Monday, October 5, 2009

The Aspie Senses - Part 2

Last time I started discussing how senses affect our perception and I looked at hearing which is my weakest sense, and smell which is my second weakest. For me, even these "weaker" senses mix with memories and provoke both positive and negative emotions. In this post, I'll continue the exploration of the senses;

In my case, taste is the weakest Of the remaining three senses. I know that many people believe in more, in fact, so do I but for the moment, I'm sticking to the classical five. My sense of taste has always been fine but there is such a strong link between taste and smell that my impaired sense of smell obviously affects taste.

There are only two food tastes which I severely dislike; Sultanas and Orange Vegetable (Carrots, Pumpkin and sweet potato). Sultana's are easily the worst affecting me in several other ways, including touch, sight and smell. I can't look at them. I can't eat things that have been stored in the same containers as them and I shiver when I have to touch them (occasionally when the kids spill them all over the inside of their school bags).

Overall, I don't particularly think that taste affects my mood too much. I don't think that this contributes to overstimulation in aspies, though I could be wrong.

Touch is a really really strong sense. In fact, I'd venture so far as to say that many of my taste dislikes are as much about touch as they are about taste. For instance, carrots and sultanas have a texture that I dislike. Most of my childhood food issues stemmed more from texture than taste. I remember going off rice bubbles for two reasons, texture and sight. There wasn't anything wrong with the taste of them.

I have problems touching certain kinds of surfaces, blackboards for instance, and I have issues with "prickly" clothing. When it comes to romantic encounters, sometimes I have major issues with tongue texture. I always have issues with feather-touch rubbing of a finger across my arms, feet and shoulders. I don't seem to have problems with full on hugs, unless I'm not expecting them but a light touch can leave me scratching a spot for ages.

Many of my childhood meltdowns were solely down to touch. I had a couple of jumpers that my mother had knitted for me and some that my relatives had bought for me. It's obviously quite offensive to them if you refuse to wear them. The problem was that these items were torture for me. I'd be scratching from the moment they were put on until hours after they were removed. I used to try to stand my ground and not wear them but my mother wouldn't listen to my complaints, she'd pick the jumpers up and rub them and tell me how nice they felt. Touch is a very personal thing. Things that irritate one aspie don't necessarily irritate others. Some things can be "worn in" but others never become wearable.

There are other aspects to touch too. At school, other children will want to touch you. In the car, your siblings will use touch to annoy you and then there's tickling. I guess that on some level, tickling may entertain certain victims. I don't think I've met an aspie who likes a random tickling.

It's a safe bet to suggest that a high percentage of childhood aspie meltdowns will be related in some way to touch. One way to reduce this problem is to let your aspie carry their own touch-based calmatives.

As a child, I became very attached to an eiderdown (a sort of blanket). I had several over the years but only got attached to certain ones. Even today, I often like to be wrapped in a doona but I'm quite picky about the texture. My wife bought a blanket about a year ago and suggested that I use it instead of dragging the doona cover around. Unfortunately, she bought it without my being present and despite the fact that it was a beautiful soft thing, it didn't work well with my sensitivities. I prefer simple, smooth and cool (temperature) coverings, not furry or prickly ones. These days, I still prefer the old doona cover.

Sight is a curious sense. You'd think that sight wouldn't affect an aspie too much - after all, they can always close their eyes or look away - right? Wrong. Some things, once seen, lodge in the mind. I'm not referring to the problem of TMI (too much information) but rather to issues where sight causes annoyances to surface.

My wife and I stayed at a hotel for our twelfth anniversary last weekend. It was a very nice n place but the restaurant area had a wall pattern which annoyed me. They had a feature of about twelve stone roses in the middle of their wall arranged in a pattern but one of the roses in the bottom row was painted gold, not white.

This might have been passable except that it wasn't even in the middle. It was an irritating break in the pattern.


You can get a sense of what the feature wall was like from the pattern above. It wasn't annoying me to a degree which affected my eating but it did irritate me enough to stick in my head. My wife was aware of the pattern and when I remarked on it she said that as soon as she saw it, she knew it would annoy me. It didn't annoy her though, it was art.

