VISUAL INPUT what do you see?
I knew years ago that visual input was upsetting to me. Long before I knew about my autism, I knew I could not handle moving images or images of violence, suffering, or anything emotionally significant.
Seeing those sorts of images, whether moving or still give me emotional reactions that stay with me to re-live the feelings they evoke repeatedly and randomly, never knowing when thoughts and memories of those images will haunt me and torment me.
There is nothing I can do in most cases to alleviate the horror of these visual images once I have seen them. I learned as a pre-teen to avoid the nightly news broadcasts. The war in VietNam was the focus of almost every broadcast, the bloodier the better.
Repeated images of the Kennedy assassination when that happened, standards for what visual images were allowed on TV , newspapers, magazines, etc changed rapidly in the 1960’s and anything gruesome or horrifying was usually the opening story. “if it bleeds it leads”.
Not only do I struggle to understand moving visuals and always have a processing “lag”, whether it is something on the screen or a photo or actually unfolding ‘in real life”, but I find I am filled with a rush of emotions in the graphic visual input which seems as if it has no place to go. I experience horror, fear, angst, all the intended emotions meant to be drawn out by these images and the experience is immediately and continually emotionally overwhelming. I am battered emotionally and continually when I allow myself to be subjected to such images, whether real life images or scripted fiction being enacted. I choose to avoid this experience whenever possible.
I can not sort and file the experiences and tell myself “it is over” “It is just a movie” or use other filters which most people use when they have visual input. Those filters for me have never existed.
Add a sensitivity to sounds of suffering ( screaming, crying, pleading, anguish and pain) I find many tv or movie/video experiences too painful to subject myself to willingly.
Even in day to day life, I have always struggled with visual demonstrations of “how to do” from teachers, medical explanation videos, employers visually demonstrating how they wanted the work done, etc etc etc.
Give me a booklet with line drawings and printed explanations to illustrate these things and I will understand.
It all happens too quickly for me to sort the steps and expectations, listen to instructions and see what is being done… “are there any questions now?”
I always annoy the presenters of these things. Yes, there are plenty of questions.
It is as though I don’t have a working filter or a thermostat for the emotions aroused by seeing such things and hearing them.
My first memory of this effect is when I was taken to see Disney’s original Fantasia and my screams of fear at the skeletons in the bald mountain scene and the trouble Mickey Mouse was getting himself into (NO Mickey, NO NO!!!) and simply being “shushed” because it might annoy others around me. I was about 4 years old. I have been able to protect myself from such distress since I became old enough to choose not to participate in activities that are likely to lead to such distress.
It is said that visual processing is a strength for most autistic folk and that being able to visualize is our greatest ‘gift”. Not for me, and maybe not for many of us. I can not visualize a thing!
Don’t let generalizations lead you to forget autism is experienced on a spectrum, and not one of us is the same.
Is my reading considered a form of visual processing? Perhaps, but it is at my pace and although I rely on seeing the words to read them, my “inner brain” speaks the words and I have always thought my reading experience was more sound oriented (the sound of the words in my head to myself) than visual.
Perhaps my inability to visualize in my head has much to do with the processing of visual things. I do not recognize people out of context, this includes in movies when there is a change of scene and wardrobe. (who is that guy? Oh, that’s the hero of the story?) I am repeatedly made fun of because I recognize none of the movie stars, tv heroes or other popular characters. ( OK, I just realized I do still recognize Mickey).
I do recognize voices after listening to them just a few times. I surprise my tv watching husband when I announce that the voice belongs to X actor or actress… I am usually right. Can’t recognize a face to save my soul, but give me a voice.
Sometimes I imagine myself in a nursing home at some point (one out of 3 people eventually spends at least a month in a care home before end of life) and can only be horrified thinking about the managed use of the common room several times a day , and me being forced to listen to dozens of people, a blaring music intercom and a TV turned up to accommodate those who are hard of hearing. If I am unfortunate enough to be unable to move myself, I could be plunked down somewhere facing a TV with horrible images, screaming and crying, in a room full of din and things I would never choose to see, people I would ordinarily hide from, and subjected repeatedly to this…. There are no ways to describe the resulting misery. Perhaps you can imagine for yourself.
Edited a few days later to add more content.
Visual processing issues can also cause much distress in everyday living. One often reported distressor is light that is too bright, light that flickers, light that is the wrong color or too direct, too focused, too diffused. Think of all the ways we see light in our day. I get motion sick due to the rapid changes in light/flicker effect/ inability to process moving images. I can get sick in a car, or I will get sick watching any rapidly moving images on TV, Movies, Videos, and video games. I always do better in a vehicle when I am driving, perhaps because I can correct the motion of the vehicle and affect it in a direct way, or because I am more in tune with the motions of braking, turning, stopping, slowing down or speeding up and can prepare myself for such things and correct for them. Wearing very dark wrap around sunglasses seems to help keep shadow flickers from affecting particularly my peripheral vision, and I am sick a lot less now that I finally learned that trick.
Visual struggles and issues with bright light, colors, patterns, and shadows can cause much distress for those unwillingly subjected to certain conditions.
In many cases, those of us who are prone to seizures (about 30 to 60 percent of autistic people, depending on who is reporting the issue) will react to flicker and rapidly changing visual input by seizing.
Reports of meltdowns caused by the flicker of a fan throwing shadows repeatedly across a room, motion observed through a window and resulting reflected light changes, etc. are frequent. The affected person might not even recognize what is distressing them.
If you experience distress when you are in certain situations you might be able to seek out causes when you recognize problems with light and visual processing. Many autistic people wear sunglasses or colored lenses which seem to help change how we process visual input.
6 thoughts on “Autism sensory processing”
You express yourself so well with the written word! Reading this I feel like I understand completely!
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Interesting reflection on how you process words on a page. I also experience reading as an internal voice I listen to rather than words I see and understand. When I try to read more visually, I can “speed read” but I don’t comprehend as well. I had no idea others didn’t read the same way I do. Thank you for the continuing insights. Hope neither of us end up in a care
facility! It’s something I worry about because I have no children, but my mom in law is currently in one due to stroke and she has five adult children. Her care needs are too great to come home yet and her roommate watches TV constantly.
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One of the best things about learning of my autism was learning that i am not alone. It is nice to know there are others who are like ourselvves. I have great hopes that we will together be able to make a difference for so many who share our diagnosis! ( and those who have yet to learn of their own diagnosis as adults) Thanks for the comments.
Thank you for a great description of my experiences in the past and present. I read this to my husband so that he could understand me better. I’m so glad you can write and share with the rest of us. Thanks.
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Thanks Tracy, I am blessed to be able to do so, printed words seem to be my only way of actually connecting with my world. I am glad you find my post useful!