As I’ve mentioned before, I have sensitivity to light due to my autism and probably my traumatic brain injury. I’ve only learned about my light sensitivity recently, though looking back over my life I’m sure it’s been a longstanding problem. As it turns out, light sensitivity can be pretty common in neurodiverse folks and after brain injury. Light brightness can be a big problem, as can high contrast and certain wavelengths (colors). For me, my light sensitivity means I get sent into overload: my brain shuts down, I can’t think, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball in a dark room.
When I learned about having an autism spectrum disorder and that lighting can be an issue, I started to pay more attention to lights and how my fatigue was doing. I saw that there were certain situations in which my fatigue would be much worse and that would also get me overloaded. Florescent lights, and in particular compact florescent lights, seemed to be one of my big triggers.
My mom tells me that when I got home from school, I would usually be short with her and not want to talk. My schools all had florescent lights in them in all the classrooms. I also worked in healthcare, and all of the hospitals and clinics had florescent lighting as well. When I worked, I had to take regular breaks throughout the day to be by myself with the lights off. I began to see a pattern of where I had problems in my life and how lights could have played a role.
Stress, in any form, can make sensitivities worse for neurodiverse people. With my current neurological illness, my sensitivity to light has become an even bigger problem. I wasn’t able to get through meetings or even church without getting overloaded. By learning about light sensitivities, I also began to learn about various ways to mitigate my symptoms.
I have a visor that I carry around with me, and I use it when I know the overhead lighting is going to cause problems. This helped a lot for a while, but as my illness got worse my sensitivity also increased. I have orange safety glasses that I used at night to preserve my melatonin if I wanted to use the computer before bed. I noticed these helped when I was really overloaded too. On bad days though, my sensitivity could be so high that I would have to turn off all the lights in my apartment, close the curtains, and put a pillow over my face.
I became interested in how different colored lenses might help with symptoms. I talked to my eye doctor, who told me about a specific tint that had been shown to help with light sensitivity after brain injury. The tint was a reddish orange that was very similar to blue-blocking sun glasses. He leant me a pair to try, and they seemed to help even more than the orange safety glasses I was using. The orange safety glasses were too weird-looking for me to wear out, so I decided to order a pair of prescription sun glasses in that tint for situations where the lighting is bad.
Autism also includes sensory processing issues, and a huge portion of the sensory information most of us receive is visual. Moreover, there can be specific wavelengths that a person can be more sensitive to. Colored lenses help by filtering out the offending wavelengths and effectively decreasing the stimulation of visual information. Neurodiverse people are sensitive to different colors too, so there is no one size fits all. For me, an orange-red tint seems to work best, likely because I have sensitivity to blue light. Florescent lights have a lot more blue light in them than incandescent or LED bulbs, which is one of the reasons why I am so sensitive to them.
I started wearing my new glasses whenever there are florescent lights, and I noticed a big difference with how I felt. I also wore them outside, as they made a decent pair of sun glasses. I started to notice the more I wore them, the better I felt overall. I would occasionally get headaches in the afternoon, but the more I wore my glasses the less this would happen. I started to wear them more and more in all environments, and I noticed my energy seemed to last a little longer in general. The tint is light enough that I’ve even been able to wear them outside at night.
As I’ve learned, for people with light sensitivity who benefit from colored lenses are going see the most improvement if they wear their glasses all the time. As I did more research, I found that this is usually the case. I sometimes wonder what people think of me wearing what look like sun glasses all the time, but they help enough that I don’t care. If you think you may have light sensitivity, talk to your eye care professional to learn more. If you want to experiment with colored lenses on your own, you can try getting cheap sun glasses with different tints to see if any particular color helps the most. Lightly tinted sun glasses, such as rose or yellow, are usually better so that you can use them in lower light situations and indoors.
Many people who are affected by light don’t even realize how much it can be a problem for them. I know I had no idea about my issues with light until I learned that it can especially be a problem in neurodiverse people and people with brain injury. Once I did, I started paying attention to what situations bothered me the most. Colored lenses really helped me, and they may be worth trying if you think you might be affected by light as well.