One thing very common to autistic people (but not exclusive to our type of brain) is the so-called “Sensory Processing Disorder”. Being perceived as a disorder, people tend to only refer to the problems it brings… there are indeed many (some very difficult ones), but overall I personally do not like the term “disorder” very much. I prefer calling it a different way to perceive the world through your senses. It might be better or worse, depending on your levels of sensitivity and the situation you are in. It is indeed very different from the “regular” way of processing your environment and it is certainly hard to live in a world that is totally formatted to fit a sense of “normality”. But some of these differences truly bring special feelings.
So I decided to talk here about the good part. Because the difficult things are so often talked about with all the focus going in that direction. However, sensing things in a different way also brings joy and pleasure. I think that even when you are trying to help somebody overcome the hard part of their sensory sensitivities, you need to be able to understand the entirety of their feelings, their perceptions. It is not about “fixing” the difference, it is about understanding it and trying to create an environment that alleviates the person’s discomfort without removing their special way to appreciate things.
Before I continue though, I just wanted to summarize the sensory differences very superficially for those unfamiliar with them. So very roughly, we have sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The term disorder would apply when someone has either excessive or diminished sensitivity in any of these senses. Somebody with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) might have differences in one, some or all senses and it can be sensitivity, insensitivity or both (for different senses). With that said, I would like to share here a little about my sensory experience, mainly my sensitivities. I am mostly sensitive in all the senses in different degrees, being sound and smell the most prominent ones. I am not going to detail all of them; otherwise, I will end up writing an article 3 times too big, so I will concentrate on sound and sight.
About sound… I guess I can say I have relatively sharp hearing. I can get annoyed with the sound of sparkling water’s bubbling and I am unable to sleep because of this sound (I always bring a bottle to bed in case I get thirsty at night), amongst other things. Because I hear things so well, whenever I listen to sounds I like intensity … it really is magical.
Birds (Seagulls specially) are a huge favorite. Listening to them changes everything. I might be feeling bad, tired, or sad; when they start singing it is like everything is good. It is not in a logical way though. In a sensory way. I do not think about it, I just feel an overwhelming happiness that comes out of nowhere and it makes me feel good. I cannot focus on any thought, I cannot think and usually cannot keep on doing whatever I am doing at least for a moment. It feels like the world gets in slow motion and it is full with feelings, and only that. I do not know how to explain this sensation better other than “it feels like magic”. I usually have to stop when I listen to them, I just want to close my eyes, breath deep and take the magic in. It is very invigorating and makes me feel more alive.
Others sounds I like have slightly different effects on me. For instance, church bells and passing trains. They sound like an unknown language from a place and time lost in space. They make me feel transported. These sounds in particular compel me greatly to stop whatever I’m doing. I feel hypnotized. I feel joy and strangeness at the same time, so they are very tricky for me to explain. I still cannot quite comprehend them, but whatever it is, I feel it pretty strongly. Rain and running water on the other hand makes me very introspective. On rainy days I always feel a lot more disconnected from everything because of the effect of both the sound and sight has on me combined as I really love how water looks (it’s like a “sensory combo” that sweeps me off my feet).
Now that I started touching on the subject of sight, let us move on to it. Light can be very taxing on my eyes, but colors and visual patterns are a real treat. They blow my mind. I cannot take my eyes off colorful, perfectly patterned things (I would say water would fall into the category “perfectly moving pattern”). Art and nature, above all else, are just amazing and breathtaking. Just looking at them brings me a simple joy that it is hard to explain. It is happiness in its crudest, most basic form. So imagine what I feel when I am walking around during spring, for instance (as it is now this time of the year as I write). Flowers with their amazing, breathtaking colors and forms, the perfection of the leaves on trees growing back. It is color and patterns galore, and for me it is impossible not to focus on them. Then add the sounds in the mix… Wow! I really do not know how I manage to get to wherever I need to go, honestly. I feel transported to a magical realm and walking just feels like flying. These moments are so precious. I would never want them taken from me. It feels like having super powers, or as having a secret place only I have access to. I look at other people in the street and just think how are they able to live “normally” with all of that happening around them.
I could endlessly go on here talking about these sensations just because of how I love these feelings, but hopefully I have given you a small insight into my world. I think the human mind can perceive things in such an amazing way and we need to open up to the value of that. Every one of us feels the world in our own unique ways. I wish you all a life full of sensory marvel!
About Renata Jurkevythz
I’m a 36 years old recently diagnosed Aspie. Married to a neurotypical for 15 years. Mother of three – a 10 year old Aspie girl, 4 year old classic autistic boy and a little baby boy. I found out about my neurology last year after my son was diagnosed and I started to dig deep into autism. Then my daughter’s diagnosis followed. We are a unique, happy bunch and try to make the best of what we have. We see different brains as just different, all with positives and negatives – there isn’t a wrong one! We are from Brazil but recently moved to Germany. My special interests are writing, learning languages, games and movies. I also love forests – they bring me peace. Things that make me instantly happy are the sound of singing birds (specially Seagulls) and children laughing.