By Isabella Webb
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a dog’s sense of hearing? Or a cat’s sense of smell? Or maybe even to see things to the intensity a Falcon might? Well there are people out there who can probably tell you exactly what it’s like. And no, I’m not talking about the mutant members of the X-Men, although I’m sure we could only dream. I’m talking about people with Autism.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it is now known, at a young age. My father has it, my half-brother has it, his sister and their parents both have it (Christmas is fun). Yet I only recently discovered the diverse ways in which it can present itself. Of course, there are different “intensities” of Autism, once referred to as High Functioning or Low Functioning, and is now referred to as Low Support Needs and High Support Needs. I was one of those Low Support™ kids, and if you met me on the street today, you would have no idea. And it’s all well and good for people to say things like “oh wow I wouldn’t have guessed! You seem perfectly normal,” I mean thanks I’ve worked very, very hard to make you think that *hair flip*. Honestly working your way out of that little Aspie shell deserves a certificate. But I can tell you, on our end, we are very much aware of what’s going on.
Regardless of your support needs, just about all individuals on the Autism spectrum receive some weird little mixed bag (I like to think of shaker fries) of either hyper or hypo sensitivities when it comes to their basic senses. Asperger’s is commonly known for hindering an individual’s social abilities or adapt ability, but this senses mix means that we are also seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and tasting everything on a completely different level to those around us.
For myself, I am most definitely hyper-sensitive to touch and smell, however I am hypo-sensitive to spatial awareness and taste. The rest of my senses sort of sit in a middle ground that could go either way but pass as only having an average effect on my day to day life. But just imagine, being tapped on the shoulder and it feels like someone poked you with a stick, imagine seeing a person standing 2 metres away and be able to smell their breath. Imagine not being able to properly enjoy the company of dogs because they smell too strong! A HEART-BREAKING EXPERIENCE!
Textures genuinely upset me, sometimes I wash my hands to the level of a serious germophobe simply because I can feel everything that I have touched, and it lingers on my skin. I get stressed when I ride the bus in shorts or skirts because my legs touch the seat and the scratchy, dusty material feels like it’s all over my body. And the smell of the exhaust drives me to feel like I can’t breathe, which is often the case at barbecues or with spray on deodorant. At work I’ll catch a whiff of something (or someone) and I’ll do my best to shallow my breathing and sometimes hold my breath, whilst trying so hard not to seem rude, because it really isn’t their fault. It’s not like we can just say, “I’m sorry sir can you please take a step back? I can smell you”. It’s not the public’s job to cater to us, however that does not stop us from being just far too aware of the world. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not ALL bad, good smells smell amazing, and nice textures can brighten my whole day (and yes, this may have led my sister and me to try to start an ASMR YouTube channel). Someone once asked me, “so you can like, feel the air move?” and I’ve even had friends of mine joke that it’s like the most useless super power, which sometimes feels quite true.
I have only in the past year or so been genuinely interested in researching ASD, I’d always thought, I have it, what else is there to know, but I’ve been realizing more and more the strengths and weakness that come along with it. I have also found a wholesome little community on Reddit, if you’re into that, (r/aspergers) where individuals discuss their experiences, concerns or observations. Topics on how we all feel this sense of being Alien, how we take in an entire situation and yet nothing makes sense because we perceive things for what they ARE, in a very raw form; some have claimed that WE ARE the canaries in the coal mine.
There are so many topics to discuss in relation to ASD, especially with the theme of “Aware”; this is just the tip of the asp-berg (get it?). Thus, if I leave you with anything today, remember this: please don’t wear Lynx deodorant I can smell that shit a mile away.