Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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3.3 Unusual sensory responses

For many people on the autism spectrum, sensory information (received via eyes, ears, touch etc.) evokes either stronger or reduced responses compared to neurotypical individuals. For instance, autistic people may dislike fluorescent lighting because they can perceive the flicker. This dislike can be so intense that they will refuse to enter a room with that type of lighting. They may need labels cut off clothes as they find the sensation unbearably irritating. One of the reasons Temple Grandin gives for wearing her distinctive cowboy-style shirts is that they are made in very soft cotton, the only texture she says she can tolerate next to the skin. Such accentuated reactions are known as sensory hypersensitivity.

A photograph of Temple Grandin wearing one of her soft cotton cowboy shirts.
Figure 4 Temple Grandin wearing one of her soft cotton cowboy shirts.

Profound aversion to the taste or smell of particular foods is also common, and yet some autistic children seem to crave particular tastes such as sugar. Similarly, when it comes to sound, one person may find the noise of traffic in the street unbearable, but another may seem immune to the noise. Apparently lowered responsivity to sensory stimuli is known as sensory hyposensitivity. For instance, an autistic person may tolerate or enjoy the sound of vacuum cleaners, or heavy metal music played at exceptionally high volume, oblivious to the disagreeable effect on others, or the possible damage to their own hearing. The pattern of these sensory differences may also change over time.

Listen to this clip of Arabella, mother of Iris Grace, discussing how Iris Grace’s sensory responses fluctuate and change over time.

Download this video clip.Video player: boc_aut_1_video_week2_3_arabella.mp4
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