Sensory needs and Sensory overload in Autism

September 25, 2023
Maitri Shah

Sensory needs and Sensory overload in Autism

Individuals with Neurodevelopmental disorders like autism often show difficulties in sensory processing meaning they have difficulty processing information taken through the senses. Every individual with autism is unique and has a way of experiencing and responding to these sensory inputs. These sensory inputs can be in form of visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, olfactory, gustatory, and proprioceptive.

Concerning individuals with autism, these sensory response behaviors are divided into:

·      Hypersensitivity- This involves overreaction to one’s sensory environment (when someone sings to them, they cannot handle it)

·      Hypo-sensitivity- This involves under reaction to one’s sensory environment (Loud noise or music doesn’t bother them)

Individuals with Hypo – sensitivity to different senses tend to seek out more sensory stimulation to feel satisfied. Sensory need for them becomes an important aspect and reflects in their behavior. They engage in self-stimulating behavior of different kinds like - repetitive body movements, hand flapping, moving back and forth, jumping high, tapping, etc.

It is very important to understand each child's sensory needs and make effective strategies and ways in which we can help them meet their needs as this will help them relieve stress, improve their focus, ease any distress and improve their behavior. It will also open doors for them to explore, learn and communicate effectively. Scheduling, sensory tools, and toys, changes in the sensory environments, stimming, etc. are a few additional ways to support them.

Sensory Overload is another important aspect of autism. Sensory overload happens when one or more of the body’s five senses receive an over intense sensory input which makes it hard for the individual to cope with and makes the individual distressed. The brain is unable to process, organize and execute the sensory information which leads to an overload. Sensory overload can be triggered at any time and can also interfere with a person’s daily life. People who experience sensory overload often go through feelings of anxiety, fear, restlessness, agitation, and anger.

To help them cope it is very important to help them identify and act on these triggers them identify a safe space for them. Identifying their strength and providing them with opportunities to do activities that help them relax and calm helps them to cope with the stress.

Each individual can possess both oversensitivity and under sensitivity to different senses however it is important to understand these needs and triggers. Once you understand the sensory needs and overloads of a person it becomes easy to know what, why, and when a person engages in a certain behavior or avoids it.