The Relationship Between Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: Explained


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Introduction

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) refers to the neurological condition in which an individual’s brain struggles to receive and interpret sensory information from their environment efficiently. Children with autism are more prone to experiencing sensory processing issues as their unique neurological configuration presents challenges in effectively processing and interpreting sensory input. This can result in a range of symptoms and behaviors such as:

Hypersensitivity

Children with autism may exhibit over-sensitivity to various stimuli, such as sound, touch, taste, smell, and sight. For instance, they may become distressed or overwhelmed by loud noises or bright lights. They may also experience discomfort or even pain from textures, temperatures, or pressures that most people would find tolerable. In some cases, hypersensitivity can lead to avoidance or withdrawal from certain situations or environments. Parents and caregivers must understand and address hypersensitivity in children with autism, as it can impact their daily functioning, behavior, and overall quality of life.

The Different Types of Hypersensitivities in Children with Autism and SPD

  1. Auditory hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises, specific frequencies, or sudden sounds.
  2. Tactile hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to touch, textures, or temperatures of objects and surfaces.
  3. Visual hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to light, brightness, or specific visual stimuli.
  4. Olfactory hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to smells or fragrances.
  5. Gustatory hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to tastes or textures of food or beverages.
  6. Proprioceptive hypersensitivity: Over-sensitivity to the sensations of movement or pressure in joints, muscles, and tendons.

Hyposensitivity

Children with autism may not feel certain sensations as much as other people, such as touch, taste, smell, and sight. They may seek out intense sensations like loud noises or bright lights, or they might not notice things like changes in temperature or pain. Sometimes, hyposensitivity can cause them to do things that are harmful, like chewing on objects too much. Parents and caregivers should pay attention to hyposensitivity in children with autism, as it can affect how they act and feel every day.

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The Different Types of Hyposensitivities in Children with Autism and SPD

  1. Tactile hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to touch and may crave deep pressure or seek out rough textures.
  2. Proprioceptive hyposensitivities: difficulty with proprioception and may struggle with balance or coordination.
  3. Vestibular hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to movement and may crave intense sensations like spinning or swinging.
  4. Visual hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to visual stimuli and may not notice changes in lighting or color.
  5. Auditory hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to sound and may not react to loud noises or may have difficulty filtering out background noise.
  6. Gustatory hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to taste and may prefer foods that are spicy or heavily flavored.
  7. Olfactory hyposensitivities: reduced sensitivity to smell and may have difficulty distinguishing between different smells.

Difficulty with fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve the coordination of small muscles in the hands and fingers, and they are essential for activities such as writing, drawing, and buttoning clothes. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may experience difficulty with fine motor skills due to the challenges they face in processing sensory information and coordinating movements. Some common difficulties include trouble with handwriting, using scissors, manipulating small objects, and fastening buttons. These difficulties can impact a child’s academic and social development, as they may struggle to participate in activities that require fine motor skills.

Sensory-seeking behaviors

Sensory-seeking behaviors refer to a child’s desire for additional sensory input to help regulate their nervous system. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may exhibit sensory-seeking behaviors to compensate for their difficulties with processing sensory information. Examples of sensory-seeking behaviors may include spinning, jumping, crashing, seeking out pressure, or chewing on objects. These behaviors can help a child feel more grounded and organized, but they may also interfere with their ability to engage in daily activities and social interactions. Occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy can help address sensory-seeking behaviors and help children develop more effective coping strategies for regulating their sensory experiences.

Difficulty with social interaction

Children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) may experience difficulty with social interaction. They may have trouble interpreting social cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. They may also struggle with maintaining eye contact, initiating or maintaining conversations, and understanding social norms and expectations. This can lead to social isolation, withdrawal, and difficulties in forming and maintaining friendships.

The Importance of Therapy for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism

Therapy plays a critical role in supporting children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism, as it can help improve their sensory integration, social skills, and overall quality of life. Early intervention is essential in managing these conditions, and therapy can provide a safe and structured environment for children to learn coping strategies and regulate their sensory experiences. Moreover, therapy can also support parents in developing the skills and tools necessary to support their child’s unique needs and promote their long-term success. By engaging in therapy, children with SPD and Autism can improve their daily functioning and build a foundation for a fulfilling life.

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Categorizing Therapies for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism

  1. Occupational Therapy (OT): This therapy helps children improve their motor skills, sensory integration, and daily living skills. OT may involve activities such as play-based exercises, sensory integration therapy, and fine motor skill development.
  2. Speech Therapy: This therapy helps children with communication difficulties, including speech, language, and social communication. It may involve exercises to improve articulation, vocabulary, and social skills.
  3. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): This therapy focuses on improving behavior and social skills through positive reinforcement and repetition. It may involve one-on-one therapy sessions and the use of rewards to encourage desired behaviors.
  4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy helps children learn coping skills and strategies to manage anxiety, depression, and other emotional and behavioral difficulties. It may involve talk therapy, role-playing, and homework assignments.
  5. Play Therapy: This therapy uses play as a tool to help children express their emotions, develop social skills, and learn problem-solving skills. It may involve structured play activities or unstructured play sessions.
  6. Sensory Integration Therapy: This therapy aims to help children with SPD improve their ability to process and integrate sensory information. It may involve activities such as swinging, jumping, and playing in sensory bins.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one child may not work for another. Listen to your child’s needs and interests, and adapt these activities to suit their individual needs and strengths. Celebrate their unique qualities and promote acceptance and understanding of autism.

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