Sensory and/or Meltdown Room for Adults: Part 1: Color Choice

A sample of calming colors we have found at local home improvement stores.

When creating a Sensory/Meltdown Room for an Adult it may come as a surprise but the first consideration you should make is color choice. During a Sensory Session you don’t want the colors in your room to irritate anxiety or set off a Meltdown. If you also use the room for a safe space for Meltdowns then you don’t want the color combination to make the Meltdown worse. So we are going to go over the bad, good, and great color options for a Sensory/Meltdown Room. Trust me, you want to pick the color options first that way you can build your safe haven from the World around them and make your room a better place to seek refuge in. It will create a cohesive and streamlined room that will assist in maintaining your Autistic Nervous System. 

You know you better than I know you or your doctor’s or parents or anyone else. So if this room is for you, you choose the colors that bring you peace and joy. Calming hues and tones that don’t aggravate your sensory sensitivity and shades that put you at ease are best. This is a purely subjective matter so do not let someone tell you what you should pick, you pick what works for you! If you are going to be sharing the room with other Autistics, like I will be sharing mine with my spouse, you need to agree on a base color that you both unanimously find peaceful. I will discuss this more a little later. 

Ocean Colors are calming and natural.

In general the worst colors to have and ones to stay away from when planning a Sensory/Meltdown Room are bright colors that stimulate the nervous system in an overwhelming stimulatory way. Colors that are known to excite, arouse, and agitate the nervous system are vibrant and bright Reds, intense and vivid Yellows, Fluorescent colors, brilliant Blues, bright whites, and other colors that would get the heart and blood pumping. This is the exact opposite of what we want to do, what we want to do is to choose colors that bring down blood pressure and put us in a place of relaxation. Even though many “Autism Friendly” rooms and sensory spaces are brightly colored they are designed by Neurotypical people who are judging what they assume Neurotypical children like. This is not the case with Autistics as many of us see colors more vibrantly and sometimes they come off as being way too intense. First we are not NT and second, we are not children. What is good for an NT isn’t always preferred by Autistic people, especially us Adults. If you like these color’s that’s fine, try to keep them outside of your Sensory/Meltdown spaces and even your bedroom. Even if they don’t bother you normally they may be too much to handle during the Autistic Neurological Event commonly known as a Meltdown

You may also wish to stay away from warm color combinations such as Spice, Golds, Burnt Orange, Coppers, etc. These, while not as stimulating as the colors mentioned above, can be stimulating to the point of being counter productive in your calming goal and again they may be calming to you now but they may not be calming in a full blown meltdown. Keep these colors in the Kitchen or Breakfast Nook where they will be more useful at waking you up in the morning. However, they may be used as accents if you desire to do so. A couple of examples are pairing a Blushing Pink tone with a Darker Grey or a Deep Warm Chocolate Brown with a soft understated blue in order to balance out the warmth of the color. 

if using warm colors, keep them as accent colors in order to keep the room calm.

I did a poll via Survey Monkey, it was a small sample, however it was from the Autistic Community. The top colors that were preferred were Greys and Purples. These colors seem to bring the most calming effect. Followed by Greens, Blues, and a blend of Neutrals, Blues and Greens. The survey also revealed that the majority prefer Monochromatic (meaning the same color) but different tones of the same color. So if you were to pick a Dark Blue Grey then you would also have a light Blue Grey and possibly a Neutral Grey. This technique gives depth throughout the room and can help separate the room into functional stations if that is something you wish to do. I will address this in another article. 

As far as a shared Sensory/Meltdown Room goes you will want to collaborate with the people you will be sharing it with. Whether it’s your spouse, kids, or the whole family. Usually I would say to include everyone in the home but this room is specific to Autism so the Autistic’s in the house get to make the decision on the primary base color of the room. My husband and I chose Dark Grey and an assortment of lighter Blue Greys. We are thinking about a deep Charcoal Grey as an accent color mainly because foam cubes are common in that color. 

