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Heightened sensory perceptions

Published: May 27, 2018
Last updated on September 14, 2023

Many autistic people report heightened sensory perceptions, and research confirms this!

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).[1]Enhanced visual functioning in autism: An ALE meta-analysis (Samson, Mottron, Soulières, & Zeffiro, 2011)[2]New research explains autistic’s exceptional visual abilities (2011) | EurekaAlert!

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


Many autistic people are able to see changes in the gap size on a screen filled with the letter C, much better than neurotypicals.[3]Brief report: the relationship between visual acuity, the embedded figures test and systemizing in autism spectrum disorders (Brosnan, Gwilliam & Walker, 2012)

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]Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Baron-Cohen, 2008)

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

Pattern recognition

Autistic people show 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.[5]New research explains autistic’s exceptional visual abilities (2011) | EurekaAlert!


Autistic people tend to see more details than neurotypicals, because we process a greater amount of sensory information. While neurotypicals focus on faces, autistic people tend to 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 person a forest, they do see the trees…

But autistics 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.[6]Implications. Sensory Stimulation and Autistic Children (Paron-Wildes, 2012)[7]Interior Design for Autism from Childhood to Adolescence (Paron-Wildes, 2013)

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Image credit: Martin Silvertant


This article
was written by:

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht ND RP is a dually licensed naturopathic doctor and registered psychotherapist, and a Canadian leader in trauma, PTSD, and integrative medicine strictly informed by scientific research.

She was diagnosed at 46, and her autism plays a significant role in who she is as a doctor, and how she interacts with and cares for her patients and clients.

Want to know more about her? Read her About me page.


Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.


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