Paul Isaacs – Sensory safety and Boundaries for Autistic Teenage Boys

Intro from Lynn:

I have listened to Paul talk many times and love the way he explains the different aspects of being autistic.  We can all be confused by the long words given to different sensory aspects such as “Alexithymia”.   There are many names and labels for different sensory responses and as young autistic people grow up these sensory responses are likely to change.  Hormones, body changes and new experiences will impact on the sensory systems and in this blog Paul shares his own experiences and gives some advice on how to understand and support our autistic young people through their sensory awareness and development.

White male with tied back dark hair, smiling

Paul Isaacs – Autistic Speaker, trainer, consultant and author  

His blog is https://theisaacs22.wordpress.com/about/ 

(Disclaimer this is from a personal perspective)

My teenage years were challenging I went to a mainstream school and wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood at the age of 24 in 2010. In the educational environment in particular secondary school, I was bullied in the first two weeks.

I was face blind, object blind, meaning blind and meaning deaf, so in the classroom environments I was able to integrate and interpret the information readily, my conscious mind wasn’t always readily available and the emotional feedback was delayed even if my body was in tune with how I was feeling (crying, shouting etc). I was dissociating from the age of 7 onwards due to the inability to interpret the incoming information.

What aided me was self-awareness so firstly being diagnosed and secondly a mentor and friend called Donna Williams (Polly Samuel) who was a speaker, trainer, author and advocate who kindly took time to explain all the different pieces of what could potentially make me “Aut-is-tic” which you see in the advice below.

From a philosophical point of view, I have forgiven the people who bullied and abused me because they were hurting also.  It might not be everyone’s response but for that I thank them for the lessons they taught me, being reasoned and objective about the past have saved me from a life of bitterness and resentment.

I consider myself a part of the human race which should be enough and have a balanced view of my autism as being part of the patch work quilt of “Paul” with all the other aspects of my personhood and humanity being of equal measure.

My interests currently include movies, creative writing, poetry and artwork.  I have written about some of the things to consider as you grow up.  Seeing being autistic as a ‘fruit salad’ as Donna Williams taught me.

With regards to sensory issues in autism we must look at the different presentations and types that can occur – for example people can have:

  • Visual perceptual challenges which can impact on communication, internalisation, social feedback, learning and mentalising.  How you see your environment, the triggers of light and overwhelm can change in puberty and into adulthood.
  • Body Disconnection which can impact on the internal and external recognition of body parts, their inter connectivity and relationship to other parts – (this could lead to distortions and concepts of body).
  • Alexithymia which can the person’s ability to recognise their own emotional states, internal recognition of hunger, thirst and temperature, people can have psychological pain responses and sensory amplification.
  • Personality Types this is to do with temperament, attachment, identity and sexuality. The teen years are traditionally the part of life when all people go through changes and development of relationships and identity, often having to navigate new challenges and mistakes before settling into more secure attachments and identity.

Strategies

  • If someone has faceblindness and by extension simultagnosia they may see the face in pieces not wholes recognition of this may mean the person may connect through voices, patterns of movement, touch as a form of recognition, bonding and social/emotional connection – looking at how this feels on the inside in important.
  • If someone has body disconnection, body agnosias they may need help with body mapping, parts of the body, what they are and what they mean. Be mindful of meeting the person were they are, presume competence and work alongside them.
  • If someone has alexithymia they may need aid with emotional regulation, emotive frequency (feedback hypo or hyper arousal) in the context of boundaries and sensory feedback breaking down emotions, their trajectory, origins and spaces for reflection.
  • Common personality types in autism are conscientious, solitary and idiosyncratic this will temper one’s outlook, communication styles, social-emotional wants and needs and the importance of active listening is paramount.   We need to listen and allow people to explore their identities and relationships, helping them understand what is safe and how to get out of unsafe situations.  Gender, sexuality and autistic identity are parts of the whole person.

Boundaries 

They are an energy that revolves around trust, openness and spaces for a person’s history, information processing challenges, and expressions of attachment, intimacy (what the different types are and mean).   We should help our autistic young people communicate their boundaries to others – such as being able to say when and where they don’t want touching.  They may need support to understand that people have different boundaries and that keeping others safe is as important as keeping themselves safe.

Paul Isaacs