Finding Sensory Joy in Winter


tilt shift lens photography of string lights

Finding Sensory Joy in Winter

Introduction

This is a list of seven sensory items you may find useful throughout winter, although they can be used all year round. The person who sent this list in is an autistic student who really struggles with the coldness and the darkness of winter, so that is what this list focuses on: finding warmth, light, and sensory joy throughout the longer and colder nights winter brings in the higher latitudes.


SAD Lamp

SAD lamps, with SAD standing for seasonal affective disorder, are designed to help those who find they have seasonal depressive symptoms which are often due to the darker days in winter. There is some proven efficacy in using a SAD lamp for the treatment of these symptoms, especially when used first thing in the morning and combined with other supports. You should speak to your doctor first as they will be able to best advise on this. SAD lamps are very bright and the individual who submitted this noted their particular sensitivity to light, so they often put it on in the corner of the room whilst they make breakfast rather than be directly in front of it, as this works best for them and their sensory needs.


Fairy Lights

One cannot make a list about the sensory aspects of winter without mentioning fairy lights! The individual who made this list said, “just put them up everywhere and be happy” and yes, I very much agree with this. They give me so much sensory joy and they are such comforting things.


Earmuffs

Earmuffs are ideal winter sensory wear for three reasons:

  1. They muffle noise, so are sensory dampening for sound.
  2. They keep you warm, so are sensory soothing for temperature.
  3. And they are just snazzy accessories to wear!

Glowing Alarm Clock

As the mornings are darker it can be trickier to wake and loud alarms are not the gentlest of things to welcome the day, so alarm clocks with a soft glow can be a fantastic alternative. The creator of this list uses a Casper Glow Light and loves it for its portability. I personally use my Alexa to turn on my bedside light and have it gradually increase in brightness.


Warmies

Warmies is a brand of lavender-scented soft toys which you can warm (in the microwave), and, in doing so, they smell even more of lavender. They are just fantastic and I am so glad they are on this list as I highly recommend them too (I have a hippo and a shark!). They also do slippers, neckwraps, and hot water bottles!


Fleece Weighted Blanket

Many weighted blankets are, well, just weighted blankets, but in winter having a fleecy weighted blanked seems like a much more sensible choice! Brentfords Teddy Fleece Heavy Weighted Blanket is a good and affordable choice, offered in both pink and grey.


Super Soft Jumpers

Lastly, and importantly to one’s sensory needs during winter, making sure you have a jumper that you like the feel of that is also going to keep you warm. This is extra important if you are like me and don’t really recognise you are getting cold, because if you have something you like to wear that will keep you warm, you are more likely to stay warm!


The Authors

This list was sent in by an autistic university student living in a country with very dark winters and the post was put together by ally (who is also autistic and also lives in a country with dark winters!). Ally is @pallyallywrites who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.



Explaining & Navigating Executive Dysfunction


child in beige hoodie leaning forward on table feeling exhausted while studying

¿Executive Dysfunction?

Executive Function

Humans have this cognitive process called executive function. This is basically how our brains go, “yep, I have a goal or task I ought to get done and I am going to do it”, and then the really neat thing about executive function, is that it is by its very nature executive, it has the power, the ability, to put those little cognitive brain cogs whirring about wanting to do the task into action in order to complete the task from start to finish without veering off course. Hence, a person has executive function in a task. So, executive function for brushing teeth would look like a person thinking, “oh I should go brush my teeth” and then they work out what steps they need to do to do it and they go do it, no issue there. Obviously, this is really simplified and executive function is not only just about this. For example, executive function also is about being able to effectively switch between tasks, generally plan activities, emotional regulation, working memory, problem solving, and so on.

Executive Dysfunction

Now, there is the flip side to executive function, the rather aptly named executive dysfunction. This is where one, in the context of task initiation issues, can understand the goal and can even know exactly what needs to be done, yet there is a disconnect in the process. This makes even the simplest of tasks seem like an impossibility. People with an executive function problem like this may lie in bed trying to will themselves to get up to brush their teeth, yet the process of actually doing it does not follow automatically from that internal command, no matter how much they tell themselves. No matter how much they command themselves, yell inside their heads to “just get up and do it!” or call themselves names and beat themselves up over it. It is exhausting and draining to even try to will oneself to do these things, and it doesn’t actually make a person feel better if it takes all of their energy for such little reward. It can actually make them feel worse, like, “oh it took you all this energy just to brush your teeth and your exhausted from it and feel awful, how pathetic are you?!”. Sometimes people need to prioritise tasks depending on how much energy it will take from them when they deal with executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction is not a disorder but rather a set of cognitive processes and symptom common in a few different areas which I also experience personally as part of my autism, ADHD, and anxiety.

