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What’s that smell? Autism and scent

A man leaning over a cup of black coffee and smelling it.

By Chris

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

The world of scent and olfactory glands is my favourite sense.

This is because I derive more pleasure from it than anything other sense. On the other hand, trapped on a bus in summer with people who don’t wear deodorant turns my stomach. As with so many things Autistic, it’s a double-edged gift.

This particular sense is my most enhanced, and I can often smell someone before I see them which has on one occasion saved me from being mugged. It’s also very helpful when playing hide and seek: I’d always find the other players no matter how dark.

Other people almost always found my oddly enhanced smell strange, the few who knew about it, anyway.

Until only a few years ago I had no ready explanation for them either. From a very young age I always knew I was different, no matter how many times my mother assured me I was a normal child. She wanted me to be a normal child for my own sake, but it is important that parents of Autistic young people allow them to be who they are inside. Doing otherwise can cause harm that is not easily resolved no matter how much help they get.

My acute sense of smell has on several occasions prevented fires as I could smell the smouldering before the ignition of any flames so that’s something to be happy about. Though on the other hand I once went to catch a bus and the smell that assaulted me from inside was so vile, I promptly puked in the gutter and waited for the next one. Honestly, people need to bathe more often.

I like the beginning of the book Perfume – it states that so little attention is paid to the world of scent and that is so true.

Scent is the most effective doorway to memory, good and bad.

Some smells remind me of my grandmother’s baking which always conjures lovely memories. She had her own secret recipe for making these biscuits that I never learned. I wish I had, then I would be able to have continued that family tradition.

The thing I like to use my sense of smell for the most is making original scents for people. I am currently teaching myself the perfuming trade from YouTube which is more fun than I could have imagined. A 19th century psychologist once said, “from your weaknesses will come your strengths,” and I have lived by that ever since I heard it. There are plenty of weaknesses to work with, but I am slowly turning my sense of smell to my own advantage, such as learning to make perfume. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be as well-known as the huge perfuming houses like Armani or Estee Lauder, but I would be content if I could sustain my meagre lifestyle using my nose.

The point, if there is one this time, is that any perceived drawback can be turned around and turned into a benefit.

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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