Friday, May 8, 2009

Proprioceptive Senses and Autism

We all know our five senses; hearing, taste, touch, sight, and smell. We've also discussed how a person with autism often has almost all senses constantly out of control, yielding to sensory overloads that must be handled carefully and gently. I've recently gained a new insight and learning that I must share with you. It's about the sense we never think about. Two of them in particular stand out with the autistic and they are called proprioceptive and vestibular senses.

Our proprioceptive (broken up: pro-prio-ceptive) sense is our perception of movement and spatial orientation. It tells us the tension of our muscles and our rate of movement as we run or walk. It also tells us where are limbs are at when we move around so we don't smash into things all the time. If this sense is off, then you will have trouble directing where your arms and legs go. You'll be constantly off balance and very clumsy and misdirected.

Our Vestibular sense is actually made up of billions of receptors in our muscles and internal organs. They give us a sense of gravitational acceleration if we fall or jump off of something. It also gives us a sense of velocity in our heads.

These introceptive senses our what give us sensations of pain or pleasure. They tell us about the stretching of our internal organs. Without these sense, you wouldn't know if your stomach was full from lunch or if you needed to empty your bladder.

These are our internal senses and they are just as out of control and without filtering as our external senses. That, or we may have trouble sensing some of them at all, because of senses that overshadow them and drown them out like too much noise.

These are senses that cause autistics to have extreme difficulty working with their environment. It makes it hard for a people to control themselves. Minor annoyances to a typical person may as well be full lights and sirens for the autistic. And when that's happening to those internal senses, your world spins into chaos. Then, since you have trouble communicating how you feel, you get frustration, an emotional sense. All that does is put more weight on the camel's back. You can see how all of this at once can be overbearing. Next stop, full overload and a fit unlike anything you've ever seen.

That's from the "pain" aspect, but what about pleasure? Ever see an autistic child run in circles or jump off things over and over again? Remember how those receptors affect those feelings of velocity and falling? What if you found those feelings to be highly enjoyable? Since their amplified, they are highly distracting and everyone wants to feel good right? Exactly. Because of the intensity, anything that feels good like that is hard to deny. You may as well consider them addicted to it. That's with any of our external senses as well. When something feels that good, you want to do it over and over again. It's like having a rollercoaster ride in your head and its FUN!

As we grow and change, our likes and dislikes change just like anyone else. That's why, eventually, children that engage in feces play, thankfully stop doing it. They develope to a point that their interest in textures and feelings shift. It's even possible for them to stop wanting to run in circles.

Another sense I feel I should mention is our sense of depth perception and distance. When you throw and object and train your eye on it, you get a perception of how far and fast it is going. This can cause a reaction in your internal senses. It can be interesting enough to overactive senses to make one want to throw things all the time. Consider that next time your child pitches and object across the room for no specific reason (that you can see). I hope you found this view of our senses eye opening, pun intended.

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