It is estimated that between 45% and 95% of people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) experience challenges with processing sensory information.
Sometimes individuals may experience hypersensitivity (be over sensitive) to things whilst other times they may experience hyposensitivity (be under-sensitive) to things. Any or all of the senses may be affected. These include
- Vision – Some individuals have an excellent eye for detail, but this can also lead to some visual things being distracting
- Hearing – Some individuals may find some noises very uncomfortable and very distracting or may prefer loud music or other noises
- Smell – Some individuals may find some smells very unpleasant sometimes these are everyday things like food or perfumes. Equally, others may prefer strong smells
- Touch – Some individuals may dislike the feel of things like clothing and may not like to be touched whilst others may prefer the feel of stronger pressure such as heavy clothing
- Taste – Some individuals may dislike certain flavours whilst others may prefer very strong flavours such as highly spiced foods
- Proprioception – This is awareness of our body. Some individuals may have challenges with understanding and coordinating their bodies and may appear clumsy or uncoordinated
- Vestibular – This is our sense of balance and movement. Sometimes individuals enjoy the sensation of particular movements so may repeat the same movement or they may find some movements cause the sensation of motion sickness and therefore unpleasant
- Interoception – This is an awareness of what is going on inside our bodies. Some individuals may be less aware of feeling hot/cold or hungry/thirsty, etc. Or they might be particularly sensitive to disturbances in their bodies and become highly focussed on these.
The impact of sensory challenges will be different for everyone and it can be difficult for those without autism to understand why an individual is reacting to something as they are not experiencing it in the same way.
For some individuals, sensory overload can become intolerable and lead to great distress. Additionally, fear of situations that may lead to sensory overload can lead to anxiety and avoidance, thereby limiting an individual’s life opportunities and experiences.
These issues should always be treated with respect and not ignored.
There are some simple things that may be helpful such as:
- Allowing the individual to choose clothes that they feel comfortable wearing, may mean alterations to dress codes or uniform policies. Cutting labels out of clothes and using mild smelling fabric detergent can also sometimes be helpful along with sticking to the same brand or a detergent that smells the same.
- Facilitating the use of noise-cancelling headphones or allowing the individual to play music whilst working.
- Facilitating the use of tinted lenses to avoid visually disturbing lighting and ensuring that they are positioned in a suitably lit environment.
- Enabling the individual to leave classrooms or meetings or workplaces earlier to avoid crowded areas, increased noise or chaotic environments
- Encouraging physical exercise opportunities
- Providing quiet eating and/or working zones
- Providing visual cue cards that the individual can use to identify that they are feeling overloaded and that they may need to remove themselves from the environment
- Providing fiddle toys or things like stress balls to provide an outlet for physical movement
It can be very helpful to discuss these issues with an individual and to observe behaviours to build up a profile of likes/dislikes and behaviours that indicate areas where hyper or hypo sensory challenges are occurring.
Here at I AM we work closely with our members to support them with sensory challenges. We believe that such challenges should not limit opportunities for individuals and work with individuals to provide sensitive and carefully planned support that enables individuals to live full and fulfilling lives.
For more information about what we do contact firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0161 866 8483