Autistic Sensory Processing Differences – Autism & Lighting Sensitivity


Hi, internet humans, NeuroRebel here, and this week, I’m going to share with you some information about what it’s like to have a lighting sensitivity. If this interests you, please stay tuned.

[00:00:48] Yeah, adjust my hat here…. protect myself from this big, bright light I’ve got on as we dive in.

[00:00:55] I always like to start with definitions, so let me give us the official definition:  Lighting sensitivity, sometimes referred to as photophobia, is an intolerance to light.

[00:01:09]This can be things like sunlight. For me, fluorescent lighting is a huge trigger.  Some people have problems with led lighting.

[00:01:17] It really differs from person to person and it can cause discomfort along with a need to squint, because the light is physically painful in your eyes. It also can lead you to having headaches and migraines if you continue to have prolonged exposure to the lighting sensory trigger.

[00:01:42] There are many Autistic, Neurodivergent and, even non-Autistic people, who have sensory processing issues or sensory processing differences, sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder.

[00:01:56] This is something that I have spoken about a lot on this channel in the past and on social media, but to give you a very high level overview, sensory processing differences generally occur when we have the different levels of which you can experience sensory things.

[00:02:15] Say you experienced touch, you may be more sensitive to touch or less sensitive to touch. You may be more sensitive to certain types of sounds or less sensitive to sounds, or you may be more sensitive to light or less sensitive to light.

[00:02:30] With Autistic people, many of us have these volume  knobs that have kind of been bumped up or down outside of what is considered to be the “average” level for sensory processing. 

[00:02:42] For some of us, myself included, lighting is one of these elements where our senses can be bumped up and where we can be more sensitive.

[00:02:54] Lighting is sometimes my greatest enemy and the thing that can really make spaces inaccessible for me personally, as an Autistic person.

[00:03:08] Because many Autistic people have these sensory processing differences, when we have a sense where we are less sensitive to it, you may see us engaging in sensory seeking.

[00:03:24] If we have a sense where something is triggering and painful or uncomfortable for us, you may see us  avoiding, sensory avoiding, or being avoidant to certain sensory stimuli.  If something hurts or makes you uncomfortable, you generally would avoid it.

[00:03:41]What’s interesting about sensory seeking and sensory avoiding is even though, for example, I am an Autistic person who is very sensitive to light and has a lighting sensitivity, I actually sometimes seek out certain types of lighting – because the overstimulation can be a pleasant type of overstimulation.

[00:04:04] If I am in control and seeking this stimulation myself, versus being forced into a situation that is overwhelming to me, then I am out of control of – sensory seeking, even with lighting.

[00:04:18] For example, going to see Christmas light displays painful for some Autistic people, but very pleasurable and fun to me, even though I do have a lighting sensitivity. It’s something I enjoy and that would be me sensory seeking.

[00:04:33] I probably would get to a point,  if I stayed in this environment for too long, even though it’s pleasurable and  would eventually get overwhelmed -if I spent too much time in that environment.  If I have too many strobing blinking lights, eventually that does start to make me nauseous and  I need to get out of there.

[00:04:52] It’s like having candy  – candy is delicious, but if you have too much of it, it’s going to make you sick because it’s not particularly great to overindulge on things.

[00:05:04] That brings me to the second point I have about lighting difficulties or sensory processing differences in general is all things in moderation .

[00:05:15] I’m shooting this video and you may have noticed the glaring reflection of my big, bright ring light right in front of me and you may ask  “You have a lighting sensitivity, but I see you have that big, bright light in front of you. I don’t understand how can you have that big, bright light in front of you, if you have a lighting sensitivity?”

[00:05:33]  I’m going to shoot this video for a  period of time and then I’m going to turn this light off and not be around anything like this for the rest of the day. I don’t turn this light on very often, only a few times a week and I’m typically only exposed to it for about an hour at a time. I can handle that.

[00:05:51] If I sat in front of it for  three to five hours, I would start to feel myself getting a headache, a sensory migraine, or even a sensory overload without the migraine. 

