Proprioception and autism

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

So why can I not keep my feet underneath me, or apply the correct amount of pressure when lifting an object? Why do I walk into a room like an elephant in a china shop, or send the milk contain flying across the room when it is too light?  In a word—proprioception.

What is proprioception?

Proprioception refers to one’s own perceptions. It an unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation controlled by nerves within the body.

Our proprioceptive system allows us to locate our bodies in space, to be aware of where  our arms and legs are in relation to one another, as well as, where they begin and where they end. Proprioception helps us perceive the outside world, telling us whether our bodies are moving or sitting still.

This system helps us perceive the amount of force needed to complete a task, and then allows us to apply it appropriately. It helps us measure and perceive distances, allowing us to move through our world without crashing into everything around us.

Child and adults with autism often have difficulty with proprioception and very well may just be the thing that goes bump in the night…and the day, and at work, and in the streets. Poor proprioception may likely be responsible for those many bruises, skinned knees, and torn stockings that plague our days.

It can be difficult to explain how we, those with Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism, can be so clumbsy in our day to day activites, but so adept when we are intently focused.  I spent a great deal of my life dancing. I could dance with the grace of a swan, and fall down steps on my way off the stage.

I believe the difference is the intensity of our focus.  We can, for a short period of time, intensely focus on crossing a balance beam get to the other side. However, it is impossible to sustain that level of focus in all our activities 24 hours per day. I am sure that I would never fall down again, if I could focus on every step I took to the exclusion of every thing else—with no distractions and no interuptions.

While a “normal” person unconsciously perceives and is aware of each step they take, an autistic person must think about and focus consciously to perceive what comes naturally to others.


Adult Autism Hurts

An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…


Childhood was fleeting. I’d entered the adult world, but try as I might to tread water the current continued to pull me under. The world around me was changing—swiftly.  Old friends were growing, beginning careers, and starting families while I floundered. Everyone had a direction, a dream, a focus—not me. I seemed to tumble where the wind tossed me, never truly recovering before the next gust sent me sailing again.

Yes—adult autism hurts.

It hurt when I raced to my car to make my next class, and lost my footing, tumbling down the side of a grassy hill, right after it rained, and rose covered with mud dripping from my hair. I was a real sight in my next class; that was memorable entrance.

It hurt when my high-heel got wedged in between the elevator shaft, and the elevator platform causing me to nearly break my leg and get hit in the head with the closing door on my way down to the floor. I worked the rest of that day with a limp, broken shoe, and torn stockings.

It hurt when I fell into the only hole in the street, the one everyone else slid over with ease. And when I slipped on the black ice and landed under the parked car.

It was painful when I took one step, and then tumbled end over end down half a flight of stairs and somehow ended up with both legs up on the wall. It is a good thing that townhouse was carpeted, it cushioned my fall.

I was not as lucky when I tripped over my own feet in front of my Brooklyn apartment, and flew down the concrete steps. The only thing that saved my face was the cheesecake it landed in.

Adult autism burned when I pulled my coffee mug out of the microwave, applying a little too much strength, and sent the scolding liquid raining down on top of me—or worse the times when my fingers failed to hold on to the mug altogether and it crashes into kitchen wall.

It hurt when I misjudged the weight of the door entering the deli up the street, and I crashed face-first into the glass, and when I pulled at the pizzeria door a little too hard sending myself sailing backwards.

It  hurt when my butt hit the floor and my groceries spilled out all over the sidewalk. Or, when I pulled at the cabinet door in my kitchen too hard smacking myself in the head with it.

It hurt last summer when I fell face first into a one foot kiddy pool on vacation—holding my son.

But most of all—as an adult with autism, it hurts to feel completely and utterly alone.