For me executive dysfunction can become an issue with quite a few things from communication to selfcare. For example, I often struggle with actually communicating what is in my head, the process of bringing thoughts into conversation is a tricky one. I struggle with selfcare, for example brushing teeth can be really hard as it is a task I genuinely dislike in terms of sensory input, so I have that layer of just not liking it on top of just struggling or not being able to actually start on going to do it. The other part of this is, and I think it is an anxiety thing, I feel bad for not doing it, I think I feel guilt for not being able to do a lot of things, so growing up I found it really hard being told to go do a task like this or being questioned about it would as that would just make it worse.

Executive dysfunction can manifest in many ways and ultimately affects goal-orientated behaviours across working memory, response inhibition, set shifting, and fluency. Some examples of how executive dysfunction may affect these four areas are:

  • Working Memory – working memory is our ability to hold information temporarily, when we have issues with executive dysfunction we may struggle more with our working memory and our ability to focus on the task at hand.
  • Response Inhibition – response inhibition is our ability to basically think before acting so as to not engage in an action that interferes with a goal-driven behaviour, when we have issues with executive dysfunction we may be more reactive to things that distract us from the task at hand and more easily distracted.
  • Set Shifting – set shifting is the ability to move back and forth between different tasks, however, when we struggle with executive dysfunction, we may get stuck thinking on just one task and really struggle to or are just unable to change our focus to the other task. We can call this very stuck and continued fixed thinking on the task perseveration.
  • Fluency – fluency is our ability to communicate efficiently with verbal or visual information, however, when we struggle with executive dysfunction many aspects of this can become affected, from the pragmatics (i.e. how we communicate the social and contextual aspects of language) to the semantics (i.e. the actual meaning of the words) of language.

How I Navigate Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction affects so many things and it can be really difficult to navigate certain aspects of it. Some skills I use to help with my executive dysfunction are:

  • Breaking tasks down into individual components to make them feel more manageable.
  • I have post-it notes and pencils (important to have them both) in every room to jot things down to help navigate issues with working memory and getting distracted by or too focused in on something.
  • I often have my computer read aloud the text I am reading to help me focus in on it.
  • I use a lot of mindfulness when I am stuck in that sort of ADHD paralysis and I will think to myself “okay, I am here and I am doing this thing instead of that thing and that is okay, I will get there in a moment” and I will be really gentle with myself instead of trying to just force myself, as I ultimately end up more stuck if I try to force things.
  • I try to have glasses of water in each room when I am working because I know I will forget to drink and I know having glasses of water around makes me more likely to drink.
  • I have a massive whiteboard to plan my week, but I also use a digital calendar too so I get notifications.
  • I make a lot of lists and add easy things on to them that I know I can manage to give me a boost by having something to check off quickly.
  • Asking others for help: this is an important one and you are allowed to do this, we all need help with different things at different points.

The Author

This was made by @pallyallywrites who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.



Five Fantastic Flowcharts for Neurodiverse Brains


We recently got a small influx of emails with resources, which is absolutely wonderful! Taking from some of these recommendations, here are five flowcharts for neurodiverse brains.

There is the use of swearing in some of these resources.


1. Why Can’t I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?

An executive function focused flow chart by Sydni from What in the ADHD? because “When we struggle to do The Thing, it can be difficult to pinpoint the EXACT issue.” So, this flowchart is to help you workout what exactly the issue is and navigate executive dysfunction:

Image Description: Flowchart graphic titled, "Why Can't I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?" by What the ADHD. 

The questions are the following, starting after the statement, "You still haven't completed the task"

Do you want to do it?
If the answer is no, then it is a lack of motivation.
If the answer if yes, what are you doing right now, another task or nothing? 

If you answered "nothing lol" , have you been very busy or stressed recently? if yes then burnout, if no then ADHD paralysis.

If you answered that you were doing another task (not the task), is this task also important?
if the answer is not at all, then it is procrastination.
if the answer if yes, does the completion of this task help you make progress on The Task?
If no, then it is a lack of prioritization. If yes then stop stressin' you're right on track (but you might have some anxiety)

end of flowchart and end of image description
What In The ADHD’s Executive Dysfunction Focused Flowchart

2. You Feel Like Shit: A Self Care Game

You Feel Like Shit is an interactive selfcare guide which goes through a series of questions to break down what tasks to do and check you are looking after yourself. It is designed to be specifically useful for individuals who struggle with selfcare, executive dysfunction, and/or interpreting internal signals, such as hunger.

It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment… you can even go through this routine as soon as you wake up, as a preventative measure.


3. Anti-Procrastination Flowchart

The anti-procrastination flowchart was posted by redditor studentEnginerd in r/ADHD for feedback from other users, and you can see their suggestions here. The flowchart is colour coded into four stages and employs a range of skills which are from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), such as opposite action. The flowchart goes from the initial realisation that you are procrastinating (red), to planning your work (orange), to overcoming mental hurdles (yellow), and, finally, beginning your work (green).

Image Description: A large flowchart to help with procrastination split into four coloured blocks.

