Speaking on the Workshop Theatre stage at the Autism Show to over a hundred parents and practitioners this weekend was an experience I’ll never forget. As the audience swelled, so did the background noise of another speaker, shrill feedback, tanoy announcements and ‘Autism’s Got Talent!’ Every time both speaker and audience had adjusted to the ambient noise, another new sound reared its head, each time more disruptive than the proceeding. The irony was tangible, I was speaking about sensory processing and the audience was made up of people who either had autism or an interest in it who were being bombarded with sensory overload!
Aptly my talk took the audience on a journey through the senses, focussing on how each sense typically functions and inviting them to imagine what it might be like to experience a sensory processing difficulty such as over or under stimulation. As you can imagine, with the fantastic Alicia Key’s Empire State of Mind blaring in the background and applause from a 300 strong crowd, very little imagination was needed to get a taste of what hearing-related sensory overload might feel like! I guess I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried. As the audience later surged round our stand to give their appreciation and praise, many proudly conveyed how they had managed to keep focused for the duration, in spite of all the disruptions. Much like an Olympic sport it seems, the context for my “brilliant talk” required stamina, perseverance and focus!
Although unpleasant, we are of course the lucky ones, with that sensory bombardment fleeting and not a constant intrusion into everyday life. For my part after two full-on days, aching legs and the challenges faced while speaking I was ready to curl up in the corner with a sensory-rich object that didn’t flash or make any noise. Thank goodness I’d come prepared with our Treasure Trove of sensory delights!