So what does ‘Sensory’ and ‘Perception’ mean? Where is it? What does it look like? How does it work? I will explain by using some analogies so don’t take me literally ok?
Many people think that there are only FIVE senses, hearing, touch, taste, smell and vision…wrong there are more! The whole body is a massive sensory organ, our skin which covers every part of us is the largest. Our nose, mouth, eyes, ears are part of a much bigger picture.
You are a basically a skin bag of very sensitive tiny dots, each dot is a different colour AND a different temperature AND each has its own unique job. Some of these dots if touched HURT whilst others will prevent you from hurting! Some will make you purr with delight. ALL of these tiny dots give you a SENSATION, every one of them different to the other. Confused…imagine how a jelibean feels! Our noses, eyes, hands, feet, mouths, ears, SKIN! The sensory system is literally ALL of us, you can’t get away from it. And since the skin holds our insides in…it can affect our insides too!
But as well as these ‘sensations’ the sensory system then has to pass that message to the brain so it acts accordingly! Doctors will refer to this as ‘PERCEPTION’. So what signal is the sensory system desperately trying to alert the brain to? Pain, danger, hunger, thirst, an itch that is in urgent need of scratching or maybe it could be a pleasurable sensation, joyful even. But I think you will agree without the ability to do the above, you wouldn’t be reading this, you would be dead. That is how important the sensory and perceptual system is. They go hand in hand and one cannot work without the other.
Let me try and show you in TIPS. We are off on a holiday, passports at the ready! The sensory system resembles a big long conveyer belt at Terminal Five, Heathrow Airport (you are getting the picture aren’t you?), with many different belts going to different airport terminals carrying lots of different luggage, bags, laptops, trolleys, rucksacks, you name it, the belt handles it! But then how does the laptop get to the right owner? Does it ever get there? And what happens to it if it gets lost? Trouble is the conveyer belt goes the whole way around Terminal Five which is massive, so things easily go missing.
And then when the luggage does get on the right belt, how quickly does it get to it’s owner? In one piece or has it sustained damage along the way? Or maybe even worse, the laptop has vanished with only an empty bag as proof of it’s existence! We know that airport baggage systems are anything but reliable. How many times have you arrived at your Shangri La only to find your clothes? Miles away in its own hell? Never to be reunited again? That’s what insurance is all about. And if you don’t take out the insurance it could all end in tears!
Every single human being has their own conveyor belt within them and each one is slightly different to the other. We are all totally unique. So what happens when our baggage won’t fit on the conveyor belt? Should it be diverted? Or maybe we build a bigger belt to accommodate it? Maybe our bag is so tiny it would get lost in the busy main channels so let’s divert it to via a safer route where it has a chance of arriving at the destination aka the ‘brain’!
So you see there are so many things that can happen along the way that we can’t possibly know ‘everything’!
The body works very similarly in that sensory information is being thrown at us all the time even though we are unaware of it. Listen now around you, what noises do you hear? The sounds of silence? Lorries rumbling past? Sunlight through the window making you squint. Maybe you have switched off to those noises and it is only when you notice them they become irritating. Don’t you just love it when you are sitting in a film happily engrossed only for the person next to you to point out a fan humming in the background, which you hadn’t noticed, but now you have? Arrrghh its driving you mad!
What one person may ‘perceive’, (see that word again) as pain, another might find pleasurable? Whilst one person may adore the feeling of cashmere against their skin, another one will say it feels like a scouring pad! We are all different. Jelibeans are different but all the same when SENSORY AND PERCEPTUAL issues are being discussed.
It stands to reason really. What we know about jelibeans is that they are different in EVERY way possible. Even down to the wiring in our brains, and the size of our heads! So why would our sensory systems be any different.
It really is a huge issue and underpins the whole existence of ‘Autism Spectrum Conditons’. Whilst we are delighted that Sensory issues are to be included in the next book the doctor’s use to base their assessments on (DSM V, 2013) for Autism. We would like to see it included for ALL Autism Spectrum Conditions.