As Ireland finally sees a bit of sun, autistic people may be especially at risk under the current heat wave. Members of our community may be more vulnerable to the heat for a number of reasons.
Some autistic people may experience hypersensitivity, making high temperature, sticky clothing or even the sensation of sweat on the skin far more unsettling than their peers. This increased sensory input results in higher anxiety levels and may even increase the risk of a meltdown. This is complicated further because the texture of sunscreen can be distressing for autistic people. It also carries its own risks for hyposensitive autistic people (those with decreased sensory response). someone who can tolerate high temperatures and may find it harder to identify the signs of dehydration or sunburn.
It is no secret that we are experiencing unseasonably warm weather right now. Irish homes and workplaces are traditionally built to retain heat, meaning we aren’t all necessarily prepared for a sudden temperature rise. AsIAm has laid out a number of strategies for autistic people to cope during the heat wave.
Tips for Staying Cool
#1 Your Freezer is your friend:
Opening the freezer is a moment of bliss for everyone during a heat wave. Weather it’s to retrieve ice or a frozen treat, this appliance will do most of the work toward keeping you and your family cool. Ice cubes can be put into most beverages, but make sure to sip carefully as seen below. Alternatively, try sucking on ice cubes throughout the day to cool down. For another quick relief, put a damp tea towel into the freezer then draping it around your neck. Try putting a ‘hot’ water bottle filled with water in the freezer instead. But make sure to wrap it in fabric afterwards to avoid Ice Burn.
#2 Hydrate properly:
It’s crucial to replace the water your body is losing through sweat. Iced water is even better but make sure to drink in sips instead of gulps. Avoid drinks with too much sugar or caffeine; they can dehydrate your further and increase your chances of anxiety attacks. Alcohol is especially dangerous during a heatwave as it can cause even further dehydration. If you’re especially active during the day, make sure you’re taking in enough electrolytes with your water.
#3 Stay in the shade:
The sun is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm. You should try to minimize your outdoor activity during these times. If you’re getting a lot of glares from the sun through your windows, try placing cardboard and tinfoil with the shiny side facing towards the sun. It’s important to note you should avoid doing this if your house faces a busy road to avoid blinding motorists. If you find yourself overwhelmed during this time, try taking a power nap. Heat rises, so if sleeping downstairs is an option, take it!
The temptation is to keep windows open all day, but this can be counter productive. Open your windows during the night or early morning but close them and your blinds and curtains before 10am to keep cold air trapped if possible. This is especially true for the side of your house which faces the sun. If you have a fan, but no air conditioning, try placing a bowl of ice just in front of the fan to cool its air flow.
#5 Take precautions outdoors
While you should minimize your time in the sun, your job or routine might require you to go outside. If you absolutely must leave your house, make sure to bring sunglasses to avoid sensory overload. While walking, try to stay in areas which have a lot of trees; our green friends are excellent sources of natural ventilation. Apply sunscreen, making sure to remember the back of the neck and where your skin meets sleeves, cuffs and socks. (Make sure to try different types of cream to find the best texture for your own needs.) Wear a hat to give yourself some shade. Try bringing a frozen tea towel in a zip-lock bag to use if you overheat.
#6 Know the signs of heatstroke and dehydration
Due to hyposensitivity and alexithymia, some autistic people may not notice the signs of heat wave related health problems. Aside from thirst and feeling too hot, there are other physical signs to look out for. Headaches, fatigues, diarrhoea, faster heart rate and breathing are all signs of dehydration and heat stroke. If you’re not sure if you are hydrating enough, there are a few things you can check. Darker coloured urine can be a sign you need more water. When in doubt, try pinching the skin on the back of the hand for a few seconds. If it stays ‘up,’ this is a sign you need to hydrate or seek help.