Once you figure out your color palette choose your wall color. Before you paint remember to: 

  1. Ask your landlord, if you have one, for disability accommodations due to Autism. Explain to them how you need a certain environment to thrive in and that painting is in both their and your best interest as it will have a positive effect on your medical condition. Have a doctor’s recommendation if you can get one to back your claims. 
  2. Remove all curtain rods, nails, screws, etc. from walls except from the outlet covers. Fill in the holes with spackle and sand them until they are flat. You will be painting over them. This will make sense later when we go over the safety proofing part of the Sensory/Meltdown Room segment. 
  3. If your executive function is not up to par to do this yourself don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. We are trying to improve our lives in order to live better ones. It’s okay to ask for help to be able to get to that point. 

You will want most of your walls painted the same color. If you want to make your room to feel small then paint all four walls in the same color as well as the ceiling. If you desire to make the room feel larger there are painting tricks to do this as well. Here is a link that explains how to paint a room to get the effect you want https://www.thespruce.com/paint-colors-change-feeling-of-a-room-1835371

You do not have to worry about painting on your own right now. I am only bringing this up so you can do a little planning ahead if you so wish. I will be demonstrating what to do when painting and how to do it in a YouTube video in the future. Right now just focus on the color’s that you want. Painting can be a bit pricey and a big job. In order to not become overwhelmed focus on color choices first. If you can, save up for the supplies that you will need. Don’t worry about time limit as you can always watch the video over again.

If you have a room available just for the purpose of a Sensory/Meltdown Room while you’re waiting for the painting tutorial you can clean the room out, wipe down the walls, remove nails, etc. in preparation. 

This article was just about paint choice so focus on that first and have fun with it. This is for you! 

If you do not have a room set aside for this stay tuned and I will give you tips, tricks, and ideas on how to set aside an area in your house to use specifically for a sensory friendly corner. 

Until then go to different home improvement stores and see what is available to you and what kind of paint you can afford. Collect color samples that you might like your room to be and think them over. Choose the ones that bring you the most joy!

The Autistic Meltdown: A Metaphor

Imagine you’re a Bull, a happy, well mannered Bull. One day the Rancher comes out to lead you to a trailer. You don’t know where you are going but he’s the Rancher and you don’t really have a choice so you happily go along. You go to a place you’ve never been before, you’ve heard it called it a Rodeo! 

You are placed in a pen by the Rancher and tended to by people you don’t know. You may recognize a face or two but for the most part you’ve never been around these people. Their faces are difficult to make out, you don’t know them. Strange place. Strange people. Then someone comes and puts a band around your midsection, painfully tight, squeezing. It feels as if someone slipped burrs under the fabric. You squirm. It’s extremely uncomfortable. Suddenly. It gets loud! 

You can hear cheering! It’s a crowd and the sound is deafening, disorienting. They are laughing and pointing at you. Not long after a Clown appears running around taunting you, laughing in your face. His visage is painted in bright contrasting colors and you can’t tell if he is a good Clown or a bad Clown. You become distressed. What is happening?!  

It’s hot and you’re panicking and you try to get away! You try to alert the people near you but they don’t understand. They don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs. You try to communicate your needs but fail trying. No one is going to help you! You look around you for an escape. You’re frantic, the tension is building up within! A feeling of impending doom wells up from inside you.

Your fight or flight takes over. It’s all instinct now!

Suddenly, to your horror a man gets on your back and you break. Your fight or flight takes over. It’s all instinct now! You’re terrified! 

You try to escape the horror of what is happening to you! You buck and spin to try to stop the onslaught of the painful sensory stimuli. Instead of freeing you and leading you to safety, the man on your back digs spurs into your sides inflicting more discomfort and more suffering. All you want to do is escape! Get away! 

