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What Is Sensory Issues In Autism

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Sensory Processing And Attention Profiles Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorders And Autism Spectrum Disorders

Ask an Autistic #9 – What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
  • 1Department of Occupational Therapy, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States
  • 2Occupational Therapy Division, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, United States
  • 3Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, VA, United States
  • 4Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, United States
  • 5Department of Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Neuroscience, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States
  • 6School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, United States

Addressing Sensory Challenges In Children With Autism

Children with autism likely experience challenges in their daily life related to sensory input and how they process sensory information. They can experience hyperreactivity which means they are likely to be over-responsive to certain sensory input or they can experience hyporeactivity which means they are likely to be under-responsive to certain sensory input.

Sensory input can be anything a person experiences with their senses or within their body from things they see, hear, or smell to things they taste, touch, or experience in their physical body like the sense of being hungry or full, maintaining balance, or being aware of ones body in the physical space around them.

Every child with autism will have their own way of experiencing sensory input. Some kids may be sensitive to bright lights or loud noises while others may be sensitive to certain clothing textures or certain food textures. Some kids may not notice certain details in their environment or within their body, such as the feeling of being cold even when everyone else around them is wearing a winter coat. Some children might seek out sensory input, such as rocking back and forth, desiring deep pressure hugs, or spinning in circles.

Does The Combination Of Sensory Processing And Attention Abilities Predict Group Membership

Table 4. The results of the discriminant analysis that included measures from the Short Sensory Profile and the Test of Everyday Attention for Children to predict each participants group membership.

Figure 2. Territorial map for the full discriminant analysis model. The small circles, triangles, and diamonds represent individuals of their respective groups plotted according to the two functions. The x-axis represents function 1, which significantly separates the typically developing group from the two clinical groups of autism spectrum disorder and SPD. The y-axis represents function 2, which significantly separates the ASD and SPD children. The red squares represent the centroid .

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Attention Abilities In Children With Spd And In Children With Asd

The differences in the pattern of sensory processing and attention abilities in children with ASD and children with SPD highlight the distinctness of the two clinical conditions. Demopoulos et al. examined auditory and somatosensory cortical processing using magnetoencephalographic data and showed that children with ASD had greater auditory processing deficits than SPD and TD peers, while somatosensory processing was similar between ASD and SPD groups. These differences highlight the importance of understanding the difference between attention and sensory processing patterns between children with ASD and SPD using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods. While both ASD and SPD show decreased white matter connectivity in areas associated with sensory processing and cognitive control , there may be greater involvement of neural structures underlying attention and cognitive control in children with ASD compared to children with SPD.

Oral Fixation Chewing Non

Guidelines :)

So I know that this one may be a very difficult sensory issue to nail down since may children and adults even chew on non-food objects. Whether it is to relieve stress, from boredom, or they just like the way it feels it may be a sign that your child has an oral fixation or a need to chew on objects.;

When we noticed our daughter chewing on the collars of her shirts we didnt think anything of it but as it happened, again and again, we realized that most of the time when it happened she didnt know that she was doing it. She seemed to only want to chew while she was writing or was busy with an activity.

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Types Of Sensory Issues In Autism: Examples And Treatment Options

Autism spectrum disorder is often associated with sensory challenges. Although the DSM-V criteria for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not specifically state that people with autism always experience sensory challenges, this credible diagnostic manual does point out that sensory challenges can be a trait of ASD.

Often Breaks Toys Or Other Objects

Oh my if I could add up all of the things our children have broken, they would fill our whole house.

Children with sensory issues such as sensory seeking behaviors often feel the need to pop or rip things in their hands to get that stimulation. Whether its window blinds, pieces of paper, or toys sometimes we are at a loss when it comes to this sensory issue.

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Sensitivity To How Things Feel

One of the most common sensory issues that many parents face is how things feel on their childs skin.

Whether its sensitivity with certain types of clothing material, the tags on the clothing, or even if its long or short sleeve, shorts or pants these are sensory issues to how things feel and how your child can tolerate them on their skin.;

We noticed that our 1-year-old could not stand if anything got onto his bare feet. Even a crumb. He would say uh-oh toe and hold his foot up to us as if something was wrong with it.;

Hes also had issues with clothing since he turned two years old. It started with him always wearing shoes around the house. And then he began only wanting to wear sweatpants and completely rejects wearing jeans or khaki pants.;

What Is Autistic Spectrum Disorder/condition

What is Sensory Processing Disorder? – VS Sensory Overloads (Autism)

Autistic Spectrum Disorder , or autism, is a developmental disability which affects how a person communicates with others and experiences the world around them.; Autistic children and adults will experiences difficulties with social communication and interactions.; Typically, they will have some form of restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests.; Differences in sensory responses were included in the 2013 update of the DMS-5, a manual used by clinicians to make an autism diagnosis.

