How does Autism Spectrum Disorder affect me?
It can be very intellectually challenging to coherently connect the disorganised and sometimes contradictory information about my environment from my senses. In this chaos it is tough, sometimes impossible, to control the stress and anxiety. Many of my senses are hypersensitive (over-sensitive), a few examples are:
- Hearing I hear my fridge-freezer fan throughout my home but my friends can barely hear it when standing beside it! Noisy bustling places quickly overwhelm and disorientate me e.g. supermarkets, restaurants, etc.
- Eyesight Black and white stripes vibrate violently and flashing lights are intolerable. Occasionally I see things (e.g. people) which are not there especially outside at dusk or under florescent lighting. When I was a child colours didn't always appear the same e.g. green sometimes appeared orange!
- Smell Any strong aroma (pleasant or unpleasant) is overpowering. For instance if I play the piano in a room whose aroma is continuously dominated by a very strong perfume I am constantly distracted by the smell and have greater difficultly seeing my music.
- Touch My skin is so sensitive I can feel the slightest touch. Biting insects (flies) do not get a chance to feast on me! I wear clothes made of soft materials; I like soft faux fur! To be unexpectedly touched by another person is very disconcerting and I strongly dislike anyone trying to force a handshake.
- Taste I cannot eat anything with a very strong flavour (e.g. a spicy curry) or sour foods (e.g. gooseberries or rhubarb). Sometimes the same food tastes completely different or food tastes of a dominant smell (e.g. a scented air freshener).
- Balance During a wind-storm I am deeply disturbed by the minute motion of an ordinary (UK) brick built house. I feel travel sick for hours after travelling in a car especially if the journey involved a lot of changes in velocity i.e. stopping at traffic lights or travelling around corners.
- Proprioception I can lose track of where parts of my body are so when in a crowded room I may not know exactly where I am in relation to everybody and everything else. When lying awake in bed it feels as if I am going to float out of bed!
We live in a world which relentlessly bombards us with noises, smells, visual information, etc. so without a brain designed to deal with this frenzy of information it causes considerable stress and anxiety. I cannot filter anything out so while awake I am being bombarded by information from my senses; the busier an environment the more exhausting this is. Everybody with or without Autism Spectrum Disorder responds to their environment relative to the way they perceive it. If two people perceive their surroundings in totally different ways they may well respond to it very differently; perception matters.
I often have difficulty understanding emotions, both mine and those of other people. Recognising social subtleties is mostly beyond me; I know the theory but fail in practise. From my perspective social customs may seem confusing, unintuitive and sometimes invisible. Generally I would avoid large social gatherings and feel much more at ease holding a conversation with just one person at a time.
Although there are many things which I find very hard I am grateful for the things I can do; for example playing the piano, photography and I also very much enjoy the challenge of science research.