As my migraines have grown worse, I've gotten better at advocating for myself. Now, if I'm around family, I think little of asking them to turn off a light that's shining right in my eyes. In fact, some meals have been merely candle lit, in deference to my issues. At work today I wore sunglasses indoors, as I have many times before, and was met with understanding and sympathy when I explained the reason. And the roommate I shared a dormitory with got used to having the lights off all the time.
Yet I find myself wondering, what if that was Caley? She gets very light sensitive, too, and is even more sound sensitive than I am, due to her sensory dysfunction (which goes hand and hand with autism). Would people be as accommodating with her needs as with mine?
Unfortunately, I don't really have to wonder; I know from experience that people are far from accommodating for Caley's sensory needs. Instead, consistently the attitude she is met with is of the "suck it up and deal with it" and/or "stop complaining" variety. No accommodations are made; in fact, in many instances upon being told of her struggles the sensory demands on her will be increased, not lessened.
What is so different between the pain and discomfort I deal with during my migraines and the pain and discomfort Caley faces when she's nearing sensory overload, to make it so that one is greeted with kindness and comfort, and the other with disdain? I originally thought it was that one was seen as being more of a medical issue, whereas the other is perceived as being pyschological and therefore 'all in one's head'.
But I think Caley's explanation better describes the core problem. A lack of empathy, she says, is the reason for the difference between how the two of us are treated. Everyone's had a headache, and most people have even had at least one migraine. As a result, they can empathize with my painful dilemma. They wince at memories of our shared pain and accommodate me where they can.
But sensory overload? There are few enough people who know what that entails from an academic standpoint, but very few of us have experienced it. And because of that we write Caley's pain and that of other Autistics off as being something they can just 'suck it up and deal with'. Because we cannot fathom what it feels like to be in her shoes, we simply brush her feelings off.
Is that not ironic? We're told repeatedly that autistic people lack empathy (which is, by the way, not true and perhaps even the exact opposite)...and yet, repeatedly, it has turned out to be the neurotypical majority that lacks it, and Autistics who are left to suffer as a result.
My point here is be accommodating of an autistic person when they ask for help. Even if we don't know what it feels like, it doesn't make their feelings any less valid. And, for the closest thing neurotypicals can get to empathy for sensory overload, watch the videos and read the discussion thread I linked to below. You still won't get what it feels like...but you may start to realize how little you understood.
Explanations of what it feels like for different people: