In the realm of the senses (Smell)

There are many learned blogs about many aspects of Autism. Many that delve into aspects of the condition in a deeply meaningful and scientific way. They are great pieces of writing I am sure but they are way beyond my comprehension. So this is just a blog about me and the sensory/sensitivity issues that do and have affected me, during my life. 

In the lobby where I work, I can smell paint. 

I know it’s not been recently painted and no evidence of painting is to be found but it’s there, it’s quite distinct. And it’s driving me mad. 

Nobody else can smell it. I’ve asked. I get the shake of the head. But I know what I can smell, the chemicals, not strong but strong enough, and only in the lobby. Annoying. 

I’ve always found smell to be a strong sense of mine. It makes up for my lack of common sense. 

My father smoked a pipe. I loathe smoking and a lot of that is down to smell. Dad used to smoke one particular brand of tobacco, Condor, that had such a pungent smell that it overwhelmed me, suffocated me and made me leave the room swiftly to go and retch in the toilet. My parents never understood the effect it had on me and I remember being told off for running out. But the smell just made me ill. 

Mum smoked as well. Not a pipe of course, but cigarettes. I hated her reeking of them. I hated the house smelling of tobacco. The smaller the room the more intense the stench. It was horrible. My eyes used to water, my throat was irritated, I coughed, sneezed and frequently brought up bile. 

I’ve been told off for telling people they stink when I smell cigarettes on them. It’s the lingering, cloying smell, none of it pleasant, that hangs on their clothes. Yuck. With typical Autistic candour I refused to kiss my Mum one day after telling her she smelt like an ashtray. Mum gave up smoking the next day. 

It seems (and this is one for the scientific nerds out there) that there are a range of smells I find offensive but some are too low or too high (wrong phraseology, told you it needed a science nerd) to register with me. Some smells simply don’t affect me or I don’t get the impact. 

My partner loves perfume. She’ll go into Boots and try out all the testers, thrusting her wrist under my nose for my approval. But I can rarely differentiate between the smells. Perhaps it’s because they come in such rapid succession that I am still processing the last when the new one arrives so they all blend into one. I will sniff one, pass a comment about its scent only to be told that I don’t know what I’m talking about because that’s the one with orange blossom in it whereas I’m smelling roses or apples. 

I find walking through a perfume section problematic. The combination of smells is pretty overwhelming. My brains playing catch up trying to identify so many different smells that eventually they all merge and reduce me to a spluttering individual who can’t get out quickly enough. It gives me a headache and a rough chemical taste in my mouth. Women watch, open mouthed in amazement, as I throw myself through the nauseating clouds and run for the doors that lead to the haven of fresh(er) air. 

Food smells. I will cover taste in another blog but smell plays its part in enjoyment. Or not. No matter how nice something looks, no matter how nice it might taste, if I don’t like the smell of it I won’t eat it. I won’t try it. A favourite cry of my partner is, “But you haven’t even tried it!”, but I’m sorry, the smell just tells my brain I won’t enjoy it. I can’t taste it. I feel my throat constricting, I feel my face shrivelling in panic, my mouth shrinking with anxiety, my nostrils flaring and twitching. It’s not a good smell. I’m not eating any of it. 

I don’t associate smells with particular memories. Though, that said, Dad was rarely without his pipe and I don’t have many good memories of him. The smell, the sight of him puffing away makes me shudder even now he’s gone. 

Really sorry smokers but the sight and smell just makes me sick. 

Of course there are smells I like. Freshly cut grass, lemons, lavender, roses, flowery smells (my partner would describe those as girly smells!), the smell of a new book, the smell of new clothes, vinegar (one of the few strong smells I like), the smell of rain in the air, roast lamb, mint sauce, coffee, chocolate and freshly baked bread. Happy smells. 

So there you are. A brief, unscientific blog about smell. 

Next time I’ll look at touch … An area that has and does cause me a few issues. 

So, quite literally, I’ll be in touch soon! 

2 thoughts on “In the realm of the senses (Smell)

  1. I’ve always been very sensitive to smells, even for the 28 years I smoked. I gave up just over 2 years ago and my sense of smell has, unsurprisingly, ‘improved’, except it’s not an ‘improvement’ at all, it’s a constant assault. You have my sympathies.


  2. Oh, I can identify with this. When I was young my Mother smoked cigars. I always stank of them. Hated it so much. I could also smell when a smoker walked through the office. I also was a complainer in the office about solventy/paint smells that seemed to bother me alone.
    Food smells are also troublesome for me. The smell of onions cooking is like B.O. to me. To others too – I tweeted about it and found I was not alone.


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