We have 7 Senses:
Proprioception (body awareness)
Receptors over our bodies pick up sensory stimuli which are then processed and organised by the central nervous system. People with autism often have difficulty processing sensory information. This may result in an individual being stressed or anxious. Some even feel physical pain.
An individual may be under sensitive (hypo) or oversensitive (hyper). It is important to remember that some with ASD may fluctuate between being hypo and hypersensitive. I would say that personally, 95% of the time I am over sensitive, although I have experienced under sensitivity particularly with touch and balance.
I find that objects appear incredibly bright and sharp, almost as if the sun is shining on everything. Occasionally it looks like they are moving/vibrating and therefore it can be helpful to focus on details to ‘slow’ it all down. The opposite of this would be things appearing dark with poor depth perception.
Hyper: sunglasses, blackout curtains, reduced fluorescent lighting
Hypo: visual supports
Sound tends to be the most common sensory complaint. Noise for me is extremely amplified. I cannot cut out background noise. For example, in the classroom I can hear the teacher speaking, the clock ticking, somebody tapping their shoe, clicking a pen, a conversation in the hallway, all as if they are directly in my ear. Usually, I can focus surprisingly well but at times it can be incredibly overcoming. Others may only have partial hearing, enjoy noise or not acknowledge it at all.
Hyper: ear defenders, pre warning the individual of noisy environments, shutting doors
Hypo: use images in conjunction with verbal information
Eye contact can sometimes be a problem for me as I feel that my sight and sound senses overlap or clash making it hard look at somebody and listen to their words at the same time. I also find that looking in other peoples eyes makes my eyes sting and ache. Therefore, I try to pick an area of the face, such as above the eyes to focus on.
With touch, I have experienced both hyper and hypo sensitivity – mostly I detest being touched, I experience the touch as being very strong even if it is gentle, yet I can have a high pain threshold to the point of not realising that I have hurt myself and enjoy things that are heavily textured, particularly if it is rough like bricks, tree bark etc.. Some with autism enjoy the pressure of being hugged tightly.
Hyper: ask the person if they want to be touched, introduce different textures slowly
Hypo: weighted blankets
For me smells are incredibly intense, I don’t like strong odours and smell things before most people do. Usually, things that many consider being pleasant smells such as a bakery, coffee, flowers – I find too strong. Others on the spectrum have no sense of smell and do not notice extreme odours.
Hyper: unscented detergents and shampoos
Hypo: use strong smelling products to stimulate the sense
My problem here is not so much with the taste of food but rather the texture of it. Custard, rice pudding, jelly – foods that I consider to have a smooth ‘slimy’ feel are hard to tolerate. I prefer foods that have a much more definite, solid construct like meat, crunchy fruits, vegetables. The opposite of this would be something called pica in which the individual eats everything, including non-edible things like soil, paper, plastic.
For both hyper and hypo sensitivity, the most important thing is that the person has a healthy, balanced diet. Pica can be very serious, especially with items that may be poisonous and so that should be discussed with your doctor.
If the individual has a need to chew you could try Chewigem
This is the one sense that seems to be hypo sensitive. I often feel the need to move around by pacing, swaying or jiggling my legs in order to gain sensory input and feel balanced and connected to my body parts. During periods of very high anxiety, I might walk on my tiptoes as another way to feel grounded. Others have difficulty with car sickness, sports that require you to control your movements and stopping what they are doing quickly.
Hyper: break down activities into smaller, more manageable chunks
Hypo: encourage the development of the vestibular system
I tend to stand a little too far away from people as often cannot judge the appropriate distance. To help navigate myself I like to feel around and naturalise myself with surrounding objects and their proximity. I often turn my whole body when I look at something. Contradictory to this is standing too close to people, bumping into them and objects and having no sense of the personal space of others.
Hyper: practice fine motor activities such as handwriting and tying shoelaces if the individual struggles in that area
Hypo: arm’s length rule to judge personal space, do not have objects in the middle of the room to stop the person from bumping into them and potentially hurting themselves
These sensitivities can lead to a number of behaviours some of which may be challenging. It may be that you or your child is a fussy eater, refuses to wear certain clothes, has difficulty sleeping and/or difficulty concentrating.
A sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment. Individuals may shut down and avoid interaction, lash out, be fidgety and restless, have angry outbursts etc.
During a sensory overload, I can become withdrawn, anxious, fidgety, lose the ability to make and maintain eye contact, over sensitive but without the ability to cope, rarely I will cover my ears and very very rarely I will sit and rock backwards and forwards. The latter generally would only occur in extremely stressful situations and is more something that is done in private as a way of trying to calm me.
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