Sensory Sensitivities in Autism: Over or Under sensitivity to Stimuli

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a diverse range of symptoms and behaviors. One of the key features that many individuals with ASD experience is sensory sensitivities. Sensory sensitivities refer to atypical responses to sensory stimuli, where individuals may be either hypersensitive (over-sensitive) or hyposensitive (under-sensitive) to certain sensory inputs.

Hypersensitivity to Sensory Stimuli:
Hypersensitivity, also known as sensory over-responsivity, refers to an exaggerated response to sensory inputs. Individuals with ASD who are hypersensitive may experience discomfort, distress, or even pain in response to certain sensory stimuli.

Common hypersensitivities include:
Auditory Sensitivity: Some individuals with ASD may be highly sensitive to sounds, finding everyday noises overwhelming. They may cover their ears, become anxious or irritable in noisy environments, or struggle to filter out background noises.
Visual Sensitivity: Bright lights, flickering lights, or certain visual patterns may be overwhelming to individuals with ASD who are visually hypersensitive. They may experience discomfort, headaches, or have difficulty focusing on tasks in visually stimulating environments.
Tactile Sensitivity: Hypersensitivity to touch and textures is also a common symptom of ASD. Individuals may be extremely sensitive to certain fabrics, tags on clothing, or even light touches. They may avoid physical contact or become distressed by sensations that others may find tolerable or even pleasant.
Taste and Smell Sensitivity: Some individuals with ASD may have heightened sensitivity to taste and smell, finding certain odors or flavors overpowering. They may have strong food preferences or aversions, limiting their dietary choices.

Hyposensitivity to Sensory Stimuli:
Hyposensitivity, also known as sensory under-responsivity, refers to a decreased sensitivity or reduced responsiveness to sensory inputs. Individuals with ASD who are hyposensitive may seek out intense sensory experiences or exhibit behaviors that provide sensory stimulation.

Common hyposensitivities include:
Proprioceptive Sensitivity: Proprioception refers to the sense of body awareness and position. Some individuals with ASD may have reduced proprioceptive awareness, leading them to seek out intense physical activities or engage in repetitive behaviors like jumping or crashing into objects to fulfill their sensory needs.

Vestibular Sensitivity: The vestibular system contributes to our sense of balance and spatial orientation. Individuals who are hyposensitive to vestibular input may seek out spinning, swinging, or rocking movements to stimulate their vestibular system.

Impact on Daily Life:
Sensory sensitivities can significantly impact the daily lives of individuals with ASD. Hypersensitivity may lead to anxiety, sensory overload, or avoidance of certain environments, making it challenging to engage in social activities or participate in everyday tasks.

Understanding and Accommodating Sensory Sensitivities:

Recognizing and accommodating sensory sensitivities is crucial for individuals with ASD to thrive in their environments. Some strategies that can help include:
• Providing a sensory-friendly environment: Creating calm, quiet spaces with appropriate lighting and minimizing unnecessary sensory stimuli can help individuals with hypersensitivity.
• Offering sensory breaks: Allowing individuals to take breaks in a quiet or low-stimulus area can help regulate their sensory input and prevent sensory overload.
• Using visual supports: Visual schedules, timers, and visual cues can provide predictability and reduce anxiety for individuals with sensory sensitivities.
• Offering sensory tools: Providing sensory tools like noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, or weighted blankets can help individuals regulate their sensory experiences.