Sensory Processing

We have heard that people associate Sensory Processing difficulties with those on the Autism Spectrum. While this is often true, that senses become overwhelmed quickly, and the brain cannot manage or process the sensory information in the ways that neurotypical individuals can. Typically, a meltdown occurs as the mind seeks a way to self-regulate.

These Sensory difficulties can affect anyone, although it is very common for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. So, if you have Sensory Processing Disorder, this does not mean you are on the Autism Spectrum.

Everyone has differing experiences, and this is measured on a scale, or spectrum to explain and determine whether this could be an issue in your life; a label if you will.

So, what is Sensory Processing?

It is the process by which the brain receives, organises, and responds to sensory information in order to behave in a meaningful and consistent way. Typically, with the filter working well, we can manage our lives, emotions and senses automatically with no thoughts otherwise. When our senses over or under-perform, the individual needs some help to adjust in order that they can manage better in society.

Sensory issues are usually defined as either Hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) or Hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli.

Over-responsive (Hypersensitivity) reactions occur when the sensory processing is not regulated by a filter.
The ‘filter’ that processes the senses in a person usually enables too many senses to pass through at once.

Using the 5 Senses of Mindfulness as an example, touch is overly sensitive, sound is excessively loud, seeing is too bright, scent is overwhelmingly strong, and taste is overpowering.

Those individuals on the Autism Spectrum experience a meltdown at this point, to assist their body to release the frustrations and the emotions felt, while also allowing the body to self-regulate.

Common behaviours of Hypersensitivity include:

  • Extreme response to, or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, noisy cutlery, or other noises that seem un-offensive to others.
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear.
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults.
  • Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e., doesn’t like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Has poor balance, may fall often, clumsiness.

Under-responsiveness (Hyposensitivity) to sensory input, in contrast, is where the filter appears to allow too little input, resulting in being less responsive to the senses. For example, touch is hardly noticed, loud noise is tolerated, sight and seeing is less clear, smell is faint, and taste is under-whelming.

If an individual can go outside in a T-shirt when it is snowing, or walk about on a boat in a storm, and not be sea-sick, it may well be that their senses are under-responsive. Some common examples:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space and lack of spatial awareness.
  • An extremely high tolerance for, or indifference to pain.
  • Doesn’t understand his or her own strength – plays too rough, not knowing when to stop.
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still, enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and can be dangerous at times, little danger awareness

Sensory input affects everyone differently.

It’s vital to understand that a sensory issue by itself isn’t a sign of autism.

As a result, while a kid with autism may have a sensory problem as part of their diagnosis, not every child with autism will have one.

Similarly, a youngster with a sensory issue may not necessarily have autism.

Poor social and emotional skills, communication issues or delays, restricted interests, and/or other criteria are all indicators of autism.

Sensory issues are one of the numerous challenges that someone with autism faces.

Many people exhibit a variety of behaviours, and some may display a combination of under and over-responsiveness to sensory input dependant on their environment or situation.

There is also Hyper and Hyposensitivity to Oral Input, which I thought would be of interest, and of help for those with younger children who may be researching certain behaviours.

Hyposensitivity To Oral Input (Under-Registers)

  • __ may lick, taste, or chew on inedible objects
  • __ prefers foods with intense flavour, i.e., excessively spicy, sweet, sour, or salty
  • __ excessive drooling past the teething stage
  • __ frequently chews on hair, shirt, or fingers
  • __ constantly putting objects in mouth past the toddler years
  • __ acts as if all foods taste the same
  • __ can never get enough condiments or seasonings on his/her food
  • __ loves vibrating toothbrushes and even trips to the dentist

Hypersensitivity To Oral Input (Oral Defensiveness):

  • __ picky eater, often with extreme food preferences, i.e., limited repertoire of foods, picky about brands, resistive to trying new foods or restaurants, and may not eat at other people’s houses)
  • __ may only eat “soft” or pureed foods past 24 months of age
  • __ may gag with textured foods
  • __ has difficulty with sucking, chewing, and swallowing
  • __ resists/refuses/extremely fearful of going to the dentist or having dental work done
  • __ may only eat hot or cold foods
  • __ refuses to lick envelopes, stamps, or stickers because of their taste
  • __ dislikes or complains about toothpaste and mouthwash
  • __ avoids seasoned, spicy, sweet, sour or salty foods; prefers bland foods

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I carried out my own research and I must state that I am not a healthcare professional, and the above information is based on my opinion only.


2 thoughts on “Sensory Processing

  1. Am I the first to comment?
    I find that very surprising, so the others must be hidden from me.

    Although, understandably Steve, your focus / interest come from Autism perspective, I want to look at a little wider.

    Like Steve, I am not a health care professional.
    So I am looking at this as an amateur from a non autism view.

    In particular, what I have called “Sensory Overload.”
    This is created when we, as humans are subject to too much data, info and find it difficult to process. Typically in a day, we are hit with marketing garbage on our phones soon after we awaken. From there it is downhill.

    On the TV. radio, Social Media, the CCTV in our apartment block and office complex and elevators, busses, subways, stations and multiple mega sized “Outdoor Video Screens.” This is largely just advertising which most of us can cope with, either by filtering or completely blocking.

    But recently we have noticed a more insidious form of data overload.
    Political propaganda.
    And the situation in Ukraine has amplified this.
    We are constantly bombarded with an almost non stop, one sided perspective, at times it seems like a TV serial.

    I am not sure where you, the reader, live, but over this year we have noticed an increase in gun violence in the US, also in what we thought of as relativity stable countries like NZ and Australia.

    There is a growing undercurrent of anger and violence in our communities as we find it more and more difficult to process the images and information we are constantly fed. The truth is becoming more and difficult to discern.

    Our Sensory Processing is under pressure.
    It seems humanity is under attack.


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