Your entire focus now is to flee the area and find relief! Your nervous system takes over and you are no longer in control of your body. You are compelled to react by the force of survival, the need to escape certain death. Against your will you buck, spin, jump, run in a frenzied effort to dislodge the man on your back to escape the dreadful anguish you have find yourself enduring. Against your will you accidentally injure yourself! You didn’t mean to hurt yourself but you did. It hurts but you can’t stop! You have to free yourself! It’s a nightmare that seems to last for eternity…

Except. You aren’t a Bull. You are a Human. An Autistic. You may be a child, adult, male, female, trans, intersex, young, old, middle aged, with high or low support needs. You might be an islander, black, white, middle eastern, or a mix of everything. You might be independent with a job or living with your family. You may even reside in a group home. The “Rancher” isn’t a rancher at all but instead they may be a parent, partner, guardian, friend, cop, teacher. Anyone you know. Anyone you trust.

The “Rodeo” is simply a place where there are people you do not know, do not know very well or trust much. A Doctor’s office, a School field trip to the Zoo, the Dentist, a Mall, the Park or even simply Work. It may even be your own home and people are visiting unexpectedly or maintenance is working in your apartment.

You started out the day okay enough yet something’s off. Your clothes get tight, uncomfortably snug almost painful. The feeling of them is tight and you squirm attempting to relieve some of the pressure. You’re burning. Hot. You want to remove your clothes but it’s not acceptable to do that here and now. Somehow a pebble got into your shoe and you can’t do anything about it. The pebble digs in and rubs your skin raw. That’s all you can focus on. The pebble keeps getting bigger and bigger. Your foot aches, then your leg. Then, suddenly it’s loud, you hear everything!

The buzz of the electricity overhead. No, it’s all around you! The chorus of human voices surrounding you. A roar of incoherent voices in a never ending clamor. The clinking of metal, pens writing, humans scratching, sniffling noses, the gurgling drinking fountain. Someone laughing loudly. Too loudly. Were they laughing at you? You can’t tell. Is that man furiously mad at someone or is he exuberantly happy, why? Is the woman at the desk upset? Is she frowning at you? Your own heartbeat and breathing sound thunderous. It’s all so disorienting and you don’t know exactly where you are in location to an exit. You don’t know how to leave or if you can leave! 

You hear some people singing Happy Birthday and then applause. Someone points at you, smiling. He’s saying something but you can’t focus. You become distressed. You try to explain what’s going on but he doesn’t understand what you are trying to tell him. You clamor for his attention again to ask for help but you can’t comprehend what he’s saying. He holds out… what? Cake?! You can’t put an answer together. You panic! No one understands what is about to happen. A wild energy rises up internally. A build up of anxiety in a reaction to the situation around you. It all is about to come out!

You try to get out but you can’t. You are met with obstacles, people, chairs. Lights get bright, blinding you! Like a bat trying to escape a noisy room the assault on your auditory throws your balance off. You bump into things. Your mind racing, you feel a sense of impending doom enveloping you. The assault on your nervous system is anguishing. You bolt! 

All you want to do is escape!

Sensory overload is coming in from all directions inflicting more and more and more. All you want to do is escape! 

Instinctively. Your entire focus now is to find relief any possible way you can. Your nervous system takes over and you are no longer in control of your body. Very much the same way that the body forces you to breathe when holding your breath underwater. You are compelled to react by the force of survival in an audacious move to escape a fate worse than death! Like a seizure you have no agency over yourself. And it’s terrifying! 

Your nervous system is stuck in fight or flight. You can only react. You yell, scream, pull your hair, stomp your feet, throw things! All your efforts are sensory needs seeking to be met. Searching out input and stimulation to bring harmony back to your internal anatomy. You’re desperate, crying! You are stuck in an eternity of frenzied horror and can’t escape. Panic! You’re dreadfully helpless as you watch your body do what it needs to in order to stop itself from reacting to the overstimulation of your environment. You can’t stop it.

A tenacious impulse comes on. One you try desperately to ignore, you tell yourself to keep yourself together but you are helplessly subjected to nature and to instinct. It’s overwhelming! Impossible to overlook! You don’t want to do harm to your body but you unintentionally injure yourself as you hit your head with your fists, bang your head against a wall. All against your will. It’s your Nervous System. 