[00:06:05] A lot of times, for me, personally, migraines and headaches are the first sign that lighting is starting to overwhelm  my senses. It often starts around my eyes.

[00:06:17] When I physically had to work in an office under fluorescent lighting, I was having regular sensory overloads, regular migraines, actually, a lot more meltdowns too. I had  more anxiety. The lighting in the office just really amped me up and I was on edge all the time because I was always so uncomfortable. It’s the same kind of lighting, actually, that there was in school when I was younger. 

[00:06:43]This prolonged exposure I  cannot handle without tools and things to help me.   I rather limit my exposure as much as possible to something that is harmful  to my health.

[00:07:00] I didn’t know that I was Autistic for the first 29 years of my life, which means I didn’t know that I had sensory processing differences for the first 29 years of my life.

[00:07:14] I had almost 30 years of headaches, migraines, and sensory overloads unnecessarily .

[00:07:21] These headaches started when I was in first grade in elementary school. When I went to public school,  in the classroom, they had the big, bright, fluorescent lighting back in the nineties, as many classrooms still do today.

[00:07:38] I would go to the nurse every day and complained about headaches, because every day within so many hours, I would get a headache.

[00:07:49] The nurse assumed because of the regularity and frequency of my headaches, along with no fever or other symptoms. I was just trying to get out of class and get out of school. So the nurse told me that I needed to go back to class and stop coming to see her.

[00:08:09] So I shut up and stopped talking about my headaches for 29 years and lived with them for the rest of my life. Until I found out I was Autistic and found out about sensory processing differences and lighting sensitivities and started to get that under control, and take those things seriously and started to use tools to protect my senses.

[00:08:42] It was the return of these headaches that led to my Autism diagnosis and led to me learning that I was Autistic.

[00:08:52] I actually prefer to say Autism discovery, because there are a lot of Autistic people who are Autistic, but may never be formally diagnosed.  I was formally diagnosed. I think that is a very huge privilege and I’m lucky to have that.

[00:09:06] I found out I was Autistic and learned about my sensory processing differences at that time, because I was having these headaches again, because in the work place I was working in, we moved into this new office and the lighting was different and my health started to very quickly fall apart.

[00:09:30] It was a very familiar scenario to me.  I was really afraid because the migraines and the headaches are really just the beginning.  After that, there are some other health problems that tend to come along that are escalated and are much worse.

[00:09:46] A really big part of getting all of this in check for me has been learning my triggers, learning what types of light trigger this for me.

[00:09:54] In my case, it tends to be very bright, very blue lights, fluorescent lights or lights that are just very intense or very harsh or light glares that are pointed directly at my face.

[00:10:09] I have this window here with natural light indirectly beside me. This is fine and it’s actually a cloudy day, but for example, sunlight, bright, bright daylight, sunlight, I need some kind of a brim or a cap.

[00:10:23] Last time I had a really bad sensory overload episode, we were actually driving into the sunset for several hours and that really harsh glare directionally pointed right into my eyeballs was really bad for me.

[00:10:39] I tend to gravitate towards soft, warm lighting. The lamps that I use around our RV are soft, very warm, glowy, not super bright lights. Those things are good for me.

[00:10:55] When I am going to be around the very bright lighting, I have protection.  By protection, I mean My glasses.

[00:11:06] Lately I have really liked  glasses from Zenni because they have these cheap little  filters that you can clip on for different environments. I’m missing one, there should be one that’s  not quite this dark,  but not this light.

[00:11:23] This one is for nighttime driving for the glares of people’s headlights, because I struggle with that.

[00:11:30] I haven’t tried this yet because I actually don’t drive very much.

[00:11:33] This one is for my outside in the sun and there’s a medium one that’s  a medium Amber that I use to block out the blue in the fluorescent lighting.  I also have some really dark black ones for when I need extra, extra, coverage.

[00:11:50] I used to have a bunch of glasses that just had all of these different colors, when I was testing this out to try and figure out what combination I needed.  I used a bunch of cheap colored glasses and wore them into areas where I was getting headaches until I found the right color for me to stop the headaches.

