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What you can’t see can hurt me: Autism and light sensitivity

A person's hand holding a pair of sunglasses up to the sun

By Chris

This article is part of My Plan Manager’s guest blogger series.

Today’s blog is the start of a series covering the sensory issues of Autistic People. Most of us have heightened senses that can cause a problem dealing with everyday life. It’s a large topic and could easily cover far more blogs than I have time to write, so I’ll focus on the five main senses (there are far more than five but I’m keeping it simple). 

As usual I’ll be writing from personal experiences. I’ll start off with writing about my extreme sensitivity to light. I wear the darkest sunglasses I can find (the Cancer Council has the best for the price, in my opinion). Even with these on, a cloudless Australian summer day can be so bright I have to walk around with one eye closed (fortunately nobody can see my eyes behind the glasses). 

My sensitivity to light is so strong on some days that even the light of a full moon can be ever so slightly too bright. 

As with everything related to our senses, the level of sensitivity fluctuates. 

However, my senses seem to be getting sharper as I age, instead of getting duller as one would normally expect. Sometimes when it’s overcast, I don’t need to wear my glasses, but I always keep them with me in case the sun breaks through the clouds. 

There are some wavelengths of light that affect me emotionally – the setting sun shining between the earth and an overcast, rainy sky is my favourite light of all. 

It’s a mystery to me why my brain processes light the way it does and why it changes the way it processes it, or what triggers that change and its various intensities. 

Since sunglasses are basically Personal Protective Equipment for me and many other Autistic People with the same sensitivities, I have sometimes had to wear them indoors – especially if there is bright lighting. For this I have been called names, endured cowardly passive aggressive bullying, and even had to leave a class because the people running the art school were so narrow-minded. 

The point I’m making here is it’s tough just trying to get by when small-minded and ignorant people make life more difficult than it already is for someone just because that person is trying to protect themselves enough to live a semi-normal life with as little pain and discomfort as possible. 

The same sensitivities that make bright light painful make things like eyedrops and contact lenses next to impossible to endure. However, this ties in more with my oversensitive tactile sense. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I can tell when a picture is off centre by a little as 1mm (literally) as well as ‘eyeballing’ whether something is level when building something; that in particular is extremely useful as you can imagine. 

So as with most things Autistic, there are good and bad aspects. I try to embrace the good and cope with the bad but it’s not easy. 

Hi I’m Chris. I’m a 44 year old Autistic Person. Originally from California, I ran away to Australia as soon as I could. Raised in the country, life wasn’t easy with an invisible neurological difference especially when that difference wasn’t even widely known about. On top of that I didn’t even get a diagnosis until I was 39 years old. Looking back I now realise how miserable I was and how badly I was being treated by everyone. Looking forward I want to leave behind some small piece of myself that maybe, if I’m lucky, might make a positive impact.




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