Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Sensory Example

Those on the autism spectrum experience a very different world than those who are neurotypical (NT) or not on the autism spectrum.  This can extend all the way to the way things are perceived.  Something that quite literally is seen, or felt, or tasted, or smelt one way by an NT individual can experienced differently by someone on the autism spectrum.  The example I am going to use is fleece.

Last fall in The Voice from the Spectrum, I discussed the YouTube videos created by Taylor Morris, who is on the autism spectrum and has since become a model.  In one of her videos, she discussed how physical contact with fleece can literally "hurt" her.  This caused me to recognize something that I had not really thought of.  Touching fine fleece causes a curious sensation for me as well.

A few days ago at work, I found a piece of clothing that was causing me a prickly sensation upon contact and I decided to try an experiment to see if a NT coworker feels the same thing that I do, suspecting that it was not the case.  I have been very open with this coworker about living on the spectrum.  This coworker has always accepted what I say in regard to living on the spectrum and relating to the life of a busy college student.  She told me that she did not notice anything extraordinary about the piece of clothing.  I described the sensation that I felt when I ran my hand over the cloth and this coworker and another coworker told me that they noticed nothing.

Even when prepared for it, hearing that still blew me away.  This fleece, which both coworkers described as feeling quite soft, seemed to grip my skin as I ran my hand over it.  I tried describing the feeling like sandpaper or something similar.  Since I am more sensory in-tuned to such things, I can only assume that the small fibers on the fleece caused the same reaction to everyone, those on the spectrum are just more sensitive to it.

This opens up many possibilities to me.  One thing I want to make clear is that parents of those of the spectrum should not dismiss their ASD child's reaction to the sensations of touching fleece or eating a food that has a texture which causes them to gag.  Since my autism is mild, the touch of fleece with is merely uncomfortable to me, can be downright painful to someone who has more sensory problems than me.  While the material seems to grip my skin upon contact, I find it easy to imagine that a moderate or severely autistic individual might feel like fleece is tearing at their skin.  I urge parents to not ignore instances such as this.  

When I was younger, all I wanted was to be understood by others.  This tidbit about fleece is just another piece of the autism puzzle.

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