Finally it stops! A wave of relief washes over you. You feel yourself calming. Your heartbeat slows. You cry. The noise level is more bearable. The energy that had been in control of your body is waning. Compliant, your Nervous System has balanced itself and has handed the agency of your being back over to you. The headbanging and extreme stimming worked even though it was not your choice. You’re exhausted and all you want to do is quench your thirst. Sit in a hot shower. Then climb into bed. You can’t fully communicate yet. You write down enough to tell someone to get you out of there and that you need to go home. You’re free!

You don’t know what impact this Neurological Event, commonly referred to as a Meltdown, will have on your friendships, job, social standing, and life in general. It’s happened before and it will happen again. The fallout won’t be good. At best, it will just be something that happened! As it should be. You just have to pick up the pieces later. For now your focus is self care. Your needs are very basic.

You get home. Assess your injuries. Tend to your wounds. Hydrate, maybe eat something simple. You take a warm bath or hot shower and calmly stim. Your spouse, friend, mom, dad, maybe all of these people, help. For some of us maybe no people help because you know you’re safe now and you just want to be alone, at peace. You crawl into bed and you shut down. 

Once again you were on full display at a Rodeo. A fearful bull bucking in pain. Now you are just a person with an Autistic Neurology that has an unquenchable craving to rest, to sleep. 

My Autism, A Legacy

Grandpa’s Garden Now

Autism is surrounded by much controversy as to what causes it. Is it vaccinations, no. Autism predates vaccinations. Is it abuse, no. The best parents in the world can have an Autistic child. Environmental, weak at best. As soon as a family changed environments they wouldn’t have another Autistic child yet often they do. Pollution, no. Autism emerged when pollution was drastically lower than it is now. Then what causes it?

In 1943 Leo Kanner, the first person to openly observe and publish studies on Autism, also noticed the same eccentricities in the parent’s of the child that the Autistic child exhibited. Mr. Leo Kanner correctly thought that the condition was genetic even though he would waiver to and from that belief throughout his lifetime.

When I hear that the person who first recognized and studied Autism originally thought that Autism was a genetically inherited uniqueness, I get chills. I can recall, quite clearly, the two people who raised me from the age of two to the age of eight. My Grandparents. They are the perfect example for the argument that Autism has a strong genetic component. Both of them were loving and introverted, for the most part.

My Grandma was a quiet and compassionate woman. She didn’t have many friends but she did have her routines. Up in the morning, coffee, breakfast, daily obligations. Then she would rock in her rocking chair while watching the same shows she did the day before and the day before that, as she sipped her wine. Her Rocking chair, that was her favorite chair. The only place she sat. My dear Grandmother also walked on her toes, a trait I possess. As an adult knowing the quirks of Autism I now know that those were her stims and I smile. She is part of me.

My Grandmother had additional symptoms such as Sensory Processing Disorder, undiagnosed, but with twenty-twenty hindsight it’s obvious to me. She had an exaggerated startle reflex to loud or unexpected sounds. They clearly gave her anxiety. She had moved out of my Grandfather’s room, or removed him from hers, I’m not sure which, because his snoring kept her awake. (In all fairness he was a champion snorer and you could hear him everywhere!) However, everyone assumed it was because she held a grudge but no one knew what it was, I’m thinking it was just about the snoring. Grandma’s bedroom also had blackout shutters turning her room unnaturally dark, even in the daytime. These shutters were also installed in my room as they probably recognized my sensory processing issues as well. Even if they didn’t know what it was they knew I needed more darkness than other people night to be able to sleep. As a young child I would climb into bed with her. I have faint, but happy, memories of her carrying me down the hall back to my own room. Now I know it was because she couldn’t sleep with a tossing and turning 4 year old in the same bed with her. 

She also had a peculiarity with collecting bread bag tabs, twist ties, and plastic tv dinner trays when they became more common. She claimed it was because she was a child of The Great Depression and they kept everything just in case. But bread bag tan closures? I think it was Autism.

