Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a complex group of brain development disorders characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication and behavior. Often diagnosed at a young age, approximately one in 68 American children is on the autism spectrum. It’s a figure 10 times higher than 40 years ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Because ASD can vary widely, it’s frequently misunderstood, and attitudes toward autism can be misguided. In addition to the many resources geared toward neurotypical people, such as social networks for parents and organizations like Autism Speaks, many autistic individuals and even game developers have created virtual simulations that render common experiences for people with autism — hypersensitivity to sights and sounds among them.
“Increased sensitivity and decreased sensitivity both are common in ASD,” Dr. Paul Wang, head of medical research at Autism Speaks, tells Mashable. “In fact, one of the changes in the DSM-5 criteria for ASD is recognition of these issues as a core part of autism.”
Wang says these sensory challenges can be very impairing, turning a normally comfortable environment into a struggle for individuals with ASD. The severity of discomfort can range widely: Anything from the cuffs of one’s short-sleeve shirt to loud noises to perceptions many of us experience without thinking twice can cause distress.
“It is hard to appreciate what it is like to be in the shoes of someone with ASD,” Wang says. “To the extent that these simulations can illustrate how noxious sensory stimulation can be for individuals with ASD, they may help the general population to better understand the difficulty of living with ASD.”
Noted autism activist and animal science expert Temple Grandin famously said, “I am different, not less.” During Autism Awareness Month, the following simulations help to further that understanding.
Note: Those with epilepsy or who are prone to seizures should not watch these videos. Viewers should also be prepared for increased volumes, which are intended to simulate the intense auditory stimulation associated with ASD.