Sensory processing in children with ASD

Does your child act like loud noises are the worst thing to ever happen to her? Like the tag on the back of her shirt makes that shirt unwearable? Or is it almost the opposite – does she not seem to feel pain, even when feeling pain might slow her down when she’s hurt and needs to slow down?

What are sensory processing issues?

Many children with ASD also have sensory processing problems or concerns. Research suggests that sensory processing issues aren’t part of autism, and are instead a separate concern, but they’re common in children who have neurological disorders, including ASD as well as dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and others.

Sensory processing problems happen when the brain has trouble processing all of the information it’s getting. Most of the time, most people are getting different input from each of their five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The ability to take these inputs in, figure out if they’re important, and then filter them out of conscious thought if they’re not, is what gives the brain the ability to focus. Children with sensory processing concerns may have a harder time filtering out discomfort, or may “hear” certain sensations much more loudly than other people do.

What can I do about them?

Occupational therapists are the people who most commonly diagnose sensory processing issues, and who may have the best idea of how to help Baby handle them. There is no “cure” for sensory processing issues, but therapies and activities called sensory integration can help young children learn how to manage the sensitivities or issues that come along with sensory processing issues. Many young children grow out of sensory processing issues, while many others learn to be better able to manage them with help from occupational therapists.

If they aren’t getting in the way of day-to-day life, sensory processing issues can be more of something to be aware of than something to do something about. Being aware of young children’s sensory issues can make it easier to figure out how to get them balanced diets, how to find clothes they won’t tear off at the soonest opportunity, and how to keep unexpected loud noises from setting off meltdowns.

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