Autism and Sensory Overload
Helen Cherry, a family carer, talks about the inspiration behind her graphics, illustrating the challenges of sensory overload for individuals with autism.
My young son, who is 24 this December (2015), is currently in a care home where he is sat in a small walk-through room, behind a table, between the dining room and the kitchen. There is a big sensory overload going on for him in this care home environment with all the kitchen sounds/smells and dining room sounds/smells going on so near to him. His back is to a door where staff come and walk by him throughout the day.
In 2013 I was verbally trying to get the point over to my son’s care staff and social worker about this sensory overload being difficult for him to cope with and it being a factor to cause his behaviour that challenges – but to no avail.
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I had done a portrait of my son as a black and white line drawing in 2013 that I wanted to finish. In Autumn 2014, at a point of utter frustration with my son’s social worker and the care home in not understanding the sensory overload my son was coping with, I developed his portrait further. I added colour and cartoon bubbles, to illustrate each of his five senses and how he is so different from neurotypical people, like his carers. I hoped they might be enlightened about his sensory overload, and he might be moved to more suitable care.
I wanted to illustrate clearly his different sensory experience as related to my observations and knowing him well. I presented the five portraits of him and his five senses at a next review of his care in 2014. The graphic did help with people’s understanding but not enough, as he is still in this care home now, in the same room with his senses being challenged, only a little less so. But now we do have a decision that he should be moved from this unsuitable care home, since a March 2015 'best interests meeting’ under the MCA 2005.
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I showed the portraits of my son and his sensory experience to a specialist doctor, who I had been training with. She suggested ideas to enhance my idea further in 2015 and so the graphic emerged with the five red triangles and a circle in the centre with her help. The young man in the graphic with the red triangles shows a young man whom I photographed from a local NAS group outing, with his parent’s permission.
I like to think my drawings are educating the professionals around the care of people like my son, to understand them better. Hopefully to get the point over clearly to them about hyper sensory experience and sensory overload for people with autism. At times it is the care system challenging our loved ones, not them just having random challenging behaviour. I believe pictures can sometimes draw people in, to get a point over to them when they are ignoring your words and your written paper work.