Grandma was also very logical for a woman and applied knowledge to life. There was a time when nonverbal me was fussy because of a tummy ache. So what did she do? Instead of fawning over me and trying to appease my irritability she crouched down to my level and gently put pressure on my stomach and on my back with her hands. This caused the gas that was giving me pain to escape in a rather loud passing. This caused her to smile and asked me if I felt better, I nodded, I did. When I was 17 and “dating” I showed her a picture of the boy I was seeing and referred to him as my intended. (I was really into older works of literature so I’d borrow archaic terms and words from them). Grandma didn’t get “girly” like other women by saying he was cute or asking how we met and wanting every emotional play by play. No, she instead infomed me on the meaning of the term “my intended”. It was only after my telling her I was aware that it meant the person I was going to marry that she became upset because I was too young.

Oh, Grandpa! Grandpa was intelligent. Scientific. Loving. A collector of objects, lover of radios, and a fan of knowledge. A believer that faith and knowledge could exist in harmony. My grandfather loved fishing and everytime he would go he would bring back gravel from the locale he had visited. He would store his collection of gravel in coffee cans in the Garage on a shelf above his work bench. Each one labeled with masking tape and Magic Marker what it was, where it came from, and what beach. All uniform, all organized. 

My Grandpa was also the collector of knowledge. It was he who taught me about the Greek Gods. He had books on everything from fish to mushrooms. I used to look at his books in awe at the array of color that this world has provided for us through flora and fauna. My favorite was the book of fish and pictures of the deep. I was a water baby, loving the sensory control it provided when I was submerged. So I would imagine what it was like down there at the bottom of the ocean. Safe and alone from the world above.

Grandpa had extensive knowledge, no doubt about that, but he had two narrow interests that I can vividly recall. His garden and his radio. He would spend hours on both of them. His garden had everything in it. Tomatoes, squash, eggplant, green beans, corn and more. It was magnificent! He’d spend summer days picking bright green, horned, worms out of the tomato plants. Behind the garden were orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees. A Loquat tree and strawberries also had a place in the yard. He knew everything about gardening and even had made the side yard into a greenhouse complete with a compost bin. My Grandpa loved different vegetables and even would brine his own olives. Perfectly content to be by himself. Like I am.

When he wasn’t gardening you could hear Grandpa on his radio in the garage. Click, click, click with the Morse Code. The crackle of the static. Maybe a beep or two. He would make friends this way. Much like the Autistic community has found connection in chat rooms and on Twitter my Grandfather found connection through the air waves of the 1980’s. I know he had a friend in Russia and a few in Canada. He was of Hispanic descent and loved learning about different cultures and sharing his. Much to my Grandma’s dismay, he also treated me to freshly fried, hot, chicharrones. Fried pork rinds which she thought were disgusting! They were delicious.

To me, in my memories, both of them were clearly on the Spectrum. They both had narrow interests, routines, and stims. They both were perfectly content in solitude. Neither were especially physically affectionate but they knew when to give hugs and when not to. They were incredibly loving and empathetic in a way that I understood even if others didn’t. I saw evidence of Masking (a form of “acting” that Autistic people assume so they fit in with Neurotypical people/society better) in pictures and other relics of family history. Like my Grandma attempting to sell Mary Kay. My Grandfather portraying himself as a ladies man in old home video reels. All of it. Them. They are where I come from. They are my genetic code. They are the people in which my Autism flows from. Autism is my heritage, my legacy and I cherish it because it connects me to them. 

Life at the Corner of Ableism and Sexism

Wasabi Horseradish is not a Pea!

Six or seven years ago I had a little disagreement with my significant other and a familial male of mine. The contested information was that Wasabi is a Pea. Which it is not. Wasabi is a type of horseradish that grows in Japan. Most of the Wasabi in the US is regular horseradish dyed green with food coloring. My SO sided with the other male when the other male doubled down on his statement. I dropped the subject and shut my mouth because that is what I am supposed to do. Right? Don’t question men and look pretty.

As a female assigned female at birth I have learned by trial and error that women aren’t to correct men. If women are right and men are wrong we aren’t to point it out. When men make a mistake because they didn’t listen to the woman’s advice we are to tell them they were right anyway. Men lead, we follow. It’s a tale as old as time. However, when it comes to Autism in the eyes of the world it decreases your credibility despite evidence to the contrary. When you have a vagina, it’s worse.

