because I was diagnosed with Asperger's (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and it made me rethink my life and allowed me to understand myself better. Because I have always been passionate about writing, I decided to blog about my life in the hope that it can increase autism awareness.

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