Whilst it was well known prior to this that sensory processing differences and autism/ASD often occurred together, this is the first time it had been formally recognised.; The DSM-5 states that the patterns of behaviours, activities or interests may be due to Hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment .; This means that autistic children or adults are likely to process sensory information in the environment differently to others.

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Sensory Overload In Children

Sensory overload in children can be a challenge to recognize, treat, and cope with. If youre aware of a medical condition that presents sensory overload as a symptom, you may already be familiar with the strong reactions that sensory overload can cause.

A 2004 study estimated that over 5 percent of kindergartners in the United States meet the criteria for sensory processing conditions.

But a child who experiences sensory overload doesnt necessarily have a related condition. Childrens brains are still developing and learning how to sort through different kinds of stimulation. That means children are more likely than adults to experience sensory overload.

Learning to recognize the signs of sensory overload early on can help you manage your childs reactions. If your child cries uncontrollably when their face gets wet, reacts intensely to loud noises, or becomes anxious before entering a group gathering, your child may be experiencing sensory overload.

Once youve learned to recognize your childs triggers, you can slowly teach them how to recognize sensory overload.

Giving your child language to explain whats happening and letting them know that the way theyre feeling is normal, valid, and temporary can help them cope. You may find that certain situations that trigger your child are easiest to simply avoid altogether.

Speak with your doctor about any concerns you have about your childs learning and development.

Are Sensory Issues Part Of Another Condition

Many doctors dont believe sensory issues are their own disorder. But what is clear is that some people do have issues processing what they feel, see, smell, taste, or hear.

In most cases, sensory issues occur in children. Many of these children are on the autism spectrum. Adults on the spectrum can experience sensory issues, too.

Other conditions or disorders connected to sensory issues include:

Developmental delays are also not uncommon in people with sensory issues.

Its important to note, however, that children with ADHD experience hyperactivity for a very different reason than children who have sensory issues.

People who have ADHD may have trouble concentrating or sitting still. People with sensory issues may struggle to sit still because they crave sensory interactions with the world around them, or are bothered by their environment.

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Sensory Issues Acknowledged By The Dsm

Atypical responses to sensory input is a criterion for an autism diagnosis that was added to the latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . The DSM-5 defines sensory issues as a feature of restricted or repetitive behavioral symptoms, stating: hyper or hypo reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.

This addition to autism diagnostic criteria may be the reason some therapists refer to SMD as sensory reactivity as mentioned above. There is clearly a link between autism spectrum disorder and SMD, with many kids on the spectrum displaying over- or under-reactivity to sensory stimuli. Sensory seeking behavior is also frequently displayed by children on the spectrum and children with ADHD.

Dramatic Mood Swings And Tantrums

Sensory Issues and High

What parents often notice first is odd behaviors and wild mood swings, strange at best, upsetting at worst. Often its an outsized reaction to a change in environment a radical, inexplicable shift in the childs behavior.

For instance, a first-grader may do fine in a quiet setting with a calm adult. But place that child in a grocery store filled with an overload of visual and auditory stimulation and you might have the makings of an extreme tantrum, one thats terrifying for both the child and parent.

These kids temper tantrums are so intense, so prolonged, so impossible to stop once theyve started, you just cant ignore it, notes Nancy Peske, whose son Cole struggles with sensory issues. Peske is coauthor with occupational therapist Lindsey Biel, who worked with Cole, of Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

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Myth #3: Kids With Sensory Processing Issues Are Overreacting

Fact: Kids with sensory processing issues may seem fussy. It may appear that they get upset for no reason. But the truth is theyre reacting to things that may not be as noticeable to others.

Some kids may get agitated and overwhelmed in a restaurant because of a specific smell. Or at the mall because of a type of sound. Or they might refuse to wear certain clothing or brush their hair because it feels painful. For these kids, having too much sensory information to process can lead to a sensory meltdown or shutting down.

Getting Help For Sensory Sensitivities

Occupational therapists can assess your child’s sensory sensitivities and develop a plan for managing them. They can also help you come up with appropriate strategies if your child self-stimulates or stims.

Dietitians and speech pathologists might be able to help if your child has taste and smell sensitivities that also cause eating issues.

If you think some sensory issues are happening because your child isnt seeing properly, you could get your childs vision checked by an optometrist. This will help rule out any visual problems.

If your child ignores sounds and people speaking, you could get your childs hearing checked by an audiologist. This will help you rule out any hearing problems.

