Autism and Sensory Differences

Autism and sensory differences seem to go together.  Young children with autism, adults on the autism spectrum and every age in between may be affected by sensory challenges or sensory differences.

We are talking about how these individuals respond to sensory input such as sound, touch, taste, smell or movement.

What is their problem?
A simple way to describe the problem is that these children and adults seem to have their senses “turned up too high” or they appear to have their senses “turned down too low.” As a result, they over-react or under-react to sensory input compared to other people.

It’s estimated that approximately 65% of autistic individuals demonstrate sensitivity to sound. It’s fairly common for them to have what we would call “behavior problems” or “behavior differences” related to how they respond to sensory input.

They may demonstrate a range of responses such as extreme behaviors and melt-downs or they may ignore or appear to “block everything out” to try to avoid sensory input that is painful or uncomfortable.

Those who are under-sensitive to sensory information may hurt themselves or encounter danger because they don’t react to situations in ways that most other people do. There is a wide range of responses.

Autism and noise
Autistic children and adults can hear just like those who do not have autism. Their challenge is not hearing acuity. Except in isolated cases, they can hear just fine. The difficulty they experience is related more to how they respond to what they hear.

How does sound sensitivity affect autistic individuals?
One problem can be that their filter doesn’t work well. Imagine this scenario.

Classmates are breathing and moving around and fidgeting. There are children walking in the hallway. A timer is ticking. The air conditioner fan is blowing. A lawnmower is buzzing outside the classroom window. And a train is going through town five miles away.

And . . . the teacher is talking.
So, what does our targeted student listen to? All of it? None of it?
Maybe the train?

You and I are usually able to filter out all those random background noises and focus on the teacher talking. Have you ever paid attention to how you are able to block out extraneous noise when you need to?

But our targeted students can’t block out all those extra noises as well as typical adults can. It’s not just students with autism. All children can have difficulty in a noisy environment, but those with autism or related special learning needs tend to struggle even more.

Add one more thing we don't think about
There is one more variable that is significant to remember. All students are not the same distance from the teacher. Those sitting farthest away from whoever is speaking experience an added challenge from those sitting close to the person talking.

How does noise affect our students with ASD?
What difference does this all make? Research shows a long list of problems that can be related to noisy learning environments.

Stress, communication breakdowns, difficulty listening and processing language, inappropriate behavior, temper tantrums and meltdowns, fear, avoidance, social difficulties. . . the list goes on.

Explore some solutions in the post Autism and Noise.

Even though a large percentage of autistic children and adults can experience sensory challenges, parents and teachers often don't understand the degree of challenge that can be part of their daily lives.

The eBook Autism Success Secrets explores the sensory experiences of individuals on the spectrum. It's important to remember that sensory challenges are not just something experienced by young children. 

Autism Success Secrets shares the experiences of adults on the autism spectrum, too. It's important to remember the needs of these individuals change as they grow and mature, but "everything autism" doesn't just magically disappear when they become adults.

Autism Success Secrets

Whether you are newer to autism  or you're an "old pro," the eBook, Autism Success Secrets, will help you as you support individuals with ASD.

Remember, it's a eBook so it will be delivered and you can read it as soon as you place your order!

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