How Nature Helps Me as an Autistic Person

Being autistic means I am often overstimulated by my environment. Sounds that are tolerable to neurotypical people are disruptive, distracting, anxiety-inducing, and even painful for me. A few conversations happening in a room at once, music that’s too loud, or sudden noises are some sounds that are triggering. 

Other senses are also heightened for me. Flashing lights are disorienting, bright lights are painful, fast-moving images are disruptive. My senses of taste and smell are heightened and I notice things most people don’t and get easily overloaded by multiple or intense flavors or scents. Certain textures are very disruptive as well. For example, I can’t handle anything soggy. 

Normal life can be overwhelming when all these stimuli add together often causing me to be so overwhelmed that I have a meltdown or shutdown. I can’t focus, communicate, or function and pretty much freeze. 

Many autistic people have similar experiences with varying sensory sensitivities. 

I often get most overwhelmed being indoors because this environment is full of technology, people, and other stimuli that I am sensitive to, which all add up.

Because of that, nature has often been a relief for me from the constant sensory overload found indoors. Being outside, in nature, has brought calm and helped me out of meltdowns and shutdowns throughout my life. And I think that’s why nature has become so meaningful to me.

When I’m outside with plants and animals, I do not have to speak to anyone. I am free to rest and enjoy. Trying to verbally communicate my thoughts and feelings has always been a struggle. It uses most of my energy to verbally communicate, often leaving me overwhelmed. Then there are misunderstandings which is again exhausting when I spent so much of my energy trying to communicate. 

Plants and animals communicate in different ways. They communicate through body language and other nonverbal forms of communication, which makes it easier for me to relate to them because I don’t have to worry about trying to communicate verbally. 

In nature, I can just be. Plants and animals aren’t all talking at me, demanding things of me, they are also simply living and being. 

In nature, things are quieter. Yes, there are still sounds, but most of these are quiet and rather calming and peaceful, like the songs of birds or rustle of wind. Often they are simpler sounds just a few notes, compared to our indoor sounds that cover a whole range and can often be harsh frequencies or very complex and busy, becoming easily overwhelming.

In nature, life moves slower. Everyday life in a neurotypical society is often very fast-paced, we are expected to always be busy. Because of our sensitivities, autistic people can struggle to keep up with the demands of everyday life, which can lead to burnout if we keep pushing to keep up. We were meant to live life at a slower pace. Many animals and plants move at a much slower pace, spending most of their time resting, compared to their human counterparts. When I’m in nature, I slow down too, with all the plants and animals around me. I walk slow, I stop and watch, I sit and take it all in. 

These are a few of the reasons I find relief in nature as an autistic person. Being with nature helps me calm down and take a break from the many overwhelming sensory, social, and mental demands of everyday life. 

Introducing our Web Content Editor

I am honored and excited for this opportunity to help Deep Wild Journal share their message of writing from the backcountry, appreciating and caring for wild places.

Deep Wild Journal

We are thrilled to announce the addition of Corrinne Brumby to the Deep Wild staff. Corrinne is coming aboard as the Web Content Editor, providing much-needed assistance in our permanent efforts to help Deep Wild Journal find its true audience. But she’s got lots of skills and enthusiasm and will no doubt contribute in lots of ways.

A naturalist and nature writer, Corrinne spends much of her time exploring the wetlands and woods in Florida. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing–Nature Writing from Western Colorado University.

Corrinne’s essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Western’s Pathfinder MagazineThe Great Isolation: Colorado Creativity in the Time of the Pandemic, Magical Women Magazine, and Odyssey Online among others.

Welcome aboard, Corrinne!

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The Anhinga’s Evening Routine

It sat in the shallow algae covered waters of the lake. Its long black neck snaked out of the water. With its knife-like beak, it flipped its catch in the air, turned it around, and swallowed the fish whole. In a flash, it was below the water again. Not even a ripple stirred on the water. It was completely submerged, searching for its next catch.

Anhinga fishing in the water Corrinne Brumby

These birds always amazed me with their masterful swimming and fishing skills. Most waterfowl like ducks, coots, and herons, all stay above the water. Ducks partially submerge sticking their beaks in the water, leaving their bottoms sticking in the air and their webbed feet kicking. But anhingas dive completely into the water.

In a quick motion, leading with their head, they go completely under coming up 30 seconds later with a fish that it swallows whole. Many other fishing birds don’t even dive for their fish. Herons, egrets, spoonbills, and storks all wade in the water and submerge only the end of their long beaks to catch their prey.

The anhinga is agile. I watched this one anhinga hunt. Within a few minutes it had caught more than four fish in the same manner, diving for no more than a minute at a time, and each time it came up with a fish and took a moment to wriggle it around in its beak and swallow it before diving back under the water.

It’s common to see anhingas perched on the water’s edge at any of the lakes in Florida. They sit there with their wings outstretched, drying their feathers, and soaking in the sun. But this time I got to see one in the water, fishing for its evening meal.

The anhinga continued to inch its way up the branch and shake its feathers vigorously. Droplets of water flew off in all directions. Then it spread its wings stretching them out and letting them dry in the setting sun. But just letting them sit there wasn’t enough.

The anhinga began beating its wings in a steady rhythm and moving its long neck. Unlike other birds, however, this bird’s dance wasn’t for show, it was more practical; it was the drying off dance. The dance seemed effective; its shiny black feathers fluffed on all sides. The anhinga had a successful evening eating its fill, and now it was winding down on its cozy tree as the sun set across the lake.

