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What are Sensory Problems in Children with Autism?

People with autism are often highly sensitive to their environments, they have unusually delicate sensory systems, means that their sense can all be easily overloaded. Even more challenging, it can be difficult for people with autism to “just ignore” sensory information as it comes in.

 

Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems processing sensory information.

Under-sensitive      

Children seek out more of a sensation to feel satisfied. Depending on the sense, this can mean they turn up the TV volume, jump on the bed, or watch the wheels of their toy car spin over and over. Sensory toys give them the sensation they crave in a fun, safe way.

Over-sensitive

Children try to avoid certain sensations that are too overwhelming. This might mean they cover their ears when the vacuum cleaner is on, want the tags cut out of clothing, or cry when placed on a swing. In these cases, sensory toys act as an enjoyable introduction to sensations that children dislike with the goal of making the sense more tolerable in the future.

Sensory Overload in Autism

Sensory overload involves more than just sounds. It can be any environmental stimulus that interferes with the stability of the environment. In some cases, the individual can be so sensitive as to react adversely to sensations you might not even notice.

Examples include:

  • Sounds: Persistent sounds such as lawnmowers, washing machines, ticking clocks, dripping water, or traffic noises

  • Sights: Florescent lights that flicker or the fluttering of curtains, posters, and wall hangings

  • Smells: Including heavy or distinct smells such as cleaning supplies, new carpets, perfumes, foods, and cologne

  • Textures: Including the textures of slippery foods or the feeling of mucilaginous glues or gels (although the intolerance or favoring of textures can vary from one individual to the next)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you get a better sense of your child’s sensory preferences?

Here is a checklist, which can be a helpful tool for parents to understand their child’s sensory need.

My child is under-sensitive to touch and seeks it out by:

  • Wanting long hugs

  • Wrapping himself in blankets

  • Squeezing himself into tight places

  • Insisting on wearing tight-fitting clothes

  • Lying flat on the floor

  • Bumping into people

  • Clapping his hands

  • Holding objects

  • Putting objects in his mouth

  • Grinding crying when he gets hurt

  • Other

My child shows he is over-sensitive to touch:

  • He doesn’t like sticky things on his hands

  • He likes and dislikes certain clothing textures

  • He dislikes wearing hats and gloves

  • He dislikes getting his hair washed or cut

  • He dislikes crunchy, chewy foods.

  • Other

What Can You Do About Your Child’s Sensitivities?

 

Once you understand your child’s sensory preferences, you will be able to understand why he engages in certain behaviour or avoids certain activities or situations. You can also use this information to think of ways to help your child manage difficult situations. If your child is over-sensitive to certain sensations, avoiding your child’s sensory dislikes can be helpful.

If your child is under-sensitive to sensations and seeks them out, you may have to find creative ways of fulfilling this sensory need. While your instincts might tell you to remove certain objects or situations that cause your child to engage in repetitive or disruptive behaviours, this usually doesn’t work very well. If a child has a sensory preference, he will usually find another outlet to fulfill this need. A better idea can be to use your child’s sensory preferences to create games that you can play together that will not only satisfy your child’s sensory needs but create opportunities for communication and interaction. These games are called “People Games”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People Games

People Games are games that are played without toys – just with people. Some People Games involve movement and music, and some involve just movement or actions.

People Games offer a special advantage for children with autism, who learn best through structure and repetition. As People Games are played the same way each time and often have a “script” to say while playing, children with autism can learn many things during these predictable games, such as how to take turns with you, pay attention to you, and imitate your actions, sounds, or words.

Because People Games involve some sort of movement or actions, a child’s sensory preferences can be easily incorporated into the game. If a child’s sensory preferences are considered when choosing a People Game, the child will be very motivated to play the game. Because he isn’t pre-occupied with a need to fulfill a sensory preference, he can pay attention to your words and actions. Some children even say their first words during a People Game.

If a child’s sensory preferences are stimulated, it often encourages him to communicate and ask for the game to keep going.

How to Play a People Game

Choosing a People Game based on your child’s sensory preferences, your child is sure to enjoy the game and play more attention to you. Your child may look at you more often during the game and communicate with you.

Here are some tips that will ensure that your child has fun and learn something in the process:

  • Give the game a name.

  • Play the game the same way each time.

  • Play the game several times.

  • Give your child a chance to participate in his own way.

  • Help your child send you a message.

  • End the game the same way each time.

Sensory Toys for Kids with Autism

Hyporesponsive or hyperresponsive children might react with meltdowns, withdrawal, or other challenging behaviors. Desensitizing tools can make it easier for these children to cope with sensory input.

Toys and tools can help with sensory integration of textures, sounds, brightness, balance, and movement to improve daily life.

Here are some Sensory Toys and Tools for Kids with Autism:

Visual, Tactile, and Auditory

  • Crystal Bead Ball

  • Gel Shapes

  • Economy Ball Pool

Oral Motor

  • Rubber Massage Brushes

  • Chewy Tubes

Gross Motor

  • Economy Foam Balance Beam

  • Trampoline

  • Spin Disc

  • Special High Back Swing Seats

Deep Touch Pressure

  • Weighted Blanket

  • Pressure Vest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources: 

How to Overcome Sensory Problems in Children with Autism. Performance Health. (n.d.). https://www.performancehealth.com/articles/how-to-overcome-sensory-problems-in-children-with-autism.

Helping Your Child Cope with his Sensory Needs. Helping your Child Cope with his Sensory Needs. (n.d.). http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/helping-your-child-cope-with-his-sensory-needs.aspx.

Rudy, L. J. (2019, November 15). Your Autistic Child's Melt Down May Be From Sensory Overload. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/autism-and-sensory-overload-259892.

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