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  • Writer's pictureZoe Cross

Understanding sensory issues in a child with autism

Updated: May 26, 2022

We preface much of what we say about autism by putting it into context. Sensory issues are experienced differently and uniquely. They can be mild or acute, to the point of being painful – and everything in between. And ‘sensory’ covers all of the senses and more: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch but also information overload, balance and others. Young people with autism can have one, some, or all of the sensory discomforts.

These issues are very real and, until they are understood, can be disturbing, exasperating, exhausting and worrying – to the person experiencing it and to those around them. By exploring your child/young person’s reactions and challenges you achieve the understanding that provides the foundation for positive action.

During our sessions together we can discover the sensory difficulties that are relevant to your child and work out ways to help them manage in situations they find overwhelming. Finding out what causes distress can be complex and I can help you to identify them and work through each one. I recently read a description of information overload as ‘having 40 TV channels on all at the same time’. It’s important to observe, without judging, and listen to the reactions of your child or young person.

Sensory experiences aren’t always heightened versions of the senses, they can also present as under-sensitivity. For example, vision might become blurred or dark or hearing might be selective where certain sounds are ignored. The same applies to smells and the person with autism might have little or no sense of smell or have extreme reactions to particular perfumes, food or animals, for example. Under-sensitivity can present in taste through a liking for spicy food whereas over-sensitivity can result in a preference for certain textures or types of food. As a parent we absolutely have to understand what is happening here so we can live as harmoniously as possible. Knowing that your child or young person isn’t being deliberately difficult or demanding is essential for everyone.

Touch can be quite an emotional sensory issue to navigate. Showing affection and reassurance is traditionally and instinctively done through touch: hugging, kissing and little touches to show empathy. However for some young people with autism, touch provides just the opposite. They may shun all contact, tolerate a little or it may not be a problem at all. We ascertain what’s acceptable and provide ways for this to become part of daily life. It may seem odd to ask permission to hug your child but if it only gives you comfort and is a bad experience for them, we have to learn to put our emotions aside and understand that this isn’t a personal rejection.

You will see how working together provides solutions for both the young person with autism and for those around them. Taking away, or minimising, some of the tensions and clashes can go a long way to help you discover more about each other and bring about a more harmonious everyday life – wherever you are, at school, home or in new surroundings.

The first stage of working together is a free session where I will advise you on whether it is worthwhile pursuing a diagnosis so if you have any concerns at all, it is worth taking this initial step.

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