Originally published on https://www.theodysseyonline.com/anhinga-fishing

Sandpiper on Beach

Lone Sandpiper

On most days, sandpipers, seagulls, pelicans, egrets, and other shorebirds line the shore. Dozens of sandpipers rummage the sand at the water’s edge, pecking for any food they can find. People are seen swimming, sunbathing, and walking up and down the beach, enjoying the warmth and sunshine.

Today, however, was different; it was pouring rain. It was one of our first days back in Florida, so my husband and I were not going to let a little rain stop us from going to the beach.

The little parking lot, that was normally packed, was empty. We left all our belongings in the car including our shoes. It was pouring so hard everything would be soaked in a few seconds. We got out of the car and ran barefoot across the pavement to the beach. I felt like a kid again, running in the rain in my swimsuit and getting soaked.

Normally Florida is hot in May, but the rain cooled everything down, and now I had an uncontrollable shiver as I walked across the wet sand. Allen jumped in as the rain splashed against the waves.

I hesitated, like I usually do, because I never know what sort of creatures might be hiding in the water. I waded in up to my knees and splashed the water with my hands. It was warmer than the air that was making me shiver. As cold as I was, the coolness was a relief since it had been hot all day in our house with broken air-conditioning.

I looked out at the Gulf of Mexico in front of me. It was strange seeing the clouds hanging so low above the ocean. They formed a dense gray fog. The waves moved up and down, pushed by the rain and gentle wind. It was almost frightening being so close to such a wild and untamed piece of nature.

My mind wandered to movies I had seen like “Castaway” and “Life of Pi” where people were stranded at sea, pushed mercilessly by the stormy waves. I shivered again and tried to not think of the miles and miles of open water in front of me.

I turned and looked around at the sand. There was not a person in sight. Usually, you could see dozens of people swimming and walking up and down Indian Rocks Beach.

I looked some more and noticed that the birds had all left too. It was eerie and quiet. It’s funny how rain can empty a beach that is normally filled with people. It was peaceful. I splashed around and savored the quiet for a moment. My head cleared and I relaxed from our long weekend of moving into our new home.

I looked at the sand on my left again; it was empty except for one lone sandpiper. The sandpiper was running around, pecking at the sand at the edge of the waves, and finding any bit of food he could. He didn’t seem bothered by the rain that was pouring on him; he was just busy going about his day as if nothing was happening.

“Allen, look at that sandpiper,” I said pointing at the sandpiper who continued pecking at the sand. I watched him run back and forth, scurrying along the beach. I was so used to seeing them in groups of dozens, but he was the only one on the beach. For a bird that is typically social, he seemed to be enjoying the solitude.

I felt like the lone sandpiper at that moment. He was the only bird at the beach, and my husband and I were the only humans there. We were all enjoying the beach like we normally do, despite the downpour and cold. The beach is enjoyable in any weather, and the sandpiper seemed to think so too.

He was probably happy to not have to worry about anyone else taking his food; he could eat in peace. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone. Maybe it’s a little eerie, but it’s also peaceful. The sandpiper continued running along the edge of the waves, pecking at the sand, and content to enjoy the beach alone.

Originally published on Odyssey

Stream Through the Woods

Spending Time With Nature Heals You

Four years ago, I woke up in a flurry of emotions; my mind weighed down by a cloud of anxiety and depression. Will he break up with me? What will happen? What should I do? I forced a bowl of cereal down and crawled back into bed. The sun shone through the window beckoning me outside. It looks so happy out there, so why am I sitting in here wallowing in my own pity? I got dressed, put my walking shoes on, stuffed a water bottle, my phone, and a journal in my purse, and went outside.

The summer sun embraced me. I walked, and every step I took the dense cloud on my mind evaporated a little more. I passed by a house with a massive tree that was covered now with bright green leaves. I stopped for a second to inhale and enjoy its beauty. More green trees, flowers, and soft grass beckoned me onward until I departed the subdivision. Across the street was a natural field. Beautiful purple and yellow wildflowers bloomed; their colors filled me with unexplainable happiness. It was hard to believe I was depressed just moments before.

I stopped and sat with the flowers, blue sky, sun, and gentle breeze. They carried away all my fear. Everything I had been anxious about seemed so silly. Nature is more than some nice, pretty scenery to look at; there is this energy about it that brings you back to reality, back to yourself. It restores. It heals. I started to take walks like this every day where I would spend an hour or two enjoying nature and letting nature heal me. Many times, it was the only thing that kept me sane.

In Florida, I would experience similar healing from the ocean. Stressful school assignments would be looming overhead, I would feel overwhelmed with all I had to do, but then we would go to the beach and as my toes touched the sand then the waves, I would forget all my stress and my mind was clear again. It wasn’t that I tried to forget my worries–it happened on its own. Nature healed me without me doing anything but stepping outside and enjoying it for a moment. Life is slower in nature. Nature knows how not to be busy, rest, and enjoy. That peace can’t help but rub off on you.

Nature not only restores us mentally but physically as well. The other day I had been lying in bed with stomach cramps and backaches all day. I was sure I couldn’t run, but I went with my husband to the park anyway. It was beautiful; all the trees were blooming; the grass was growing long and bright green. I tried running, and as I did I felt no pain, the movement felt good. Nature felt good. I managed to run the whole mile around the park, surprised at what my body could do. Movement and being in nature has this way of making you forget your pain, to enjoy and rest in the moment while all your other problems fade.

Originally published on Odyssey