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|SENSORY INPUT||HYPERSENSITIVITY (OVER-SENSITIVITY)||HYPOSENSITIVITY (UNDER-SENSITIVITY)|
|Proprioception (Body Awareness)||
Sensory issues can occur at any age in individuals with autism. They can be present from early childhood and persist into adulthood. However, sensory issues may manifest differently and vary in intensity from person to person.
In some cases, sensory issues may be evident even before a formal autism diagnosis is made. Parents and caregivers may observe atypical reactions to sensory stimuli, such as a strong aversion to certain sounds or textures, or seeking out intense sensory experiences. These early signs can provide valuable insights into an individual's sensory processing challenges.
It is important to note that sensory issues can be fluid and change over time. As an individual progresses through different stages of life, their sensory challenges are subject to dynamic changes, potentially giving way to new issues or even showing signs of improvement. Additionally, the intensity of sensory issues can vary from day to day or in different environments, depending on factors such as stress levels, fatigue, and sensory demands.
For effective management of sensory issues, autistic children need help from specialists like occupational therapists to develop coping techniques. Occupational Therapists (OT) can help identify how a child processes and responds to sensory stimuli. They establish areas of difficulty, and teach the kids effective strategies, techniques to cope with the sensory issues. The therapy is done in a play-based environment and structured in a way to slowly integrate the kids and help them overcome the sensory challenges. Therapists provide valuable guidance to parents or care-givers on how to effectively handle kids during sensory meltdowns. They also provide tips and tools to effectively identify, mitigate, and avoid sensory stimuli.
Occupational therapy is conducted either through the school or through the parents. Occupational therapy, on occasion, receives coverage from insurance providers. Moreover, Early Intervention Services offer this service to eligible children as well.
The strategies and techniques that help in dealing with sensory issues can be broadly grouped in three categories as listed below:
Sensory Avoidance Strategies
Withdrawal: Some autistic children may withdraw or retreat from overwhelming sensory stimuli. For instance, they might move to a quieter area or cover their ears to reduce auditory input.
Avoiding Certain Stimuli: They may actively avoid situations or environments that trigger sensory discomfort. This could involve staying away from crowded places, bright lights, or strong smells.
Stimulatory Behaviors: Autistic children might engage in self-stimulatory behaviors, also known as "stimming," to self-regulate and find comfort. This can include actions like hand-flapping, rocking, or repetitive movements.
Deep Pressure or Compression: Applying deep pressure or seeking compression through weighted blankets, hugs, or tight clothing can help provide a calming effect and regulate their sensory system.
Environmental Modification Techniques
Creating Personal Retreat Spaces: Autistic children like their own personal retreat spaces where they can go to find comfort and regulate their sensory system. This could be a designated corner with cozy cushions, soft lighting, and favorite sensory items like fidget toys or weighted blankets.
Sensory Breaks: Autistic children may take sensory breaks when they feel overwhelmed. These breaks involve temporarily removing themselves from the overwhelming environment to a quieter, calmer space where they can relax and self-regulate. Autism classrooms have tents/spaces for privacy where kids are encouraged to spend quiet time when kids are feeling overwhelmed.
Personalized Sensory Kits: Occupational therapists create and provide personalized sensory kits containing items that help autistic children cope with specific sensory challenges. These kits could include earplugs, sunglasses, scented items, or tactile objects that provide comfort or reduce sensory input.
These techniques empower autistic children who are unable to handle the discomfort of sensory issues to adapt to their environment according to their sensory needs, allowing them to regulate their experiences and find relief from overwhelming sensory stimuli.
However, some autistic children who have developed communication skills may use verbal or non-verbal means to express their sensory needs and preferences. For example, they may say, "I don't like tags on my shirt, can I have one without?" This helps caregivers and teachers understand and support them. Through communication, they seek understanding and accommodations for their sensory experiences.
If someone is having a meltdown, or not responding, don’t judge them. This is a four-step process you can follow to manage it:
Be aware: Recognize the signs of sensory overload in an autistic person, such as covering their ears, displaying distress, or exhibiting repetitive behaviors. Understand that meltdowns are a natural response to overwhelming sensory stimuli and should not be judged.
Be creative: Explore sensory-friendly strategies to help manage the overload. This could include creating a calm and quiet environment, providing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, dimming lights, or offering sensory tools like fidget toys or weighted blankets. Be open to individual preferences and adapt the environment to suit their needs. The special sensory needs of autistic children are being recognized in many spheres of society. Premier scientific institutions such as the Kennedy Space Centre have become a Certified Autism Center. As part of the certification, the visitor complex will designate areas where people with sensory sensitivities can relax in less stimulating surroundings, providing a break from potential sensory overload
Be prepared: Educate yourself about the specific sensory triggers that can lead to meltdowns for the person you're supporting. Talk to them or their caregivers to gather information about their sensitivities and coping mechanisms. This preparation allows you to anticipate potential triggers and have appropriate resources readily available to help them through a meltdown.
Respond well: During a meltdown, respond with patience and understanding. Avoid making demands or trying to stop the meltdown forcefully. Instead, provide a calm presence and give them space if needed. If the person is nonverbal or has difficulty communicating, use visual cues or simple language to convey reassurance. Offer support without judgment, allowing them to express their emotions and providing comfort until the sensory overload subsides.
Remember, each autistic individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is essential to be flexible, patient, and responsive to the individual's needs and preferences when managing sensory issues in autism.
Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings
Sensory features in autism: Findings from a large population-based surveillance system https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35040592/
Sensory Abnormalities in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Focus on the Tactile Domain, From Genetic Mouse Models to the Clinic
Autism and the Sensory Disruption of Social Experience
Study of sensory processing deficits in autism spectrum disorder symptom triad: an Egyptian sample https://mecp.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s43045-020-00082-5
An In-Depth Look at Sensory Integration https://autism.org/sensory-integration/
Study Finds Sensory Integration Therapy Benefits Children with Autism
The Impact of the Presence of Intellectual Disabilities on Sensory Processing and Behavioral Outcomes Among Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: a Systematic Review https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40489-022-00301-1
The National Autistic Society: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/sensory-world
Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sensory-issues
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation: https://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder
Research Autism: http://www.researchautism.net/about-autism/sensory-issues
Autism Research Institute (ARI): https://www.autism.com/symptoms_sensory_overview
Interactive Autism Network (IAN): https://iancommunity.org/sensory-issues-autism
Autism Research Centre (ARC):
Child Mind Institute:
Sensory Integration Network:
The STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder: https://www.spdstar.org/
Autism Research Review International: