Autism sensitivity differences

What is sensory information?

Our home environment, workplaces and public spaces are full of sensory information. Sensory information, such as noise, crowds, clothing and light, is collected by the brain from our five core senses. These five core senses include taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell.

Our senses help us understand information about the world around us. People with autism may experience sensitivity differences to certain sensory information.

Sensitivity differences to sensory information

Processing sensory information can be challenging, especially when there is an overload of conflicting information. As a result, children with autism may experience sensitivity issues. They may be unable to filter out unnecessary information while attending to the important task at hand. This can lead to inattention, inability to complete chores or being disorganised, for example.

Children with autism are sometimes hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory information. Their senses take in either too much or too little information. This can cause a display of certain behaviours when interpreting what they see, taste, touch, hear and smell.

What is hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity is an over-response to sensory input. This involves seeking to avoid sensory experiences. Behaviours that indicate children who are overly sensitive to daily activities can include:

  • Sensitive to bright lighting.
  • Affected and distracted by loud noises.
  • Irritated by tags, clothing seams, and certain materials.
  • Difficulty with sensing how much force is needed to apply in tasks. For example, pressing too hard when writing or closing doors.
  • Avoiding hugs and cuddling, even with family members and familiar people.
  • Overly fearful of fast moving items. For example, pets or swings and slides in the playground.
  • Tendency to run away when overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations.
Child playing with white dandelion

What is hyposensitivity?

Hyposensitivity explains an under-sensitive input to sensory information. This involves seeking out sensory experiences, such as actively looking for things to touch, hear or taste. Behaviours that indicate children who experience hyposensitivity to daily activities include:

  • Constantly touching and hugging people or textures.
  • Loves running, sports or other active play.
  • Craving fast, spinning and/or intense movement. For example swinging, spinning, jumping, running, crashing.
  • Disregards or no understanding of personal space.
  • Self-stimulating behaviours. For example flapping, chewing, rocking, humming.
  • Tendency to chew objects, including clothing, pencils, and toys.
  • High tolerance for pain.
  • Unable to sit still and fidgety.
For a summary of the information above, check out our downloadable factsheet.

Managing sensitivity to sensory information

Sensory-based interventions
Sensory-based interventions can help manage sensitivity to sensory information. The NDIS states that “sensory-based interventions are based on the theoretical premise that sensory functions are a fundamental building block of all developmental skills…across a range of domains, including core autism characteristics”.

With the help of an Occupational Therapist, sensory-based interventions can improve attention and support organisation. This involves an assessment of the participant’s sensory functioning. From the information acquired, we are then able to develop an individually-tailored intervention program of sensory-rich experiences. This can include an Activities of Daily Living assessment, movement activities, or Autism teletherapy.

Sensory-based interventions help to support the development of foundational sensory processing abilities. If a child you know is experiencing these symptoms but not formally diagnosed, we can assist with determining a formal diagnosis. For children with autism, our programs aim to facilitate greater and broader engagement that supports day-to-day tasks. Get in touch with us today!

Sensory equipment
Sensory equipment refers to items used that are used by people with autism, to help process sensory information. Lifestyle products such as accessories, household items or toys for children, are designed to stimulate at least one of the five senses, to managing sensitivity while completing everyday tasks.

For a collection sensory equipment, check out the range of lifestyle products from the Australian e-commerce retailer EVERYHUMAN.

Learn more about sensory support

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