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Subconscious sensory processing

pangolinpangolin New Member, Member
Sensory processing and how it presents in my autism has been something I've struggled with comprehending ever since I first got diagnosed. My sensory issues didn't seem as apparent as others, where I commonly hear people experiencing sensory overload and meltdowns in overstimulating environments. I do not have a history of meltdowns so I found it to be alienating when a near-universal experience of the autism community does not apply to me. I even doubted my own diagnosis because it seemed to be such a significant part of being autistic. Even when therapists affirmed that I am very much autistic, that doubt in my mind never went away.

At least until I reread the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria recently.

Turns out the sensory aspects of autism are a subcriteria within a major criteria: restrictive and repetitive behaviours (or category B). So I was experiencing major imposter syndrome for nothing. Good lord.

But with sensory processing, I do not think that I am completely devoid of issues in that category and started to theorise about its impacts in the context of chronic fatigue. See, one therapist described my chronic fatigue to be a result of the strained sensory processing and adaptations to change in autism alongside the strained executive functioning and attention span in ADHD. I thought about it further and concluded that my impacts of sensory processing are not entirely conscious. Usually you'd hear about an autistic person being consciously bothered by an overwhelming sensory input but this is not always the experience that I have. What I experience is that my brain feels like a filter for sensory input and that with heightened and/or extended sensory input, this "sensory filter" gets clogged and becomes less effective at filtering input over time. Without regular maintenance, this filter fails to catch sensory input entirely and it feels like every input is passing directly through my head as if it didn't exist at all. Excessive use of this sensory filter has resulted in extreme fatigue and wipes out the possibility of attending to any other responsibilities or tasks for the day. It could even be for several days or even a week.

I wanted to put this out here because I have not read about any experiences with sensory processing that matched mine. If you experience sensory input in the way I do, let me know. It's good to know that you're not alone in your experiences.


  • verityverity Administrator, Citizen
    True meltdowns are probably less common that shutdowns however neither are a prerequisite for diagnosis.

    I can relate to fatigue and also cognitive issue like executive dysfunction (diagnosed). Fatigue was one of the earliest thing I reported although I didn't have vocabulary or bodily awareness to describe it to doctors.

    I do feel my body intensely and have a muscle tone which can intensify feeling of fatigue.  I am sensitive to touch especially light touch, I am more able for more pressure.

    Your point about consciously filtering inputs makes some sense. I do feel that sights and sounds work this way with me and it can really interrupt the process of the brain to the point I will experience shut down. I would call this mental fatigue.
    Regarding physical fatigue it is kind of always there anyway, I've had to try and block it out as best I can or ignore it. I had little success with explaining it to doctors. I have come to the conclusion it is just the way I perceive myself where there is a dull pain or tightness about me and this can be tiring. I think anything you can do to improve physical condition and diet will help a bunch of things, even if you aren't going remove them entirely.

    Managing IBS and gluten  diet helped control excess adrenaline and bile, and reduce hyper-vigilance. I have sensitivity to sound which was heightened in the morning but this has decreased as result of this. This is not advice, just experience.
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