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Autism and comfort items

Most, but maybe not all people on the autism spectrum have objects they like to hold or play with, sounds they like to make or hear and things that comfort them when in anxious or uncomfortable situations. This is an attribute that can take many forms, and can be something that isn’t portable, it may be pets, people, poetry, or behaviors. Any number of things.  

Security blanket dog

Comfort items 

It’s very common for people on the spectrum to utilize toys or collectibles as comfort items. 
In fact, it’s not uncommon to meet someone who has some kind of autism spectrum diagnosis and later find out that they’ve got a blanket, toy, something to hold or a fidget, or maybe they do something that may not seem commonplace to you. 
The place that I work allows for having several items on your desk, but requires that you bear in mind that it not be offensive or prevent you from observing your surroundings. It also has to minimally distracting (so no radios, but you can have an mp3 player with headphones).
As long as it’s not distracting or bothering anyone else, we are allowed to keep things at work that comfort or destress us.

There’s a lot of things that autistic people find comforting. There’s also the opposite – things that cause discomfort, and I’ll write about that in my next article.

Comforting sound

People on the autism spectrum such as myself, often find themselves with a word, phrase, idea, thought or sound that they just can’t stop thinking about, and that when they experience, they’re comforted….or it becomes comforting to them.

Kind of like ASMR, I suppose. Making or uttering certain phrases also is something we often do. I don’t know why we do it, and many people don’t understand it. It can be controlled, and I learned that around some people, it won’t be understood no matter what. My experience is that there is a new word or phrase a few times a year, most of the time. 

Repetitious sounds or words

Someone on the spectrum may appear to repeat sounds or verbalizations quite often; sometimes they just feel like doing it, but ofen enough, is actually comforting to us.
There’s also times where we feel like doing it when annoyed or anxious.
It’s not that we don’t take other’s feelings into account, we do – but most of the world doesn’t understand the cause or reason behind the sometimes so-called absurd sounds or situations we get into.
On this topic, my wife and I have our own language – sounds of animals, grunts, rather interesting noises we make.
No one but us understands it really – there’s noises of approval, disapproval, noises of inquiry, excitement… in reality the noises are really about endearment. 
Since it’s our own language though, it takes about a week of constant socializing with someone for them to learn it. 
It’s something we have that no one else does, and so it’s special… 

I have sounds I like to make, I also know when it’s inappropriate to do so. 
Rather than bother people with sounds that are “unnecessary”, I try to avoid bothering anyone with my own “language” to avoid conflicts and avoid annoying people. 
There’s a proper place and time to do it, and that’s one of the struggles that being on the spectrum, brings – knowing when things are appropriate. 
Years of studying behaviors has lent me the ability to know when things are socially acceptable. 

Comfort items

A comfort item could be anything. A fidget spinner, a security blanket, a rock, a doll, a stuffed animal, a picture… anything. 
As I’ve mentioned before, my workplace contains many people who have invisible disabilities, especially Autism, and I’m not even aware of everyone there who has it. 
Collectibles and dolls may not seem like comforting items – 
An friend of mine from work who’s also got asperger’s can often be found wearing headphones – I believe it’s due to her anxiety and comfort of the feeling of having something on your head. I’ve seen a few people I know personally do that.

I have a few necklaces and also arm bands I wear, because I like how they feel around my neck, and I also like to wear things (like headphones) on my head, for it makes me feel as if I am completely isolated and unable to be disturbed or interrupted doing whatever it is I’m doing. 

Conclusion

Here are some tips on how to be comforted when in uncomfortable situations that may arise from time to time: 
– Bring a doll.  My wife is a collector and experiences great joy when just running her fingers through the hair of a doll, or  dressing them up, changing them up somewhat regularly so they never becom boring. 
– Bring a pet
– Bring a fidget spinner to places of anxiety. 
– Carry a rock. Sounds pretty blah, but it works. 
– Nintendo Switch, gameboy, gamegear, DS, Sega Nomad. I think that’s enough to say about that. 
– Bring a book! Or a kindle, or nook, or other E-book reader.  
– Slow down your brain intentionally with meditation and calm your mind. It’s my understanding that meditating allows to connect with the power of creation, God, Yah, infinite intelligence, consciousness, or whatever you refer to it as.
Any time I meditate, I slow my breathing down by intentional focus on my breath and listening to it, keeping the pattern I have when I breathe, making sure to breathe deeply and fully. 
– Pray! 

If you find yourself in a situation that you can’t escape such as at work, maybe you can take a walk or hide in the bathroom for a few minutes, or even take an emergency meeting.
If at work, take an emergency break if possible.

When around others who you don’t know, or in professional situations or in situations where others expect “normal behavior”, a list of things that may not be so welcome are as follows: 
Whistling, making repetetitve noises or sounds, saying words repetitively(which may be seen as illogical to the observer),  blurting out things that may seem controversial – but an opinion that you hold – (because you feel it needs to be said) ex. – something that might sound judgemental or derrogative or make you sound like a mean person – it may be not exactly politically correct, so much so that others could become emotional towards whatever you say.

That is something that people who have autism often do – speaking their mind without filters or, not assessing what they say before it leaves their lips. Learning when and where to speak about certain things requires a certain degree of knowledge about the audience who will be experiencing it. I personally feel that those on the spectrum speak their mind because we’re not as easily influenced by what everyone else is – in other words the “social programming” of society – may not impact us as much as it would someone neurotypical.  It can be the total opposite though, as well. 

Thus, many of us have experienced a kind of opression as children, and as adults, a lot of autistic people feel “free” to express themselves and be who they want – many times diametrically opposing what they learned or were taught as children or how they were raised.
The reason being that as children, we were not allowed to seek comfort in the things that we felt like doing, saying or the way we wanted to behave. This results in disobedience because the child will not feel understood or nurtured – often very much disliking the parent or guardian until later in life when it is explained or they understand. 

For most people on the autism spectrum, life was exceptionally hard at one point growing up, being mis-inderstood and unable to express oneself in the way we feel best to communicate.
This does not mean that we’re looking for sympathy, but it does ask for an understanding that learning how to “be normal, act normal, pretend normalcy” takes a mountain of effort, and does not come with ease. Thus, earlier life bore much difficulty. 

-Justin Gargano

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