Autism is a funny disorder in that it affects each individual with it differently. A common theme is that of sensory processing; in that some senses are heightened in some folk and lessened in others. You will meet autistics who abhor strong smells, including perfumes, and are literally ill around them. Others have a heightened sense of smell and seek olfactory stimulation at any opportunity. I am the latter. I smell , and touch, everything.
Autism: My Love Of Perfume
I have another aspect of my autism that causes me a bit of social confusion. I have hardly any awareness of my emotional state at any given time. Through constant self vigilance, I have learned there are a few general states of being I can recognise; namely, anger, sadness, happiness and illness. I am getting better at recognising signs of slightly more nuanced emotions, like melancholia, grief and contentedness.
The interesting part of my love of perfumes is that I can readily attribute emotions to scents. It is one way I can more easily identify what state I am in. For instance, if I choose to wear Paloma Picasso, I know that I am feeling assertive, or if I am wearing Safari, I am feeling like a teen. I can get emotionally close to perfumes and colours and music, in ways I cannot with people, or the basic, human part of myself. Whereas I have trouble relating to people, I readily relate to scents.
I can even go so far as stating that I create relationships with my scents. I get to know them and their personalities. I have a mother scent (Selperniku by January Scent Project), a best friend scent (Queen of Hearts by Queen Latifah), a confidante scent (Apres l’Ondee by Guerlain) and a daughter scent (Chloe Signature by Chloe). I do not talk to my scents as such, but if I am craving the need for a hug, I’ll wear Selperniku. I cannot stand physical touch, so it acts as a virtual, olfactive hug. I get the same sense of comfort others describe hugs as giving.
Face blindness is another of my quirks. About half the people I meet, or know, I can readily recognise using an aspect of their physicality, such as the sound of their voice, the gap in their teeth, a gangly walk, or a particular cap s/he may wear often. For others, I have to learn their patterns. But one way I can get to know and recognise people is via their scent. Some people have very distinctive smells that I find comforting and reassuring. I can also get to know that person on a more intimate level by judging their health based on how they smell. I know my children are ill long before symptoms become present. They emit an odour particular to certain illnesses. My eldest has a head cold odour and my youngest has a haemophilia odour. It is invaluable to me for I often miss the symptoms for days before I understand my boys are ill. As they have autism as well, communication is not their biggest strength!
In the way that I use glasses to see long distance and my son occasionally uses crutches to walk, my sense of smell is necessary for my functioning in the world. It helps me make sense of the world and find my place in it. I often say I’d rather lose any sense before my ability to smell. I’d be absolutely bereft without being able to understand and interpret the world through olfactory sensory input.
I think every perfume is more than just a nice smell or a way to promote one’s identity; looking at you Beast Mode alpha males! There is a story behind every scent created and a tale the perfumer wants to tell. Perfume is an art form, as so many of you know. Scents are given as gifts for many reasons, and scent memories are created that transcend wealth, culture and even time! For me, scent goes beyond even that. It is my most fluid form of communication and a tool for me feel grounded in reality. It speaks for me in the way verbal, and often written communication, does not. I wish perfumes would become the Lingua Franca of the world.