Many people on the Spectrum have an average to genius IQ including the women. However the way our brains process information and auditory delays lead people to believe our perceived “slowness” is equivalent to having lower intelligence. You include the fact that I’m short, cute and curvy in the mix and we have a cocktail that is disastrous. 

I know things because I have the same hunger for knowledge that men on the spectrum do. I knew the information on Wasabi was wrong because I had read about the rarity of Wasabi that naturally grows along the rivers and streams in Japan. (Fun Fact: Most people in the US have never eaten actual Wasabi!) I’m a Sushi lover and if I love something I will research the everloving heck out of it! But that didn’t matter. Instead of hearing me out I was shut down. This is a pretty normal thing for me to experience. I hate it.

I feel for my Aspie Sister’s and how we have valuable information to share with the World yet we are marginalized by society. First and foremost because we are female. Second because we present information in the common Autistic format. Straightforward and factual. Which then makes us seem like a disagreeable female. Which is heart breaking and it needs to stop. 

While I would like to say I have a revolutionary plan to change the World once and for all, I do not. The best advice for the World is to assume egalitarian ideals across the board. The old adage of not judging a book by it’s cover comes to mind. A pretty face can have an equally intelligent brain. Slowness might not be a sign of lack of intelligence but the work of a mind that has so much information in it that it might take longer to produce an answer. Like a computer with a full memory. The two together can be a deadly cocktail or a wonderful resource. Ultimately it’s not up to women or Autistics to decide. It’s something the World has to embrace. I hope they choose wisely. 

I Am Not “With Autism”

Woman With Hat

With child, with a broom, with her husband, with a hat, with the flu. What do all these imply? Something that is temporary condition, choice, or result of something that has happened to you such as choosing to have a child or being pregnant, picking up a broom, getting married, donning a hat, or contracting a virus. All of them are not permanent options. After all you give birth, you stop using the broom, you may get divorced, you can take off a hat, and recover from the flu. However, I was born Autistic. 

My Neurology is Neurodiverse, I’m Autistic. 

-B

Autism has defined every aspect of my life since my first breath. I was very quiet as a baby and didn’t speak until about four. I was and still am extremely shy. I have to sleep with earplugs, a weighted blanket, two blackout curtains layered, zero ambient light, and Google Home’s rain or storm relaxation sound on to drown out any noise that may bleed through my earplugs. I have a very Sensitive Nervous System and it is tied with my heart, as in it’s an organ I absolutely cannot live without. My Neurology is Neurodiverse, I’m Autistic. 

While we, humans, have an endoskeleton throughout the majority of our body. Our mind or brain, the consciousness that is us, lives inside our skull. Some think that this can be considered a sort of exoskeleton one we are protected by and essentially exist in. In a way that is true. The brain is the headquarters of the entire body’s Neurological System. If I were able to remove my Autism I would be removing the very thing that allows me to live, to be me. I cannot set it down like a broom, nor is it something contracted, or temporary. I will have it until death. 

When we first started to use person first terminology it was to help destigmatize those with AIDS and HIV because having contracted HIV and having AIDS is not a reflection on who they are as a person. HIV/AIDS is a condition, even though currently considered permanent, was something that happened to the person, and was not a choice nor did it make them a victim to be pitied they were people with AIDS. If and, if recent news reports are correct, when we have a cure; when we cure it and remove the virus, the same person remains because it was not part of the person to begin with. I look forward to the day that we have a cure for this acquired affliction. 

Meanwhile my Autistic Neurology is not something I caught nor is it a disease that needs to be cured. It’s who I am. The way I pause for a few seconds before I answer a question and can’t make eye contact so I seem reserved and shy, that’s Autism. Autism is why I need a small chest of sensory items to go to sleep. My Atypical Neurology is why I couldn’t speak at the March For Our Lives, it overwhelmed my nervous system and I went non-verbal. It’s why I crave to stim by chewing hard candy or pin rolling my fingers. You cannot remove my Autism without removing who I am. I am Autistic.

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