A lot of people ask me what the world is like through the eyes of someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
First, it’s different for every individual, but we have some things in common. From a young age, I knew I had an amazing imagination. Who didn’t point at the clouds and describe things that they saw like maybe a giraffe, an elephant or sheep? But I saw animals and objects in the clouds that even adults couldn’t see.
I look at the ground and see patterns formed by rocks with all different shapes and sizes, or I’ll see a pattern on a wall in my mind. I’ll start by doing a dot-to-dot drawing, and I’ll see an image in my brain that most people couldn’t see.
When I meet someone, the first thing I look at are their feet. I know it sounds weird, but here’s why: I love shoes. I find they can tell you a lot about someone’s personality. Next I look for tattoos, which can tell you about a person’s interests, life events or childhood. Then I’ll look at their clothing, since I love fashion. Again, clothes can tell you a lot. I’ll do this in a matter of seconds before I even say hello to a person.
When I was doing pet photography, one of my clients was running with her dog for some photos. When I looked at them, I could tell she was into sports by her running style. I asked her if she liked sports, and she looked surprised. She told me she loves sports — mostly soccer and anything with running. Then I showed her the photos and told her I could just tell she liked sports just by the way she ran.
Then there are sounds. Imagine hearing every clock tick, every fan blade swooshing above you, the kettle as it’s boiling or someone tapping on something or clicking a pen.
For some people with ASD, these noises can sound louder than they should be, and you hear them all at once. I went to an ASD workshop last year, and I had to leave early because a kettle kept heating up every five minutes or so. After two hours, I couldn’t stand being there anymore. Imagine a normal pitch that you might hear every day. To me, that can sound like the highest pitch in the world.
Think about what your brain would be like if you had five coffees one after another or three energy drinks. From the minute I wake up to the second I fall asleep, my brain is going 100 miles an hour non-stop. I have medication for it now, and I’m not afraid to say it took me 10 years to find the dosage that worked for me. 10 years!
I think of my eyes like a DSLR camera. They capture everything I see in full detail. While you might see a park full of trees, I see small trees, big trees, trees with missing bark and trees with birds or ants on them. I see leaves of all different shapes and colors, rocks and twigs all in a few blinks.
I see things others miss.
Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images