It's a well known fact that people on the spectrum often have sensory issues but it's probably less well known that these sensory issues can trigger both positive and negative feelings. Sensory issues are one of the major reasons why many aspies find it difficult to work. They are also a major contributor to shutdowns, and to a lesser extent, meltdowns.
The Sense of Hearing
I tend to think that one of the main reasons why I've been successful in the workplace is because my own susceptability to sensory issues is reduced by comparison with other aspies. Being deaf has certainly given me much greater tolerance for the sorts of sounds which irritate my peers. I've been reading Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's recent series of articles with great interest. Here is someone who is actually using earplugs to reduce her sensory issues - and she's not alone. There are many aspies doing exactly the same thing. Rachel even goes so far as to attend sign language classes to learn a language which is better suited to her reduced sensory state.
My own children are an interesting combination. My eldest does quite a bit of verbal stimming and our mornings are often filled with all kinds of annoying repeated sounds. These sounds don't annoy me unless I'm very close to him but they annoy my wife - and even more so, they annoy his younger brother who has particular sensibilities to sound.
I'm very grateful for my deafness. It's saved me a lot of pain over the years.
Of course, there are four more senses and it's some of these others which can disturb me.
The Sense of Smell
You wouldn't think that smell would be such an important factor but in my case, it is. Once again, I had a very "sheltered" childhood because my my nose had been damaged as a baby in a climbing accident. I climbed a chest of drawers but it fell on me. My allergies were also terrible at the time, it's only years of therapy that has cleared my nose enough to allow me to breathe through it occasionally now. Most of the time, I still use my mouth through force of habit. This apparently makes my breathing very loud and irritating to others but I don't know for sure - I can't hear it you see.
Smelling can be a form of stimming and many aspies seek out smells for comfort. My personal favourite is vanilla and I can happily sniff vanilla for ages. I'm the proud owner of several vanilla candles and I've also got various vanilla essesnces and fragrances. I've purchased (twice) vanilla smelling perfumes for my wife and my favourite cake is... yep... vanilla slice.
I'm also quite partial to coconut ice, not the edible kind - just the smell. Once I found a coconut ice candle and didn't buy it but felt withdrawal symptoms after leaving the shop. Less than two Weeks later I was back, looking for the candle but the shop had sold out. I think I made four more trips out to the shop (which was quite a drive from our house) before giving up. The next time I see a coconut ice candle, I'm buying it.
Of course, it's not only food smells that we seek. I also like mint and the smell of freshly cut wood. Some aspies become addicted to their own body smells and this can often have harmful results. I've heard of aspies who stim by sniffing their own crotch or armpits. There are immediate social consequences if they're caught doing this but there are also long-term social problems. Aspies who stim using their own body odours are unaware that these smells can offend others. They're less inclined to cover the smells with deodorant and they often suffer the social consequences of isolation.
I can't comment on the positive and negative parts of hearing because I don't hear most of the sounds but I'm surprised by the degree to which smells affect me. It's strange because the negative smells aren't necessarily bad ones. I can sit in a car when someone has been excessively flatulent without having too adverse a reaction (sometimes) but I can't stand to be in a house where someone has been cooking cabbage or cauliflower.
I don't have a problem with general body odours from people around me but I do have massive issues with breath. In fact, there are three distinct types of breath that I just can't stand. Hopefully I won't offend anyone here...
- "Old people breath"
I'm not really sure how to describe this except that it seems to be most noticeable with the elderly (and with health fanatics). Perhaps it's vitamin tablets or garlic, whatever it is, I have major issues with it. It causes me real problems socially because I've been in conversation with people and had to keep backing off or abruptly ending a conversation because I can't handle the smell. I get very irritated with myself at these times because usually I don't want to have to turn tail and run.
- "spicy breath"
Again, I'm not entirely sure what causes this smell but I think it's chilli stored under specific conditions. I've noticed that a lot of Indian culture people have this breath but I've also discovered it in a tin of chilli tuna. Unlike the "old people" breath which makes me gag, the spicy breath instils an almost violent reaction in me. If I encounter this particular smell, I feel like I need to get away before I become aggressive.
- "Beer Breath"
No points for guessing where this problem comes from. It's a classic example of how memories can get linked to smells and are triggered upon recurrence of the smell.
Bad breath isn't the extent of my bad smells experience, there are other smells, like licorice, which I can't stand because it smells so similar to a substance used extensively in my first job; "making dog food".
I'm not quite sure where this post is going yet because I tend to write straight from the heart and let the thoughts mature in my head between posts (hence my part 2's are often quite divergent).
In part 2, I'll look at some of the other senses and then... well, I'll see where to topic wants to go.