Autistic people have a much more complex and intimate relationship with our senses and sometimes an extremely difficult one. Personally, I’m a really olfactory (smell) and auditory (hearing) sensitive person. These are common autistic traits; and in addition, some people are physically sensitive too (to touch, pressure on their body, etc). But also, a lot of us are physically under-sensitive. This can be events like not feeling a burn or injury, or realising you have seriously banged your arm/leg etc until hours later, where it sort of hurts to touch.
Personally, it’s taken me a long time to figure out ways to cope with my extremely sensitive sense to smell. Undiagnosed until 25, I was constantly confused why it seemed like no one else could smell the things I could from as far away, or as intensely as I do. I was always put down to ‘being dramatic’ when I’d say a bad smell would make me dizzy and give me a headache because it was so strong – others would not think it was strong at all, and simply just unpleasant but bearable if necessary. The latter has never been the case with me. Another reason my autism diagnosis has done wonders for my life; I can now understand that it isn’t me just ‘being dramatic’! I just have a much stronger sense of smell than others, and I can now use this explanation if I need to excuse myself from a room.
If you know someone who is autistic, or are autistic yourself, that needs to wear specific things to help cope with sensory issues, such as ear defenders or sunglasses, I hope they/you feel free to. There is no shame in using things that help any of us, autistic or not, to make our lives easier and for us to feel more comfortable. A good way to cope with sensory issues, whether the person is over-sensitive or under-sensitive, or a combination of both (like me), is stimming. This is simply any kind of self-stimulatory behaviour, but it’s specific for neurodivergent people like autistics, because it serves a particular purpose and important role in our lives – regulating our nervous system!
Neurodivergent: having a brain set up that differs from what is medically considered “normal” or typical.
Simply put, stimming can be fun, but its also how we regulate these senses, our moods, and our general wellbeing.
If you want to learn more about stimming, click here!