The following are all sensitivities that I noticed and attempted to mitigate before I realised I had high levels of autistic traits:
- Light: I wear dark sunglasses from May to September as bright sunlight has always triggered headaches.
- Sound: I wear special swimmers’ earplugs while showering otherwise I get terrible headaches. I always listen to my music too loud.
- Taste: As a child I was a “fussy eater”. I refused to eat ice cream out of a bowl as it gave me “brain freeze”. I refused to eat jelly from anywhere but the very centre of the dish as there would be a hard ‘rind’ from where the jelly met the container. I wouldn’t eat the rind in marmalade. I wouldn’t eat the fruit in jam. When eating a dish I would eat all the foods of one type before moving on to the next (e.g. all the meat, then all the roast potatoes, then all the stuffing and then all the carrots). I wouldn’t mix up the foods of a meal.
- Smell: I haven’t noticed any difference to my sense of smell compared to other people. I mean I hold my nose when walking past branches of Lush because the smell gives me a headache but that’s not unusual.
- Touch: I hate scratchy fabrics. I feel all the clothes in the shop that I might buy to check they’re made of something appropriate to actually wear. Shockingly high numbers of clothes are made of hideous synthetics that make me want to vomit. As a child all children’s slippers were lined in something nasty and nylon that made my skin crawl – even today I hate socks and am fairly sure they (along with bras) are a sign of the Fall and were invented by Satan. My mother once bought me a blue woollen dress with a high neck and long sleeves – it made my body undergo a whole body itch. I think I wore it twice because people liked how nice it “looked” – but it was an instrument of torture. My husband has an AQ-50 of just 7 and has a habit of coming up behind me and touching me too lightly. This has the unfortunate effect of making me flinch and (usually) slapping him. My son has a much more respectable AQ-50 of 31 and gives bear hugs, which do not invoke flight or fight. Autistic people tend to like wear compression vests (one brand is even called Bear Hug) and weighted blankets.
- Pain: As a child the school dinner ladies used to call me ‘the little soldier’ as I never cried when I fell and grazed my knees – which was often on account of my clumsiness (another autistic trait). Another thing that I am careful not to mention around other women is (in common with a lot of autistic women) that I don’t find labour painful – honestly. I had my second child at home in a planned homebirth. I didn’t use any pain relief apart from floating in a jumbo paddling pool. In fact I warned my midwife not to push drugs on me. During my first pregnancy I tried the ‘gas and air’ (nitrous oxide) because the midwife wouldn’t stop going on about it and I wanted to shut her up. I wasn’t in pain so I got high! Unfortunately, they eventually twigged what I was up to and took it off me. Autistic people often don’t experience pain in the same way that a neurotypical person would.
It should be clear that for some things I am hypersensitive and yet for others I am hyposensitive. My pattern of sensitivities is unique to me, some autistic people are hypersensitive to pain for example. This is where the idea of the “spectrum” comes from, not from the idea that classic autists are “low functioning” and I’m at the other end with my “high functioning” version. Which is so many levels of offensive to non-speaking folks and minimises the struggles people like me have (with our meltdowns and our suicide rate and our inability to hold down a full-time job or be successful at interview or get married).