Sensory Trauma: Autism, Sensory Difference and the Daily Experience of Fear
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Autistic people use their bodies, sounds and words to declare that their sensory experience is different to that of non-autistic people. Accounts of autistic sensory experience can be found in two types of “sensory writing” that, whilst ostensibly referring to the same lived experience, appear to run on parallel, if not divergent, tracks (our use here of the term “sensory writing” encompasses the non-text accounts produced by autistic people such as blogs and YouTube films).
Autistic people, when they recount their sensory experience of the world, use language quite different to that used by autism professionals. Sensory writing by autistic people is, of its nature, self-referential. It may be nuanced and reflective as well as, at times, graphic, shocking and replete with sensory detail. Autistic sensory writing describes the relationship between individual bodies and the world, hence is multifarious.
By contrast, sensory writing by autism professionals tends to be siloed by discipline and heavily constrained by the conventions of clinical-academic discourse. Partly on account of these constraints, sensory writing by autism professionals is, for the most part , neurocentric (brain-focused) and so tends to exclude the relationship between individual autistic bodies and the world.
In this position paper, we contrast the autistic and neurocentric genres of sensory writing and seek to reconcile them using the concept of affordances . On this basis, we generate a novel “Sensory Trauma” framework within which to [re]consider the lived experience of autistic people.