I can hear spiders – guest post by Fairies to Pharoes

(This guest post was written by a follower of my Facebook autism blog
She’s a teacher, an autism Mom and a simply beautiful writer….)

“I can hear spiders…”
Sorry? I look up, confused.
“I can hear spiders. I see them on the wall and when they move they make a tapping, scratching sound. Like a pencil moving across paper.” The little girl looks down at her feet, seemingly unaware of the magnitude of her words.

How is that even possible? She seems so certain.

The little girl talks for another hour about spiders and other insects in great detail, painting a vivid and extraordinary tale of their sounds and movements. I listen without speaking, unsure as to how to respond. I feel like I am in a dream landscape, nothing is familiar here; there are no points of reference.

Once I have left the room, I struggle to connect with reality once more. I still feel like I’m dreaming. There is nothing of the ordinary about this child. I must make some sense of this surreal narrative; I decide to email an authority in the field and, almost immediately, a reply drops into my inbox.
“The closest I have come to understanding this kind of autistic experience is something called synaesthesia. Hope this helps.”

Synaesthesia. I have absolutely no idea what that means. Synaesthesia – how do you even say it? I hit google and, sure enough, there are 497,000 results returned. I navigate to the UK Synaesthesia Association and receive the following explanation:
Synaesthesia is a truly fascinating condition. In its simplest form it is best described as a “union of the senses” whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together.

Wow. Sounds just like autistic sensory jumbling.

More reading takes me on an incredible journey through numerous kinds of synaesthesia: “Lexical-gustatory Synaesthesia” where words can taste of specific foods, “Mirror-touch” where watching someone reach up and touch their chin makes you feel the sensation on your own, “Misophonia” where certain sounds trigger strong emotions such as hate and anger.

Misophonia. Could this be why Harry was so upset at the fairground? What if the sound from the ride was not too loud after all; what if it was flooding him with negative emotions? And the crying when he listens to certain pieces of music; maybe this is related too?

My mind begins to generate endless possible explanations for the autistic behaviours and reactions I have seen; as if numerous pieces of a puzzle are fitting into place all at once.

I move on to reading about autistic savants and the suggestion that their great abilities may arise from a combination of autism and synaesthesia; a study by an eminent researcher, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, claims that 1 in 5 autistic adults report synesthetic-like experiences of the world.
How many children with autism have synaesthesia but are unable to express how it feels or how it affects them? How many are unaware that their experiences are vastly different? We need to try and understand this more; build more bridges between this amazing world of autistic super senses and our own.
Eventually, I stumble across a reference to “Flicker-motion Synaesthesia” which seems to explain the narrative which first brought me here; a synaesthesia where seeing visual motion induces sound. I am later to read that this kind of ability could be linked to our hunter gatherer past. Truly fascinating. Everything the little girl had said now made sense. What an extraordinary and beautiful way in which to interact with the world.

I smile to myself. She can hear spiders.

For more information about synaesthesia please visit http://www.uksynaesthesia.com/ or to watch a documentary about synaesthesia visit http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1olkn1_synaesthesia-derek-tastes-of-earwax-horizon_tech

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