Sensory Issues

It's no secret that anyone diagnosed with autism, can also have differing sensory issues. This blog post is going to touch lightly on the different sensory challenges that they may face.

Sometimes, many of the behaviours that people with autism display could be linked to sensory issues. By working with professionals you can help to work together to avoid any sensory related issues that could be causing stress to the individual(s) with autism.

So, today we are going to discuss;
  • sights
  • sounds
  • taste
  • smell
  • touch

Sight

If the individual is under sensitive; objects may appear darker than they are, they may have visual difficulties and differing eye sight - they may not be able to look at things straight on/central, but use peripheral vision instead, they may also struggle with perception of depth - i.e when throwing and catching an object.

If the individual is over sensitive; their vision may be distorted when thing appear to dance around/move, they may zone in and look at a piece of detail on an object rather the whole object i.e a petal on a flower rather than the full flower in flower pot, they may also struggle to sleep at night due to being extra sensitive to light.

Black out blinds are great to use in the bedrooms are any play room etc where the individual may spend a lot of their time, it blocks out any light and really helps to create a dark, calming environment in any room. Sunglasses are also great - especially when getting a good brand which will really help to block out the lights, there are also special light bulbs/lamps/lighting equipment available online and in some stores now that will help individuals who struggle with their sight that will help to create a more suitable environment for them.

Sound

If the individual is under sensitive; they may have poor hearing in one or both ears, they may not react or acknowledge some noises/sounds, they may like loud noises, loud environments, crowds, parties, noisy objects, musical instruments such as the drum etc.

If the individual is over sensitive; they may find noises louder than they are, be able to listen to noises from a far distance, they also may not be able to concentrate if there are noises in the background - not being able to block out sounds and having to have pure silence for concentration.

Communicating through sign and symbols are a great way to support students if they are struggling with their hearing, also providing 'choice' times where they are able to have noisy equipment. There should also be opportunity for students who have the opposite to have quiet time, work in a separate room where it's quieter and easier for them to concentrate.

Taste

If the individual is under sensitive; they may like strong and spicy foods, eat or place inedible objects in their mouth i.e toys, grass, sticks, faeces, anything they can get their hands on. This condition is also known as pica. 

If the individual is over sensitive; they may have a very restrictive diet where they do not like certain tastes, they may have very sensitive taste buds meaning some foods may taste too strong for them, they may also not be able to cope with certain food textures such as sloppy foods - mashed potato, lumpy foods, runny foods etc.

Smell

If an individual is under sensitive; they may have no sense of smell and struggle to smell certain odours - such as their own body odour, perfumes, air fresheners etc. The individual may also put things to their mouth and lick them to try and 'smell' them this way to work out what the object/item is.

If an individual is over sensitive; they may dislike people who have strong smells - strong body creams, hand creams, perfumes, after shave, deodorant etc. They may also find some smells too overpowering - air fresheners, sprays etc. and not be able to cope with these.

Touch

If an individual is under sensitive; they may like deep pressure and being held tightly. They will also most likely have a high pain threshold, where they may not even react at times should they fall and hurt themselves as they genuinely may not feel this. They may be unable to feel food in their mouth and they may also self harm - again if this is teamed with where they have a high pain threshold, they may not realise the extent of injuries/damage they are doing to themselves as they can't feel it. Another common part is smearing of faeces because of the texture and chewing on anything and everything that they can get their hands on.

If an individual is over sensitive; they may not be able to cope with any sort of touch or comfort, they may find this 'painful' and will shy away, flinch should anyone come too close or try to touch them. They may not like to wear things such as socks, shoes, gloves etc. on their hands and feet. They may also struggle with certain textures of food, and certain clothing types on their skin, as their skin may also feel sensitive. This can also cause issues when washing.

Chew toys are a great way to help the individuals chew on appropriate objects - instead of anything that they can get their hands on. Having different 'sensory' sessions in class may also help distract the individual away from smearing faeces by offering them an alternative sensory experience with similar texture. There are also a lot of great sensory equipment available everywhere which may help students such as weighted blankets to help provide them with the deep pressure that they may be craving. If an individual can't cope with touch, always show them what you are about to do - offer your hand first, move slowly, be in front of them, and let them come to you/accept before moving forward. Don't rush things - go straight in for a hug - do more simple things, this could be as simple as sitting close to the individual, then moving closer until you are next to them. There are also certain clothing companies out there who cater to individuals with needs like this, you can also cut off labels and remove anything that may be bothering the individual. 

One of the best ways that we have found to help our students with sensory issues is by introducing Sensology sessions. Sensology sessions are a great way for students to explore with all their senses - but also to the amount that they are comfortable with, nobody is 'forced' anything, they are all sat around and invited to join in, but they can also refuse anything. If an individual struggles with eating textures yet agrees to hold an individual food item - this is classed as progress because they are at least willing to hold/touch the item rather than totally dismissing it.

Nikki 

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