[00:12:13] For me, the trigger tends to be that blue lighting,  so warmer reddish or pinkish filters tended to be what helped me.  This is not going to be the same for every Autistic person or everyone was sensory processing differences.

[00:12:27] For example, my partner really loves the bright blue light. We are on opposite ends of the lighting spectrum. He is a light seeker and I am like a vampire hiding in the dark.

[00:12:37] Alright everyone, thank you so much for hanging out with me this week. I am really grateful and I hope you found this video helpful.

[00:12:44] Let me know if you have a lighting sensitivity, what this is like for you.

[00:12:50] I’ve found that there are some days where I can tolerate more than other days and sometimes,  in the morning, when I am not awake enough yet where bright light is completely intolerable and totally off the table.

[00:13:04] Has this been anyone else’s experience? I’d love to know what you think. Drop a comment below.

[00:13:09] If you have a suggestion for an upcoming video, please don’t forget to drop those as well, because I always would love to talk about and share information on topics that you find helpful.

[00:13:21] Real quick before I go-  extra special thank you to my Facebook subscribers and Patreon supporters for helping me to create content of this quality on a regular basis. I am so incredibly grateful for you. I could not do without you!

[00:13:40] Those subscribers do gain access to videos like this one before they are released to the general public. Generally, there’s  four to five videos at any given time  that they have that haven’t been released yet. They probably got this video about four weeks to a month early.

[00:13:55] It’s just a very small way. I can say “thanks for being the wind beneath the blog’s wings” – that is so cheesy.

[00:14:05] Anyway. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

[00:14:11] I will talk to you next Wednesday. Bye everyone!


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3 thoughts on “Autistic Sensory Processing Differences – Autism & Lighting Sensitivity

  1. As well as being autistic, I’m also a chronic migraine sufferer, so light sensitivity is a double whammy for me. I struggle with bright lights no matter the situation, but some some I really struggle with. Pyrotechnics of any type range from painful to setting off a shutdown, and on occasions DID (dissociative identity disorder). It means most live shows are beyond my ability to attend due to the tendency these days of including amazing light shows as part of any performance.

    I don’t know what the situation is in other countries, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand supermarkets tend to use a tone of red lighting above meat cabinets – I presume to make the produce more appealing. This lighting really affects me, so much that I have to deliberately avoid looking towards the cabinets or shelving where that lighting is present. Failure to do so leads to either a shutdown or DID within minutes.

    Fortunately one supermarket in our town has an hour of “quiet” each week for those who have sensitivity issues. Half of the store lighting is turned off, all cabinet and shelf lighting is extinguished, the checkout scanners are silenced, all public announcements are suspended (apart from emergencies) and the restocking of shelves is suspended. It’s the only hour of the week I can shop for meat, and it’s one of the few times I can actually enjoy shopping of any sort.

    But even though it’s just one hour each week, I hear so many complaints from other shoppers around me that it’s too dark or there’s no background music or it’s too hard to read the price labels, or there’s no specials being advertised. Good grief! The supermarket is open 14 hours every day 7 days a week. They have 97 other hours each week in which to shop! I’ve tried engaging with some who complain by explaining why I appreciate the quiet hour. Most of the responses are unrepeatable here.

    Shopping malls are particularly unpleasant due to both the the lighting and the poor acoustics that most exhibbit. It really is a shame that more shops, malls and public spaces don’t consider the needs of us who have sensitivity issues.

    1. Wow, Barry, I can’t believe a store would go to such lengths for people. I would love to see a major media outlet take this and run with it. For a major network in the U.S. to promote the issue of autistic sensitivities, they would have to somehow relate to the COVID crisis. Pity. I’d love to know the name and location of that store. They deserve some good publicity.

  2. I got a lot of headaches when I was younger, too! I even had my hair cut short because I have really thick hair and thought it being long is what gave me headaches. Now that I’ve started realizing I’m autistic, I know what’s going on. As a teacher, I bought enough lamps for my room to have the fluorescents off specifically because of headaches, and anytime I go to another teacher’s room who uses fluorescents, I get a headache within the hour. A whole lot of things just make sense now.

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