The flowchart starts red with the statement, "you notice yourself procrastinating" and looks to work out whether you know why you are procrastinating, suggesting you try to work this out if you don't. 

the flowchart then moves to the orange section where it suggests breaking down the bigger tasks into smaller more manageable tasks.

once this is complete the flowchart is in the yellow section which looks at navigating the mental hurdles stopping you from doing the task, looking at exploring what is making you anxious about the task and suggesting things like reaching out to others for help, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion.

Lastly, there is the green coloured section which suggests "opposite action", where you start working even though it is not what you feel like doing, and also getting to work.

end of flowchart and image description.
Anti-Procrastination Flowchart by studentEnginerd

4. A Flowchart For Getting to Sleep: A Playful Take On Sleep Hygiene

It is not uncommon for individuals under the neurodiversity umbrella to suffer from higher rates of insomnia than their neurotypical peers. Knowing what to do when you struggle to sleep so often can be really tricky, so having a handy and fun flowchart to help with sleep hygiene can be a useful tool! Lindsay Braman, a Seattle-based artist, therapist, and mental health illustrator, designed a fantastic and fun flowchart for sleep you can find here.


5. Am I Having A Brain Problem Or Being A Shithead?

Okay, this flowchart has a history! It was originally a text post by adhd, Private Investigator which was made visual by Life with ADHD who turned the post into a flowchart. Okay, that all seems simple, yes, but wait, there’s more! Much like my own ADHD fuelled rambles, this flowchart seems to go on beautifully for a while! This version is a remake of Life with ADHD’s flowchart by Yuutfa to make things a bit clearer and it is really very wonderful! This flowchart it validating, and although it is ADHD-focused, it seems like it would be useful for anyone struggling with executive dysfunction.

Image Description: Flowchart titled, "Am I Having A Brain Problem or Being A Shithead?" which was designed by yuutfa@tumblr based on the following text version by ADHD Pie on Tumblr:

‘am i Having A Brain Problem or Being a Shithead’: a short procrastination checklist
aka why tf am i procrastinating on The Thing (more like a flowchart, actually)
lots of people who have executive function difficulties worry about whether they’re procrastinating on a task out of laziness/simply wanting to be a jerk or mental struggles. this checklist might help you figure out which it is at any given time! (hint: it’s almost never laziness or being a jerk.) (obligatory disclaimer: this is just what works for me! something different might work better for you.)

1) do I honestly intend to start the task despite my lack of success?

yes: it’s a Brain Problem. next question
no: it’s shitty to say one thing & do another. better be honest with myself & anyone expecting me to do the task.
2) am I fed, watered, well-rested, medicated properly, etc?

yes: next question
no: guess what? this is the real next task
3) does the idea of starting the task make me feel scared or anxious?

yes: Anxiety Brain. identify what’s scaring me first.
no: next question
4) do I know how to start the task?

yes: next question
no: ADHD Brain. time to make an order of operations list.
5) do I have everything I need to start the task?

yes: next question
no: ADHD Brain lying to me about the steps again, dangit. first task is ‘gather the materials’.
6) why am i having a hard time switching from my current task to this new task?

i’m having fun doing what i’m doing: it’s okay to have fun doing a thing! if task is time-sensitive, go to next question.
i have to finish doing what i’m doing: might be ADHD brain. can I actually finish the current task or will I get trapped in a cycle? does this task really need to be finished?
the next task will be boring/boring-er than the current task: ADHD brain. re-think the next task. what would make it exciting? what am I looking forward to?
I might not have enough time to complete the task: ADHD brain wants to finish everything it starts. (if task is time-sensitive, go to next question)
i just want to make the person who asked me to do it angry: sounds like anxiety brain trying to punish itself, because I know I’ll be miserable if someone is angry at me. why do i think I deserve punishment?
no, I seriously want to piss them off: okay, i’m being a shithead
7) have I already procrastinated so badly that I now cannot finish the task in time?

yes: ADHD brain is probably caught in a guilt-perfection cycle. since I can’t have the task done on time, i don’t even want to start.
reality check: having part of a thing done is almost always better than none of a thing done. if I can get an extension, having part of it done will help me keep from stalling out until the extension deadline. i’ll feel better if I at least try to finish it.

no, there’s still a chance to finish on time: ADHD brain thinks that I have all the time in the world, but the truth is I don’t. 
reality check: if i’m having fun doing what I’m doing, I can keep doing it, but I should probably set a timer & ask someone to check on me to make sure I start doing the task later today.

8) I’ve completed the checklist and still don’t know what’s wrong!

probably wasn’t honest enough with myself. take one more look.
if I’m still mystified, ask a friend to help me talk it out

End of Image Description
Executive Dysfunction Focused Flowchart by Yuutfa

Disclaimer

Although these are useful resources and tools for working through tricky things, they are not a replacement for support and guidance from a trained professional.

The Author

This post was made from resources recommended which were emailed in by wonderfully neurodiverse individuals, with the exception of the first flowchart from What the ADHD which ally also added. The resources were pieced together to post by ally, who is autistic and had ADHD, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life.