We experience ourselves and the world around us through our senses. Information is received via signals to the brain from the environment through our body’s complex sensory system. Autistic people experience differences in how they process sensory information.
Our brain very quickly organises and interprets this information, deciding what to pay attention to and what to filter out in order for us to make sense of things and not get too overwhelmed.
Autistic people may receive and interpret this information differently and may struggle to filter things out to varying degrees. This will change according to many factors – sleep, emotional state, environment, other people and so on.
Differences with sensory processing may mean that autistic people notice sounds, tastes, and sensations like smells and touch other people don’t - often in a much more intense way which is why people may struggle to function in certain environments or become overwhelmed or distressed.
Bright lights may appear to flicker, sounds may be heard louder, all at the same volume or at a painful pitch, touch may feel uncomfortable or even painful, some smells may be unbearable or the person may seek out strong flavours, smells, bright lights or sounds. It is hugely variable between individuals.
The sensory environment is constantly changing which can make having sensory differences confusing, stressful and exhausting at times.