Most Autistics also have what is called Sensory Processing Disorder, which is highly co-morbid (though not usually diagnosed separately, as it’s an ingrained part of Autism). This means that we have trouble with our senses being either too extreme or too dull. As I’ve mentioned, Autism is about extremes. Our senses are no exception to that rule.
— Hearing Sensory Issues —
Many Autistics (myself included) have very sensitive hearing. While non-autistics can tune things out, like appliances running in the background or the house creaking, myself and other Autistics hear every little thing, all the time, unless we use headphones or ear defenders. We are constantly getting hit with sounds from all over and our brains are trying to process all that information at the same time. This is why in very noisy places we may have a meltdown or shutdown, as those tend to happen with too much sensory input. We have no way to shut off the input naturally. However, as I mentioned, we can use noise-canceling headphones or ear defenders to help cope with all the noise instead.
I personally have a pair of ear defenders I take with me when I know places will be too loud. I also have a pair of Koss headphones that block out about the same amount of noise, but I can also use for music. Both pairs of mine block out background noise, but I can hear people speak as long as they are close enough to me.
Many of us also have tinnitus (ringing in the ears) as well. So on top of hearing everything else ever in the world, our ears are also pinging us with noise no matter what. Even when I use my ear defenders I still hear the ringing in my ears. The only way I don’t hear it is if I have music on.
— Food Sensory Issues —
Another common issue that comes up for many of us is food-related sensory issues. There are two kinds of Autistics in this case: ones who will eat almost anything, and ones who eat barely anything at all (as in a limited diet). I am very much a limited diet Autistic and always have been. Basically, my brain thinks a lot of food is poison and won’t have anything to do with it. I eat the foods I know are safe, anything else causes me to gag and get very upset. While I know logically that meat isn’t poison, there is no way my body is gonna let me eat any. If there is any speck of meat in my food at all, my mouth will find it and then proceed to initiate my gag reflex. It’s the same with any other offending food.
There were so many times when I was a kid where I would get in trouble for not eating what was on my plate and I would be forced to sit at the table until I did. Well, I would sit there and fall asleep at the table, as there was no way I was gonna eat the food that would cause me to gag or have a meltdown. My parents were the ones who would do this to me. My grandparents and great grandparents would always have food that I liked to eat when I visited. My great grandma would sometimes try to bribe me with money to eat, say, a carrot; even with the possibility of getting money, I would still decline.
My diet consists of mostly pasta, dairy, and a select few other things that I like. My friends like to joke and call me a noodletarian. I do not eat any meat (I haven’t since I was 12, I am now 28), vegetables, or fruit. I do love most fruit juices. The only fruit that has a texture that does not cause me to freak out is bananas. All other fruits have textures I cannot stand to have in my mouth. I take vitamins to make up for the things that I am missing from my diet.
— Touch Sensory Issues —
Many Autistics do not like to be touched, even though many of us like deep pressure (from a hug or a weighted blanket or such). It’s light touch that bothers us, such as getting poked or someone putting their hand on our shoulders.
Personally, I love deep pressure and use a weighted blanket when I sleep at night. I am very hit or miss about light touch though; sometimes it doesn’t bother me, while at other times I am very much put off by it and simply being touched can cause panic.
— Light Sensory Issues —
Another issue for many Autistics is light! The world is sometimes much too bright for us. Many suggest getting tinted glasses or to wear sunglasses when outside.
My issue when it comes to light usually is the sun. When I am in a passenger in a car, I will close my eyes to combat the light being too bright. I always forget my clip-on sunglasses. I would love to eventually get photochromic glasses so I won’t have to remember to bring my clip-ons. Occasionally I also have issues with really bright indoor lights (mostly halogen bulbs) as well.
— Scent Sensory Issues —
Many Autistics have a very good sense of smell, which also means smells are more likely to overwhelm us and cause us to have a meltdown or simply shutdown. On the other hand, there are many of us that like certain scents that they find calming.
My husband cannot go near any store with scented things, like candles, lotions, or perfumes. He starts getting a headache and getting really grouchy. On the other hand, I can be in a place like that for a little bit before it gets to me. While my husband is very much a “no scents” kind of person, I am a “I like to seek certain scents” kinda person.
This has been just a brief overview of some of the kinds of sensory issues an Autistic person may have. We are all different, so of course not all of our sensory issues will be the same. I can only speak from my experiences and those of what my Autistic friends have shared with me.