Understanding Sensory Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Understanding Sensory Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Close your eyes and focus on the world around you. Can you hear the lawnmower next door? Feel the fan’s cool air on your face? Notice the scratchy tag on your shirt? Smell dinner cooking in the kitchen?

You likely only became aware of these things when you paused to think about them. Now, imagine if you couldn’t filter out all that external information and were constantly aware of these continuous environmental inputs. This is the reality for individuals with sensory processing challenges.

Our experiences are shaped by how our brains process sensory information. For those with sensory processing challenges the way common sounds, sights, and texture are perceived can be quite different.  Some individuals are overly sensitive (hypersensitive) to everyday stimuli which can be observed through behaviours like the blocking of their ears, closing eyes, and increased stimming to self-regulate.

On the other hand, some individuals are under sensitive (hyposensitive) and seek more sensory input than others – often shown though excessive biting or chewing, spinning in circles, or having an unusually high tolerance for pain. It’s important to note that an individual can experience a combination of both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

The most common sensory sensitivities include:

  • The flickering and brightness of fluorescent lights can be overwhelming, causing discomfort or even headaches.
  • High-contrast visuals and bold patterns can be distracting or distressing, making it hard to focus on other tasks.
  • Exposure to bright sunlight can be painful for the eyes, leading to squinting or a need for sunglasses even indoors.
  • Unexpected noises, such as alarms or sirens, can cause intense distress and anxiety.
  • Constant noise in environments like classrooms or crowded places can be distracting and overwhelming, making it hard to concentrate or communicate.
  • The loud and continuous noise from household appliances can be particularly bothersome, often leading individuals to avoid or escape such environments.
  • The sensation of hair being cut, and the associated sounds and feelings can be extremely uncomfortable.
  • Textures of fabrics like wool or tags on clothing can cause irritation and lead to avoidance or the need to remove the irritating items.
  • The sensation of a toothbrush and toothpaste can be unpleasant, making oral hygiene a challenging task.
  • Intense flavours, whether spicy, sour, or bitter, can be overwhelming.
  • Foods with specific textures, such as crunchy or slimy, can be off-putting and result in picky eating habits.
  • Variations in food temperature can affect the acceptance of certain foods, with some individuals preferring only cold or only warm foods.
  • Strong scents from personal care products can be overpowering, causing nausea or headaches.
  • The chemical smells from cleaning agents can be distressing, often leading individuals to avoid cleaned areas until the smell dissipates.

Understanding these sensory sensitivities is crucial for creating supportive environments for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and/or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Bailey Hogan