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Understanding Autism:The impact of bright lights


Autism affects many people in various ways. Some of the effects are well known, while others, such as the impact of bright lights, are less commonly understood. This blog post, inspired by the insights shared by 'The Autistic Teacher' on Instagram and Facebook, aims to shed light on how brightness affects autistic individuals and offers suggestions on how to help.


The Challenge of Bright Lights for Autistic Individuals

Many autistic people find bright lights uncomfortable, painful, and overstimulating. While this isn't the case for all, a significant number of individuals within the autistic community experience this. The discomfort can be attributed to specific light wavelengths, which can be worse than others.

For instance, fluorescent lights can be particularly challenging. The buzz of the electricity can exacerbate the discomfort, especially for those who are also sensitive to sound. Sunlight, with its intensity and brightness, can feel painfully bright. Coupled with the 'louder colours' and high contrast of the outside world, it can quickly become overwhelming.


Autistic Eyes: A Scientific Perspective

Scientific research has provided insight into why bright lights can be so problematic for autistic individuals. It suggests that the pupils in the eyes of autistic people constrict slower. On a bright, sunny day, the pupils in your eyes constrict, which restricts the amount of light entering your eyes. However, there is evidence to suggest that the pupils of autistic people take longer to constrict (allowing more light to enter the eye) and that they don’t constrict as much, (again allowing more light in). Consequently, this can result in a painful, overwhelming experience for the autistic individual.


A Misunderstood Struggle

The discomfort caused by bright lights is often misunderstood by those who don't experience it. Even as a child, I found sunlight genuinely painful and would hide in the shadows because the world seemed too bright. Unfortunately, autistic discomfort is often dismissed or ignored due to the lack of understanding. It's important to remember that this is not made up, it really is painful. Bright light can cause headaches, sickness, dizziness, migraines, and even trigger a complete panic attack and meltdown when it all becomes too much.


Practical Solutions

Despite these challenges, there are several ways to manage the discomfort caused by bright lights. One practical solution indoors is the use of dimmer switches. These devices allow you to control the light to suit your needs. Some people prefer using lamps instead of the 'big light' as a gentler alternative.

Another solution is to use sunglasses, shades, or caps - anything that helps keep the light out of your eyes. Some people find they benefit from wearing coloured or shaded glasses indoors as well as outdoors.

These small changes can make a big difference in managing light sensitivity and enhancing the comfort of autistic individuals.


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