General Sensory Issues

This is a post from my other, now deleted blog, so just re-posting it here!

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I would consider Sensory Issues to be perceiving and/or reacting to any/all the 5 senses in a way that is not considered common. This is very normal for children with Autism as they see/interact with everything around them in a very different manner than someone who isn’t on the Spectrum.

Once you start, or have finished, your complete assessment and have your diagnosis you may start noticing (if you didn’t beforehand) that some or all the 5 senses are difficult or fascinating to your child.

The simple act of turning a light on and off over and over can be mesmerizing to one child on the Spectrum and debilitating to another. This can be difficult to manage especially if your child is non-verbal and you can’t see in the moment what could be upsetting them to the point of screaming.

An example could be: Your child is playing/sitting/etc. and suddenly they are so upset they are screaming! Perhaps in this case the room/area is too bright. So, unless your child can verbally tell you or covers their eyes or is squinting you may not know or understand that it’s too bright in the room/area for them right now.

As a parent with a child like this, you almost need to hone some “Sherlockian” talents to help in this kind of situation. It’s a lot of trial and error over and over, day in and day out.

For me, I would start with wiping their hands and face, then branch out to lighting and then what sounds are happening right now and start eliminating them and gauging a reaction. I realize that this may easier said than done as your first reaction is likely to be “what’s wrong?” and if it’s an auditory issue then this may just aggravate the situation.

With my son, I didn’t really take notice of how sight, hearing and touch were big issues for him until he started doing Occupational Therapy and Behaviour Intervention. I wish I had, had a way of knowing that sensory input and output were so much different for him right at the beginning as it caused so much confusion/frustration for both of us until we could communicate a little better.

Now, I notice the small things he does, even if he doesn’t verbally communicate it to me. So, if something like the lights on or curtains open is too much for his eyes one day or the music too loud on another day, he will verbally tell me or use a specific action that means or shows what he needs with little to no screaming. Him being able to do this has taken several years and lots and lots of patience, so it’s proof that the therapy works and being consistent can help make your child less sensitive to a sensory overload.

Getting an Occupational Therapist in place with your child, if you don’t already have one, will help a lot with dealing with sensory issues. I no longer have one with my son, but for the two years he did have one he made great progress through all the programming he did with her. Some of the ways your OT may approach Sensory-like problems, is with rice/bean/pasta/cornstarch bins or containers with hidden toys inside them. Or playing in shaving cream or wet cornstarch. And, maybe even some water beads or putty. All of these are used to help build up a tolerance (desensitize them) and teach your child that it’s okay to interact with this stuff and that it’s really easy to get all cleaned up from it too!

Touching wet or “gooey” things, like a wet rag or glue on his fingers, is still hard for my son but I always have a towel on hand for these kinds of activities so he can control how long his hands (or feet) stay covered in it. Plus, he learns that he doesn’t need to scream about having things on his hands/feet/face as he can wipe it off right away!

I guess, the best advice I can give is find a way for your child to communicate with you about when something is getting too hard to deal with sensory-wise and/or an independent way for them to fix it themselves.  This will be different for everyone!

For example, now if it’s too bright in a room my son will turn off the light or close the curtains.  If he has something on his hands/face/feet he doesn’t like then he will use a towel or wash the part that is “dirty” to get it off on his own.

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Please note that not all impromptu screaming is always because of sensory issues, it’s very different from child to child, and could have to do with several different things/actions around them at the time.

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