Sensory Processing Condition and Autism

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.

© Tania Marshall All rights reserved. Duplication in whole or part is explicitly forbidden. Thank you.

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3 thoughts on “Sensory Processing Condition and Autism

  1. This is my biggest difficulty; if not in fact my only real difficulty.

    I can see elements of other deficiencies listed in the profile, but these I think have been relatively mild and I believe I have grown out of a lot. For instance, I have had some trouble with social intelligence, or with predicting how others will react as well as with being too naively open (a trait that I actually think is more positive; even which would be ideal except that other people are cunning).

    I have had much less experience of mimicking others in social situation. I have done this when a teenager to get over nervous anxiety and introversion. But otherwise, I don’t believe thus is an issue for me.

    The only real trouble I believe I have is my major difference from the majority in how much social sensory input I can deal with. New friends put pressure on me to be more outgoing, to join them often as a group. I find this taxes my reserves and so much energy goes into trying to keep up. Before I can even get to a stage whereby I finally feel comfortable with these new people, some other new stressor gets thrown into the mix, like a new job working with a whole team of people, and here we go again… i had to go on antidepressants just to get through my anxiety (which this time again I tried using being more extroverted, in order to keep at bay -but this just set me up for a collapse into loss of control and confidence, etc. )

    I have decided to avoid group interaction whenever I can. I also avoid sharing a room with anyone other than a first degree relative – as by the following day, I will have fallen into a bad mood. ….the worst aspect is when I try with all my might NOT to appear rude and yet I cannot manage it: my stress levels are too high.

    After a very stressful experience of sexual harassment at work (by a male I believe had traits him self – certainly he lacked empathy whilst simultaneously being ultra sensitive him self) I developed PTSD. After avoiding work for three years, I returned to find my self very panicky in the work environment. I also had somehow developed a hypersensitivity to sound and music. Feeling too easily affected by the emotive nature of music, when I am sharing a space with others – it puts me on edge, feeding back into a fear of being over sensitive – etc.
    After positive experience and perhsps anti depressants, my social anxiety levels have stabilised again a lot. Thank goodness as life was proving literally impossible for me. But music can sometimes be that straw that breaks the camel’s back: that extra sensory stimulation I just do not need.

    I believe purchasing noise cancelling head phones is a must as people do not understand or at all empathse with my different sensory needs. Worse still, they then judge me as weak or wors, as crazy, if I then react to their overly stimulating environments.
    A further issue is the fact that many jobs are now short term. So that even if I get used to new people, the job ends and I have to go through the whole stressful period of readjustment once more.
    Friendships are a further trouble. But I believe I need to make my needs known early and if people do bot accept me, at least I won’t habe wasted my energy on them.

    Your description of exact social difficulties has given me clarity so that I know where my limits are. It is so very hard being different, but much more difficulty exists when you can’t understand why you can cope in some situations and yet fall apart in others.

  2. I wanted to add that, as awfulmy experience of sexual harassment was and the subsequent negative association I then developed about the work place, I did learn a great deal about conflict resolution, unserstanding different perceptions, how to resolve conflict and the great importance of self awareness.

    This last truly helpful approach I recall using very successfully to manage anxiety around a particular social group. I monitored my attitude and thinking towards these people, recognising how my attitude, however unconcious, was inspiring hostility in this group of people. A big part of my unconscious negativity was to do with not being in control of the group, and instead of having to defer to another (albeit, slightly arrogant) person.
    Unfortunately, part of why I was so successful at this self monitoring was because I was exercising when around these people.

    Similar to anti depressants my exoeriences of exercising or playing sport have been some of my most socially carefree and enjoyable experiences. …i also have a male friend, I strongly suspect of sufferring from some degree of Aspergers (like me, he has also had social anxiety disorder, a strange sexuality, he claims he is asexual, he has a very high IQ, unlike my self however) who is somewhat addicted to exercise.

    So, I guess I wonder about what component serotonin has.

    I also volunteer at a dog shelter and I think I get a dose of oxytocin from patting the dogs there.

    I also wanted to add that I take the label of Asperger’s with a grain of salt. …i actually rather like the idea of being either something of a shaman or a ‘two spirit’ with special qualities (as some American Indian cultures may have regarded me as being); and I also subscribe to the label of Highly Sensitive Person; whereby, I acknowledge that unfortunately, the extroverted warrior class has dominance in today’s highly arousing, fast paced world, and it is a question of small differences as well as luck, and not to mention focus, as to whether a person gets to consider themselves more in terms of their strengths or their weaknesses.

    I have the disadvantage of being gifted in art, yet getting discouragememt from a short sighted (somewhat egoccentric and disillusioned) parent, to ignore my talents for something too insecure or too hard to succeed in. This was setting me up on a path for failure, where in ignoring my strengths and instead, investing elsewhere, my weaknesses come to the fore more, and I do not get to compensate or capitalize on my talents. Quite a disservice was done by this very bad advice. I’m having to start from scratch, but now with a past of difficult experiences.

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