Friday, 29 October 2010

Foreground noise

The sensory sensitivity side of Aspergers isn't one that gets a lot of press, maybe because it's one of the hardest to explain. So, here goes an exercise in explaining the inexplicable.

You know how your brain filters out excess incoming data? Maybe you don't. Your brain does it so efficiently you may never have noticed.

blurred image with no recognisable elements, illustrating the concept of sensory overload
No, I can't "just ignore it"
Take a moment to really hear what's going on around you. The traffic noise. The clock ticking. The tap dripping. The dog barking three houses down. Wind noise. Birdsong. The radio on next door. The squeaky exhaust fan. Kids walking past on their way home from school. Your flatmate's noisy 'flu-riddled breathing. The air conditioning. You get the idea - there's an absolute cacophony of mindless noise going on at any given moment, even if you're deep in the bush a hundred miles from civilisation.

But your brain is very efficient at filtering most of that nonsense out so you can concentrate on the bits you actually need to hear - your child's voice above the chorus of the playground, your mates' conversation over the thump of the music in the pub, the water cooler chat over the humming fluros and the ticking clock. Your brain's on duty all the time, filtering out all that nonsense.

Mine doesn't do that.

I hear all that nonsense, all the time.

And it's not just noise, it's all the senses. Random kitchen smells. The rub of an annoying tag in my shirt. Flickering lights. It's endless.

Supermarkets are particularly painful. The lighting is usually too bright, and many of the fluro tubes are past their best, and hum or flicker. The in-store radio is intrusive and the layer of announcements of the public address system on top of it is loud enough to be genuinely painful. The fruit and meat sections stink, children are screaming, trolley wheels squeak on the slick floor and people with BO brush against you and invade your personal space.

Small wonder supermarkets are a prime spot for autistic children to have a meltdown. They are hell on earth for a person with sensory sensitivities.

This is hard to understand, I know. Within the general mass of human difference, there are generally agreed parameters for what is a comfortable level of sound/light/touch.

Those parameters are different for people with sensory sensitivities.