Heightened sensory perceptions

Last updated on February 26, 2021
Many autistic people report heightened sensory perceptions, and research confirms this![1]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322311007694

Extraordinary vision

One example of heightened sensory perception is being able to read tiny text—like the small print on the back of products—from across a room. At a size of 0.07 mm × 0.10 mm, below is the world’s smallest book, entitled Teeny Ted from Turnip Town, next to a minute scratch—you need an electron microscope to read it! Or maybe just an autistic with extraordinary vision. 😉

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Visual hypersensitivity

Our brains have allocated more brain resources in the areas associated with visual detection resulting in visual hypersensitivity.

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Image attribution: Vision
Specifically, autistics have more brain resources associated with visual detection and identification (but less activity in the areas used to plan and control thoughts and actions).[2]https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-04/uom-nre032811.php

This results in outstanding capacities in visual tasks.

Instead of playing Where’s Waldo?, we play Here’s Waldo!

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Image source: Slate – Where’s Waldo? That’s Easy

 

We can see changes in the gap size on a screen filled with the letter C, much better than neurotypicals.[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450702

We grow up not knowing that others do not see the world the same as us…they don’t see air particulates, some of us do:[4]https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2531604.Autism_and_Asperger_Syndrome

My bed was surrounded and totally encased by tiny spots which I called stars, like some kind of mystical glass coffin. I have since learned that they are actually airborne particulates yet my vision was so hypersensitive that they often became a hypnotic foreground with the rest of ‘the world’ fading away.

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Image credit: Martin Silvertant

And if that does not convince you of our Super Powers, we have the visual acuity of birds of prey. What a neurotypical can see at 7 feet, we can see at 20 feet on average![5]http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1377#ref-24

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Image source: The Spruce – Raptor

Pattern recognition

We have increased pattern recognition.

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Autistics exhibit more activity in the temporal and occipital regions and less activity in frontal cortex than non-autistics. The identified temporal and occipital regions are typically involved in perceiving and recognizing patterns and objects.[6]https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-04/uom-nre032811.php


Detail-oriented

We see more details than a neurotypical, because we process a greater amount of sensory information. While neurotypicals focus on faces, we look around and see the details.

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Image source: A Sandbox – Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

When you show a neurotypical and an autistic a forest, they do see the trees…

But we (autistic people) also see the insects, the flowers, the moss, etc.—as well as their constituents and intricacies.


Optical illusions

In addition, autistic people are less susceptible on average to optical illusions

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Image source: Big Think – Do My Eyes Deceive Me

This is because we tend to focus on the details as opposed to the gestalt.


Colour perception

Our rods and cones are different. 85% of us see colours with greater intensity than neurotypicals, with red appearing nearly fluorescent; 10% saw red as neurotypical children do, and 5% saw muted colours.

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Image credit: Martin Silvertant

This article
was written by:
dr-natalie-engelbrecht
I’m a dually licensed registered psychotherapist and naturopathic doctor, and a Canadian leader in trauma, PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research.And not only do I happen to be autistic, but my autism plays a significant role in who I am as a doctor and how I interact with and care for my patients and clients.

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