If your childs behaviour hurts themselves or other people, its best to get professional advice. An experienced professional can help you understand and manage your childs behaviour. A;good first step is talking with your paediatrician or psychologist.

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Theres A Lot Of Sensory Information To Process

This video shows the sheer amount of sensory inputs in our environment every day.; It considers just how much information someone with ASD and sensory processing disorder has to process as they move through a normal day.; Its useful to think about your childs day and what sensory inputs they are experiencing.; We explore sensory overload in more depth here.

Therapy To Support Children With Autism With Sensory Challenges

St. Clement’s Practical Autism: Sensory Issues

Children with autism spectrum disorder who experience sensory challenges can receive effective intervention.

Applied behavior analysis provided by an experienced Board Certified Behavior Analyst is one option for helping your child navigate his sensory world in a way that will be in his best interest now and in the future. He or she can learn effective ways of responding to both pleasant and unpleasant sensory input and how to use different strategies to manage their sensory needs.

An occupational therapist can also assist with this. An occupational therapist can help you better understand your childs sensory needs and sensory processing tendencies. They can also help your child develop strategies to meet his or her sensory needs on their own.

Speech therapists can help children with sensory challenges that are related to speech, swallowing, and mouth muscle movements.

Behavioral Innovations will gladly help you find intervention that will help your child with their sensory challenges. Reach out today!


Autism Speaks. Sensory Issues. Retrieved August 20, 2021, from

Elwin, M., Schröder, A., Ek, L., Wallsten, T., & Kjellin, L. . Sensory clusters of adults with and without autism spectrum conditions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 579-589. doi:

September 7, 2021

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Is There Always A Pattern Of Sensory Sensitivity In Autism

Interestingly, despite there being a lot of attention on sensory sensitivity in autism, the research reports a mix of sensory patterns.; Results show that there is no clear pattern of responses in autism to sensory information.; Different studies have given different results but most find that there is a mixed sensory profile in autism.

This is a good reminder that every person with autism is an individual.; Whilst some brains are more sensitive, others could be slower to respond to sensory inputs and others might seek out more sensory inputs.; There can also be differences with each sense.; One common finding in all studies is auditory sensitivity, or sensitivity to sounds. I see this clinically too.; Touch sensitivityis also frequently reported.

Overall, however, research does not support a specific pattern of responses.; Every autistic child or adult will have their own unique sensory profile and need their own individualised supports.

Sensory Processing Issues Signs And Symptoms

What you or your childs teacher might see depends on two things. The first is the trigger; the sensory input thats overwhelming your child. The second is the type of sensory processing challenge your child has.

Sensory Avoiding

Kids who are sensory avoiding may react to a wide range of triggers. These can include loud sounds, uncomfortable clothing, crowded spaces, or certain food smells or textures, among others. Whatever the trigger, the reaction can sometimes be extreme.

Sensory overload can lead to sensory meltdowns. These are very different from tantrums because theyre out of the childs control.

Here are some other signs you might see in your child:

  • Is easily overwhelmed by people and places

  • Seeks out quiet spots in noisy, crowded environments

  • Is easily startled by sudden noises

  • Is bothered by bright light

  • Avoids touching people or hugging them

  • Has a strong reaction to the texture or smell of certain foods

  • Refuses to try new foods and has a very limited diet of preferred foods

  • Gets upset about small changes in routine or environment and avoids trying new things

Sensory information isnt limited to the traditional five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Interoception is a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel whats going on in your body. Kids who have trouble with it may have a harder time with toilet training or have an unexpected threshold for pain.

Sensory seeking

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Is There A Difference Between Sensory Modulation Disorder And Sensory Processing Disorder

To many, the term sensory modulation disorder may not be as familiar as the more frequently used sensory processing disorder . Sensory modulation disorder is actually a subtype of SPD. This condition manifests as a type of sensory processing impairment where an individual has difficulty regulating hs/her responses to sensory input.

This subtype can be divided into three further categories, according to response to stimuli displayed by the individual:

1. Sensory over-responsiveness

This is characterized by an overreaction or a really intense reaction to stimuli which others may find neutral or tolerable. For children on the spectrum this can be seen in their reaction to tags on clothing, or texture of food

2. Sensory under-responsiveness

In contrast, individuals may also under-react or take a long time before responding to stimuli compared to their peers. For example, children with this condition may display muted responses and appear lethargic and withdrawn

3. Craving sensory input

Not everyone agrees with the various terms used to describe sensory processing and integration conditions. These terms are used according to preference and how and where the therapist was trained. Sometimes SMD is referred to as sensory reactivity. Despite all the differing terminology, most experts agree that sensory modulation deficits negatively influence childrens ability to match their response to the degree and nature of sensory stimuli in their environment.

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