Aspies seek patterns and regularity everywhere and these sorts of things irritate us. I remember as a child watching those endless Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presented featurettes on Stonehenge and wishing I could fix those annoying missing blocks.

I didn't cause me meltdowns but sitting an aspie in a room which is visually annoying doesn't help them to remain stress free.


Sir Wobin said...

I had terrible problems with food as a child. Cooked carrot and whole red meat were instantly rejected with the explanation "it's funny on my tongue." I think that it was texture rather than taste because raw carrot and minced red meat were just fine. Restrictive menu choices were also prominent - quite unfortunate for my Aspie father who is a chef! No idea how he deals with all that variety.

Sight is very important to me. Leave me in a tiled room and I can stim for hours looking at the symmetry and imagining the trajectory of a theoretical bouncing ball with no gravity on a landscape defined by the tiles. Weird, I know...

I really enjoy reading your blog mate. Thank you for putting your thoughts out here for others to read. I've only recently come to know about AS and blogs like yours have helped me tremendously.

JJ said...

hi gavin

i'll probably end up rambling, so apologies first.

i totally have issues about food textures. i can't eat anything even remotely slimy - from shitake mushrooms to lard, it causes gagging. i love the taste of nuts but i can only eat them ground cos i can't stand the texture. the feeling of cold rice in my mouth makes me want to spit it out...
as to taste itself, i only have one issue there: i can't cope with the distinct tang that comes with all types of seafood, no matter how fresh it is, i can taste it. i also seem to have some sensory confusion going on: if eating in a loud environment, be it music or other sounds, i can't taste my food. i wonder if anyone else out there can relate to that?

sight can be very overwhelming to me, but i've noticed that listening to music w/ my headphones when i'm in town not only drowns out the sounds around me, but it also tones down the amount of visual stimulation. it's as if everything slows down around me. or maybe it just doesn't seem as hectic because it's not amplified by the accompanying sound.

i've noticed that alot of aspies have issues with being touched lightly, i'm just the same and prefer firm touch. but there are also certain areas where i can't stand being touched at all, like the top of my head. a person even looking that way, making me think they might touch it, gets me into defense mode.

all of the above mentioned have caused meltdowns in the past, especially in my childhood: at the dinner table, in supermarkets, at family gatherings etc. Some still do, especially certain issues with touch.

on the other hand, there are certain sensory sensitivities that can cause a great deal of pleasure. For instance, i love tapping the tips of my fingers together or tapping my front teeth with a fingernail - both until everything goes numb - it calms me down, helps me concentrate and i just love the sensation... i also have a favorite sweater that i can put on when i'm feeling low. just being able to touch it makes me feel better.

oops, it happened. i rambled.

e said...

JJ - I don't think you rambled. I actually love seafood, which really surprises me because I have lots of food issues, too.
I get the problem with other senses and tasting food. I didn't think about it until you wrote about it but I have a problem with it too. Add to it - I can't wear glasses when I eat. How is that for odd?
Music - I am a musician but rarely listen to music except in the car. I can't stand radio. Something about the frequency or timbre irritates me like crazy. I also don't like having music playing if someone is in the car with me. It feels too chaotic.

Eponine said...

I. Hate. Tickling.

Vision isn't an all too important sense for me; I have often thought that if I ever become blind, it wouldn't be a big deal. I did spends a year functionally blind in 3rd grade, and I never knew the difference. I get overstimulated visually (second only to sound). I still enjoy taking my glasses off and going for walks essentially blind.

I would say touch (and related sensations) is probably the most important for me. I can visualize in my head anything that I do physically. My sense of touch sometimes seems to override my sight. Again I like to walk around my apartment blindfolded.

Excellent post!

These 4 parts of me said...

And another, "oh yes, do grasp the concept."

Wish I'd had this kind of information 30 years ago, would have rendered a lot, if not all of the trouble I'm now a non-happening.

Didn't know what was going on and was at a total loss what to do about it.
And often guessed wrong.

Ahh, ho-hum, sigh.

wolfwhosings said...

Okay, so someone else can taste "the dock" in most seafood? I just can't get past it most of the time without a lot of something else.

