When your child exhibits the signs of autism, it can be challenging to differentiate the condition from similar disorders, such as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
In this blog, we’ll look at the following topics:
- Are sensory processing disorder and autism the same?
- What is it like to have sensory processing disorder?
- How does sensory integration therapy help autistic children?
- What is it like for a child with sensory processing issues?
- What are some common sensory issues in children?
- Is being bothered by whispering a sign of sensory issues?
- What are your favorite tactics to help kids with sensory issues?
- What are the best sensory toys for autism?
Are Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and Autism the Same?
Both conditions deal with atypical sensory processing functions that can hinder learning and development. Because of their shared qualities, the two can be confused. Those with ASD struggle more with sound processing, while SPD manifests problems with touch.
Is Sensory Processing Disorder Associated with ADHD?
SPD and ADHD are different conditions with similar symptoms. Both cause individuals to have sensory processing difficulties. Because of this, it can be hard to differentiate between the two using diagnostic criteria. In around 40% of cases, children with symptoms of either ADHD or SPD experienced the symptoms of both conditions.
What is it Like to Have Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder, or sensory integration dysfunction, is a neurological disorder affecting the brain’s response to sensory input. People with this condition often describe it as irritating, unpleasant, and painful. Someone with SPD may struggle with stimuli that are non-threatening or unnoticed by someone without SPD.
While SPD most commonly manifests in overstimulation of the senses, it can also have the opposite effect. People with SPD may feel deprived and seek more stimuli.
What are the Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?
SPD isn’t a subtle condition as the signs are often very noticeable by both the individual and their loved ones. Some of the symptoms to look for include the following:
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity or adverse reaction to being touched
- Finding clothing itchy or uncomfortable
- Finding sounds too loud
- Difficulty eating certain food textures (triggering gag reflex)
- Tantrums and behavior problems
- Poor balance
- Thrill-seeking behavior
- Difficulty sitting still
- Difficulty sleeping
- Needing stimulation (fidgeting with or chewing on objects)
- Watching videos and playing video games for stimulation
- Don’t recognize personal space
- Don’t pick up on social cues
How Does Sensory Integration Therapy Help Autistic Children?
Sensory integration therapy is a great tool to help autistic children with their sensory difficulties. It works by getting individuals more familiar with different sensory inputs in an environment they feel safe and comfortable in. Becoming more familiar with sensory stimuli can reduce anxiety related to the senses for those with oversensitivity.
Individuals who struggle with hypo-sensory sensitivities can benefit from sensory integration therapy by developing better self-regulation. This can improve existing difficulties with paying attention and social interactions.
What is it Like for a Child with Sensory Processing Issues?
Children with sensory processing issues perceive the world around them differently than others. Certain situations and environments may be overwhelming. Parents may struggle to understand their child’s reactions to stimuli and even become frustrated.
A child might refuse certain foods or outfits due to the uncomfortable stimuli it causes in them. Because of this, it’s essential to have compassion and take the time to understand better their triggers and how to help.
Why do Autistic People Struggle with Sensory Processing?
Autistic people may find it more difficult to process sensory information. The brain of an individual with autism sorts through information differently. It may take longer to comprehend something triggering the senses. A sensory overload without the ability to process it efficiently can lead to anxiety, pain, and fear.
What are Some Common Sensory Issues in Children?
The types of sensory issues are hypersensitivity (touch, sound, smell, taste) and hyposensitivity (touch, sound, movement).
- Touch: Unable to wear certain fabrics or take part in activities involving touch
- Sound: Easily startled or overwhelmed by sudden or loud noises, difficulty focusing in noisy environments or filtering out background noise
- Smell: Easily nauseated or overwhelmed by certain smells
- Taste: High sensitivity to certain foods and textures (causing nausea, gag reflex, or anxiety)
- Touch: Craving touch and physical comfort (hugs, blankets, toys)
- Sound: Lack of reaction to sudden or loud noises, seeking out busy environments
- Movement: Needing to move constantly (spinning in chair, hand flapping, nodding head) and having a high tolerance for motion sickness
Is Being Bothered by Whispering a Sign of Sensory Issues?
A person may be bothered by whispering outside of sensory issues for many reasons. This may be a sign of being overwhelmed by auditory stimuli, pointing to sensory processing problems.
On the other hand, a dislike for whispering can be for a completely different reason, such as finding whispering irritating, feeling you’re missing out on information, or assuming it’s gossip or negative talk about yourself. Some of these may play out in specific scenarios, but if a person finds all sources of whispering to be bothersome, it’s likely a sensory issue.
What are your Favorite Tactics to Help Kids with Sensory Issues?
To support a child with sensory issues, you can take different approaches that focus on the five senses, including the following:
- Watch calming movies or videos
- Read a picture book
- Draw or paint pictures
- Remove bright lights and clutter
- Increase letter size for homework and reading
- Listen to calming music
- Listen to a movie or show
- Listen to a podcast
- Use earbuds or headphones
- Remove strongly scented items in the home (candles, perfumes, scented markers)
- Encourage smelling different scents to discover preferences
- Keep a preferred smell on hand to block out other scents (candle, comfort toy or blanket, chapstick)
- Consider bringing a mask out in public to block strong smells
- Open windows in the home to air out the rooms
- Learn about food preferences and adapting (crunchy bacon vs. soft bacon, lumpy mashed potatoes vs. smooth mashed potatoes)
- Keep preferred snacks on hand (granola bars, candies, gum)
- Practice mindful eating (focusing on flavor and textures, chewing thoroughly, taking breaks in between bites)
- Experiment with different foods and spices to expand preferences
- Offer hugs or hand-holding (for those who are hypersensitive)
- Comfort toys and stuffed animals
- Remove t-shirt tags, buy seamless socks and undergarments
- Take relaxing baths
- Use fidget toys
Along with using at-home tactics to help your child with sensory processing, looking into professional treatments such as occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and other services that help with childhood development can be incredibly useful.
What are the Best Sensory Toys for Autism?
Sensory toys are a great way to calm children with autism when overstimulated and to improve focus. There are numerous toys available both in-store and online. Some of the most popular toys for autism include the following:
- Fidget toys (fidget spinner, fidget cube, spinner ring, etc.)
- Weighted blankets
- Sensory balls
- Chew toys (chew sticks, chewy tubes, pencil toppers, etc.)
- Sensory sand, clay, and Play-Do