Children with autism sometimes have heightened senses. They may see, hear, feel, taste and even smell things with more perception than most people have. In part, this is where some of the problems come in that cause behavioral issues in relation to the autism spectrum. It can be quite difficult for people who don’t have autism to understand this perception issue, but if you want to understand autism, this is a good place to start.
Living things respond to outside stimulus. That’s one of the characteristics of being a living thing. However, when you consider response to stimulus, you also have to remember the old saying that perception is reality. In other words, what you perceive in your world makes it your reality, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s someone else’s reality.
In the case of heightened perception due to autism, the person with the autism is going to respond according to their reality, not yours. For instance, someone with a heightened perception in the auditory area may dislike high pitched or loud noises. Many children with autism have this issue. It’s not so much that they are afraid of what may be causing the loud or high pitched noise, as some people may suspect. Instead, it’s the actual noise itself that triggers a painful and tense feeling that makes the child with autism want to shirk away and do so in a hurry!
To understand this on a level that people without autism can relate to, consider your favorite food. It tastes great to you. You crave it. You love it so much that you hide it from others. Now imagine that food covered in small spikes that hurt. It tastes the same, but feels different. In fact, the feeling it would give you would be so disturbing that you wouldn’t be able to eat it no matter how good it tastes!
By the same token, these heightened perceptions caused by autism can also induce unexpected feelings of pleasure. A child with autism may experience pleasure from sources that you find difficult to understand. That’s because your perception is different than that of the child’s. Again, we go back to perception and reality. For instance, some children with autism may enjoy prolonged hugs from specific individuals while that don’t want close personal relatives to touch them. Part of this may be the social issues that come with autism, but part of it is also simply the feeling of the person they enjoy hugging, whether it be the smell of them, the feel of their skin or some other detail that you are likely unaware of.
When you question why someone with autism does certain things, it might serve you well to question the details of their perception. If you still have difficulty understanding, then consider things like nails on a chalkboard. While some people can listen to that all day long, others need to cover their ears or even leave the room. Again, it’s just a matter of perception. Finding out the details of the perception of a child who has autism may very well be the key to understanding their behaviors in general.