Sensory Problems in Autism

Sensory problems in autism cause a lot of confusion for teachers and parents.

This was a comment from an “autism mentor.” I’m assuming that is another name for a teacher’s aide or a one-on-one to assist a student.

She lamented that the teacher that she was working with was “mean” and “degrading” to the autistic students and the assistant was very distressed by this.

I do understand the emotions that can occur when adults are confused or frustrated because “autism behaviors” get in the way of accomplishing their plans and goals.

Here’s a Facebook question from a teacher of autistic students

“What strategies have you found effective when a student lays on the floor in an effort to avoid a task?”

I wonder about the answers to that question

Almost every answer posted to the question in that Facebook group revealed that each teacher answering “forced” the student to do what the teacher wanted before anything else could happen.

Perhaps there's a different way to look at the problem

I read an evaluation report recently that described the student in a constant state of sensory dysregulation. That term sensory dysregulation caught my attention.

I’m not an Occupational Therapist, but sensory dysregulation is something all of us who mentor autistic students need to understand.

Sensory dysregulation is when your sensory system is out of balance. It's out of kilter. And the sensory system either gets way too many sensations to process at one time or the sensory system doesn't get enough input. Then students engage in various behaviors to try to adjust themselves.

So, here’s my first question about the student on the floor

What’s out of balance?

Is something out of balance for this student right now?

Sensory "input" problems may affect one sense or multiple senses in an individual. If severe, they can create significant problems participating in daily activities.

Many behaviors that are identified as "behavior" problems may really have a root in sensory issues.

It’s important for teachers and parents to consider sensory challenges when trying to identify causes of behavior situations they are dealing with.

Our Occupational Therapists who have special training in Sensory Integration can help us figure that all out.

The bottom line is that you can't punish a child who is
acting out because of sensory overload.

When children are “well regulated,” then they are more available to do the learning and the engaging that they need to do.

When they're not regulated, those sensory challenges make them less available for engaging and learning. Those sensory challenges seem to take over everything.

Here's a little autism secret that can help you

Students may react differently on different days depending on how much (sensory intrusion) they have to tolerate.

This helps explain a common misunderstanding about these students. Unfortunately, they often get "judged" as being willfull or uncooperative "on purpose" or as an attempt to get out of doing something.

Perhaps their behavior isn't just "being bad." Maybe there is another sensory based reason for the behavior you are observing.

It's so important to become a detective and dig deeper into some of these difficult situations. The "root" of the problem may not be what it seems on the surface.

Sensory issues in autism

The statistics are as high as 90% of autistic children can experience sensory difficulties. And sensory issues are not limited to children. Many autistic adults will share their personal experiences and how they manage sensory difficulties.

When dealing with behavior issues with this population of students, wise adults will explore the sensory problems in autism to look for solutions.

P.S. There is more to understand about this issue. The "bucket" story in the eBook Autism Success Secrets will provide some valuable insights.

Get this eBook
Autism Success Secrets
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