Oh, the Various Nervous and Sensory System Abherrations of Autism

It is no secret to people that autism has some confounding “symptoms”, largely related to our nervous systems being hypersenstive(or hypo in some cases) or at the very least, abherrant to the typical. Most everyone knows that autistic people share some symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder, are much more likely to be synaesthetic or have misophonia than the typical population. We run the gamut from ASMR to sensory meltdown nuclear blast. There is, however, yet another wonderful and whimsical pathology many of us possess, and that is called referred itch.

I have referred itch, or as it is commonly known, “mitempfindungen”. Mitempfindungen is another sensory abherration of the sensory modal system and nervous system wherein one may find a matching sensation that is triggered in an unrelated part of the body when a sensation is triggered. Example: when I rub the side of my nose, the back of my throat tickles with it, and I can feel the movement of my finger on my nose dragging down the back of my throat. If I scratch my side, I feel an itch moving on my butt. If someone whispers in my ear, I feel the whisper poking me in my side. It’s rather an interesting little phenomenon. It’s not just any sensation though, and certainly not a case of confirmation bias. The referred sensation is always ipsilateral, which means it always stays on the same side of the body as the actual induced sensation, and it always goes in one direction. Because of the nature of its ipsilaterality and induction>concurrent directionality, it is believed to be related to synaesthesia, which works on the same directional premise. In fact, as many as 75% of synaesthetes likely also have mitempfindungen.

A diagram of the connection between stimulis and referred itch points, from Wikipedia

This is just one of the many little sensory abnormalities my autistic body possesses. Many people do not realise just how physical autism can be. It is a disorder not just of the social system but of the nervous system, and our senses are kicked into high gear. It is a disorder of abherrant processing phenomena, of which mitempfindung is included.

Our bodies develop and connect in weird and wonderful ways, but the nature of how these connections occur is as of yet, still a mystery to us. One theory is that our brains do not go through the same amount of neuron pruning that typically developing brains do, which means we maintain certain inferred and referred connections in the brain and body. This means we are always feeling all kinds of things most people can only imagine. Our worlds are constantly exploding in any number of interesting ways. Sometimes it’s just way too much though.

autistic kid clearly overwhelmed with everything ever. smelling a flower, possibly datura

Sometimes we need to escape.

‘Darth Vader’ sensory deprivation tank

Something is always sparking, twitching, tingling, bursting, itching. You know how it is.

In fact, we’re kind of like Xmen, with all kinds of sensory superpowers.

We can see music, hear colours, read your aura(no really, it’s called personality>colour synaesthesia). We can taste shapes, see time, and some other less amazing but still nonetheless pretty cool stuff. I can scratch a bug bite without ever coming in contact with it, by locating the concurrent spot of sensation referral and scratching there. Itches the bite without exacerbating it or making it worse or irritated. My own personal Xman Superpower. Call me Super Sensor. It also means that the sound of your skin pressing against wood is enough to make me cry, and the sensation of being poked or nudged by someone’s cold flesh sends me into a rage fit of screaming and hitting objects around me. Repetitive movements make me nauseous and sugary treats literally drop me to my knees while the room spins around me. For every superpower, there is a kryptonite.

You should think about these things next time you’re dragging your keys around on your belt, stuck to a loose carbiner, or every time you drag your feet or rub your hands together. Imagine that feeling of hating a sound and magnify it by a million, and now imagine actually feeling that sound itching or burning your skin(studies have shown that as many as 85% of autistics have some form of tactile discrimination/modulation dysfunction, such as allodynia). Remember that, next time you’re chewing gum in public like a wild animal.

This is what happens to our intrepid Xmen when you jangle keys and compulsively clear your throat. Or every time a sudden slam, touch or siren emanates from the ether of sensory terrorism and noise pollution.

If you want to experience this wonderful world for yourself, here is a video I particularly enjoy, that gets across what my personal experience is like:

Back to mitempfindungen though. It’s not all bad, and sometimes its merely curious, just one more checkmark under the heading of Neurodiverse. And we are diverse. Our experiences are unique and wonderful. It is a weird and wonderful world we occupy and I feel all of our little Xmen quirks need further study and more light shone upon them before the world can truly understand the Neurodiverse experience. It is more than just a party trick, an inconvenience or the content of a zoo exhibit. It is our lives.

So, you know, shut up for once in your lives and listen. Or feel.

Let’s embrace our sensory world!

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