Note: This post was written in late 2016.
I’ve talked about the general ways autism affects me and how some of the traits relate to me. Now I think I’ll just briefly touch on some of the lesser-known commonalities that some autistic people have that I myself deal with. Some of these things are quite fun. And for some reason, they have the weirdest, scientific names.
What is it? From what I understand, it’s the crossing of sensory perception. Wikipedia says it’s “a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”. In some cases, people see music or taste colours. Super interesting, right?
How does that apply to me? This was a weird one to realize. I sort of always felt a kinship to the people described when I had heard of synesthesia before, but like with autism itself, I didn’t know why. There is someone on YouTube I subscribe to who vlogs about being autistic. They are fantastic and I’ve learned so much from them. Amethsyt Schaber. Check them out. They have synesthesia and explained that they can both literally see colour in music but also just strongly “feel” colours for certain sounds or associate certain colours with letters. That made me immediately think of what I have always done with numbers. I’ve told people about this before and no one ever understands it. They either look at me like I’m strange or just tell me I’m cute for thinking such bizarre things.
To me, the numbers 0-10 are either male or female. They each have a personality. It’s always been this way since I learned what numbers were. I don’t think this to be amusing or to personify numbers. It just happened naturally. For example, 6 is a boy and kind of a brat. 9 is a girl and thinks very highly of herself. 4 is a girl and likes to be babied. (An old, interesting and bizarre explanation of how I come up with passwords, with a section relating to my number friends can be found here.)
I wasn’t sure if this was synesthesia or not. It’s just part of the way I understand the world. But I was literally just scrolling down the rest of that Wikipedia page I just linked, as I was writing this with the strong inkling that it is, and there it is, describing exactly what I just said. Wow. It has it’s own name and is linked to it’s own Wikipedia entry – ordinal linguistic personification.
I also have other strong associations across other senses, which I can only assume are also synesthetic. For example, you will often hear me exclaiming that broccoli cheddar soup “tastes like British”. I can’t really tell you exactly what that means, but I’m quite certain about the statement. Also, certain smells are described with words like silky or bumpy, which are tactile descriptors. Sounds are described with taste. “His voice is like toffee crunch.” Words themselves associate with sensations not within the same sense. I saw another video on YouTube where Rosie King, another famous autistic girl, described the same thing. She also mentions how, to her, inanimate objects have feelings. I often think that too. If I have a row of Smarties, and I eat one, sometimes I have to eat the next one right away too, because ‘they are friends and they would be sad not to be together’. Or I’ll reorder them because two of them don’t get along. I often shake my head at this seemingly childish thought or laugh at myself but I have to follow through anyway because it feels bad not to.
What is it? Another word it’s known as is face blindness. Wikipedia says “a cognitive disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize familiar faces, including one’s own face (self-recognition), is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact”.
How does that apply to me? That definition sounds extreme and I don’t have that. But~ Amethyst Schaber has this too and, while describing it, alerted me to the fact that I don’t remember faces after only seeing them a few times – I need to see them many times before it sticks and I rely a lot on other details to recognize people before I “know” them. I thought this was because I don’t make eye contact a lot or that I just had a bad memory. But then I thought about how I visualize things when I read. I never picture a character’s face. I just can’t. It’s not blank or missing, just not noted. I thought about how I used to get really stressed out when I worked in retail. If I had several customers in the fitting rooms, I would not remember which ones I was helping and which items belonged with which people, even if I had only walked away for a few seconds. They had changed their clothes! I used to often joke around how “all white people look alike” – (This is a direct quote from Flower Drum Song.) – even though I think this about people of any race. When I accepted my new job, I got upset when I realized I had no idea what my boss looked like, having met him only once, and thought I might mix him up with the other regular employees. This is difficult to deal with but now that I understand what is happening and can stop blaming myself for not trying hard enough, I think it’ll be easier.