Have you ever wondered why someone is complaining that it is loud in a room when you don’t hear anything at all? Or why they complain it is so bright when the lighting feels normal to you. They are hearing the noise that lights make, especially fluorescent lights, and the light physically hurts their eyes. Many autistic people experience and process senses differently. This has been termed sensory process disorder.
Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. To put it in understandable terms, messages enter the brain from the senses (sound, smell, taste, sight and touch). The brain is unable to organize the responses and put them in the right places. The sensory information is essentially “mixed up” in the brain.
There are more than five senses that autistic people experience. They also have senses such as temperature, pain, hunger, and thirst.
Many autistic people feel certain senses way too strongly. Noises are too loud, clothes don’t feel good, food tastes too strong or is the wrong texture, things don’t smell good, the body feels too hot or too cold. These are just a few examples. On the flip side, they often don’t know when they are hungry or thirsty, or they are don’t feel pain as strongly.
Senses change over time too! One day they may love a food and the next day they can’t stand it and won’t touch it. They may like the feel of a certain shirt and then suddenly no longer like the feel.
Senses can be very overwhelming at times. This is called sensory overload and usually ends in a meltdown. Can you imagine what this is like? They can’t control when they experience sensory overload. It does not help to blame or punish them when they get overwhelmed. Giving them space and show you care about their feelings.
Watch the video below to see what it is like to go to the mall.