autism

A Case of the Jibblies

I cannot stand velvet. It makes my skin crawl. Even writing about velvet is causing goosebumps to stand up on my flesh. It’s an aberration of nature and an emblem of all that is wrong with this world. Put succinctly, I wouldn’t touch the love of my life if she was wearing velvet. Fortunately, velvet is easy to avoid. Except for a few years as a child, when my parents owned a green Buick Century with velvet seats, I’ve found few settings where contact with velvet is mandatory.

Another sensory issue has been tougher to avoid – that of chalk and chalkboards. I associate the two materials so closely, they are inseparable in my mind. I’m sure my reaction is specifically to the chalk texture, but the whole experience does me in. The sound of chalk touching the board, the inevitable dust, the sound of the eraser rubbing the chalk off – it all gives me a case of the jibblies.

Needless to say, this was quite the obstacle as a student – particularly in elementary and middle school before marker boards became more commonplace. “We’re going to do board races,” I can hear Teacher saying,” or, “Get out your slates to practice spelling words.” Who would be last done? Could it be the one who would refuse to touch his chalk?

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image by S. Schleicher on stock.xchng

To this day, if I have to help in a classroom with a chalkboard, I will avoid using it at all costs. Even if the classroom teacher has one of those metal grips around the chalk, it is off-limits. It’s hard enough controlling autistic behaviors in a school environment without adding such a strong sensory trigger to the mix.

A child with similar issues will have greater challenges. This is not merely a get-over-it issue. He or she is not being defiant or seeking attention. That texture (or other sensory input) is stressful to him or her. It may even hurt. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Provide alternatives. Lay a towel of different material on the car seat. Allow the student to write on paper instead. Allow for pen instead of pencil when it can be an option. Be flexible in a place where your autistic child can’t. Perhaps time will change things. When pressure is low, attempt positive experiences with the undesirable materials, but be aware of how the child is responding.

You can wear velvet all you want. I’ll even sit next to you. Just try not to rub up against me.

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