Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sensory issues: A Clarification

As an autist, I have sensory issues, much like most people on the spectrum. There have been a few efforts by fellow self-advocates on the spectrum to attempt to recreate the experience of overstimulation, but I find it may give neurotypicals the wrong idea of what the autistic experience actually is. It captures the essence of the experience, to be true, but it forgets nuances that may be critical to understanding what is going on.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the senses are not in themselves magnified at all levels; while sounds, smells, sights, etc. may be more apparent to us than to a neurotypical, this does not mean that everything is simply magnified. In other words, it is not exactly the hallucinatory experience many of the videos show.

However, the reason certain stimuli cause issues and the reason we can sometimes perceive more than normies can is because of perception thresholds being lowered. That is to say, it can take less intensity to percieve something for us than for a neurotypical. Conversely, some stimuli can take a higher threshold, and are less apparent, but generally a lack of perception does not cause a sensory issue.

It is this lowered threshold that also lowers the upper limit of pain for some stimuli; we may see the sun as bright, or hear the crowds just as loud as a neurotypical, but since it takes less for us to hear it, it also takes less for us to be caused pain by it. So sounds are not amplified at an upper limit, but we can tolerate less of it before it starts causing us pain. To summarize, it's not that we hear it louder, smell it more potently, or see it more brightly at the upper limits, but the upper limit for us to tolerate before it causes pain or frustration in general can be lower than normies.