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How to Cope With Hot Weather When You’re on the Autism Spectrum

Who doesn’t adore a hot summer’s day? One in which the blue skies seem to roll on forever, clouds are only fair-weather ones and the sun literally beats down from early in the morning until late at night. Perfect times to spend with your loved ones and create happy memories that last forever.

I don’t deny that there is something so unutterably beautiful about such times. When the sun shines, everyone is in a happier place; everything looks brighter, cleaner and feels more upbeat.

For me, as someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it’s a blessing and a curse. Sunlight — in fact, daylight in general — can often irritate me to the point of blinding headache unless I’m well prepared and have my sunglasses about my person the entire time (and yes, even indoors). Factor in heat as well, and you have a recipe for a very sore, irritable and generally unpleasant-to-be-around person.

Pre-diagnosis, I often wondered why nobody could understand the reasons for me hating hot weather and sunshine so much. “You’re a right misery guts,” they’d say, or “it’s supposed to make you feel happy! Everyone feels happier in the sunshine!” It’s totally misunderstanding the fact I don’t hate sunshine — sunshine hates me.

One of the worst summers I ever went through was during my teens. At this time, I didn’t know I was autistic, but we had a heatwave that lasted a few weeks. Throughout the whole time, my anxiety was sky-high, I was constantly sick and couldn’t eat at all. When the weather finally cooled, my symptoms vanished.

Thinking about it, it’s general extremes of temperature and weather conditions that don’t suit me at all. I’m just as likely to feel upset and out of flux if the weather is extremely cold and icy too. A temperate 59 degrees Fahrenheit the entire year round with hazy sunlight and clouds would suit me perfectly.

The brightness of the sun coupled with the stark blue sky gives me problems with my vision. Everyone will squint in such conditions, but unless my eyes are closed it can be unbearable to look at. Wearing a good, strong pair of sunglasses helps with this. I even have to occasionally wear them indoors, or if I’m out and about in shopping centers this time of year.

Heat — anything above about 60 degrees Fahrenheit becomes much too oppressive for me. Once we get over 68 degrees Fahrenheit, I’m likely to wilt and run out of energy even quicker than usual. I often feel like I’m carrying another person around with me and I’m being weighed down. In the evenings, when the house has gotten warm and upstairs even hotter, the prospect of sleep is a wonderful one, but it won’t happen. A lack of sleep, whilst not good for anyone, is even more bothersome if you have ASD.

Then there’s constantly feeling grubby — like a “grease spot,” I call it — and the feeling of needing to wash, if nothing else, just to cool down. I often feel like I’m incredibly dirty and grimy within a few minutes of showering or bathing. This can lead to problems with my skin becoming incredibly dry and papery.

Everyone with ASD is totally different and whilst sunlight might be hard for some, it causes no problems for others. Here are a few hints and tips to help you through. As always, the list is not exhaustive and it’s just how I cope.

1. Water, water everywhere.

Keep water, or herbal tea, or anything drink-wise that is non-soda based and caffeine-free with you at all times. Sip (don’t gulp) at regular intervals. If the heat is unbearable, simple tricks like sucking an ice cube can also work; it will cool you down and keep you properly hydrated. Try and avoid anything sugary or carbonated, as that can sometimes make you sweat more or even induce anxiety.

2. Let us spray.

Do you have an old spray bottle or an atomizer? Fill this with cool water and use it to spray your hands, face, neck and head if the heat feels like it might be too much for you. It’s very refreshing and as the water evaporates, you will cool down.

3. Inhale “cool” essential oils.

If you can tolerate fragrance, make up a blend of cool-smelling essential oils that can be inhaled from a tissue or handkerchief at regular points. Peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree are all great ideas — they’ll clear your head and cool you down.

4. Adapt your clothing to suit your ASD.

I hate the feeling of having my arms uncovered outdoors, even in extreme heat, so I’ve had to adapt my clothing accordingly. I’ll only really ever wear long sleeve shirts in light-colored, lightweight fabrics. I won’t ever wear shorts for the same reason, so I’ll switch to linen trousers or light jeans if I can.

5. Protect your eyes and your head.

Sunlight and ASD can equal problems with sight and vision. Always have good quality sunglasses, and a few pairs so you’ve got them to hand. If you have to wear them indoors, do so and don’t apologize for it.

6. A once a day sunscreen can really help.

There are some brilliant once-a-day application sunscreens on the market now, which can mean the difference between having to stay in because you burn easily and going out for at least a few minutes every day. Sometimes, ASD folks can be photosensitive to sunlight, and a product like this can help them tolerate the heat and light better.

7. If you need to shut out daylight, shut it out!

Close the curtains, blinds and drapes if you need to, and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Sunlight can be intrusive and cause pain. There comes a point in every day — usually about 6 p.m. — when I have to give in and close everywhere up. I become too tired to focus and concentrate and I find the slight darkness quietens my head down a little.

Getty Images photo via nd3000