Research indicates that sensory sensitivities significantly contribute to the behaviours displayed by children with Autism Spectrum Conditions, and that many behaviours, for example meltdowns, are in fact instinctive reactions by those with Autism to sensory overload. These behaviours tend to be misinterpreted as a child or adult being ‘naughty’, ‘defiant’ or difficult’.
Humans continuously absorb sensory input from the environment around us, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, until we fall asleep at night. Our central nervous systems provide us the ability to ‘filter’ the continuous stimuli, focusing on what is important at any given time.
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions have a disregulated filtering mechanism. The central nervous systems perceives the constant sensory input as ‘danger’. This triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. Sensations such as a racing heart, tight chest, knotted stomach/nausea, and sweaty palms take over. The body perceive this physical reaction as danger, which has shifted the nervous system to the sympathetic nervous system – the “fight or flight” response. What parents, teachers or other adults see is a ‘meltdown’.
Individuals experience sensory input from all everyday activities, such as eating, bathing, getting dressed, sitting in a classroom or at work, playing and even getting a hug or kiss.
For individuals with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory input tends to have a cumulative effect, continuously adding to stress levels over time. Too much input leads to meltdown.
By learning which of your senses is the strongest and identifying what sights, sounds, smells, touch, tastes and movements calm or agitate you, you can help yourself or your child to control reactions to senses, and to learn to self-regulate.
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