Children with autism tend to struggle with sensory issues and problems.
In this article, we go over all that you need to know about autism, sensory processing disorder, and how the two interrelated conditions affect children.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that typically impacts a child’s learning capabilities and attentiveness to details.
The disorder also affects the way in which children react to changes in their surroundings and environment. This includes when someone calls the name of a child with autism or alters the noise/light levels in the room.
Children may run into difficulties when they socialize and/or communicate due to their learning and sensory issues.
What is sensory processing disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) has an effect on a patient’s senses (for instance, their hearing, vision, and smell).
The condition impairs sensory processing, which is how a patient’s brain observes and, after that, reacts to new sensory information.
More specifically, SPD compromises the sensory processes that are responsible for a person’s behaviors and motor skills (such as their ability to walk, stay balanced, and coordinate their movements).
The disorder impacts these processes’ various components, as well.
The 8 Components of Sensory Processing
The following are the eight different components of sensory processing (while five of them are very commonly known, the other three are still crucial):
- Interception: This component allows a person’s brain to comprehend internal activities and feelings that are inside the body. For example, hunger, thirst, and pains like stomach aches.
- Proprioception: Where the brain is fully in sync with bodily movements and positions, such as raising one’s hand.
- Vestibular Function: Under this component, the inner ear and brain jointly regulate eye movements, physical balance, and how the mind relates the body to the objects and items that surround it.
It is important to remember that there are two forms of sensory processing issues, and each of them could affect any of these eight components.
The 2 Types of Sensory Issues
Understanding sensory processing disorder and the issues that children may have entails learning about hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.
The two types mainly differ in terms of how high or minimal the kids’ sensitivities are. Either way, both of them impact how they behave, play, get dressed, react to changes, and more.
Here is a breakdown of each:
The first type makes children extremely sensitive to things that stimulate them, and this can lead to challenges that influence their daily habits and tendencies. As an example, a child who is hypersensitive to taste could be selective about what they eat.
Similarly, children with sound sensitivities might quickly become bothered around loud household appliances, music, and/or sudden noises. When socializing, they would rather spend time in quiet places with small amounts of people.
It is also common for hypersensitivity to cause balance and coordination problems and a low pain tolerance (one feels pain relatively easily).
Here are a few more signs that a child may have hypersensitivity:
- When they play with their classmates and friends, they become overly anxious about someone touching or bumping into them.
- On the playground, they stay clear of swings and games that stimulate their vestibular functions and senses of proprioception.
- The child catches sounds and noises that those around them didn’t notice.
- Tight or scratchy clothing makes them very uncomfortable.
- They greatly value their personal space and are annoyed by hugs/kisses.
Hyposensitivity, meanwhile, reduces a child’s sensory stimulation. For instance, their pain tolerance could be relatively high, and they might unintentionally get too aggressive when playing or damage their belongings as they use them.
Some children with hyposensitivity may frequently bump into walls, furniture, and household objects. Occasionally, kids will feel items with their hands and/or mouths in order to stimulate their sense of touch.
The following are additional symptoms that children with hyposensitivity usually experience:
- They like to jump on and bump into people and objects, which can put them at risk of hurting themselves and their friends/classmates.
- The child regularly touches items and other kids on the playground.
- Not only do they get stimulated by noises, but children with hyposensitivity might act in excessively loud ways.
- They chew on their clothing.
- Their personal space isn’t well defined. For instance, a child could stand in very close proximity to people during a conversation.
Some children display the signs of both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity in separate situations, such as at home and at school.
Just as important is that the two types of SPD may accompany other conditions, including ASD.
Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
SPD is prevalent among more than 80% of children with autism. It should be noted, however, the majority of kids with SPD aren’t diagnosed with autism.
With that being said, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) doesn’t consider SPD to be a mental disorder, in its own regard.
Instead, DSM-5 treats sensory features as a diagnostic criteria for autism. In other words, it lists hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity among the main repetitive behaviors that characterize ASD.
To clarify, DSM-5 is seen as a general manual for mental health and psychiatry professionals across the U.S.
This means that therapists and practitioners who are trained and licensed to work with children with ASD can address their SPD symptoms.
Therapy for ASD and SPD
The most prominent treatment for ASD is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. SPD is treated via occupational therapy.
Here at Golden Care ABA, our licensed and experienced therapists will design a targeted therapeutic program that revolves around your child’s individual circumstances.
This includes creating a plan that takes their hypersensitivity and/or hyposensitivity issues into consideration and allows them to refine their social and communication skills.
In short, by working with the licensed and trained therapists at Hidden Talents ABA, your child will be able to manage both their ASD and SPD symptoms through a single treatment program.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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