Sometimes sensory hypersensitivities are misinterpreted as extrasensory perception (ESP) as ‘normal’ people not only fail to see, hear, smell or feel what some autistic individuals can, but also find it hard to imagine that these experiences are possible because ‘normal’ people are blind, deaf and dumb to the stimuli which are everyday experiences for some autistic individuals. However, there is nothing extrasensory about their ability to hypersense as some autistic people’s senses are so acute that they may see, hear, feel or smell the stimuli that are undetectable by the majority. Their senses are finely tuned to the environment. For example, some react to tiny changes in weather patterns and atmosphere pressure; others can see energy and its movement around them. Many are sensitive to vibration or sensitive to small differences in colour, have enhanced auditory discrimination as if their brains are tuned to higher frequencies. Some autistic children can hear some frequencies that only animals can hear. (By the way, we don’t assume that animals have ESP, do we?)
The ability to hypersense can lead to a hypnotic level of fascination with sensory stimuli that is quite common in autism; a typical picture of an autistic child is when he/she is staring transfixed at something: watching the reflection of light, colour or visual patterns, or absorbed with vibration of sounds, or constantly touching objects of certain texture.
Donna Williams (1999) names it as the beautiful side of autism, the sanctuary of the prison. Autistic individuals can be fascinated with different sensory stimuli, such as the smell of melting candles, the feel of velvet or marble, the look of clouds gliding high, the salty taste of sweat. The sources of fascination are very individual. For example, to some people certain visual patterns are appealing; others may find patterned shape and vibration of noise as it bounces off the walls fascinating. In this sense, autistic perception can be seen as superior to that of people whose senses function ‘normally’.
(Why don’t we appreciate their ability (caused by their heightened senses) to perceive (and experience) colour, sound, texture, smell and taste to a higher degree than people around them? The answer is simple – how can we appreciate something if we have never experienced it? – It’s easier to assume it doesn’t exist.)
- the longer someone stays in this hypnotic state, the more addictive it becomes, and the person may miss out on developing social skills and experiencing the life of the majority. (There should be time and place when and where they can indulge in their fascinations, for example, after activities – especially, social activities).
- the higher-vibration capacity of the senses (unfortunately) goes parallel with the acute, often overwhelming sensitivities, when certain sensory stimuli (which are different for different people) are very disturbing to some autistic individuals.
Resonance, merging and ‘losing oneself’ in sensory stimuli
Fascination with certain stimuli may culminate with ‘losing oneself’ in these stimuli to the extent that one can become ‘resonant’ with them. These terms were introduced by Donna Williams (1998) to define a state when one ‘loses oneself in’/’becomes resonant’ with something else. The person can merge with (lose oneself in) different sensory stimuli as if the person became a part of the stimulus itself. These are very real experiences.
Another interesting feature of the state of ‘resonance’ is when one can sense the surface, texture and density of material without looking at it with physical eyes or touching it with physical hands or tasting it with physical tongue or tapping it to hear how it sounds, that is sensing it with non-physical senses (the so-called ‘shadow senses’ – Williams 1998).
Researchers are catching up with these phenomena. For example, Rosenblum and colleagues (1996; 2007) have conducted experiments showing that we can hear the silent environment because surroundings not only produce sounds we are not consciously aware of, but they also structure them and give them shape, which people can ‘see’ without seeing. References
Bogdashina O. (2010) Autism and the Edges of the Known World. JKP.
Bogdashina O. (2022) Autism. Becoming a Professional Parent: Exploring the Sensory World of Autism. L&L.
Williams D. (1998) Autism and Sensing. JKP.
Williams D. (1999) Somebody Somewhere. JKP.