Again, spot on observations. I've directed a lot of people to this site, both Aspies and their friends and mates. I really think it helps to give the "inside" perspective. (And oh how I wish my parents had read this before trying to force peas on me as a child. Or raisins. Stupid grape zombies.)

Bea said...

I have sensory issues galore cause soooo many issues.
Taste: Not too bad.
Texture: Can't eat, spiky food (kiwi, pineapple...) Slimy food (gravy, cheese sauce) Differing texture food; (tomato crispy then slimy) Grainy food (mashed potato). Clothes with velvet or "odd/ inconsistent" texture have to touch every item of clothing with little finger tip before buying. If I don't like it have to rub hand on trousers and flap.
Hearing: Inconsistent sounds incredibly irritating. High pitched or exceptionally noisy hands straight to ears feels like I'm going to explode!!
Vision: Need for consistent patterns if not will change things or overt gaze. FLICKERING computer (which no one else sees) drives me CRAZY!

Audra said...

Boy, that rose pattern (or should I say, non-pattern) would have annoyed the me to no end. When making quilts and things, I have had to make concerted efforts to think outside the box for people that like a little mix-up now and then. It's very, very hard!

I have many texture issues with food, and I do not like my food to mix. A lot of people I know mix corn with mashed potatoes, but the texture combination does not mesh well with me.

You've made many great observations in this post. I am enjoying every bit of your blog.

Coldkick said...

I cannot stand the texture of pie crust. It drives me mad, it's like when people screech their nails on a chalkboard. My hair stands on end.
I'm also very sensitive to the touch and light. I can't stand bright light, if I don;t have sunglasses I always close my right eye. Loud sudden noises make me jump pretty easy, but if I'm playing music or such I don;t have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Texture issues here, too.

And I, too, have issues with blackboards, however my biggest one for a while was the projection screen in the classroom. Not that I ever had to touch it, but the sound of the touch on it, particularly if they happened to drag their hand across, was awful.

I could imagine how the touch must have felt (or rather, how it would have felt to me) and it literally triggered a gag reflex from tome to time.

Most of my sensory issues went away when I figured out I was gluten intolerant. Smell is still somewhat an issue, but since I started taking omega supplements and zinc about once a week, that's let up significantly, too.

As of four years ago, perfume of almost any kind, candles, air fresheners, would all trigger an instant puking-bad migraine.

But between the dietary and nutritional changes, that is now completely gone, all that's left is an automatic defensive cringe when I get a whiff of perfume, as I wait for a migraine that doesn't come.

I still wear my socks inside out. Sock seams are horrible.

Keep going. You're a great writer, and I appreciate the fact that you are getting word out about your experiences in a highly readable and intelligent manner. :)

Anonymous said...

So I found out that my "thing" that has been accompanying me all through life is this aspergers. I have issues with sensory overload and issues with understanding people and why they act they way they do toward me.

An unexpected touch sends a million currents of white hot energy through me. Having a lump in my yogurt is disgusting- even though it cannot be tasted. People speaking outside my window three floors down sound like they are right beside me. A moving shadow or a cracked tile can distract me. Patterned floors? I "stim" by finding faces in them all over the place.

So I guess I have some explaining to do to my friends. I thought everyone had these things that they just "do". They don't know why I am staring...or flinching.

Anonymous said...

I've been diagnosed with Aspergers, but I actually liked playing with other children and tickling in my youth. So it is possible!

But.. It was part of my play routine, it was considered normal playful behaviour in my mind.

People touching me when I don't expect them to, that is a whole different story.

Also I'm more sensitive to touch than the average person. Which was particularly a problem with doctor visits and stuff like that. My anxiety always goes up to severe levels for nothing in those situations.

jane ck said...

I can't eat outside. If food is prepared inside and brought outside, it's inedible to me. Outside has a distinct smell, like earth and rainwater and wet dog. When I take a bite of food that's been brought outside, it's like I'm taking a bite of that smell, it's disgusting. I also hate drinking from any cup that's not glass. Plastic is the worst (something about the texture..) and styrofoam is barely tolerable.