ASMR and Autism

As some of you may know two very pivotal things happened in my life, I was diagnosed with autism at the age of thirty five AND (this one most of you won’t know) I also discovered ASMR. Don’t know what ASMR is? Oh man, you’re gonna love it. Or not. Me? It’s one of the best tools I have in my mental health toolkit.

What is ASMR?

ASMR, which stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, is still a relatively new thing. It describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone when he or she watches certain motions or hears certain sounds. Otherwise known as, those weird whisper videos all over youtube.

There are all kinds of ASMR, with all kinds of “tingle triggers.” Tingle Triggers always sounds overtly sexual to me, and for some I’m sure there is a sexual component, but it’s referring to a kind of goosebump chill reaction to certain visual and audio stimuli. Medically speaking, that means it invokes a tingling or static-like sensations on the scalp, moving down the back of the neck and upper-spine.

For example, do you ever get super relaxed while getting your hair cut? For me, that is because of the sound of the scissors. I also LOVED getting facials before my son was born. At first I thought it was because of the results, but in hindsight, it was because of the whispering attention my esthetician gave me.

What does ASMR have to do with autism?

I have since found out that ASMR can also be considered as a tool in therapy for Autistic people. In the Psychology and Behavior Science International Journal, there as a study examining the usefulness of ASMR as in intervention for autism spectrum disorder. They said-

The physiological and psychological implications of ASMR are significant; there are numerous ASMR videos on social media platforms, totaling to about 13 million videos. According to a recent study conducted from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, participants had significantly greater reductions in heart rate (a decrease of 3.14 beats per minute) when watching ASMR videos as opposed to those who did not. Additionally, the same participants also expressed a necessary increase in positive emotions alongside feelings of social connection and relaxation. ASMR acquires conclusive evidence of mitigating the symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia.

“Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response as an Intervention in ASD” Psychology and Behavioral Science International Journal

Now that quote was about all people not just neurodiverse peoples. And just like anything that is helpful to some autistic people, it is not helpful to all autistic people. Some people on the spectrum suffer from misophonia, where certain noises illicit a negative emotional response. Interestingly enough, I suffer from misophonia and love ASMR all at the same time. What that really means is that some noises, I love, some literally drive me insane. This is a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie “A Quiet Place” skip down to the next paragraph block. Anyway, the monsters in this horror flick have super sensitive hearing. One day, the heroes discover a certain pitch, that basically makes the monsters freeze in agony. That’s me. I’m that monster, only you know… I don’t kill people, especially not John Krasinski. Oh man, that was a big spoiler. Anyway, my point is, I have to be very discerning in my ASMR videos.

For parents with Autistic children, if you know that your child responds well to ASMR you can use their favorite videos when they are at the start of a meltdown. If you are autistic yourself, you can honestly use it in the same way. Before I discovered ASMR videos on Youtube I used to use nature sounds, which is basically old school ASMR. It’s also very good for sleep. Any parent of an autistic child will tell you that good quality sleep is a battle. I have found that the right video is better than a weighted blanket and melatonin combined. My son doesn’t feel the same way yet, but I am working on him.

What is an ASMRtist?

An ASMRtist is a person who creates ASMR videos. There are several different kind of videos, ranging from role play to simple close up videos of hands, props, and a microphone. And most ASMRtists do a variety of all kinds of videos. Because of my ASD, my auditory processing issues, and my misophonia, I am extremely particular about who and what I watch.

For example I love videos that invoke attention induced observant euphoria. Which to my understanding, is mostly about the good calm feeling as opposed to the tingly, “oohhhhh” feeling. I still get the tingles, especially for scratching and scissors.

What do you love about ASMR?

As I mentioned above I absolutely love scratching and scissors. There are other types of triggers with names and lingo that you quickly become accustomed to. My favorites at the moment are:

  • finger flutters (this is my favorite!)
  • fingernails dragging lightly across almost any surface
  • tweezers and scissors
  • face attention whispered rambling
  • soft spoken affirmations and meditation
  • some role play hair dressing or facials
  • sketching or writing on paper
  • make up tutorial face attention
  • whispered conversations
  • role play sitting for a portrait
  • brushing face attention
  • tattoo tracing
  • Pure sound triggers with no talking
  • Tongue clicking

You might also want to know what I use these videos for. Some I use for relaxing before bed, most I use as background noise for when I am writing. Most importantly I use them in times of crisis. After a conflict, when my Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is at its worst and my rage/ hurt is just boiling over- I bring up an ASMR video and hunker down. It may not be convenient, but it saves me a lot of heartache.

What do you hate about ASMR?

Hate might be a strong word, but I can tell you what I do not respond well too. Role play is a big part of ASMR. For the most part, I do not like role play. And I’ve been able to narrow down my reasons for that. Primarily, it is because I don’t like social situations. So when an ASMRtist role playing a hairdresser asks me, “What would you like for me to do for you today?” I have an innate panic response. Or “Is your hair nice and clean?” I swear, I’m like, “Is it? Oh my god, how embarrassing.” Then I remember that I am at my computer. And I feel foolish. Feeling foolish is not relaxing. Something tells me that I might get used to that after a while, but I still don’t like it.

And then sometimes it’s just a matter of quirks. Like if a person is really leaning into the kink side of ASMR, that feels like unwarranted contact. I have no problem with kink, I’m a big supporter of it. But that is not what I showed up for. It would be like coming into a yoga studio and the yogi master cracks a bull whip at you or hits you in the face with a dildo. Maybe you would love being hit with a dildo in a different situation? I won’t judge. But like, that’s one rude yogi. (Namaste-right here… away from that…)

There is also a highly popular ASMRtist that has really big glasses, and for some reason those glasses trigger my eye contact anxiety. Not her fault, it just happens. I also don’t like when someone repeats a word over and over until it no longer has meaning, that triggers some Obsessive Compulsive response in me for sure. And a bad green screen, I can’t handle that one. It’s not that I am judging the ASMRtist for their special effects. It’s just that it pulls me out of the my focus, and my ADHD just goes wild. Same for an overly soft look- or a falsely soft voice, I start thinking too much about their choices and process and the effect is gone. Basically, I have the same rules for theater or writing- don’t let the audience see how hard it is. Make it look easy.

Oh, and then finally, just as a warning to fellow sensitive folks out there, there are two types that send my misophonia into the stratosphere. First, many, many ASMR artists will do ASMR eating. Literally gag me with a spoon. Or please beat me to death with it first. Then there is the foley mad scientist type. He’s really high energy, he’s flinging things by a microphone for a really cool sound. He creates like his own doppler effect by assaulting the screen. That is a hard no for me. Someone out there loves that guy, I just know it. But he’s just not for me.

Anyway, given that ASMR has done so much for me emotionally, I do think that becoming an ASMRtist is a goal of mine one day. (I also have a semi elaborate plan of getting my sister to do it too. She would be so good! Ok, it’s not that elaborate, I’m just gonna keep pestering her. It worked when I was five?) But for now, I am not an ASMRtist, just a very avid user.

Until then, thanks for reading. Here’s one of my first and favorite introductory videos from Gibi ASMR to get you started. Happy listening!

Here are some more links on ASMR if you are intersted:

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