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Sensory Sunday #1

Published: October 27, 2019
Last updated on October 9, 2021

In an effort to promote our sensory differences—and by extension a greater understanding of autism—we have decided to do a weekly question on Sunday. Quite appropriately, then, we are calling it Sensory Sunday. So here is the first (pair of) question(s)!

What sensory sensitivity are you most happy to have?
How do you use it to your advantage?

Sensory experience

One of the responses I got to this question was a person mentioning they are most happy with her color–grapheme synesthesia; she said it’s such an intricate part of her that it becomes difficult to see whether it helps them do some things better. After all, you have no frame of reference but your own, so it’s not obvious whether certain talents or conditions improve how we do things, or just make us do things differently. Either way, she indicates it does offer extra insights in her work as a photographer.

For example, when a client expresses their desires and expectations regarding a photoshop job, she sees threads of color dancing around them. These threads become useful later on, when, during the course of a conversation with the client, 2–3 shades become predominant. These predominant shades are then used in mood boards, backgrounds etc.

She also stated that until 5 years ago she thought everyone had color–grapheme synesthesia. It’s quite a challenge finding idiosyncrasies in our experiences, given that we lack a frame of reference which we could use to draw comparisons.

For (more) information on synesthesia and autism, have a look at our following post:

Autism & synesthesia

Idiosyncratic experience

Like the person that shared her experience, it took me a while to figure out certain experiences are not shared by all people. For example, it wasn’t until almost two years ago or so that I discovered there are different thinking styles; some people think more visually, others verbally, and yet others think more in terms of relationships and patterns. That realization was quite profound to me. You can read more about the different thinking styles here:

Thinking styles in autistic people

Why was that realization profound to me? Because even though we readily acknowledge that we have different opinions and reactions to things, which points to a different experience, somehow we still assume that our (sensory) experience of things is more or less the same, but it really isn’t.

Not only do I see differently than you do on account of having different optics in our eyes (I wear glasses, for instance), but the neurological wiring that connects our eyes to our brains is highly complex and distinct in at least minor ways. Even given the same set of eyes, we process sensory information differently. And given differences in our cognitive faculties, behaviors, preferences, focus, etc., we both look at different things, as well as see different things, even if we are basically looking at the same. These individual instances of subjective, conscious experience are called qualia.

Which reminds me, have you heard of philosopher Thomas Nagel’s paper entitled ‘What Is it Like to Be a Bat?’ from 1974?[1]What Is it Like to Be a Bat? Worth looking into.

To explore the whole Sensory Sunday series,
have a look at the Sensory Sunday index:

Sensory Sunday series


This article
was written by:

Martin Silvertant is a co-founder of Embrace Autism, and lives up to his surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. Besides running Embrace Autism and researching autism, he loves typography and practicing type design. He was diagnosed with autism at 25.

PS: Martin is trans, and as of 2021 she writes under her true name, Eva Silvertant.


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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